Older women are being “squeezed out” of acting roles, says actress Rebecca Front.
Speaking at a Radio Times event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the star of The Thick of It explained she is increasingly cast as a 60-year-old, despite only turning 50 earlier this year – a strategy that has a knock on effect, restricting roles available to actresses ten or twenty years her senior.
“You’re invariably cast much older because what they like to do a lot of the time on TV is if a character is 60, they’ll cast a 50- or late 40-year-old because you can’t have a 60-year-old on telly. Ha! What were we thinking? Unless it’s a bloke in which case you can do that.
“It’s a culture – we have this whole thing that comes up regularly about how few older women TV presenters there are and how you routinely get older male anchormen and a much younger, very glamorous lady.
“There’s an attitude that women, once you get over 40, you’re kind of invisible. It’s very, very common and there are so many brilliant actresses around my age and older. That’s what makes me so cross about it – there are some amazing actresses and it happens to us all.
“If I’m being offered the parts of women in their 60s, then what are the women in their 60s being offered? What do the women in their 70s do? It just means we’re being squeezed out.”
Front – who is best known for playing Nicola Murray in Armando Iannucci’s political satire – has been seen most recently in Outnumbered and Lewis. But she says the scripts she receives often contain far-from-flattering descriptions of prospective roles, one depicting a character “in her sixties, exhausted looking, might once have been a looker in her day.”
“It’s not good for your self-esteem, is it?” she asked her audience. “It’s quite hard to continue to feel buoyant about yourself. I go to the gym and I’m trying to look after myself but it’s actually quite difficult when you do get a lot of stuff like that which comes in.
“A few times a day, someone says, ‘oh, by the way, you’re middle aged,’ and that means you may not be as attractive anymore. Or there will be a joke in the script about somebody fancying your character because they’re middle aged and I don’t think that’s impossible. I know really glamorous people in their seventies and eighties – why is it impossible? I would like to see a bit more embracing of that. Age shouldn’t matter that much.”
The actress – in town to promote her new book Curious – also spoke of the panic attacks and anxiety she’s struggled with since childhood, particularly her fear of confinement on trains and in lifts.
“I can do most things I need to do but it’s going in a lift that gets to me. I cannot go on the tube at all, I can go in lifts – I’m a gibbering wreck when I do it but I’m persevering.
“I’m in a show called Lewis and ITV casting offices used to be on the 20th floor. The Lewis casting was a particularly personal thing because when I got there the casting director happened to see me coming out of the stairwell and every other time I’d done that somebody had met me at the stairs and said ‘Oh my god, did you walk up?’ This casting director met me and said, ‘You walked up too, did you?’ And she’s the only other person I’ve ever met who also walks up 20 flights of stairs and I got the job. Maybe that’s why?”