Penelope Ann Miller on ageism in Hollywood ‘it’s out there. It sucks’

"American Crime" Premiere Screening
Penelope Ann Miller, 51, is now starring on American Crime, on ABC. (You may know her from films like The Artist, Carlito’s Way or Other People’s Money.) American Crime is a compelling, nuanced show about a murder and its aftermath on the families of the accused and the victims. Salon has a thorough, excellent review if you’d like to learn more about the series, which is written by the Oscar-winner screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley. (My only complaint is that the cinematography for AC is too arty. They have a tendency to cut to other scenes when people are talking. I still haven’t gotten used to that.)

Miller plays the mother of an adult daughter who is suffering traumatic brain injury following the violent incident in which her husband was murdered. Miller doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but I’ve been impressed by her performances so far. She plays the protective, loving mom role without coming across as cloying or fake. So many of the actors on that show are good, especially co-stars Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton.

Anyway Miller has a new interview with The Huffington Post in which she discusses how difficult it is land roles now that she’s in her 50s. The interviewer brought it up and played a segment from this skit on Inside Amy Schumer in which actresses Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus celebrate Julia’s “last f*ckable day.” (That clip, which is NSFW due to language, is here.) Miller agrees that ageism is an issue and that she’s only being offered certain parts now. However she also acknowledges that she earned parts as a newcomer that probably should have gone to more seasoned actresses.

“It’s a fact. [Ageism] is out there. I’m getting mother roles… the roles that’s there’s interest for me for… it’s not the girlfriend, which is ok. I don’t need to be an ingenue. I mean I get that.”

“For instance, when I was doing Carlito’s Way… Al Pacino was of a certain age. And there were actresses – even [with] Other People’s Money with Danny DeVito, there were actresses that I knew were interested, like… Deborah Winger, and Susan Sarandon, there are people that wanted the role. And here I was this newcomer who’s coming up and getting a role. I was that girl and I’m thinking ‘Imagine how they must have felt.’ and now I’m in that position. I’m that woman who’s saying ‘Oh, of course it’s going to be the young up-and-coming actress against the older actor.’ Yeah, it sucks.”

[From Huffington Post video]

Then Miller acknowledged that this is changing, gradually, and that both Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton have played age-matched love interests on screen. She also brought up Helen Mirren and Julianne Moore and said “it’s great for older actresses to play great character roles as well.” She said that “the great thing about television these days is that there are really great roles for actresses of that age.

We’ve heard from many actresses and actors who acknowledge the dearth of roles for older female actresses, although some refuse to acknowledge that it’s an issue. When it doesn’t affect them directly, of course they wouldn’t think it’s an issue. I like how Miller both said she’s affected by this, and that she’s been the benefit of it too. That was a nice way to acknowledge that she’s been on both sides of this problem.

One thing I learned from Miller’s wiki while doing research for this post is that she used to be married to Will Arnett! I had no idea. They were married 1994 to 1995, when she was 30 and Arnett was 24. They didn’t have children together, and she remarried in 2000 to James Huggins. (They have two daughters, Eloisa May, 14, and Maria Adela, 6. Huggins and Miller are still together, although they briefly separated in 2012.)

Here’s the segment of Miller’s interview where they discuss ageism. [via US Magazine]

Premiere of ABC's 'American Crime'

14th Annual Movies for Grownups Awards Gala presented by AARP The Magazine

14th Annual Movies for Grownups Awards Gala presented by AARP The Magazine

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31 Responses to “Penelope Ann Miller on ageism in Hollywood ‘it’s out there. It sucks’”

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  1. taterho says:

    I really like American Crime. It’s so relentlessly dark, but I can’t seem to quit it. It bares every character’s ugly and doesn’t define or separate a “hero”.

    I don’t like her birch tree dress though.

    • meme says:

      I tried to hard to like that show but I just couldn’t. I felt it was so full of stereotypes and broad sweeping generalizations. And I LOVE relentlessly dark stuff.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      That’s what it was reminding me of. A birch tree. Thank you.

    • j.eyre says:

      I can see birch tree. Actually, I like that better than what I was seeing, which was ripped flesh so you have improved it for me. Ms. taterho – appreciated.

    • fhffddw says:

      I haven’t seen her in a long time. Does she still have her pet monkey on a chain?

  2. holly hobby says:

    Wow! Will Arnett certaintly gets around! I remember her from Kindergarten Cop.

    • Irishserra says:

      “It’s not a tuma!”

      And “The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag.” “I think I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so…” I loved that cheesy movie, bot of them!

  3. wolfpup says:

    Totally awesome skit! I would add however, that during a woman’s life cycle, she is likely to have been engaged in almost every sexual scenario (that she wants). There’s a lot more to women other than our sexuality – we are really the individual that is still nine or ten years of age; strong, and nearly ancient. After adolescence, it can be hard to know we are whole, because one is full of such yearning. I say, “skip the cream, Julia, your body still wants happiness, even if it is only for a short hike! Still miles to go before we die…”

  4. Tiffany says:

    She will always hold a place in my heart for the cinematic classic, The Gun In Betty Lou ‘ s Handbag.

    You laugh, but I am serious. I LOVE that movie.

  5. Lauren says:

    Did anyone else think that was Jennie Garth before they read the title?

  6. Dawn says:

    Oh ageism is everywhere not just Hollywood. Ask anyone over 50 looking for a new job and it appears that no matter the qualifications they are not getting hired. I think I read a stat that 1 out 10 find a job after being laid off when in their 50’s. Sad but true.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      So true. It’s a fact of life. Magazines aren’t trying to appeal to me anymore, movies aren’t trying to appeal to me anymore, designers aren’t trying to appeal to me anymore. Ageism exists in all areas of life.

      • Mispronounced Name Dropper says:

        That’s because younger people tend to have more disposable income.

      • Petrichor says:

        “That’s because younger people tend to have more disposable income.”

        Yes and no. They probably also have more debt. As my retired mom recently pointed out after having unsuccessfully attempted to renegotiate the terms of my parents’ mortgage, they are on a “fixed income” (but it’s not minuscule), but it’s an amount they are guaranteed for life, unlike the much more substantial income of my husband and I, who could be laid off tomorrow.

        I know plenty of seniors with good pensions and a decent amount of disposable income (cash rather than credit). Not appealing to that audience is just plain stupid.

    • siri says:

      Absolutely true, it’s everywhere. In particular with finding jobs, the situation is alarming.

    • Virgilia Coriolanus says:

      Is that because companies don’t want to pay retirement benefits? My uncle, who is in his fifties was laid off last year–he had a job fixing atms, and other machines like that, and they traveled a LOT, worked 15 hour days, so basically all he did was come home and sleep. And he was the best at his job, which is why his company laid him off, when they downsized, before he was eligible for retirement.

  7. Ivaninha says:

    I think Tina Fey is in that skit, not Amy Poehler.

  8. TW says:

    Is art imitating life or life imitating art? Because in reality, every older man I know (granted this is in L.A.) wants a much younger gal…and gets her. IF he is extraordinarily good-looking OR has a nice house/a ton of money, that is.

    • wolfpup says:

      In general, I don’t believe an older, sophisticated woman would be drawn to this type of man. He may have stuff that appeals to the younger market, but hopefully at this age his contemporaries (women) don’t care about or need his stuff!

      • aga says:

        Of course, because “sophisticated” woman with nice house and a ton of money prefer now much younger man. Don’t pretend that this phenomenon doesn’t exist, not only in Hollywood.

    • Mispronounced Name Dropper says:

      I’m a 45 year old man and I don’t want either. I’m not physically attracted to women over 40 and therefore don’t see how a sexual relationship with a woman over 40 could be sustainable. That’s not to say I don’t value the qualities of women over 40 because I do. But in terms of physical attraction it’s just not there. As for younger women, whilst physically they are more attractive to me I wouldn’t be comfortable dating someone significantly younger than me and I sure as hell don’t want to be one of those old guys who embarrasses himself by going for women he has no hope of getting. So I’m finished with dating and relationships and I move on to the next stage of my life.

  9. Willa says:

    Don’t forget she was in Big Top Pee Wee! As Pee Wee’s ingenue! Lol!

  10. tealily says:

    God, I love her. I always think of her in The Freshman and Adventures in Babysitting. I had no idea that she was on a show currently, I’ll have to catch up!

    As for the Will Arnett marriage… man, he goes for all my girl-crushes!

  11. WillowS says:

    I give her credit for aging naturally. She doesn’t look like she’s had any work done-good for her. That’s highly unusual in that industry. Interesting segment. I liked that she’s able to see that she was the beneficiary of “the system” back when she was ingenue age. Very honest.

  12. RhoSue says:

    She wasn’t so much an up and coming young actress as she was Al Pacino’s girlfriend. I was Al’s number one fan in those days.