Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange get real about film industry ageism

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Kayleigh Dray
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Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange are two of Hollywood’s most respected actors; over their decades-long careers, they’ve collected a bevy of awards, starred in a number of challenging roles, and made names for themselves as true talents.

Now the decorated duo have teamed up to star in Ryan Murphy's new TV series Feud, which is based on the legendary backstage battle between screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who became bitter rivals shortly after starring in classic 1962 film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

The show, which has been described as ‘progressive’, ‘emotional’, and ‘painful’, may be set in 1962, but the themes it tackles are increasingly modern.

Speaking at the Television Critics Association this week, Lange explained: “I think that a big part of the show is what Hollywood does to women as they age, which is just a microcosm of what happens to women generally as they age, whether they become invisible, or unattractive, or undesirable.

“What happens when that [woman’s] beauty is no longer considered viable because it’s equated with youth?”

Lange, 67, also pointed out that Crawford was actually 10 years younger than she is now when she starred in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

“And yet her career was finished,” the American Horror Story star added, pointing out that many women in today’s film industry still find themselves judged by these same ageist standards.

“I don’t think it has changed very much, to tell you the truth. I don’t… if the powers that be aren’t interested in a story of a woman of a certain age, [then older women won’t be cast in these stories].”

Sarandon, 70, agreed with her co-star, although she did allow that “things have changed” a little for women in the film industry; many women, she pointed out, have begun developing their own projects, and writing their own roles – and many, herself included, have enjoyed long and flourishing careers.

“When I started, it was over by 40,” she said. “So definitely the line has been pushed… but ageing actors still have the same problems. I can guarantee that.”

Speaking about Feud, which also boasts the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones and Stanley Tucci, executive producer Dede Gardner echoed Murphy’s sentiments that the show covers current issues.

“I think the show is deeply modern,” he said. “I think it’s delicious of a celebration of a town that was less crowded, but I don’t think it romanticizes it. I think it calls it out for its truisms.

“These women were treated brutally and were meant to treat each other brutally, and seemingly that was the only way to succeed, and I don’t think much has changed in that regard.”

Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Helen Mirren, Patricia Arquette and Anne Hathaway are just a few of the actors who have spoken out to highlight the issue of Hollywood ageism, with Thompson declaring it to be "insane".

Olivia Wilde and Maggie Gyllenhaal have also discussed being turned down for parts because they were deemed too old for the leading man - who were all played by male actors older than them.

However Charlize Theron famously defended youth-obsessed studio bosses when she told Entertainment Tonight: “Now that I'm 41 I work much more than 20 years ago, and I enjoy it even more. And all the women I know say the same thing, so it's time to stop this cliché.”


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.