x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

A certain age

If 40 is the new 30 are 'older' actresses getting more screen time? A string of new movies could mean the answer is 'yes'.

Michelle Pfeiffer stars as an older but glamorous woman in Stephen Frears' Cheri.
Michelle Pfeiffer stars as an older but glamorous woman in Stephen Frears' Cheri.

In the early 1930s, at the age of 63, Marie Dressler was MGM's biggest moneymaker thanks to hits such as Min and Bill and Tugboat Annie. Over at Paramount, Mae West and then Marlene Dietrich pulled in the big bucks. Katharine Hepburn and -Ginger Rogers did the same for RKO, and Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis hit home runs for -Warner Brothers. Once upon a time, "It was a woman's world," according to Cari Beachaump, the Hollywood historian and author of 1998's guide to the women of the film business, Without Lying Down: Frances -Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood.   "As the studio mogul Irving Thalberg used to say, it was women that got men to go to movies, not the other way round," says Beauchamp. "These women would open ---- In the early 1930s, at the age of 63, Marie Dressler was MGM's biggest moneymaker thanks to hits such as Min and Bill and Tugboat Annie. Over at Paramount, Mae West and then Marlene Dietrich pulled in the big bucks. Katharine Hepburn and -Ginger Rogers did the same for RKO, and Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis hit home runs for -Warner Brothers. ---- Once upon a time, "It was a woman's world," according to Cari Beachaump, the Hollywood historian and author of 1998's guide to the women of the film business, Without Lying Down: Frances -Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood.   ---- "As the studio mogul Irving Thalberg used to say, it was women that got men to go to movies, not the other way round," says Beauchamp. "These women would open movies. They weren't necessarily co-starring." ---- That all changed long ago, and -action-hero hungry, comic-book savvy young men now form the leading demographic for cinema audiences rather than the romantic cinema-going couples of old. -Actresses, especially older ones, were left with a common complaint: that decent roles for women of a certain age were few and far between. ---- "I love empowering women," says McG, the director of Charlie's Angels and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, which starred a 41-year-old Demi Moore alongside the twenty- and thirtysomethings Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu. "And I love doing strong female characters. I found it really offensive when people told me that you can't do an action movie led by women so I did it. In my new film, Terminator -Salvation, you find a world without sexism, racism or ageism. If you can lift the truck you get the job." ---- Still, the question remains, while the past 20 years have seen a transformation in the way older women are perceived, are there better roles for women in their 50s, 60s and 70s? Does 40 being the new 30 translate onto the screen? ---- There has been a spate of performances recently by actresses over 40. Meryl Streep looked youthful and radiant in Mama Mia!, Judi Dench starred in the Sally Potter film Rage, and Demi Moore looked fantastic at 47 in the family drama Happy Tears. Michelle Pfeiffer, 51, stars in Stephen Frears's Cheri, as an older but glamorous seductress. It is a phenomenon without borders. The German actress Juliane Koehler looks incredible in her latest films Effi Briest and Eden is West. ---- These roles show - and cineastes agree - that older women are in demand for a wider range of roles. ---- "Pam Greer and Gena Rowlands are great examples of older women who are still sexy later on in life,"  says Henri Behar, an author and the long-time moderator of press conferences at the Cannes Film Festival. "These women are there, they are available for us to use and it is the fault of the industry if we don't use them more." ---- Although the pressure put on actresses to stay looking fabulous has its disadvantages, including some unexpected ones. Some filmmakers say they are hard-pressed these days to find an actress who looks the right age for the part. ---- The British director Nigel Cole likes to think of himself as a women's director. His new film is set in 1968, when British women working for the American car manufacturer Ford took on their paymasters and changed working conditions for women in Britain forever. ---- "Back in 1968, if you were 45 you looked like a grandmother," says Cole. "Now women look so good at that age that I am having a hard time casting the film." ---- Despite looking so good, women of a certain age can have a difficult time finding roles beyond romantic comedies because there are fewer major female figures in history and politics. ---- Stories about royalty and fashion seem to offer women the biggest opportunities for powerful roles. Streep played a brutal magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada, and there have been two films on Chanel recently, including Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, which closed the Cannes Film Festival this year. ---- However, when iconic female figures are found, younger actresses are often chosen to play the part. Case in point: Anna Mouglalis as Coco Chanel in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, and in 2007's La vie en Rose, a film about the French songstress Edith Piaf, in which Marion Cotillard, played the iconic singer. ---- "There are more older actresses that aren't playing the roles you would expect people to play in their 50s. But the number of roles for women is still small," says Ally Sheedy, who starred in The Breakfast Club at 23 and, now 48, is working on Jane Alexander, a television movie about a woman who becomes an amateur detective. ---- The Indian star Shabana Azmi is one exception; her upcoming roles include that of the late Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto in an untitled biopic to be directed by Mahesh Bhatt. Some of Azmi's previous roles suggest that Indian cinema offers a wider range of powerful characters for actresses to play. She has portrayed strong female characters in films including The Death Sentence: Mrityu Dand. In Godmother, she plays a woman who takes revenge for her husband's murder, fighting the corrupt political system. Azmi is currently playing an overprotective mother in Gurinder Chada's latest film, It's a Wonderful Afterlife. ---- Many "older" actresses have found better luck on stage. Peru's Norma Martinez, 39, has recently played roles in a few high-profile Spanish and -Peruvian films, including the Cannes title Altiplano, but she still finds her best work on stage. Her upcoming parts include that of Elizabeth Proctor in the Arthur Miller play The Crucible. ---- "This isn't a role that you can play at 20," says Martinez. "It takes age to have the experience to play great roles. That's what older women have. I feel like my life and career are just beginning." ---- Powerful female protagonists are harder to find on screen, although a roll call could take you through an eclectic list from Helen Mirren in The Queen to the Julia Roberts film Erin Brockovich about a woman who took on a major corporation all the way to Halle Berry in Catwoman. ---- But actresses such as Mirren and Dench still playing compelling parts in their 60s and 70s are relatively few and far between. They are easily outnumbered by their male contemporaries. ---- A look at the competition section at Cannes or the shortlist for last year's Oscars shows how many more major roles there are for male actors. Many storylines follow priests, male politicians and military officers. ---- Three female directors were presented in competition in Cannes, and even they chose, for the most part, stories in which women were on the sidelines of the lives of great men. The highest profile of these films, Jane Campion's Bright Star, revolves around a love affair between a 23-year-old girl and the poet John Keats. Roles for older women in Cannes were few and far between. The veteran French actress Fanny Ardant, 60, had a small role in Tsai Ming Liang's Visage. ---- "In the Middle East, the situation is worse," says one of Lebanon's best-known actresses, Carmen -Lebbos. "The more you grow, the smaller your roles are." ---- Lebbos was most recently seen in the West playing a reclusive belly-dancing legend in the film Whatever Lola Wants, which was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. Her upcoming roles include a lead in the telenovela The Escape, the first ever co-production between an Arab company and Latin America. ---- Lebbos began acting at the age of 30, and has always had an "older" personality. "I see the surprise in the eyes of people seeing me in person. They always have the same comment: 'You look so much younger than on TV,'" she says. "Women in Lebanon are to remain a symbol - a beautiful figure, an attractive thing," she says. "We need to call on writers, authors and scenarists to grant us more credibility." For some, improvement will only come when there are more women on the other side of the camera. "We need more female writers and directors," says the young British actress Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) who will play Rita, a feisty young woman who leads the charge against Ford, in Cole's new film. It's an issue that Campion addressed in her widely reported remarks at Cannes in which she questioned whether women were tough enough to make it as directors. In truth, her comments can be seen as a call to arms. "It is quite harsh when they experience the world of filmmaking and have to develop tough skins," she said. "But they must put on their coats of armour and get going because we need them."That all changed long ago, and -action-hero hungry, comic-book savvy young men now form the leading demographic for cinema audiences rather than the romantic cinema-going couples of old. -Actresses, especially older ones, were left with a common complaint: that decent roles for women of a certain age were few and far between. "I love empowering women," says McG, the director of Charlie's Angels and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, which starred a 41-year-old Demi Moore alongside the twenty- and thirtysomethings Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu. "And I love doing strong female characters. I found it really offensive when people told me that you can't do an action movie led by women so I did it. In my new film, Terminator -Salvation, you find a world without sexism, racism or ageism. If you can lift the truck you get the job." Still, the question remains, while the past 20 years have seen a transformation in the way older women are perceived, are there better roles for women in their 50s, 60s and 70s? Does 40 being the new 30 translate onto the screen? There has been a spate of performances recently by actresses over 40. Meryl Streep looked youthful and radiant in Mama Mia!, Judi Dench starred in the Sally Potter film Rage, and Demi Moore looked fantastic at 47 in the family drama Happy Tears. Michelle Pfeiffer, 51, stars in Stephen Frears's Cheri, as an older but glamorous seductress. It is a phenomenon without borders. The German actress Juliane Koehler looks incredible in her latest films Effi Briest and Eden is West. These roles show - and cineastes agree - that older women are in demand for a wider range of roles. "Pam Greer and Gena Rowlands are great examples of older women who are still sexy later on in life,"  says Henri Behar, an author and the long-time moderator of press conferences at the Cannes Film Festival. "These women are there, they are available for us to use and it is the fault of the industry if we don't use them more." Although the pressure put on actresses to stay looking fabulous has its disadvantages, including some unexpected ones. Some filmmakers say they are hard-pressed these days to find an actress who looks the right age for the part. The British director Nigel Cole likes to think of himself as a women's director. His new film is set in 1968, when British women working for the American car manufacturer Ford took on their paymasters and changed working conditions for women in Britain forever. "Back in 1968, if you were 45 you looked like a grandmother," says Cole. "Now women look so good at that age that I am having a hard time casting the film." Despite looking so good, women of a certain age can have a difficult time finding roles beyond romantic comedies because there are fewer major female figures in history and politics. Stories about royalty and fashion seem to offer women the biggest opportunities for powerful roles. Streep played a brutal magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada, and there have been two films on Chanel recently, including Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, which closed the Cannes Film Festival this year. However, when iconic female figures are found, younger actresses are often chosen to play the part. Case in point: Anna Mouglalis as Coco Chanel in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, and in 2007's La vie en Rose, a film about the French songstress Edith Piaf, in which Marion Cotillard, played the iconic singer. "There are more older actresses that aren't playing the roles you would expect people to play in their 50s. But the number of roles for women is still small," says Ally Sheedy, who starred in The Breakfast Club at 23 and, now 48, is working on Jane Alexander, a television movie about a woman who becomes an amateur detective. The Indian star Shabana Azmi is one exception; her upcoming roles include that of the late Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto in an untitled biopic to be directed by Mahesh Bhatt. Some of Azmi's previous roles suggest that Indian cinema offers a wider range of powerful characters for actresses to play. She has portrayed strong female characters in films including The Death Sentence: Mrityu Dand. In Godmother, she plays a woman who takes revenge for her husband's murder, fighting the corrupt political system. Azmi is currently playing an overprotective mother in Gurinder Chada's latest film, It's a Wonderful Afterlife. Many "older" actresses have found better luck on stage. Peru's Norma Martinez, 39, has recently played roles in a few high-profile Spanish and -Peruvian films, including the Cannes title Altiplano, but she still finds her best work on stage. Her upcoming parts include that of Elizabeth Proctor in the Arthur Miller play The Crucible. "This isn't a role that you can play at 20," says Martinez. "It takes age to have the experience to play great roles. That's what older women have. I feel like my life and career are just beginning." Powerful female protagonists are harder to find on screen, although a roll call could take you through an eclectic list from Helen Mirren in The Queen to the Julia Roberts film Erin Brockovich about a woman who took on a major corporation all the way to Halle Berry in Catwoman. But actresses such as Mirren and Dench still playing compelling parts in their 60s and 70s are relatively few and far between. They are easily outnumbered by their male contemporaries. A look at the competition section at Cannes or the shortlist for last year's Oscars shows how many more major roles there are for male actors. Many storylines follow priests, male politicians and military officers. Three female directors were presented in competition in Cannes, and even they chose, for the most part, stories in which women were on the sidelines of the lives of great men. The highest profile of these films, Jane Campion's Bright Star, revolves around a love affair between a 23-year-old girl and the poet John Keats. Roles for older women in Cannes were few and far between. The veteran French actress Fanny Ardant, 60, had a small role in Tsai Ming Liang's Visage. "In the Middle East, the situation is worse," says one of Lebanon's best-known actresses, Carmen -Lebbos. "The more you grow, the smaller your roles are." Lebbos was most recently seen in the West playing a reclusive belly-dancing legend in the film Whatever Lola Wants, which was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. Her upcoming roles include a lead in the telenovela The Escape, the first ever co-production between an Arab company and Latin America. Lebbos began acting at the age of 30, and has always had an "older" personality. "I see the surprise in the eyes of people seeing me in person. They always have the same comment: 'You look so much younger than on TV,'" she says. "Women in Lebanon are to remain a symbol - a beautiful figure, an attractive thing," she says. "We need to call on writers, authors and scenarists to grant us more credibility." For some, improvement will only come when there are more women on the other side of the camera. "We need more female writers and directors," says the young British actress Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) who will play Rita, a feisty young woman who leads the charge against Ford, in Cole's new film. It's an issue that Campion addressed in her widely reported remarks at Cannes in which she questioned whether women were tough enough to make it as directors. In truth, her comments can be seen as a call to arms. "It is quite harsh when they experience the world of filmmaking and have to develop tough skins," she said. "But they must put on their coats of armour and get going because we need them."