Silver Hair on the Silver Screen?
In Hollywood, looks are everything. So as aging actors and actresses lose their dewy complexions, fit physiques and youthful presence on the big screen, they have traditionally dropped off the A-list for lead roles and resorted to character roles, commercials or even moving behind the camera instead.
But the tide seems to be turning (albeit slowly) for these seasoned thespians. Lately, we’ve been seeing more and more films centered on the baby boomer generation (and beyond), and a result, more of our favorite actors and actresses are claiming the limelight when they’ve really earned their acting chops.
Adam Moore, from the U.S. actors’ union SAG-AFTRA, credits this shift in part to a change in box office demographics. “The people who have the dollars to spend aren’t in their 20s,” he says. “It’s a much richer tapestry and a much older population. People are demanding to see their own stories reflected.”
In fact, in 2001, when 72-year-old Ed Asner was finding it increasingly difficult to land good TV roles due to his age, he went before a joint legislative hearing that focused primarily on the entertainment industry to stress the impact of how TV and film portrays the older generation. When seniors are represented as frail, senile and unable to care for themselves, he explained, it’s only natural that the stereotype will stick in viewers’ minds.
A decade and a half down the road, it seems TV and film producers are finally getting with the program, and the result is not only more lead roles for older actors and actresses but also roles that more accurately reflect a generation who is ready and able to do anything but be typecast. Take movies, for example, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with Harrison Ford, 72, back as Han Solo; Truth, where 79-year-old legend Robert Redford doesn’t miss a beat as Dan Rather; and Ricki and the Flash, with 66-year-old Meryl Streep channeling her inner rock star. These movies—and their stars—work hard to dispel society’s cockeyed perception of older folks. And they succeed.
Other seasoned stars who have popped up on the big screen in the past year are 79-year-old Bruce Dern in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight; Maggie Smith, 81, starring in true story-turned-comedy/drama The Lady in the Van; Robert De Niro, who at 72 played the world’s oldest intern in the film of the same name; and Charlotte Rampling, recently nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in 45 Years. 80-year-old Alan Alda, who is a little grayer than his days as Hawkeye Pierce but no less charismatic, also appears in a small role alongside Tom Hanks in the blockbuster movie Bridge of Spies.
Studios and producers are suddenly realizing which side their popcorn is buttered on, and if recent films are any indication, we think you’ll be seeing veteran actors in more and more meaty and meaningful roles in the future.
Share your favorite veteran actors and the roles you’ve loved them in throughout their careers.