Hollywood Myths II: It’s all in the age, babe.

I know, I know. You were all on the edge of your seats these past few days just waiting for me to continue spilling the beans about what living in Hollywood is really like. I had every intention of doing so as well until I began meditating on a different topic. Age.

Age is a subject most Hollywood performers would rather pretend doesn’t exist. But if you’re in the business age is not just about getting older. It has everything to do with the roles you’ll play and how much competition you have.

This all occurred to me the other day after speaking with a casting director from a big city in Canada who told me they had a serious shortage of 30-something actresses in town. How odd, I thought. Until I realized one of the reasons there’s probably such a shortage is because (as I’ve talked about before) by the time many performers enter their thirties they begin to seriously reconsider their choice to pursue acting. Many people realize that their dreams of having a family, or buying a home, or of having some kind of normalcy don’t necessarily gel with the unstable life of an actor and they opt to leave the profession. This is when things get interesting for the rest of us.

If you’re a performer in your early twenties the pool of competition is ridiculously big. You’re going up against every other twenty-three year old wannabe starlet who’s fighting tooth-and-nail to land that “big job”. It can be pretty hairy until many of the others realize that eating bananas for dinner is not so glamorous and at the ripe old age of twenty-six they retire. But not us, no sir; we like bananas thank-you-very-much.

If you can stick it out during this tumultuous time (and that’s not to say one won’t work in their twenties because there’s plenty of performers that age out there) you’re already yards closer to the finish line. (I think that’s the phrase they use?)

This also brings up another interesting point – where a performer is located geographically at any given age will have a huge impact on how much they work. I will never forget my old agent in Toronto, bless her heart. We were both frustrated at the number of commercial jobs I was losing to women who were just a few years older than me and we vowed to change it. We tried everything from new head-shots that were meant to portray me as an older “simpler” woman (to use an unpopular, politically incorrect term we basically tried to ‘ugly me up’ a little), to me going into castings with pleated linen pants and horrendous pastel sweater sets I wouldn’t be caught dead in normally. Still, nothing worked.

Yet all that changed the day I began working in Greece. My very first commercial was for baby formula, and I did an offensively large number of TV ad’s after that which all required me to play a mother. Had I been in Canada I would have been looked at as far too young to play the average mom, but in Greece my age was just right and it led to many opportunities I wouldn’t have had if I had been younger; or older for that matter.

There are a lot of performers with similar stories. One actress who comes to mind is Julianne Moore. She worked from a young age but it wasn’t really until she hit her late thirties that her career really took off, and look how talented she is! This is usually when people start using phrases like “she was at the right place at the right time”. Instead, maybe we should start saying things like “she was the right age at the right time”.

In Hollywood everyone seems to be scared about aging and I think it’s tragic. There are only so many roles for twenty-five year old women and men out there and as a performer the best roles usually come later in life. Not because young people aren’t interesting, but because with age comes life experience and there’s nothing more exciting for a performer than attacking a role that has real meat to it; something you can sink your teeth into and play the heck out of. Remember, when you’re forty you can use moisturizer to stave off Father Time, but trying to make your role as a high-school cheerleader interesting is substantially more difficult.

Yes, age can be a blessing and a curse. Many performers may not even begin working until they’re well into their thirties or forties, or maybe they’ll work like crazy when they’re young but not at all later on. There’s just no accounting for how kind show business will be to anyone. But it can be something wonderful to look forward to. A kind of cosmic acting karma, if you will, that allows everyone a time to shine – it may not be when you want but you will enjoy the ride anyways because you know you deserve it.


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