Actress Patricia Clarkson Talks About The Importance Of Seeing Women Of A Certain Age In Film


There won’t be any “last f***able day” for actress Patricia Clarkson, Hollywood you have been warned! One of the really important conversations being had in the greater movement to elevate better representations of women both onscreen in Hollywood as well as behind the camera, focuses on the way older women are portrayed.

For a long time it has been very easy to see the massive difference in the way sexuality is defined by older men vs older women on screen. Men like Jack Nicholson, George Clooney, Pierce Brosnan, and Tom Hanks never seem to lose their sensual appeal, but look at women of the same age and you are more likely to see them in non-sexual roles like the mother, the secretary, the housewife, etc. The other insidious trend is where female partners of men are never the same age, always younger. It’s as if being the same age as a man onscreen is considered “too old”, as Maggie Gyllenhaal pointed out about an experience she once had.

It’s not a hard and fast rule of course, but it’s easy to see the stereotyping when you look at a general number of films. Thankfully there is change happening in the most influential film industry in the world. In an interview with the Guardian to promote her new film ‘Learning to Drive’, 56 year-old Patricia pulls no punches when it comes to sharing her opinion on this trend toward female characters.

“I’d play your mother in a movie. Kill me now!” she tells writer Benjamin Lee.


Her character in this film is in fact a mother, but one with a very active sex life, which is not something we are used to seeing. The issue is not just about seeing characters have sex on screen, it’s about having characters written in a way that is human, realistic, and not eliminating something that is very normal in a person’s life.

“It’s two middle-aged people in a car; it’s Hollywood’s worst nightmare,” says Patricia. Her co-star is 72 year-old Ben Kingsley. He plays a driving instructor, and she the student.

The film apparently took 8 years to get off the ground and it was a rare chance for Patricia to play a leading role in a feature film, something which she refers to as a “vanishing act” simply because of her age.

“I’ve been talking about this for 10 years now but with the true rise of art cinema yet again, it’s really made a dramatic shift in our stories about women of a certain age. I love that we say women of a certain age and yet our lives are so uncertain. Well, mine is!” she says.


It’s not just women of her age who are speaking out about ageism, it’s also the younger women who can see from a distance the blockades heading their way until something shifts drastically throughout the industry. At a recent press event to promote ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’, actress Anne Hathaway addressed this issue with those present in the room, as it also related to a story line in the film which delves into the idea of time being a “thief”.

“I invite all…journalists to stop the narrative of saying that women lose power as they get older. I’m becoming way more powerful as I get older. I’m tired of myself feeling the opposite. And I’m not gonna do it. I can’t do it alone. It’s gonna take everybody in here to stop using that language and take the narrative back the way Alice does,” she said, to applause.

Thankfully, there are certain mediums that are out-pacing film in terms of representing more diversity. However, deciding to deliberately forego the opportunity that TV and digital platforms now present for very diverse leading roles (‘Orange Is The New Black’ on Netflix’, ‘Transparent’ on Amazon, for example) Patricia Clarkson is determined to break down the stereotypes in film and continue honing her craft in this genre. She believes seeking different types of roles is going to help.


“We always tend to want to soften female characters. Well, unless it’s some ridiculous caricature like a dominatrix or a one-dimensional boss with no life and bad hair. These archetypal older women in movies can sometimes make my skin crawl. It’s about the one dimension, it’s about the lack of any texture,” she said.

She is certainly in good company on her mission to expand the visual definition of what a complex female protagonist looks like. Other older women like Dame Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson, have been speaking on the same issue, proving how ridiculous it is that Hollywood has such reluctance to portray older females as “sexy” at the same rate as older men, by their own badass show-stopping performances that also defy stereotypes.

Part of what is pushing the change is the collective confidence of women speaking out against the discrimination. Despite being a industry thriving on creativity, it is still largely driven by box office profit so if a studio doesn’t feel it can make a sizeable profit with someone in a leading role, it won’t risk choosing them to lead a film. There are also some who are afraid of speaking out against discrimination in fear of never working again, but the more it happens, the less scary it becomes to take a stand.

“When I was younger, of course I had people act inappropriately to me. I’ve had certain directors yell at me. But I didn’t stand for it and I didn’t let it go far enough for it to be in any way abusive to me. People didn’t speak up as much as they do now. Women have risen. But we’re still underpaid and we’re still a vast minority in this business,” said Patricia.


Her acknowledgement of the rise in women voicing their concerns and how it is changing Hollywood slowly also includes the knowledge of the backlash which is concurrently happening. Something she believes is absurd.

“There are still so many movies made starring 50 men and one woman! A white male actor should never be allowed to complain about anything. Shut up and sit in the corner. I mean, seriously! The odds of us having films made which star women … Everyone still references one movie: ‘Bridesmaids’! ‘Ghostbusters’ is a great thing and I love these actresses. I can’t wait to see it,” she said about the fiasco that has engulfed director Paul Feig ever since deciding to do a female reboot of the popular film.

She remarks on the double standards that have become evident in the industry, especially when it comes to films that feature women predominantly or are directed by women. When a movie like ‘Elektra’ fails, people chalk it up to the fact that it was a superhero film featuring a woman instead of a man. But when ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ bombs at the ox office, no one bats an eyelid.

“Men make bad movies that bomb all the time but they’re like, ‘Oh, well, we didn’t do the marketing right’. Eat me!”

Clearly there are many changes that need to be made in order for women of all ages to be represented equally, and female-directed films not to carry any more pressure than a male-directed one. Patricia’s bold attitude, along with many other women and minorities, is going to continue to push against the resistance, and make room for more diverse, complex and interesting stories to be made.



  1. It’s well past time to “expand the visual definition of what a complex female protagonist looks like” and show women as whole individuals rather than stereotypes. We need to show this across all forms of media, including film, TV and books. Women have complex, interesting stories to tell, and they’re not all about being a girlfriend, wife, mother or granny.

    As a side note, Ben Kingsley was born Krishna Bhanji and Is of Gujarati Indian heritage.

  2. Ben Kingsley (born Krishna Bhanji) is about half Indian by descent, and so not exactly “a white male” “playing a Sikh Indian role”. (This confusion has come up before, when some people were initially outraged that someone born in the UK by the name of “Ben Kingsley” was going to play Gandhi. This was of course after Kingsley was turned away from numerous acting roles over the years for being too “ethnic”, etc.)

    Feel free to delete this comment if you remove the line about Kingsley being a white actor. 😉

    Helpful, useful article otherwise! I hadn’t read or heard that Anne Hathaway quote – very powerful.

  3. SuzAnne Wilson says:

    Not ageist, but still a little racist. “Kingsley was born Krishna Bhanji in Snainton, North Riding of Yorkshire. He is the son of Anna Lyna Mary (born Goodman; 1914–2010), an actress and model who appeared in films in the 1920s and 1930s, and Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji (1914–1968), a medical doctor.[6][7]”

  4. Pingback: Actress Patricia Clarkson Talks About The Importance Of Seeing Women Of A Certain Age In Film - See Jane

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  6. Then go ahead and make movies like that and see if people watch them. It is not some established rule that you can’t. It is simply that the people paying to make the movies like to make money and they figure that if they put younger women in the roles, more people will be attracted to them and they will make more money. So, go out and make movies that go against the gender paradigm that you see. You will either make as much or more money, in which case you can be rich and rub it in on top of that; or you will just have to be satisfied with making a bit less money and being disgusted with the world. You don’t just change the world because you feel like it.

  7. Miriam Heddy says:

    //It’s two middle-aged people in a car; it’s Hollywood’s worst nightmare,” says Patricia. Her co-star is 72 year-old Ben Kingsley.//

    She’s 56. He’s 72. He’s 16 years older than she is. He’s not even remotely middle-aged.

    This is gender parity? Right. We can’t expect more than baby steps. Sigh.

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