Film

Emma Thompson has some typically sage words about the sexist Hollywood age gap

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Christobel Hastings
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Emma Thompson Late Night

Ever wondered why the female leads in Hollywood films are never the same age as their male counterparts? So has Emma Thompson - and she’s sick and tired of it. 

’Tis the season for festive traditions, and just like eating our body weight in mince pies, so too is watching Love Actually practically mandatory at this time of year.

Aside from the fact that watching the beloved Christmas romcom feels all the more pertinent this year for its exploration of love, heartbreak and isolation (here’s to you, 2020), it need hardly be said that there is never not a good time to heed Emma Thompson’s wise words.

This season, however, the straight-talking actress isn’t regailing us with stories of faithfully watching the film every year, but speaking out about Hollywood sexism on the run-up to her new comedy Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, in which she plays a widowed school teacher who hires a sex worker in his early twenties for a night of bliss.

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In an appearance on the new CultureBlast podcast, she questioned why older actresses rarely get to have an on-screen romantic interest who is significantly younger than them - as opposed to basically every Hollywood rom-com which pairs male leads with women more than several years their junior.

“It’s very interesting with this woman I’m about to play,” she pondered. “This young man says, ‘You’re perfectly attractive, why can’t you find another chap?’ And she says, ‘Because the only people willing to sleep with me are people my age, and I want to sleep with someone younger than me’”.

The two-time Oscar winner went on to unpack, in typically pithy form, the insidious double standard that exists for older women in the industry.

“Now I’ve never heard a woman say that on screen. With men, it’s completely acceptable. It’s completely acceptable for George Clooney - who is delightful - to have someone who is 30 years younger than him. If I have someone playing opposite me in a romantic way, they have to exhume someone, because I’m 61 now. Do you see what I mean? It’s completely and utterly unbalanced.”

Emma Thompson is editing the essay collection Last Christmas.
Emma Thompson is set to star in a new comedy, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, about a retired widow who hires a sex worker in his early 20s.

Thompson has long been a voice of change about the inequalities facing women in the film industry. In 2018, she recalled how she was told that Hugh Grant was too young to play her love interest in Sense And Sensibility, despite the fact that she was merely a year older than him at the time. Which would be laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic.

“It’s extraordinary,” she told Yahoo Movies. “I remember listening to people say Hugh Grant was too young for me in Sense and Sensibility, when I was 35 and he was 34. You just go, ‘OK, this is really endemic, really deep, deep, deep in our culture’, so it has to change.”

“I’ve been doing gags about this for centuries,” she continued. “I’ve literally been doing stand-up about this for 30 years. They’re going to have to exhume someone to play opposite me. That’s the gag. I just played a late-night talk show host talking about that: ‘What are you going to do, I’m nearly 60, I’m in Hollywood, so next time someone’s going to play opposite me, who’s it going to be? They’re going to have to dig them up’”.

Emma Thompson on equal pay: “This is the fact: this person does the same work for less money, and that’s just wrong.”

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with an age difference, whether it’s an on-screen relationship or a real-life one. But we all need honest representation, and frankly, no-one needs another true love narrative with a leading man who’s thirty years older than his female co-star. 

Good luck to you Emma Thompson, for calling attention to this gross discrepancy, and we’ll stay poised to watch Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, too.

Images: Getty