How would you feel if you were matched with someone more than 10 or 20 years older than you? This is the feeling many actresses face. It has become very common in Hollywood films for male leads to be older than their female leads, especially when it comes to love interests.
Magic in the Moonlight (2014) stars Colin Firth, 56. His love interest: Emma Stone, 28 – an astonishing 28 years in between them. When Colin Firth was Emma Stone’s age, she was being born!
And there are many more examples: Pretty Woman (1990) stars Richard Gere who was 18 years older than his love interest Julia Roberts. Angelina Jolie in Mr and Mrs Smith (2005) was 12 years younger than on-screen husband Brad Pitt. Silver Linings Playbook (2012) showed the relationship between Bradley Cooper, 42, and Jennifer Lawrence, 26. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) had an age gap of 16 years between Leonardo DiCaprio, 42, and Margot Robbie, 26.
Even more recently: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) stars Tom Cruise, 55, alongside his female co-star Rebecca Ferguson, 33. Passengers (2016) stars Jennifer Lawrence who is 26, 11 years younger than Chris Pratt, 37. In Office Christmas Party (2016) Jason Bateman’s love interest Olivia Munn is 12 years younger than him.
So, the questions that begin to arise are: Why are many female leads significantly younger than their male co-stars? Is Hollywood sexist when it comes to lead roles?
Amy Schumer addressed these issues through her satire sketch: ‘Last Fuckable Day’. It stars herself alongside notable actresses Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette. They celebrate Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ ‘last fuckable day’, a term used to describe the time when the media decide when an actress is no longer seen as ‘fuckable’ to the public eye.
Tina Fey uses examples such as actress Sally Field, who had played Tom Hanks’ love interest in Punchline (1988) yet six years later she played the role of Tom Hanks’ mother in Forrest Gump (1994). She implies that as she had aged, she had lost the ability to be believably sexy and attractive to the audience. Then all three actresses state that they had recently auditioned for the role of ‘Mrs Claus’.
This suggests that the age gaps between male and female leads are due to female actresses not being believably sexy at an older age.
Suicide Squad (2016) portrayed the dark relationship between Harley Quinn and The Joker. The characters were admired globally on social media for their homicidal love, yet Jared Leto is just under 20 years older than Margot Robbie.
Margot Robbie and Jared Leto at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con International, Image Gage Skidmore on Flickr, Creative Commons licence.
However, despite being 45, Jared Leto was still rated 29th in Glamour’s Most 100 Sexiest Men 2016 – not to mention Chris Pratt, 37, was rated 18th also. This links to the next issue raised in Amy Schumer’s sketch: Men are sexy no matter how old they are. For Harley Quinn to be sexy, her actress had to be in her twenties, yet The Joker’s actor was allowed to be in his forties.
Nonetheless, it has to be said that not all Hollywood films do display an age gap – one being The Hunger Games film series (2012-2015). Jennifer Lawrence, the main protagonist of the film, is 26; she is older than love interest Josh Hutcherson, 24, and one year younger than her other love interest Liam Hemsworth, 27.
Rebecca Ferguson is significantly younger than Tom Cruise in 2015’s Mission Impossible film, yet she is not sexualised and her age does not deteriorate her character’s strengths and power. Kenneth Turan’s review highlights this: “Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson brings a bit of unexpected maturity and substance to the role of the inscrutable Ilsa Faust, an individual who is fully Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) equal, and then some, in derring-do. Yes, she has a scene in a black bikini, but you’d better believe she is wearing it for an operational reason.”
The Hunger Games’ main protagonist was a female who was supposed to be 16, with Josh Hutcherson’s character to be the same age and Liam Hemsworth’s character to be two years older. There were no distinctive age gaps because the film was based on a teen novel and they contextually had to all be around the same age.
Furthermore, Rebecca’s Ferguson portrayed her character well, but it does not excuse the fact that she is 22 years younger than Tom Cruise. Would she had gotten the role as Ilsa Faust if she was ten years older?
Let’s compare to Jennifer Aniston’s most recent roles, who is 48. She starred in Office Christmas Party (2016), as the bitchy older sister – no love interests – and what’s even more ironic is her role as a divorced mother whose husband remarries a younger woman in Mother’s Day (2016) (perhaps the film was predicting Jennifer Aniston’s career; she can’t be seen as sexy anymore so will be dropped for a younger actress).
Ultimately, this infers that once women hit a certain age, in their forties or fifties, they are not seen as attractive by the media. So Rebecca Ferguson getting the part if she was ten years older can be seen as highly doubtful. It is suggested that Hollywood films employ younger actresses to draw more attention and sell more tickets – even if Suicide Squad’s audience at its premier screening was 46% female.
Equal pay is not the only issue actresses face – they are battling equal representation and the end of superficial stereotypes. Is Hollywood sexist by hiring significantly younger actresses? Judging by the amount of films, it certainly comes across that way. One can only wait for the day when middle-aged male leads having female leads or love interests more or less their same age becomes more common in the Hollywood film industry.