Noted Gender Expert Russell Crowe Explains Why Actresses Over 40 Complain About Hollywood’s Obsession With Youth

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There are already plenty of reasons to loathe Russell Crowe. He is, by most accounts, a bullying boor; he hasn’t made a good movie in years (2007, by my clock); he’s one of those actors who insists on also playing rock star. Well, if all that weren’t enough, we can now add “sexist mansplainer” to Crowe’s CV, thanks to a face-palming interview in The Australian Woman’s Weekly, wherein he just wishes that all these lady actresses would learn to act their age.

From the interview:

“The best thing about the industry I’m in – movies – is that there are roles for people in all different stages of life,” Russell says, in an interview with The Weekly. “To be honest, I think you’ll find that the woman who is saying that (the roles have dried up) is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue, and can’t understand why she’s not being cast as the 21 year old. “Meryl Streep will give you 10,000 examples and arguments as to why that’s bullshit, so will Helen Mirren, or whoever it happens to be. If you are willing to live in your own skin, you can work as an actor. If you are trying to pretend that you’re still the young buck when you’re my age, it just doesn’t work.”

Yeah, just ask Meryl Streep! And Helen Mirren! And um, y’know, all the other well-employed actresses of a certain age! I’ll think of some more, promise.

Now, of course, Russell Crowe is completely full of shit here — but in two distinct and different ways, which is fun. First of all, this notion that there’s an abundance of roles for women in their 40 and older if, gaw, these dumb ladies would just stop trying to be so young all the time? That flies directly in the face of not only common sense, but troublesome things like research and statistics and facts.

San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television studied the top 100 films of 2013, and came up with the depressing results we’ve come to expect: In those films, “females comprised 15% of protagonists, 29% of major characters, and 30% of all speaking characters.” But beyond that, and contrary to Crowe’s odious bullshit, SDSU found that females 40 and over accounted for a mere 30% of all female characters, with the majority of female characters in their 20s (26%) and 30s (28%).

So when an arrogant gasbag like Mr. Crowe — and, presumably, the directors and executives and casting directors who share his views — complains that women in their 40s still want “to play the ingénue,” it’s not a matter of sad, withered-up old ladies who don’t know their age and place. It’s a matter of them wanting to play the only roles that are being written for them. Not many occasions call for quotes from The First Wives Club, but this one does: “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: babe, district attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy.”

But secondly, and perhaps more annoyingly, no one’s asking their male counterparts to age out of those ingénue roles in the same way. SDUC found that the majority of male characters onscreen were in their 30s (27%) and 40s (31%), with men 40 and over making up a clear majority — 55% — of all male characters. But when it comes to matching up those aging men with romantic interests, Hollywood consistently adopts a car buyer’s strategy: always trading in for a newer model.

Last spring, Vulture compared the ages of Hollywood’s biggest leading men with their romantic counterparts, and the results were enlightening. Denzel Washington was 35 when Vulture started tracking his opposites; he wasn’t paired with someone that age until 2012’s Flight, when he was 57. Johnny Depp has maintained a gap of a decade, sometimes two, between his age and that of his leading ladies (at 48, he was paired with 25-year-old Amber Heard and 24-year-old Bella Heathcote). The closest Tom Cruise has come to his female co-star since 1996 was the ten-year delta between him and Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day. And the list goes on: Harrison Ford, George Clooney, Richard Gere, Brad Pitt, Liam Neeson, and even Steve Carell are regularly paired with ingénues years (hell, decades) their junior.

So when Crowe criticizes an unnamed actress for “getting the number of children she was supposed to have lessened” (after all, her character “lived in a cold climate and there was nothing to do but fornicate all day,” AM I RIGHT LADIES?), he thinks he’s speaking to the vanity of actresses, when in fact he’s giving anecdotal evidence of what it takes to stay cast-able: Jeez, four kids? What is she, a grandmother?

It’s easy for Crowe to be smug about this stuff, now that he’s aged into the kind of wise-aging-man roles that have comparatively few female counterparts (though, duly noted, opposite six-years-younger Jennifer Connelly, five-years-younger Ayelet Zurer and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and ten-years-younger Elizabeth Banks). But if he wants to play a wise aging man in real life, he should quit shooting off his mouth about things he can’t possibly begin to understand.