It's not exactly a groundbreaking statement to say that Hollywood has an ageism problem. While now we seem to start making progress in terms of the representation of women on the big screen, more often than not, we're still seeing older actresses shut out and bizarre pairings being made. Who else can remember the surprising pairing of Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux in Spectre, despite the 18 year age gap? What about Up In the Air, where Ana Kendrick and George Clooney have a 25 year age gap?
Hollywood's age gap was famously skewered in a sketch by Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette, and Julia Louis Dreyfus. While the video did go viral, it's clear that the awareness that it's bringing is only a tiny step in creating true gender equality in Hollywood. There are still some great examples of reasonable casting for actresses, with Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Tilda Swinton, and Viola Davis still dominating the screen.
With this problem comes several surprising stories of great actresses who were dropped from famous roles because they were "too old." What's most saddening is that, looking through these stories, you get a sense of what could have been, if only these actresses were given a chance.
Here 15 Actors Who Were Rejected For Roles Because They Were “Too Old”.
An incredibly accomplished actress who's probably best known for her turn as Katie Holmes in the Dark Knight movies, Maggie Gyllenhaal has made a name for herself in the acting field. On top of starring in many popular movies and turning in her fair share of critically acclaimed performances, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Crazy Heart.
If Hollywood was smart, they'd be breaking down Gylleenhaal's door to get her a new role. That's why it is especially surprising to hear her say, “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55".
Gyllenhaal also said, "[i]t made me feel bad, and then it made feel angry, and then it made me laugh". Honestly, that seems to be a pretty rational response to this whole situation. It seems, looking at our previous statistics, that being about 20 years younger is just about "right" for Hollywood executives. Ironically, the Dark Knight trilogy, one that she was most famous for, cast her opposite a similarly aged Christian Bale. If those movies were helmed by anyone else, this actress may not have been given the chance to play an iconic role.
Elizabeth Banks was an actress you've probably seen show up as a minor role in several movies. She's worked with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi, Judd Apatow, and Oliver Stone. With a resume like that, you'd assume that she'd have her pick of the litter when it comes to interesting roles. This is why it's especially surprising that she was rejected for the role of Mary Jane Watson for being too old. So, how much older than her costar was she? 20 years? 10? 5?
The actress was 16 whole months older than possible co-star Tobey Maguire.
"Tobey and I are basically the same age and I was told I was too old to play her," the actress said. So, who did the role go to instead? Kirsten Dunst ended up landing the part. What's the age gap between her and Tobey Maguire, you say? Brace yourselves: she was 10 years younger than him. That's right, 28 year old Tobey Maguire was paired up with 18 year old Kirsten Dunst.
Elizabeth Banks still wound up playing a role in the film as Betty Brant. Believe it or not, she has far less screentime than many of her costars.
Reese Witherspoon has recently been making a name for herself with a string of undeniable hits and a fair amount of critical acclaim. She starred in the Oscar nominated film Wild, in which she got her own Academy Award nomination. Now, she's making waves in TV land with the award-winning HBO show Big Little Lies. Even before this, she had a significant amount of popularity, starring in the hit comedy Legally Blonde.
Witherspoon has been creating roles for herself and other actresses as the producer of Legally Blonde 2, Penelope, Gone Girl, Wild, Hot Pursuit, Big Little Lies, and the upcoming Amazon series Are You Sleeping.
However, when it comes to playing real life people, she's met her fair share of resistance. One notable example is Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. When approached with the idea that the actress could play her in a biopic, the singer told Rolling Stone, "I've already told [Reese] she's almost too old."
What exactly is the age gap? Believe it or not, Reese Witherspoon is 27 years younger than Nicks. So why is a woman participating in the same sexist ideas that Hollywood men seem to perpetuate? Maybe she's worried about being seen as "aging" and getting shut out of the entertainment industry like so many other women before her.
Almost as much as she is known for her incredible performances, Emma Thompson has gained a reputation for being an acid tongued critic of sexism and inequality in the industry. Hollywood ageism hasn't escaped from her sights. In an interview with Vulture, the actress stated, "I remember somebody saying to me that I was too old for Hugh Grant, who’s like a year younger than me, in Sense and Sensibility." The Ang Lee film was eventually released, with the actress getting rave reviews for her performance as Elinor Dashwood, and winning an Oscar for the screenplay she wrote.
Thankfully, Ang Lee stuck by Thompson's side despite the criticsm. The director is known for being critical of social inequality, most notably in regards to gender in Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. It only makes sense that he'd be paired up with an actor as passionate, if not more so, about these causes as him.
In the face of Hollywood sexism, it's clear that Thompson is made of pretty strong stuff. The famously blunt actress told her response to this criticism of her pairing with Hugh Grant: ‘Do you want to go take a flying leap?’ A brutal response for a brutal situation.
If Olivia Wilde isn't exactly a household name, she's about as close to one as it gets. The successful actress has starred in movies that have had financial and critical success in equal measure such as Her, Tron: Legacy, and Rush. She's also lit up on the small screen on The O.C. and House. Most recently, she had a brush with a casting rejection in the Leonardo DiCaprio starring The Wolf of Wall Street.
According to the then 32-year-old actress, she was rejected in favor of the 25-year-old Margot Robbie because she was "too sophisticated." Sounds pretty nice, right? Think again.
“The funniest thing I heard recently was I had heard for a part that I was too sophisticated", the actress told Howard Stern. "I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds nice.’ I like that feedback. I didn’t get the part, but I’m a very sophisticated person. And then I found out later that they actually said ‘old.'”
DiCaprio is decade older than Wilde and a whopping 16 years older than on-screen wife Robbie.
Thankfully, the actress able to land another Martin Scorsese project with the short lived HBO show Vinyl, where she plays the wife of Bobby Cannavale - who's 14 years older than her.
After her breakout role in Les Miserables, it was clear that Anne Hathaway was not going to just be known for The Princess Diaries. The acclaimed actress has landed roles in movies ranging from Brokeback Mountain to The Dark Knight Rises. Recently, she seems to be starring in more indie fare, evidenced by her recent role in the sci fi comedy Colossal.
At 32, Hathaway said she is already starting to feel the effects of casting revolving around her age.
"When I was in my early twenties, parts would be written for women in their fifties and I would get them. And now I'm in my early thirties and I'm like, 'Why did that 24 year old get that part?'" the actress said in an interview. While she never specified which roles she was rejected for, it's clear that these rejections turned into a pattern. One can only look at Hollywood's propensity for casting actress in their twenties to play characters decades older than them to see why the popular actress would be struggling.
Hathaway will appear next in Ocean's 8, a female-led heist film co-starring Hollywood icons Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Helena Bonham Carter, as well as newer stars Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, and Rihanna.
One of the most popular actresses of the ;90s and early 2000s, Catherine Zeta-Jones has starred in a variety of famous movies, including the Zorro series, High Fidelity, and Traffic. However, when she started, the actress was actually highly involved in Broadway, working to great acclaim in 42nd Street.
However, a little known story revolves around her audition for the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn production of Aspects of Love. According to the actress, she was rejected because she was simply to old for the part. How old exactly was she? The practically geriatric age of 19.
Zeta-Jones recalls the encounter, saying, "Trevor is always charming and told me I was just a little bit too old and a little bit too pretty. I wasn’t even 20 and I remember telling him I could be as not pretty or as not old as he wanted, but it didn’t do any good." It's hard to imagine how much younger of an actress they could have gotten for the role.
However, it seems like this event didn't sour their relationship, as Nunn recently casted Zeta-Jones as the lead in his production of A Little Night Music. Most recently, Zeta-Jones played a substance-running "grandmother" in a Lifetime movie.
Former model and current actress Rene Russo has enjoyed a moderately successful career in the past, landing roles in Ransom and Get Shorty. However, she looked like she was about to get her big break. Joel Schumacher's 1995 film Batman Forever was set to cast the 40-year old-actress to play the love interest of Val Kilmer. At his point in her career, Batman Forever would have been the biggest movie she could have starred in.
However, at the last minute, she was dropped from the film so that the studio could reportedly go with "someone younger — a Sandra Bullock type — to work her wiles on Kilmer." Yes, this was an actual article that was written in 1994. However, the writer did prove to be right. They instead decided to cast the, then far younger, Nicole Kidman.
Rene Russo continued to have a strong career after being dropped, starring in such hits like Nightcrawler, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and The Intern. In retrospect, it was probably for the best for her to not have starred in Batman Forever. That movie ended up turning into a critical dumping ground, becoming the worst reviewed Batman movie yet - until its sequel Batman & Robin came out.
Probably one of the most successful actresses on this list, just because of the amount of great work she's produced, Jane Fonda is still no stranger to ageism. Even after starring in films like Klute, One the Golden Pond, and Youth, plus winning two Academy Awards, the actress has stated that she started feeling the pressure from studios as she got older.
As a result, Fonda recalls feeling forced to get plastic surgery in order to get work. "With women, it's all about how we look," the actress told The Daily Telegraph. "Men are very visual, they want young women. So, for us, it's all about trying to stay young."
It seems that, for Fonda, it was the need to get work, as opposed to a personal decision, that made her get plastic surgery. Still, when asked if surgery was necessary for aging actresses, she responded, "No, I wouldn't say it's essential. It just depends on how brave you are." If this list proves anything, it's that a fair amount of bravery is required when standing up to this industry.
Fonda has been shining as one of the leads for Netflix's sitcom Grace and Frankie for five seasons and recently starred in the rom-com Book Club alongside such other screen legends as Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen.
Another one of the great, classic character actresses, Glenn Close has enjoyed a successful career after her breakout role as a psychopath in Fatal Attraction. Afterward, she starred in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Hook, and Air Force One. In a recent interview, the actress spoke out about the sexism she has faced in the industry.
This one is particularly notable because it revolves around her most popular role in, arguably, one of her most popular movies: Fatal Attraction.
During the casting process for Fatal Attraction, it was decided that the then 40 year old actress could not pair up with Michael Douglas in the thriller.
“We were doing a big favor for Glenn’s agent by letting her read,” said Douglas. Thankfully, Glen Close got the chance to show off her acting chops and the rest was history. What's interesting about this, however, was Michael Douglas' reaction. Because, if what he said was anything to go by, he wasn't so much reacting to Close's acting ability as he was her looks. "[T]he moment I saw her, I was like, Woah!” said the actor.
Does this mean that they initially dismissed Glen Close just because of the age on her resume, without even bothering to look at her? Thankfully, the actress was able to land the role and, as a result, turn in a string of great performances afterwards.
Jamie Denbo has mostly been an under the radar character actress, appearing in small roles in Ghostbusters, Spy, and The Heat. Most recently, she's had her big break playing Shelly Ginsberg on Netflix's Orange is the New Black.
At 43, she's most certainly experienced her fare share of sexist ageism. The actress took to Twitter to bring up the fact that she was, once again, turned down for a role for being too old. The age gap? At age 43, she was deemed too old to play the spouse of a man who's 57. Want to go even ickier? Apparently she was considered too old to play the mother of an 18 year old.
Jamie took her anger in a more personal direction. “The real wife of the 57 year-old actor is EASILY AT LEAST 50. But this f— wants to be tv married to a 38 year-old -TOPS." Unnecessarily personal? Maybe. Justified? Absolutely.
When pressed for which specific actor demanded this, she remained tight-lipped. "Would love to," she tweeted. "But I don’t want to ruin this guy for you. He is an “American treasure." Hopefully he's not somebody who's loved by the public.
After a varied and acclaimed career of starring in Alyson Hannigan's Instagram pictures, Keeva Denisof is no stranger to ageism in the Hollywood industry. In fact, in a grueling story described by her mother through tears, it was revealed that the dastardly creators of How I Met Your Mother cruelly snatched away the role of a lifetime as Lily and Marshall's baby for being too old.
This is clearly another example of baby ageism in Hollywood. Anyone remember American Sniper? The only baby that they could find that fit their standards was a plastic one!
Okay, so the real story isn't really that brutal. Alyson Hannigan, in an interview with The Huffington Post, fondly recalled a funny story during the making of How I Met Your Mother. The plan would be that Lily and Marshall's baby on the show would Hannigan's actual baby. Unfortunately, the baby simply looked too old.
"I was like, 'You fired my child. First of all that’s ageism. I don’t think you’re allowed to fire her because she’s too old,'" the actress joked.
Keeva is the off-spring of TV royalty - from her mother, who starred on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for 7 seasons and How I Met Your Mother for 9, to her father, Alexis Denisof, who played Wesley Wyndham-Price on both Buffy and Angel.
After starring in hits like Body Double and Something Wild, Melanie Griffith should have had a career delivered to her on a silver platter. Even forgetting about her accolades, she was the daughter of Tippi Hedren, one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite actresses to collaborate with. She also won a Golden Globe for her performance in Woeking Girl. How much more "Hollywood royalty" can an actress get?
However, in a recent interview with Vogue UK, Griffith's daughter, actress Dakota Johnson (of Fifty Shades, How to Be Single, and A Bigger Splash fame) blasted Hollywood with its lack of roles for older women. “Why isn’t my mother in movies? She’s an extraordinary actress! Why isn’t my grandmother in movies? This industry is f—ing brutal,” the Fifty Shades of Grey star exclaimed.
Looking at Melanie Griffith's recent roles, it's easy to see why Dakota Johnson would be frustrated. Despite having a series of great films to her resume, her recent output has mostly been in cheap direct to video movies that nobody's ever heard of. It's sad to see an actress as talented as her stuck with these tiny roles when she should be with her similarly aged male costars on the big screen.
Comedian and actress Kathy Griffin is nowhere near quiet when it comes to her stance against Hollywood ageism. Despite having a successful comedy career, that involved her being on shows like Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Griffin has said that she routinely faces rejects because of her age. Despite this, she is enthusiastic about fighting discrimination every step of the way.
“I would say that sexism and ageism is probably my two biggest obstacles,” the actress said in an interview with People magazine. Luckily, Griffin has been known to skewer such things in her razor-sharp stand-up comedy specials
Griffin has decidedly not gone into too much detail revolving around her rejections, but she does say that she's heard studio executives say, ‘[t]hey like you, they’ve just decided to go younger.'" With her sitcom chops from Suddenly Susan, Griffin should have had a high-profile TV gig in an instant if it weren't for Hollywood ageism.
As of now, Kathy Griffin is sticking to small roles on TV shows like American Dad and The President Show since the end of her reality show My Life on the D-List. While her acting career has slowed down, her fight for equality in Hollywood is showing no sign of stopping.
Huong Hoang wasn't a very well known actress, but she was definitely an aspiring one, someone who was clearly willing to do everything she can to get into Hollywood.
After starring only in a few unknown movies such as Fifth Ward, A Gang Land Love Story, and Ungirlfriendable, Hoang realized that she was reaching a certain age barrier that would only make getting work in film even more difficult. So, she resorted to strong measures, by altering her age on her IMDb profile. IMDb responded by changing the age to the correct number, and se responded back by suing them.
Now, ultimately the lawsuit was lost by Hoang, and it's pretty easy to see why. Ageism in the industry would make it difficult for any actress to take a role, much less an actress who isn't in her twenties. On the other hand, a company can't exactly have false information about someone in the film industry on their website if the purpose of said website was to provide information on the film industry. But it is important to remember what place Hoang came from. The film industry is a cutthroat business. She was simply doing everything she can to survive.
Do you have a favorite actress who doesn't get the role she deserves due to her age? Sound off in the comments!