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.
hey, wasn’t Arthur (?) ‘grandad’ Dunn the old guy in ‘Dad’s Army’ ? Heavily made up, I believe he was younger than the rest of the crew, and one of the only actors still with us!
Hmmmmm, Obviously I’ve never been in your position. However, my human is an author and faces something akin to “age rejection” by agents, most of which are in their twenties. He’s a seventy-year-old who’s been told by an agent that he is “simply to old to please a modern audience.” This is without there having read a single word he’s put on paper. Unlike your client he’s comfortable and proud he’s managed to survive and thinks the process it took to get there is worthwhile to communicate to others. My point, there are extremes both ways and neither serves agent or client. Maybe you could do your would-be clients a great favor by suggesting they do something similar in their profession. If their egos won’t take do you need them?
I find your human’s agent’s attitude outrageous and, frankly, offensive. It’s the same in the UK. I am getting sick of this constant post 30 discrimination. Recently, our wonderful BBC Radio 4 was labelled as appealing mostly to middle age, middle class audiences. The implication was that it should become more ‘inclusive’ (funny how that word only ever works in one direction). I would like to see all those authors, radio stations and artists who appeal to under 30s be equally ticked off for serving minority interest. And, considering the European population is ageing, indeed, they are. There is room for all of us in the world. Why can’t we just respect each-other’s point of views, and learn from each-other?
I’m 47 but with greasepaint and a skilled lighting operator I look 37.
With apologies to Shakespeare and Cleopatra:
“Age cannot wither her, but will affect
Her casting opportunity…”