I had some time to think about how age has been a factor in the movie industry for quite some time, and how it appears that the "leading man" role in feature films seems to become younger and younger. I began doing a bit of research to further confirm my presumptions regarding this...and I think there just may be some validity to my theory after all. I began checking features films beginning in the mid 1940's and discovered some of the most popular leading men during this era would be considered today to be "older", more seasoned, veteran types of actors. Some of these leading men include Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Humphrey Bogart, Victor Mature, Burt Lancaster, David Niven and Walter Pigeon. The thing which unites these performers is that they all appear (what would be considered these days), as older.
These performers are by no means ancient; simply that by today's today's standards, they'd be considered practically middle aged. This may be due partly to their more rugged, masculine, authoritative mature appearance, as opposed to the softer, more youthful looking leading men of today's films. These performers left no doubt that they were indeed the "men" of their era in films and showcased their masculinity and athleticism onscreen, catering to a wide audience of the era (particularly females), who very much saw these actors as the epitome of what was widely considered to be the ideal leading man. The performers themselves, appearing to range in age from their 30's to early 40's were every bit the mainstay of what the 'leading man' should be, how he should look, etc. As I continued, I took a look at the leading men of the 1950's, which included the likes of Kirk Douglas, Howard Keel, Charlton Heston (who'd later go on to solidify his fame in the 1970's with such films as Soylent Green, The Omega Man, Anthony & Cleopatra, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, Earthquake and Airport 1975), Robert Mitchum, Glenn Ford, Richard Burton, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando and Tony Curtis, who, with his youthful good looks and charisma was one of the earliest performers to usher in the era of the youthful appearing actor whose youthful, softer look brought in even more female fans! While they (Curtis and Brando) possessed many of the characteristics of the leading men of the 40's, their youth factor was one of their more outstanding features. Their appearance relayed the look of youthful men in their mid 20's-early 30's, while still maintaining enough masculine zest and sex appeal to captivate their female audience.
It was evident that the "leading man" of feature films was indeed one who was appearing more youthful than before. As we move into the 1960's, we can now clearly see how obvious the appearance of the leading man had become one of sex appeal and youth. A young Dennis Hopper, youthful Peter Fonda, the youthful, virile looking Warren Beatty, a young Jack Nicholson, collegiate looking Dustin Hoffman, rough & tumble Sean "James Bond" Connery and a young naïve looking Midnight Cowboy Jon Voight were just a few of the new age of leading men gracing the silver screen. The stage seems to have been set to continue the trend of having younger and younger leading men headlining films and drawing target audiences (primarily females), to theaters to adore the new epitome of the leading man. While many of the 1940's leading men showcased their masculinity & sex appeal moreso in their deeds and performances on screen, these latest pack of leading men were just as apt to show 'skin', go shirtless and bare a lot more of their body's on screen than their 40's and 50's counterparts. However, there are the exceptions, with such actors like Victor Mature for example, who routinely would show plenty of their shirtless physique in films like "Samson & Delilah." The sex appeal displayed in this manner also showcased their youth.
The 1970's ushered in yet more examples of youthful actors breaking ground in motion pictures as leading men, such as Robert Redford (The Sting, Three Days Of The Condor, All The President's Men, etc), Robert Deniro (best known for Taxi Driver and The Godfather), Sylvester Stallone, Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame, perhaps actually more youthful appearing than many other performers at the time, Christopher Reeve and many others. A combination of youth, sex appeal and power/strength made many of the leading men of this era quite bankable. As an aspiring actor and member of SAG-AFTRA myself, I've seen firsthand the hunger for younger performers for film and television. On the very few occasions I do get to audition, it's usually for a role which I'm told is actually 10 or so years younger than my actual age (which is flattering, thank you...and no, I'm not divulging my age! LOL!) While there are middle aged/older performers being utilized on various projects, many more YOUNGER performers are hired for roles. During the 1980's and 1990's, it was becoming very clear that Hollywood was very much ready to bankroll projects featuring younger and younger performers in leading roles than ever before! However, as had been the case of the eras before them, many of the performers of the 1980's overlapped between those of the 70's and the impending 90's era performers. Some, while not as youthful appearing as some others, included Tom Cruise, Robert Deniro, etc., yet were still breakout stars in their films.
As we approach the 90's, it seemed as thought the "youth market" regarding actors was in full swing with performers like Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, who very much dominated the 90's with such major hits as SPEED, The Devil's Advocate and The Matrix. In SPEED, Keanu played a role which normally would've gone to a more authoritative, he-man, alpha male type like a Schwarzenegger, a Stallone or a Bruce Willis. However, again, we see an example of how youth is indeed a factor in the motion picture industry, with Keanu, like a number of other later (2000's), who some would say looked barely post teenaged (performers such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, etc.), were cast in roles that, had it been in the 1940's would more than likely been cast with performers like Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster and the like. In fact, some have argued that (for example), although Leonardo DiCaprio is an amazing talent, his youthful appearance is quite obvious and yet, has not in any way impaired his ability to maintain a box office draw. The tastes of the movie going public is apparently yearning for younger and younger appearing talent. In short, we have a very youth oriented film industry...or at least a very youthful APPEARING film industry. The hope is that we don't lose sight of how characters of movies are written/created, even those of a certain age, and instead try to insert younger performers into them, in an attempt to alter what originally would be a more experienced and seasoned character and turn them into a younger, less mature creation in order to satisfy the masses despite the original intent of the work. But will this stem the tide of hiring younger actors for leading roles? I doubt that very much! Recently, a 41 year old Ben Affleck (who in my opinion appears still to look to be in his 30's), was cast as DC comic's 'Batman', playing the caped crusader as an older, grizzled, more weary version of the character in the upcoming sequel to Man Of Steel entitled Superman vs. Batman, which itself is somewhat of an example of how age again comes into play when it comes to casting; in this case, the casting of an older actor to play a role which traditionally has had performers in the mid to late 30-ish age range cast to play it. And in this instance, the character of Batman himself is actually being written as older, which in itself has struck a sour note with some fans, while others embrace it. However, many of the Die Hard purists feel less than accepting of the idea of an ageing Batman, seeing as how the character is to be included in a future feature film based upon "The Justice League" comic books. Some fans are wondering how will an older Batman be received as a member of The Justice League? Will Batman actually be "older" when that film is released, or will he be retconned to be the Batman in his prime as he's always been depicted? Or will the Batman we see Ben Affleck portray in Superman vs. Batman simply be a one shot portrayal of Batman as an older superhero?With how well these superhero franchises tend to do (e.g., The Avengers bringing in over a billion dollars, Iron man, Captain America, Thor, etc. all doing tremendousl business as well), it's no wonder that productions of these films are taken quite seriously. Currently, Marvel's cinematic Universe (MCU), based films lead the pack in producing high quality entertainment for its fans. They seemed to have cast actors who fit the roles they've been cast for quite well. However, with the latest instalment of Iron man 3, the issue of "age" reared itself again, as talk of actually recasting the role of Tony Stark/Iron man was a topic of discussion. Why, you may ask? Yup...you guessed it...some fans dared to bring up the age of Robert Downey, Jr. (affectionately known to his legion of fans as RDJ), and how much longer he could play the role of the armored hero. And there you have it...the public, so concerned with the age of a leading man! I am at times beside myself! Honestly, RDJ in my opinion is amazing and brought the titular character of Iron man to three dimensional life and very much began the MCU as we know it. I see no reason at all to re-cast the role. RDJ's talent is limitless and physically, he's spot on in his portrayal and has many years left in him to play Iron man! There are those leading men "of a certain age", like Robert Downey, Jr., or the even older performers like Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, etc., who tend to stand the test of time due to their sheer talent and can still usher in huge box office draws as good or sometimes even better than their more youthful counterparts. So while age might be somewhat of a concern, it doesn't nor should it define any performer. This also goes for leading ladies!!
As much as youth is applicable to male stars, the same as well as the opposite may also true for female performers! Currently, many box office smash hits star actresses who some would consider "past their prime." Melissa McCarthy has starred in a number of feature films as the star or supporting actress in a number of blockbuster hits, including "Bridesmaids", "Identity Thief", "This Is 40", "The Hangover Part 3", "The heat" (also starring one of Hollywood's finest, Sandra Bullock), and of course, the hit CBS TV show "Mike & Molly!" Aside from the fact that at 43, she's not the typical "youngster" type of the film industry, not to mention she also isn't the typical Hollywood waif thin actress or sexpot usually featured in movies. She's a plus size girl for sure, but her meteoric rise to success certainly doesn't seem to have been hampered by it, nor has it prevented her from amassing a huge fanbase at all! In fact, guess who is currently gracing the cover of Elle magazine? Yup, you guessed it...our very own Melissa McCarthy! And she looks awesome! Just an another example of how fickle the tastes of audiences can be when it comes to their favorite stars!, and her fans adore her! (Count me in that group as well!) She seems to capture the fan's interest with her humor, which borders on gratuitous faux violence to raunchy sexual innuendo. She's simply drop dead funny and can deliver the laughs unlike anyone else. She's a star, despite her age and girth, whom the fans love to see on the big screen! She'll definitely remain screenbound for a while to come. Another plus size actress on the rise, Garibe Sidibe is also enjoying a growing fanbase of fans who adore her despite her plus size stature. Although these performers tend to be cast in roles of people who fit the criteria of their type, this in and of itself is a trend which the public seems to be embracing. Perhaps another example could be Marilyn Monroe, who in her prime onscreen would possibly be considered slightly "larger" than the usual thin Hollywood leading lady of the present. Marilyn was curvy, vivacious and in no way a waif physically. No "bobble-headiness' there; Only 'Sexy' would suffice when it comes to the amazing Marilyn Monroe, still adored by so many to this day.
Another current well known female star, Sandra Bullock, who at 49 years young, is very much still a HUGE media darling with amazing box office drawing power as evidenced in the newly released motion picture hit "Gravity", which has been praised monumentally in reviews across the board! Personally, I tend to hear more about Sandra Bullock's performance in the film more so than George Clooney's, which to me is somewhat interesting. Sandra is truly a performer, a star, who exemplifies how being a bit older than what Hollywood usually proliferates doesn't stop her from showcasing how successful a performer can be who some may consider "over the hill" as far as age is concerned. (I must say that she's as lovely as she ever was and can easily give any of young Hollywood a run for their money in the looks department!) Sandra, along with a host of others including (but not limited to), Gwyneth Paltrow, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Angela Bassett, Leslie Mann, Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep all show that being the "older" star can indeed sometimes buck the usual Hollywood trend! These performers like many of their male counterparts are truly talented professionals and tend to defy age as a factor in their careers.
So, while the Hollywood movie making machine is very much a youth oriented industry,there is indeed a place for the older, seasoned professional performer, male and female alike. In retrospect, one may say that "What was once old is new again", in some circumstances at least!
Perhaps it may be different for men than for women...perhaps not. Whatever the case, I say as long as a quality project is created, let's sit back and enjoy it! And for those of us like myself who aspire to achieve the dream of starring in films and television, I can only hope and pray that the issue of age isn't too much of a factor, although it possibly will be. But not to worry; there's always makeup!! LOL!!