With roles in movies like The Hunger Games and the upcoming Power Rangers reboot, Elizabeth Banks is no stranger to taking on major franchise roles. And today we learned that in the early 2000s she auditioned to play a main character in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy.
Spider-Man was released almost 15 years ago, but Banks, now 42, remembers being turned down for the role of Mary Jane Watson like it was yesterday. In an interview with Glamour UK (via Vanity Fair), she opened up about the fatal flaw that cost the then-fledgling actress the role of a lifetime: Her age.
“I was told I was too old to play her. Tobey and I are basically the same age.”
Tobey Maguire was also on the older end of the spectrum to be playing high schooler Peter Parker, so Banks took the unfortunate casting news in her stride, with the incident quickly teaching her that age and gender discrimination can be prevalent factors in Hollywood.
“I was like, ‘Oh, O.K., that’s what I’ve signed up for.’”
Banks still managed to land a role in Spider-Man, but as Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson's assistant at the Daily Bugle. Like Mary Jane, Brant also appears in all three Spider-Man movies, although in a much smaller role.
As we all know, the role of Mary Jane Watson ultimately went to Kirsten Dunst, who at the far more high-school-appropriate age of 19 was a good seven years younger than Maguire at the time.
In retrospect, Dunst played the role of MJ wonderfully, and it's difficult to imagine anyone else filling her shoes. Still, we'll have to wonder what Banks could have done with the role.
In 2008, she told a similar story, disclosing how she was granted the smaller "consolation" role of Betty Brant:
“I auditioned to play Mary Jane Watson and [producer] Laura Ziskin said ‘She’s too old.’ It’s fine. I’m a lot older than Kirsten Dunst, so I get it. I’m not much older than Tobey, but. ... But I got it back then. And I was a nobody. I had no expectations of even being in that movie. The casting director called and said, ‘As a consolation prize essentially do you want to be Betty Brant?’ So it started out as a consolation prize and it’s become a favor.”
Banks is in good company. The number of actresses speaking out about age discrimination in Hollywood is growing rapidly. From Meryl Streep to Carrie Fisher, some of the industry's most acclaimed performers have encountered similar casting woes.
Here are a few others who have made their stance clear and discussed having a difficult time being cast due to their age:
Just last year, Gyllenhaal revealed to The Wrap that she was deemed too old to play the romantic lead alongside a 55-year-old actor:
“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time. I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”
While Gyllenhaal is able to laugh at the notion of an 18-year age gap being too narrow, it does serve to highlight the absurdity of the industry as a whole.
In light of Gyllenhaal's confession, seasoned actress Emma Thompson weighed in on the topic of ageism in Hollywood during an interview with Vulture last year. She confirmed that this common theme of older actors being cast alongside excessively younger actresses is nothing new and, sadly, it's only gotten worse:
"The age thing is insane. It was ever thus. I remember saying years and years ago, when I was 35, that they’d have to exhume somebody to play my leading man. … Nothing’s changed in that regard. If anything, it’s got worse.”
Thompson recalled one such moment in 1995 when she was told she was too old to play opposite a leading man. It's a comment that, understandably, she didn't take lying down:
“I remember somebody saying to me that I was too old for Hugh Grant, who’s like a year younger than me, in 'Sense and Sensibility.' I said, ‘Do you want to go take a flying leap?’”
Thompson proved all her detractors wrong, however, after being lauded for not only her performance, but also her screenwriting abilities. Sense and Sensibility earned her an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, making her the only person in history to win an Oscar for both acting and screenwriting.
In a similarly laughable story, last year Olivia Wilde appeared on The Howard Stern Show and shared her personal experiences with ageism in Hollywood. In 2012, Wilde auditioned for the role of Naomi Lapaglia in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, but was passed over for being too "sophisticated," Hollywood code for — you guessed it — "too old."
"I had heard for a part that I was 'too sophisticated.' ... I'd found out later that they'd actually said 'old.' … I did not [audition for 'Vinyl'] because I had auditioned unsuccessfully for 'The Wolf of Wall Street.' That's the one I was 'too old' for."
At the time of casting, Wilde would have been about 28 or 29, which would have placed her at the exact age of the real-life inspiration for Naomi, Nadine Caridi, when she married Jordan Belfort in 1991. Instead, 23-year-old Margot Robbie was given the role that launched her into superstardom.
No matter how you look at it, ageism is a glaring issue in the entertainment industry and a never-ending problem for both established and aspiring actresses. With enough support behind these women, I believe they will shatter this glass ceiling and continue to make great films at any and every age.