Gavin Polone: Keanu Reeves, His Girlfriend and Hollywood's Double Standard on Gray Hair

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The Nov. 2 photos of Keanu Reeves, 55, with silver-haired Alexandra Grant, 46, melted the internet, in part because she was mistaken for Helen Mirren, 74.

The silver-bearded producer analyzes the modern culture of personal (and business) appearances, interviewing female showbiz friends and asking why a movie star’s choice to date a natural-looking woman goes viral.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend forwarded me an article from Vulture. Up top was that photo of Keanu Reeves holding the hand of a lovely gray-haired woman named Alexandra Grant as they entered a recent event at LACMA. The headline is "Wait, Is This Keanu Reeves' Girlfriend?" Not "Is This Keanu Reeves' Girlfriend?" nor "Keanu Reeves Seems to Have a Girlfriend." The article also links to a 2016 picture of the couple "gazing lovingly into each other's eyes," so the surprise indicated by "Wait" can't be related to the fact that these two people are together, which is an old story, but rather because Keanu, who is around nine years older than Ms. Grant, is with a woman who has gray hair and who maybe, God forbid, is age appropriate.

I find it odd that, during this time of cultural reassessment on how women are treated in society, few are examining how differently men and women are judged vis-a-vis personal appearance. A great example can be derived from this publication's Most Powerful People in Entertainment 2019 list, published in October, which included pictures of 63 men with gray hair, 42 men with no gray hair and five bald men. Zero of the 32 women included have gray hair in their photos. Not one. Obviously, many women choose to color their hair just because they like it that way, and there is nothing wrong with that. But that so many men feel comfortable looking their age, given that gray hair is the most overt indication of eldership, and so few women make that same choice, indicates to me that the perceived rules are different for each gender. If age and experience are qualities embraced for men but not women, it is understandable why there is such a disparity between the numbers of men vs. women at the top of the business.

I recently had lunch with my former management company partner, and very good friend, Judy Hofflund, who produced the hit 2018 film Murder on the Orient Express and is currently producing Death on the Nile for Disney. Because Judy has always been an outspoken and thoughtful feminist, I told her that I was thinking of writing a piece on how few women in this business have undyed hair. "Oh, that's interesting," Judy said, "I have a friend in Wyoming who has gray hair, and I told her, 'You're so pretty, you really should dye your hair. You'd look much younger.' "

I then asked: "Well, when you came in to the restaurant and saw me" — we hadn't seen each other in at least a year — "did you think about telling me that I should dye my white Santa Claus beard?"

"No," she replied. "But that is a real double standard, isn't it?"

I asked Judy why she continues to dye her hair. "I have so many colors in my hair, I only have to get highlights twice a year. If I had dark hair, I might think differently about it. It would take too much time," she said. "I wish there wasn't a double standard, mostly because of efficiency. I wear a lot less makeup now. It's nice to be able to take a shower and just walk out the door."

She thought some more. “I hate how it is acceptable for there to be a 20-year age difference between an actor and the woman he’s playing opposite, in movies. I’m outraged by it. So often, while I’m watching a movie, I’m googling ‘age of actor’…”

I asked her what she might like to see change for her two daughters' generation, regarding appearance standards for women? "Everybody should do what they want to do. I wish I didn't think it was odd when I see men who have dyed their hair. And why don't they get to wear makeup to hide the circles under their eyes?" I wondered if she was referring to the circles under my eyes … and would that work?

“I think the perfect world would be that men get to wear makeup and dye their hair, if they want to, and women don’t feel society’s pressure to do so," she said. "I believe that would go hand in hand with other kinds of equal treatment. But for now, it’s so ingrained that women have to ‘work’ to stay thin, hide their gray hair and wear makeup to look younger — and that’s unfortunate.”

Shortly after talking to Judy, I set a coffee with the one friend of mine who worked in the industry and decided to go gray, Elizabeth Cantillon. Elizabeth was a senior studio executive and for the past few years has been producing major movies, including the recent Charlie's Angels. I asked her why she decided to stop dying her hair brown. "The tyranny of having to color it so often," she responded. "I would leave the salon and think that I could already see the gray hair in the rearview mirror. It was a lot of time. When I'd go to New York with my male colleagues, after we'd arrive at the hotel, they'd say, 'I'm going to the gym, or my room, let's meet in the lobby in two hours.' And I'd have to take care of my hair and makeup and everything. I had a whole other job to do before I did my job."

I asked Elizabeth if it was difficult to get back to her natural hair color, which, I have to say, is stunningly beautiful. "You have to leave town, otherwise it would be impossible," she said. "I did it when I went away to Pittsburgh, on location. I highlighted it and kept cutting it and cutting it and it looked blond and gray and crazy. The hair and makeup people on the movie said, 'We don't like this' and they'd put purple in it because they felt sorry for me."

Did you think of giving up? I asked. "At points, I was very discouraged," she said. "But I felt it was a project and I wanted to see it all the way through. My husband loves it. Men and women stop me on the street. Men say, 'I like your hair,' and women ask, 'How'd you do it?' Then they always say, 'I don't think I'm as gray as you.' The truth is that you don't know what your hair will look like when you stop dying it. But I have to say that if I were out looking for a film studio executive job, I probably wouldn't have changed my hair color."

I firmly believe that everyone should be able to decide on how to present themselves to the world, within some contextual boundaries, so as not offend people in the workplace. Mon Laferte's naked red carpet walk was fine for the Latin Grammys in Las Vegas but would probably not do for most studio, network or agency staff meetings. Conversely, coloring one's hair should be totally up to the individual without judgment by others or anxiety that such a decision will affect his or her career. When I approached other women who dye their hair about giving me an on-the-record-interview, they told me that they thought it was great that I was writing about these two sets of rules, but weren't willing to expose themselves by talking about it. This shows that the culture needs to change.

What is acceptable in terms of personal appearance has shifted a lot in this country over time. When the nation was founded, men and women either wore powdered wigs, like George Washington, or they powdered their hair to make it look white. Both men and women wore makeup then, as well. Not that long ago, when I had brown hair and a brown beard, few young people had tattoos and many had pubic hair. Now the opposite is true for both.

If we were all to check and moderate our reactions to things like photos of celebrities who date women with gray hair, and stop commenting on anyone's weight or makeup or whatever, those who want to conform less in order to avoid the "tyranny of the salon" or spend less time putting on makeup or starving themselves could give up those chores more comfortably. I know I've been judgy in the past and I'm going to pay greater attention to avoiding that behavior going forward.

Men and women are either equal in the entertainment industry or they are not. If a man makes a certain amount for his position, a woman must make the same for that position. If a man can be appreciated and accepted based on his character, even though he is gray, fat and wrinkly, and there are many who are, then a woman should be appreciated and accepted based on her character, even if she is all of that, as well.

This story first appeared in the 2019 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.