Hottest stars at the Emmys
Emmy nom Reese rewrites the rules for 40-somethings
Show business has always been hell for women over 40. That was true when Bette Davis bemoaned “the big 4-0” in “All About Eve” nearly 67 years ago, and it’s still largely true today. But just as baby boomers Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon and Kathy Bates have found a guardian angel in Ryan Murphy and his “Feud” and “American Horror Story” series, Gen-X actresses now have one in Reese Witherspoon.
The 41-year-old star — up for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series at Sunday’s Emmy Awards, for HBO’s “Big Little Lies” — founded a production company, Pacific Standard Films, dedicated to creating meaty roles for women of a certain age. After all, Hollywood is still OK casting 33-year-old Sarah Wright as 55-year-old Tom Cruise’s wife in the new movie “American Made.”
Witherspoon was driven to take matters into her own hands following a grim period when she starred in such lame movie comedies as “Four Christmases” and “This Means War.”
“I dread reading scripts that have no women involved in their creation,” Witherspoon said at the 2015 Glamour Women of the Year Awards. “Because, inevitably, I get to that part where the girl turns to the guy, and she says, ‘ What do we do now?!’ ”
Rather than waiting for someone to write a great part for her and her pals, Witherspoon became assertive about acquiring the rights to books she could turn into strong TV and film projects: “Big Little Lies” and the movies “Gone Girl” and “Wild.” Among the tomes the actress is said to have in some form of development are the thrillers “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware and “All Is Not Forgotten” by Wendy Walker; the nonfiction “Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield” by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon; and “Truly Madly Guilty,” another whodunit from “Big Little Lies” author Liane Moriarty.
The Moriarty gambit is a smart one: “Big Little Lies,” which Witherspoon executive-produced, was nominated for a whopping 16 Emmys — including for 50-yearold co-stars Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman (also an executive producer on the show).
The HBO drama about California mothers and their discontent was full of fascinating, complex women. Despite the drama, it looked like real life: A character played by Zoë Kravitz, 28, had a kid in first grade, as did those played by Dern and Kidman and Witherspoon. The series was also transformative, getting people to talk about Kidman’s complicated, heart-wrenching turn as a victim of domestic abuse — rather than her Botox. Meanwhile, the actress’ career has had a doozy of a resurgence this year, with her roles in the movie “The Beguiled” and TV’s “Top of the Lake: China Girl” (both helmed by women directors).
Now, Witherspoon is aiming to create a must-watch series for herself and her pal Jennifer Aniston, 48, whose career has all but fizzled out since she reigned as America’s sitcom queen during the 1994-2004 run of “Friends.” She and Witherspoon are teaming up to star in and co-executive-produce a new show about morning TV; although it’s not adapted from a book, Jay Carson of “House of Cards” will write the script — hopefully indicating the series will be more fraught than fun and frothy.
Woman over 40 spent too long in the Hollywood graveyard, but now, hallelujah, they can rise again. All it takes is befriending Witherspoon.
BOSS LADY: Reese Witherspoon executive-produced the HBO series “Big Little Lies,” which was nominated for 16 Emmys — including an acting nod for her.