THR Roundtable Actresses on Ageism, the Pay Gap and Playing “Strong Women” & Gender-Swapped Roles

nullMuch of the response to The Hollywood Reporter’s 2015 actress roundtable, published last week, focused (rightly) on the all-white line-up. But the roundtable participants — Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Helen Mirren, Carey Mulligan, Charlotte Rampling, Jane Fonda and Kate Winslet — also had some interesting things to say about gender and sexism in Hollywood, most notably about ageism, the pay gap and playing "strong" female and gender-swapped roles. 

On ageism: 

–Asked at what age women are considered "older," Jennifer Lawrence immediately joked, "In Hollywood or in real life?" She later said, "When you’re asking about roles for men and women, men certainly have a longer shelf life. Men can play the sexy lead for 20 years longer than we can." Brie Larson backed Lawrence up adding, "But that’s just because it’s mostly dudes in charge."

–Asked whether it’s hard to find good roles, Jane Fonda replied, "A woman who’s older? It’s very difficult." She continued, "What I did when I was in my 40s was, I simply produced my own movies because no one offered me anything. But certainly after [age] 50 it’s hard for a woman, which is why television is such a welcoming thing."

On the pay gap: 

–Lawrence set the tone for the (brief) discussion by noting, "Across all fields, women are generally paid 21 percent less than men."

–Helen Mirren praised Lawrence’s Lenny essay about being paid less than her male co-stars in "American Hustle": "I love the way you wrote about it because you wrote about it very simply and personally. I so recognized that thing you said about, ‘I didn’t want to be an asshole,’ you know? I want to be polite. We’ve got to stop being polite. If I ever had children, which I don’t, the first thing I’d teach a girl of mine is the words ‘fuck off.’"

–Cate Blanchett reminded us that Hollywood certainly isn’t atypical in this regard: "[Paying women less is] lazy thinking across all industries. We’re at the pointy and probably the most public end, but in what industry do women receive equal pay for equal work? I can’t think of any."

On "strong" female characters: 

–Carey Mulligan has an alternative theory on what "strong" really means: "People always say, ‘You played such a strong character.’ I remember someone said that to me when I played a role in ‘Shame,’ and she was a suicidal mess. I said, ‘She’s not strong at all; she’s incredibly weak.’ But ‘strong’ to people means ‘real.’ It means you believe that’s a person who exists, as opposed to some two-dimensional depiction of women." 

On playing roles originally written for men, as Angelica Jolie did in "Salt" and Sandra Bullock did more recently in "Our Brand is Crisis": 

–Asked what male role the gathered actresses would enjoy the opportunity to play, Kate Winslet replied, "I’d love to play Hamlet."

–Mirren also piped in: "I did do Prospero. Oh, there’s always male roles I want to play. I’m so annoyed when I watch movies and go, ‘That could have been played by a woman.’ And it’s driven me crazy to watch wonderful, brilliant actresses — my contemporaries when I was younger — diminish and disappear and mediocre actors carry on, male actors. It’s so annoying. Just change the name is all you need to do."

–Despite such high-profile gender swaps, creative teams are reluctant to do so, at least in Blanchett’s experience: "I had that opportunity with a director, and I was saying: ‘This is a really interesting script, and it would stop being formulaic if you had a woman playing one of their team.’ And they’re thinking, ‘Yeah, we have to rewrite it.’ I was like, ‘You don’t have to change the dialogue.’"