Maggie Gyllenhaal, it would appear, has reached her Last Fuckable Day.
Amy Schumer set off a chorus of industry hallelujahs with her signature torching of Hollywood’s sexism in the season premiere of her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer with her sketch, titled, “Last Fuckable Day.”
In the sketch, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette gathered to comedically give the middle finger to the Hollywood patriarchy by celebrating Louis-Dreyfus’s so-called last fuckable day. As she explains, “In every actress’ life, the media decides when you finally reach the point when you’re not believably fuckable anymore.”
According the sketch, signs that an actress has reached this milestone include: movie posters forgoing images of you for just a photo of the kitchen, wardrobes consist mostly of frumpy sweaters, and all of your movies being remade with younger actresses.
Or, in the case of Gyllenhaal, you are 37 and told that you are too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man in a movie.
In a recent interview with The Wrap, Gyllenhaal said, “There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time.” Like being told that being 18 years younger than her leading man is nowhere near youthful enough to be cast? “It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”
(Gyllenhaal wisely took the classy route and demurred from revealing what film she was considered too old for.)
The sad truth is that Gyllenhaal’s revelation—there are executives and studio bigwigs who actually think that she’s too old to play the love interest of a man almost a generation her senior—is hardly even news.
Depressing? Yes. Infuriating? God yes. New? Sadly, not in the least bit.
Actresses have been lamenting horror stories like this for far too long, and far too often. Even in Schumer’s sketch, she points out the example of Sally Field playing Tom Hanks’s love interest in Punchline only to, six years later (and apparently after she’d reached her last fuckable day) being cast as his mother in Forrest Gump.
Decades before Forrest Gump, actress Jessie Royce Landis played Cary Grant’s mother in North by Northwest. She was 10 years younger than him in real life.
It’s not like things are better today.
Winona Ryder played Zachary Quinto’s mother in Star Trek when she was just five years older than him. And what about Angelina Jolie playing mom to Colin Farrell in Alexander when they were just one year apart? And then there’s Blow, in which Rachel Griffiths played Johnny Depp’s mother when she was actually five years younger than him.
Actresses have, just like Gyllenhaal, been fairly frank about the bullshit nature of this phenomenon.
During a Hollywood Reporter roundtable in 2009, Christina Applegate, Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus discussed this.
“I auditioned to play Jonah Hill’s mother,” Silverman told the group, to the shock of everyone but Pohler.
“Dude, I was almost asked to be Jonah Hill’s mother. Jonah. Hill’s. Mother,” Poehler said.
Applegate lamented, “I don’t get the script for 20-year-olds anymore. I get the scripts for the mothers.” Louis-Dreyfus commiserated: “It’s like you’re reading the script and there’s the ingénue and there’s the old woman next door and I’m reading it and thinking I could so do this!”
Then came this depressing exchange between Applegate and Louis-Dreyfus. “This just happened to me! I was so excited for this one part, and they were like, no, you’d be the hag next door. The unattractive one he doesn’t want to have sex with,” Applegate said.
Louis-Dreyfus knew the script Applegate was talking about. “You are kidding me! That part? You should be playing the wife!” Then, after more talk about how ridiculous it would be for the gorgeous Applegate to play the role of the repulsive woman a man would not find sexually attractive when there’s a juicy spouse role to be had, Louis-Dreyfus noted how good the script is again and joked: “You have to got to play the hag in that one.”
What makes all of this so horrifying is that there seems to be even a dearth of hags for vibrant, talented actresses to play.
A study from the San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film went viral recently thanks to its shocking and disturbing stats: Female characters made up just 12 percent of protagonists in the top 100 grossing films of 2014. Not only does that not mark progress, it’s a regression. That number is down 3 percent from 2012 and 4 percent from the decade before.
Still, Gyllenhaal maintains her positivity. Just as she did in her spectacular Golden Globes speech for her role in the TV miniseries The Honourable Woman, she ended her interview by saying how hopeful seeing the complexity of the work being done by actresses in more complicated roles than we’ve been used to seeing is still making her—despite her recent age diss.
“A lot of actresses are doing incredible work right now, playing real women, complicated women,” she said. “I don’t feel despairing at all. And I’m more looking with hope for something fascinating.”