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MOVIE STARS No aging gracefully for actresses hitting 40



Published: Thu, July 7, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Scripts are written more for young audiences, with less roles for older women.

By RUTHE STEIN

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Nicole Kidman has been sticking her cute-as-a-button nose where it shouldn't be. Since winning an Oscar for "The Hours," Kidman has chosen unwisely, appearing either in movies where she's seriously miscast ("The Human Stain" and "Cold Mountain") or in outright clunkers ("The Stepford Wives," "Birth" and the current "Bewitched," which even her prodigious nose-wiggling couldn't save).

Kidman is working too much -- 12 films in three years, counting a few in preproduction -- and that's bound to affect the quality.

A Vanity Fair profile of the star reveals a distressing reason for her grabbing up so much of what is offered.

"Every so often, someone asks, 'Why is she doing so many movies?' I just look at them and think, maybe you don't know what happens to actresses," Nora Ephron, director of "Bewitched," is quoted as saying. "Maybe you don't know that almost nobody makes it past 40 without their career taking some kind of turn. I think Nicole will go on working after she's 40, but you can't delude yourself that it'll be the same parts."

Kidman, who turned 38 two weeks ago, isn't the only in-demand actress who'd better watch her back. So should Sandra Bullock (41), Halle Berry (38), and Renee Zellweger and Cate Blanchett (both 36), among others. Julia Roberts (37) seems to have belatedly recalled this fact of Hollywood life. Wavering in her vow to take off five years to raise her twins, Roberts is considering starring in "The Family Way," based on a novel about a subject near and dear to her: motherhood.

Losing good roles

You don't have to look far to see the fate of most female stars once they celebrate the big 40. A Bermuda Triangle has virtually swallowed up Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Daryl Hannah, Kim Basinger, Ellen Barkin, Rosanna Arquette and many others.

The TV documentary "Searching for Debra Winger" explored the case of the disappearing older Hollywood actress, using the once hot star of "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Terms of Endearment" as a prime example.

Winger told me she has no regrets about her stalled career. "There hasn't been a film in the last six years where I looked at it and said, 'Darn, I wish I had been in that.'"

And she's right. Hollywood long ago stopped writing juicy parts for actresses of a certain age, who are relegated to playing Lindsay Lohan's mother -- if they're lucky.

Diminishing audience

This wasn't always the case. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were allowed to age gracefully on the screen and piled on Oscar nominations way past 40. There are exceptions even today -- Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon still get roles worthy of them.

However, Hollywood's relentless pursuit of the under-25 audience has shut out most women past 40, although not their male counterparts, who continue to play leads well into their 60s opposite actresses half their age.

As a result, many Hollywood beauties, terrified of looking their years, are turning to cosmetic surgery and Botox to stay forever young. Sigourney Weaver told me her reaction to a couple of her contemporaries interviewed on TV. "Clearly, these women all had had Botox. They were having this very animated conversation, without anyone moving any parts of their face. They looked like they were from another planet," said Weaver, who knows an alien when she sees one.

"My peer group was all panicked about turning 40," Barkin told me. "But I sat with an actress friend the other day who is under 30 and who makes over $10 million a movie and is concerned about turning 30. So now it isn't even 40 -- it's 30."

I'll tell you what it is. It's scary. Actresses turn themselves into zombies and accept parts beneath them out of fear that the offers could dry up on their next birthday. That's some present from Hollywood.




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