I used to be a theatrical agent. A few of my ex-clients, I now have the pleasure and privilege of calling my friends. Perhaps one of them will be able to solve this particular puzzle. Or did this happen only to me?
An actress is sitting opposite me in my office, discussing the possibility of representation. She is talking about herself while I occasionally glance down at her CV in my lap. She is describing her stage background, her screen aspirations and her experiences with invariably either predatory or invertebrate agents. I listen attentively. Then she says, “I’m fifty but I look forty. In fact, people have told me I can play down to mid-thirties.”
At that point, I assume a ponderous expression and let my eyes drift to one of the prints on my walls. Above all, I am taken aback by the statement-like assurance of her sentence. She is not asking me if I think she looks younger than her age. She is telling me, as though presenting an indisputable proven fact.
The truth is, I estimated her real age accurately – give or take a year – the moment I met her. However, this possibility has evidently not crossed her field of thought. Her certainty makes it impossible for me to venture my opinion without appearing either argumentative, or impolite, or insensitive to that well of insecurity and vulnerability actors believe they have patented.
So, I am left with the following – sadly unanswered questions: What makes her think she looks a whole decade younger? Am I the only optically proven long-sighted, as opposed to myopic, professional in this industry? Who are the individuals who have been telling her that she can even get away with playing a whole fifteen years younger? Can they be legally muzzled?
I can honestly say that 99% of actors I’ve met have this perception discrepancy about their playing age. Interestingly, they always believe that they look younger than they are. This notion is equally widespread among male actors, as well as female. It also covers every age group. Forty-somethings inform me they look at least ten years younger. Twenty-somethings assure me they can play pre-pubescents. I suspect (although have not had personal experience) there are teenagers out there who are convinced they can interpret toddler characters.
I dream, someday, of meeting an actor who will look at me straight in the eye and say, “Although I am X years old, I can easily play up five or ten years.”
Then I wake up.