They often say that 30 is the new 20, but for women in Hollywood, the opposite is true: 30 is the new “Golden Girls.”
According to actress Olivia Wilde, she was turned down for the role of Leonardo DiCaprio’s second wife in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a Jersey Shore Barbie-type, because producers told her she was “too sophisticated” for the part. Wilde took the rejection as a “compliment” until she found out the real reason. In a recent interview with radio show host Howard Stern, she clarified that they actually thought she was “too old.” Wilde told Stern,” I want to make a translation sheet for Hollywood that’s all the feedback your agents give you and what it really means.”
Wilde is currently 32, but when the Martin Scorsese-directed film was cast back in 2012, she would have been just 28—a full decade younger than DiCaprio. The role eventually went to up-and-coming Australian actress Margot Robbie (soon to be seen in “Suicide Squad”), who is eight years Wilde’s junior. Getting turned down for “The Wolf of Wall Street” did, however, help her land a role in “Vinyl,” the '70s-set musical drama executive-produced by Scorsese that recently debuted on HBO.
According to Wilde, this incident was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the everyday sexism she’s witnessed in Hollywood. Before making it big, Wilde was the assistant to esteemed casting director Mali Finn, who passed away in 2007. The two once worked with one particular male director who she remembers being especially “terrible.” “We had one director who said, 'I just wanna meet every hot girl in Hollywood,'” Wilde told Howard Stern. “We'd have someone come in, like, Juilliard trained, and she would be brilliant, and she would leave the room and he'd go, 'Did one of her boobs look smaller?’”
But Olivia Wilde’s own experience with industry prejudice sets a new low bar for Hollywood ageism. Previously, actresses Anne Hathaway and Maggie Gyllenhaal were the standard bearers of age-based discrimination. At the ripe young age of 32, Hathaway told Glamour UK that she’d already begun to get turned away. “When I was in my early twenties, parts would be written for women in their fifties and I would get them, she said. “And now I'm in my early thirties and I'm like, ‘Why did that 24 year old get that part?’” Gyllenhaal, meanwhile, claimed that casting directors told her she was too old to play a 55-year-old’s love interest. She was 37.
Hollywood’s age problem when it comes to women has long been an issue in an industry noted by wide age differences between on-screen leads—as men are routinely paired with women who could play their daughters, or even granddaughters. In “Something’s Gotta Give” and “As Good As It Gets,” Jack Nicholson, respectively, shared the screen with Amanda Peet (then 31) and Helen Hunt (then 34). Comparatively, that’s not even all that bad: Sean Connery was 69 and still bagging a 30-year-old Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Entrapment.”
This has been true ever since Bogart romanced Audrey Hepburn, but these glaring gender gaps seem to be getting even worse in recent years. Forbes’ Scott Mendelson points out the “Austin Powers” series as a notable example: When the first film debuted, only a year separated Mike Myers and his co-star, Elizabeth Hurley. But when the film was greenlit for a sequel, Hurley was replaced with Heather Graham, who was seven years younger than Myers. When “Goldmember” came out in 2002, Myers (now 39) was matched with an even younger lead: a then-20 year old Beyoncé Knowles. At this rate, a fourth “Austin Powers” film would co-star a preteen.
Considering this phenomenon, it’s worth asking: If the definition of “over-the-hill” has moved from 37 to 32 to now even as young as 28, how much lower can Hollywood possibly go? In Amy Schumer’s famous skit on the subject, “Last Fuckable Day,” Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette jokes that “Boyhood” is being re-made with Selena Gomez in her part. Gomez, a fresh-faced former Disney starlet, is currently 23, but it’s scary to realize that joke may only be accurate for the next couple years. Five years from now, she may find herself “too sophisticated” for the role.