As a lifelong movie buff, I enjoy anticipating the release of new films, especially the hyped-up blockbusters. So I’m planning to see a couple of the new releases, including Russell Crowe in “Robin Hood” and Robert Downey Jr. reprising Iron Man 2. But a news feature today by the website, Metromix, grabbed my attention as it discussed one of my favorite movie-going pet-peeves, long-in-the-tooth actors playing age-inappropriate roles. The online article, Age inappropriate casting choices, touched an issue near and dear to this film lover’s irreverent heart.
You can accuse me of film-lover ageism but you’d be off-base. I enjoy first-rate acting performances regardless of the actor’s age. What I’m objecting to are the real life distractions that take away from the movie. It’s like trying to concentrate on a conversation when the speaker has a piece of meat stuck in her teeth. Huh? What’s that you said? Hmm, was that a taco salad you had for lunch?
It distracts from the story if you’re paying attention to the real-life actor and not to the movie-life character playing her role. Unless it’s actually part of the storyline, it stretches credulity when movie studios expect audiences to buy the 70-year old guy pushing the stroller with his 2 year old in it.
Sure it can happen in real life. There are many variations to the wisecrack but Jim Mullen’s is probably the best one when he commented about then 60-year old Sir Paul McCartney having a baby with his much younger bride. “By the time the kid gets out of diapers, Sir Paul will be wearing them.” See When Dad is old enough to be a Granddad.
Actors too old for the sum of their parts?
Prompted by the casting of the 46-year old Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, the Metromix commentary provided instances of the impropriety of casting actors too old for their parts. A better and more incisive overview on the subject is Alison Gilmore’s “Act your Age, why old men shouldn’t be action heroes” at CBC.ca – Arts – Film – Act Your Age. But at least the Metromix article gives show and tell and even offers alternative casting choices.
I also remember wondering why Clint Eastwood cast himself opposite Renee Russo in the action movie In the Line of Fire (1993) At the time, Clint was 63 and Renee was a young-looking 39.
Bare-chested in Madison County.
And even though it was less of a May-September fling, I still averted my eyes when ole’ Clint took his shirt off and bared his 65-year old ‘come hither’ chest at Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County (1995).
I could add to the inappropriate casting list. For instance, what about Sean Connery opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment (1999) or just about anything with Michael Douglas in the last 15 years, including his role opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in A Perfect Murder (1998)?
The Metromix article didn’t get into the reasons other than the “obvious talent and screen presence” behind some of the ongoing age-inappropriate casting choices. But taking a break from my recent more serious ruminations, here are some of my own hypotheses on an admittedly lightweight topic:
1. Ageless baby-boomers. With the displacement of The Greatest Generation by The Me Generation, Baby Boomers are ascendant. Given their own sense of age-defying immortality, Boomers identify with aging stars, especially those that refuse to admit to, let alone act their ages.
It’s nostalgic to harken back and revisit the stars we “grew up with.” They’re timeless so we must be, too. So it’s why geriatric celebrities not just actors but even musicians like Neil Diamond, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Paul Anka, and Smokey Robinson are still out there working well past retirement age. They keep drawing audiences as old as they are. And it’s the same reason the actors hang on like ticks in the cutaneous consciousness of the post-50 set.
2. Studio risk-aversion. Movies cost so much to make that studios and investors want bankable stars with proven track records to headline their films, even if casting them is age-inappropriate.
3. Egos. Big stars like many of us, don’t believe in aging gracefully. That’s why things like botox, tummy tucks, face and neck lifts and a myriad number of other enhancements are so popular with the Hollywood set. Actors don’t want to admit they’re too old for a part or too past prime to play opposite a young hottie. May-September? How about February-December?
4. Money. Actors in leading roles command the higher salaries. The longer they hang on as headliners, the more money they can cash in on.
No equal time for gender.
Is it because male leads never age? Or is it that men age with more grace than women? The answer is “No.”
A touch of gray, a girdled paunch, botox and a toupee and the guy’s more likely getting a pass. The woman? Not so much.
Female leads start being relegated to character parts as soon as they cross into their 40’s. What’s up with that?