As a woman, working on camera in the film industry over the age of 40 is no easy task to accomplish. Ageism and sexism run rampant in a cutthroat industry that favors youth and beauty over everything else.
These five women have managed to defy the odds of the aging actress, however, and are still cast regularly in leading roles on the big screen, playing highly desirable and powerful roles that often win them the big golden statues. They are proof that incredible talent does count for something, and that you don’t have to give up on a career in film after a certain age.
Born in London England in 1945 as Helen Lydia Mirronoff, she started acting in school as a child, and by the time she was 20-years-old landed the part of Cleopatra in the National Youth Theatre production, which led to her signing with an agent. From then on her career took off and she played many roles in theatre, television and film. She has won an Academy Award for Best Actress, four SAG Awards, four BAFTAs, three Golden Globes, four Emmy Awards, and two Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Awards.
Unlike many actresses in the film business who struggle to find good parts as they grow older, her age has not prevented her from playing a diversity of roles, with an average of two starring roles a year. In fact, she earned her first Academy Award in 2006 for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. She most recently starred in The Debt this summer. She has another film now in post production and is currently on set filming a Phil Spector biography film. There is no slowing her down.
Sissy Spacek was born Mary Elizabeth Spacek in Texas, on Christmas Day in 1949. After high school she moved to New York City and lived with her cousin Rip Torn, in pursuit of a singing career. When that didn’t work out as planned, Rip helped her attend The Actors Studio where she honed her craft and eventually landed the part as Martin Sheen’s 15 year old girlfriend in Badlands, a film that would remain a pivotal moment in her film career.
While she is most well known for her role as the title character in Carrie, and the part that led to her Oscar -- Loretta Lynn in Coal Miners Daughter -- she has had great success in recent years as well, with a plethora of nominations and praise for her role in 2001’s In The Bedroom as the mother of a murdered son. She has worked constantly over the past decade starring in at least one film a year. This summer she starred in The Help, and she has another film, Blackbird, currently in post production.
Mary Louis Streep was born in 1949 in New Jersey, and after receiving her M.F.A from Yale School of Drama, she had a successful career in theatre. She soon began to audition for work in film, landing a small part in 1977’s Julia. After landing a part in The Deer Hunter and being nominated for an Academy Award for it, her career took off. A year later she starred in Kramer vs. Kramer for which she won her first Oscar.
She is widely regarded as one of the best actresses of all time, having received more Oscar and Golden Globe nominations than any other actor in the history of either award. Receiving the America Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 has not slowed her down either, having at least 2-3 roles a year since. She was last on the big screen in It’s Complicated and she has another film in post production called The Iron Lady, where she plays Margaret Thatcher. She is currently filming Great Hope Springs.
Born Diane Hall in 1946 in Los Angeles, she briefly attended college for acting, but dropped out to move to Manhattan and pursue her dreams. After studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse and landing a part on Broadway in Hair, she auditioned for Woody Allen’s production of Play It Again, Sam and landed the part. Her big break came when she was cast as Michael Corleone’s girlfriend in The Godfather, but she is most known for her title character role in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, for which she won her Oscar.
In 2003 she proved Twentieth Century Fox wrong when they declined to produce Something’s Gotta Give, fearing her and co-star Jack Nicholson, aged 57 and 66 at the time, were too old to be bankable romantic leads. The film went on to be a huge success. Sine 2006 she has also been the face of L’Oreal, as the make up industry recognized they needed to appeal to more women as they age. She most recently starred in 2010’s Morning Glory, and currently has two films in post production.
Daughter of famous actor Henry Fonda, Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda was born in 1937 in New York City. In 1954, after appearing with her father in a charity performance of The Country Girl, she became interested in acting. After Acting Studio legend Lee Strasberg told her she had real talent, she pursued the goal non-stop. By 1960 she had achieved success in theatre and easily made the jump into film, with at least two starring roles every year. In 1971 she won an Oscar for her starring role in Klute.
In the 1991 she retired from acting for over a decade, returning in 2005 for the hit Monster-In-Law, and following it up with a role as Lindsay Lohan’s grandmother in Georgia Rule. She has a new film premiering soon called Peace Love and Misunderstanding, with no plans to retire again anytime soon.
These ladies are remarkable as they help to pave the way for all actresses in Hollywood looking to maintain a career as they age and redefining what sells on screen. They all prove that it is possible to age gracefully on film, captivate an audience, and maintain a great career well into your 60s and 70s – all it takes is unquestionable talent and respect from the industry.
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