The rise of the 60+ female star
From Michelle Yeoh to Jennifer Coolidge, Hollywood is giving sexagenarians their due
DURING HER OPENING monologue with Amy Poehler at the 2014 Golden Globes, Tina Fey cracked a joke: “Meryl Streep is so brilliant in
August: Osage County, proving that there are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over 60.” Indeed, the industry has largely under-served women in the 60-and-over bracket since its genesis, with the exception of Streep or, more recently, Frances Mcdormand. As late as 2021, a US study — titled ‘It’s A Man’s (Celluloid) World’ — concluded that in the topgrossing films of that year, only six per cent of speaking characters were women over 60 (11 per cent were men in that age bracket).
Yet at this year’s Golden Globes ceremony, nine years after Fey’s takedown, there came glimmers of hope. Sixty-year-old Michelle Yeoh was crowned Best Actress In A Motion Picture — Musical Or Comedy. “Forty years... not letting go of this,” said the Everything Everywhere All At Once star while clutching her trophy. Sixty-four-yearold Angela Bassett claimed Best Supporting Actress for playing matriarch Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, with an Oscar nomination hard on its heels. Jennifer Coolidge, fresh from her Emmy win, scooped another prize for playing the troubled, tragic Tanya in The White Lotus.
The 61-year-old actor, who returned for the show’s second season, has spent her career playing the best friend, or in her own words “weirder people”, only getting her big break in recent years.
It took Coolidge’s longtime friend, the show’s creator Mike White, to pull her in from the periphery and give her a role that was still weird, but more worthy of her sensibilities. Similarly, EEAAO filmmakers Daniels wrote the role of Evelyn — a struggling Chinese-american laundromat owner — with Yeoh in mind.
The film became 2022’s biggest box-office surprise success, making over $105 million on a $14 million budget. Yeoh recalled to Empire her emotional response to finally reading a script about an ageing “superhero”, and how it made her relatable to a new wave of younger fans. “They get it right away,” she said of the film’s themes of intergenerational trauma. “They come up to me on the street and say, ‘You’re pretty cool.’” And audiences’ appetite for these characters doesn’t appear to be dwindling. The acclaimed comedy Hacks — which follows Deborah Vance, a legendary stand-up regaining autonomy in her later years — is now entering its third season. Seventy-oneyear-old Jean Smart stars in her first leading role in decades as Vance, and has earned a flurry of awards for her acerbic, complex performance. This uptick in major roles for sexagenarian women has resulted in lucrative, golden-trophy-spouting, undeniable success. Streep and Mcdormand have suddenly got a whole lot of company.