Revenge of the Over-40 Actress
"We needed someone with some real gravitas who you would take seriously in the part," says Bario. "You need someone with real credibility. Ten years ago, the role would have simply been cast as a man. But we wanted to work with her."
But while more opportunities are there, navigating a successful film career is tricky -- for actresses of any age.
Serving as something of a doorkeeper for many of the hottest actresses in the over-40 demo is CAA's Kevin Huvane. He has cornered the market with a roster that includes Bullock, McCarthy, Streep, Davis, Berry, Jennifer Aniston, Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Moore, Wright, Renee Zellweger, Parker, Close and Annette Bening. However, rival agents snicker at the downside of Huvane's stacked list. "When a hot script comes in, is Aniston the sixth person to see it?" asks a rival agent. While CAA insists many of those on Huvane's list have happily been with him for years, Huvane declined comment.
To maintain a career -- and to ensure its momentum -- actresses, and their teams, actively have to be involved in nurturing it: taking on a variety of roles, looking to image-enhancing jobs in indie films and TV. To some observers, for example, Aniston has been in one too many romantic comedies. "She's played the damsel in distress too often, and so hasn't really shown her range," says one.
Instead, better to mix it up. Consider Vera Farmiga, who turns 40 this summer: She recently landed the female lead in Warner Bros.' The Judge opposite Robert Downey Jr. -- like Paltrow, she'll be playing an age-appropriate love interest for the 48-year-old Downey.
"We still see scripts where it says the male lead is 38, but we know he's going to be played by a guy who's 45, and the female lead is written as 28, 29," notes Farmiga's manager, Jon Rubinstein. "But things are changing. It's not like they're putting Demi Lovato opposite Downey."
Farmiga's career arc mirrors that of many of her contemporaries whose stock remains in demand even when they no longer can play the ingenue. She hasn't just sat around waiting to be invited to the party. Instead, after earning a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for 2009's Up in the Air, in which she more than held her own as a tough-as-nails road warrior opposite George Clooney, the actress chose to use the moment to direct the drama Higher Ground, which Sony Pictures Classics released in 2011. Similarly, in-demand stars from Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey) to Drew Barrymore (Whip It) temporarily have put their lucrative acting careers on hold in their mid-30s to direct feature films.
Farmiga then made the once-taboo decision to dabble in TV at the height of her big-screen career, taking a starring role on A&E's Bates Motel as Norma Bates, domineering mother to psycho-in-training Norman Bates. The move has paid off -- the unstable Norma has been a real showcase, allowing the actress to whipsaw between flirtatiousness one moment and murderous rage the next -- and the series has been picked up for a second season.
"I advise any actor to take control of your career," says Feig. "Start doing stand-up. Start writing roles for yourself. When you're sitting around waiting for the town to have an epiphany, you're going to sit forever. Look for the parts, chase the parts, but at the same time, seize control."
Kristen Wiig did just that when she co-wrote and starred in Feig's Bridesmaids. She finds herself among the town's most in-demand despite being on the precipice of 40 (she turns 40 this summer). "She's definitely someone who can get a movie made on her name alone," notes Gabler.
Cable TV continues to be a mainstay for actresses looking to challenge any preconceptions about them. "People who weren't getting great movie roles went where the great roles were," says HBO programming president Michael Lombardo of the move to TV. "The journey from TV back to movies became a much more fluid, accepted and easy journey for women of a certain age than the traditional 35-year-old female movie star."
He credits Elizabeth I, the 2005 HBO miniseries starring Mirren as the fabled queen, for reigniting that actress' career because it "helped audiences rediscover this incredibly vital, sexy, powerful woman over 40. It helped her build a successful and exciting career as a woman over 40."
Mirren's counterparts taking advantage of the HBO route include Cate Blanchett, 44, who is developing the memoir Cancer Vixen at HBO about cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto's battle with breast cancer; and Kidman, 45, who starred in HBO's Hemingway & Gellhorn and is developing the best-seller Reconstructing Amelia.
And streaming services like Netflix also promise to be welcoming. Wright, 47, has earned some of the best reviews of the year for the Netflix series House of Cards, playing a modern-day Lady Macbeth to Kevin Spacey's scheming congressman. That move, which at one time might have looked risky, has done nothing to hurt her big-screen opportunities. She stars in a pair of upcoming films: the Anton Corbijn-helmed thriller A Most Wanted Man opposite McAdams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the sexy drama Adore with Watts. And she's even grappled with the plight of aging actresses in Ari Folman's animated The Congress, which just debuted at the Cannes Film Festival.