Daniel Day-Lewis sent the internet into a film-bro tizzy Tuesday afternoon when he announced that, at age 60 and after a celebrated four-decade film career, he is retiring from acting. Which is an incredible privilege to announce.
There was no reason given for his retirement, with Day-Lewis’ spokesperson, Leslee Dart, simply saying, “Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor. He is immensely grateful to all of his collaborators and audiences over the many years. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject. ”
In that case, the internet (also me) will gladly comment on it in their stead!
First came the jokes riffing on his legendary reputation for getting deep in character during film shoots for projects like Lincoln, There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, and My Left Foot, and then staying in character for the entirety of the shoot. (Including my own attempt: “I will spend the time getting in character for my most challenging role yet: Myself.” Hey-o!)
But it’s also a good occasion to think about the still-ludicrous double standard in the industry.
Sure, it’s disappointing that Day-Lewis, one of the greatest actors of his generation, has made the decision to leave the profession. And again, the reason is not known, and if there is any health concern we obviously wish him the best. That said, he is in the remarkable position of being able to make the decision for himself after a decades-long career.
When actresses turn 60 they don’t get to make this kind of announcement. Casting directors make it for them. And likely had already made it several decades before.
The institutionalized sexism and ageism in Hollywood is a concern that never seems to leave the zeitgeist, even as it never seems to be satisfactorily addressed.
Even in recent weeks, Patty Jenkins just directed one of the best and most successful superhero launches in history with Wonder Woman, and yet still was confronted with tone-deaf coverage about her success or whether she deserved the opportunity at all as an “untested” filmmaker. (She’s been directing for nearly two decades, and her first film, Monster, won an Oscar. Colin Trevorrow was handed the reins to Jurassic World after directing just one film, Safety Not Guaranteed, which earned a resounding $4 million at the box office.)
I won’t even pretend to tackle the issue of the way Hollywood treats women as they reach a certain age with any of the nuance that the performers who have been impacted by it have discussed it themselves.
Most memorably there was Amy Schumer’s Inside Amy Schumer sketch “Last Fuckable Day,” which starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette discussing actresses’ “last fuckable day”: the final moment an actress is deemed sexually viable—and therefore castable—by Hollywood. Choice line: “You know how Sally Field was Tom Hanks’s love interest in Punchline, and then like 20 minutes later she was his mom in Forrest Gump.”
That phenomenon is easy to chart: Winona Ryder playing Zachary Quinto’s mother in Star Trek when she was just five years older than him; Angelina Jolie playing Colin Farrell’s mom in Alexander when they were just one year apart; or Rachel Griffiths, who is five years younger than Johnny Depp, playing his mom in Blow.
Maggie Gyllenhaal horrified pop culture bloggers when she revealed that she was once told that, at age 37, she was too old to play the love interest to an actor who was 18 years older than her.
And this is discussing the roles that are available to women as they age. The more realistic and common situation is a forced retirement from the film industry that can begin when an actress is in her 30s.
On her press tour for Snatched earlier this summer, Goldie Hawn talked about why she had retired from acting for 14 years—although, in her case, without a press release about it. “I’d been making movies for a long time,” Hawn, who is now 70, said. “As a woman gets older, her choices are less. I wanted to do things that interested me, not just work to work.”
And while there are certainly examples of actresses doing some of the best work of their careers at age 60 and beyond—Meryl Streep, Isabelle Huppert, Judi Dench—they are exceptions to a cruel, shameful rule. As Tina Fey joked at the Golden Globes in 2014, “Meryl Streep is so brilliant in August: Osage County, proving that there are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over 60.”
The year Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Oscar for My Left Foot, actress Brenda Fricker won for the same film. She was 44 at the time. Day-Lewis has gone on to win two more Oscars. Fricker, who is phenomenally talented and who hasn’t delivered a performance I haven’t adored, went on to play the Pigeon Lady in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
This isn’t some screed against Day-Lewis for retiring, nor the way he announced it. Though we give a hearty eye-roll to the idea of announcing a retirement from acting in the first place, especially considering how many celebrities recant such definitive declarations. Look to any of a dozen veteran rock stars on never-ending farewell tours for proof of that, or to Amanda Bynes’s recent retirement reversal. (Though, at age 31, good luck, girl.)
We’re simply using it as an occasion to spotlight an industry problem. Because when you shine a light on bad things, hopefully you shame the people behind them. Hopefully that inspires change. Because Goldie Hawn certainly deserves better than Snatched.