Geena Davis: An actor 20 years older called me too old to play his love interest


Geena Davis is an interesting and complex person, but she’s usually asked the same questions in interviews. Even with her incredible Geena Davis Institute on Gender Media, she’s usually just asked why she came up with it, which is a good question, but there are so many more to explore. I bet Geena will talk about her mistakes if somebody’d ask her, but they never do. While speaking on the Allison Interviews podcast, she was able to give a few new angles to her Thelma & Louise stories. One thing that is old news to most but new to me is that Geena wasn’t originally cast as Thelma. She had her agent badger the production team until Ridley Scott took over as director and agreed to meet with her. Geena also addressed ageism in Hollywood. She told a story about an actor she encountered, who was 20 years her senior, who told her she was too old to play his lover.

On how winning an Oscar affected how directors treated her: Speaking of winning the Oscar and does it change how people see you and everything, I had two directors, after I won the Oscar, who I had a rocky start with, because they assumed that I was going to think I was all that and they wanted to make sure I didn’t feel like I was all that. Without having met me or having spent any time with me or anything, they just assumed I was going to be like, ‘Well, now no one is going to tell me what to do.’

I think maybe because I was a woman, that the directors felt that way. And maybe it was even unconscious bias that they would do it to a woman and not a man. But they didn’t want a woman to potentially cause them any problems. They wanted to make sure I knew my place, and it probably wouldn’t happen to a man.

On how she won her iconic role in Thelma & Louise & Brad Pitt: I had read the script for Thelma & Louise after it had already been cast. I thought, ‘Oh my God! This is the best script I’ve ever read. I wish I could be in it.’ I ended up having a year-long pursuit for the role, because Ridley Scott was only the producer at that time, and different directors and different pairings of ‘Thelmas’ and ‘Louises’ were coming together and falling apart. For a year, my agent called at least once a week to say, ‘Just so you know, Geena is still available. She’s still interested.’ Then when [Ridley Scott] decided he was going to direct it, he immediately said, ‘Yes. Okay sure, I’ll meet with her,’ and I convinced him somehow or another (laugh).

They then cast Brad Pitt to be my sort of…. love interest, and it wasn’t actually because he was younger. They didn’t purposely try to cast someone younger than me. He just gave the best audition and he was the best choice. But I thought that was pretty cool. He’s only, like, seven years younger than me, but I thought that was quite cool that they did that.

On ageism in Hollywood: It’s very strange and so prevalent. A certain male actor that was making a movie said that I was too old to be his romantic interest, and I was 20 years younger than him. You know what it is? Women peak in their 20s and 30s, and men peak in their 40s and 50s as far as actors go. So the male stars of the movies want to appear to be younger than they are, or they want to appeal to younger people, so they always want a co-star who is really young. That is why that happens and that is why women don’t get cast very much after 40 and 50. It is because they are felt to be too old to be a romantic interest.

[From Allison Interviews podcast]

Nothing here really shocked me, but I hadn’t necessarily heard it before. We’ve seen plenty of talented actresses win Oscars and their careers falter as a result. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re labeled as hard to work with by directors who never met them just because they’d achieved recognition for their craft. Very little about the way Hollywood works towards women surprises me. I was curious who was originally cast or considered for Thelma & Louise, so I dug around. Michelle Pfeiffer and Jodie Foster were the first. Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn pitched themselves as a pair but wanted to change the ending. Cher was seriously considered and honestly, Cher would have been great. Even though I was meh on T&L, it was beautifully cast. Including Brad. I agree with Geena that if they had not intended Thelma to have a younger lover and simply cast one because the actor seemed right, in 1991 that was actually progressive. Even if he was only seven years younger.

What Geena said about women on screen peaking in their 20s and 30s is still true today. It may have eased some, but not much. It’s not just movies, try finding a romance novel with a heroine over 40. They’re all gorgeous, uber-accomplished businesswomen at 27. And I don’t even need all the love interests to be over 40. Just that the women who are 40 or 50 in films and TV to be sexually interesting and not just mothers or buttoned-up sassy friends. As for Geena’s point about men insisting on younger love interests so they appear more desirable, well they’re just going to have to get over that. We’ve put up with that nonsense for too long.



Photo credit: Backgrid and Avalon Red

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

60 Responses to “Geena Davis: An actor 20 years older called me too old to play his love interest”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. olliesmom says:

    I’ve always enjoyed Geena’s acting and I’ve missed her.

    Yeah, I’m 59 and half of the guys in my high school class are on their second or third marriages with women who could be their daughters technically age-wise (no less than 15 years younger). So yeah, I get it. Men my age just aren’t interested.

    • Snazzy says:

      My (now ex) therapist told me I had to get my shit figured out because women expire at 50. I HATE that, but when you look at many men out there, you can see why he said it

      • Kat says:

        What a cruel comment! I know sadly it seems very true, what with how ageing women are seen/treated like. I just wish it wasn’t..

      • Drea says:

        From a therapist. Wow. That’s a really damaging thought as well as terrible advice. Sounds like the therapist needs to get his act together (assuming it’s a man; it could always be a woman with internalized misogyny – neither have a place in therapy)

      • Meg says:

        This horrible comment still props up the idea that men finding us attractive is our worth 100%. So men completely determine my worth? Wow what ego on this guy

      • Sue Denim says:

        so wrong — the 50s have been my best decade yet, partly because you can suddenly see the stupidity, cruelty, inanity, attempts to control… (I could go on) in men like your therapist, and longer care… So so glad you got away!

      • Snazzy says:

        ya it was pretty nuts. Needless to say that was my last appointment (yes, it was a him…)

      • Nikki* says:

        I love Meg’s comment so much. Amen!

      • Deering24 says:

        Ugh. How old was this scumbag?

      • stagaroni says:

        Funny, I just turned 60 and men who have that kind of attitude are too mentally stunted for my tastes, so good riddance to them. I have two brothers who are hung up on age and they date women far younger than them…and one of them is still married. I have no time for them. If a man isn’t going to treat a you with respect, then don’t let their baggage affect you. Hold your head up high and keep moving.

      • Linda says:

        Was he a psychologist – a Psy.D., Ph.D or Ed.D- that goes against ethical training? There are so many untrained unethical therapists that give psychology a bad name. I would report him if you state has board certified therapists or psychologists.

    • AppleCart says:

      wow I just turned 50 and I find it the most freeing time of my life. I DGAF what anyone thinks of me. I am not desperate for love or validation. Doing things that interest me and have confidence in myself. Women thrive as we get older and men just want someone to help them wipe their butt when they die. No thank you.

      • stagaroni says:

        Men this age want a younger woman to make themselves look younger. They don’t realize they look like fools. Men want these women to boost their ego, and they will,…to get clothes, or jewelry, or dinner, or the rent paid. It’s pathetic and funny at the same time.

      • Jaded says:

        My fifties was an amazing decade and I actually had several relationships with men who were 10 – 13 years younger than me. They actually preferred older women because, as I was told, we were much more interesting and independent.

  2. Lucy2 says:

    I follow her Institute on social media, it does a lot of good work and promotes a lot of great projects by women.
    I wish she had named names here.

    • olliesmom says:

      She didn’t have to name names because it’s mostly likely ALL of them. They want to think that they are all still studs.

    • TigerMcQueen says:

      Same. It’s great that she speaks out to some degree, but these men need to be named.

    • Gubbinal says:

      Names? Some specific possibilities are the big names born circa the mid-1930s. Warren Beatty. Robert Redford. Jack Nicholson. They seem to be the most likely culprits.

  3. girl_ninja says:

    I’m 47 and I know that men my age are not interested but younger men are. It is such a strange position to be in and I really can’t explain it.

    • I’m 53 and I am amazed at how many men in their mid 20s to mid 30s have shown interest in me! Not what I expected, but it’s been pretty fun : )

    • CJW says:

      Same here, I am 52, and in recent years I have only dated men in their mid 30’s not by choice but men my age are just not interested. It is very strange world we live in.

    • Normades says:

      Yea all my middle age divorced female friends are doing pretty well in finding even casual partners. It’s the dudes that are having a harder time.

    • Mama says:

      THIS! It is so weird. But it is like they are interested in sex but not so much in a long term relationship. I think it is the whole “Cougar – women love sex in their late 40s-50s” thing that gets promoted. I want a life partner but can’t find a man my age. If they are my age they are woefully out of shape and don’t take care of themselves. UGH!

      • Andrea says:

        I have an almost 43 year old guy friend who tinders and has casual relationships, never a girlfriend the 15 + years I know him. He has determined it would be hard to find a woman not after his money or want to live in his small town, so thus has given up. It is interesting to see men give up because normally you’d hear it from women.

    • bosandi says:

      Wow, I’m relieved to see so many with the same experience. I’m 48 and men my age don’t seem to gravitate toward me. However, 20’s and 30’s, I have no problems there. They are a lot of fun *wink* but I’d prefer a long-term partner closer to my age. I’m settled in my career and my child is an adult and I finally have the disposable income to do what I like. It’s an interesting position indeed.
      My car salesman (I’ve known him for decades) said older men prefer younger women bc they can be the one to expose them to things they’ve never done before. So I guess younger women are easier to impress? The way he explained it made more sense, lol.

    • fishface says:

      Possible explanation is that this generation (20s and 30s) of men has grown up with more empowered mothers who made sure their sons didn’t see women as substitute mummies. I know many women with boy children in their 20s/30s and these men respect women far more than men that age did when I was the same age.

  4. Mary Tosti says:

    To me that’s gross. I’m 40 and I couldn’t imagine dating someone 15 years younger than I am. I would feel like I was dating a child. Maybe it’s because I have much younger siblings.. I don’t know. Just my opinion but I don’t the attraction to someone so much younger. (Not saying all men, just the men who like much younger)

    • Andrea says:

      I am 40 and I have always liked slightly older men. I would be fine to go up to maybe 60 as long as they were still frisky. But 25? I will be in a traveling phase once this pandemic ends. I need someone who can afford to travel with me. Most 25 year olds cannot.

      • AlpineWitch says:

        My husband is almost 15 years younger than me, always earned 2-3 times more than me and he hasn’t even a degree.

        Money doesn’t equal age.

      • Andrea says:

        Most men I dated when I was in my 20s wanted to mooch off of me and were broke or in debt, so maybe it was my picker. Lol

  5. Lizzie Bathory says:

    Yes, Hollywood has always been like this. A lot of it is good old-fashioned sexism, but I think a lot is also what Hecate highlights. Who greenlights the stories that get told? It’s still mostly white cis/het men. As I get older, I’m much less willing to put up with nonsense in all aspects of my life. And if we’re being honest, lots of “romantic” storylines require a young woman who hasn’t yet learned to see the red flags with the men who pursue her.

  6. Sid says:

    I love Geena and the actresses of that era in general. They had some really cool roles that I just don’t see Hollywood writing for women these days. Or maybe I’m not paying enough attention.

    Betty White’s death had me thinking back on The Golden Girls, and by extension Designing Women, Murphy Brown, etc. Would TV shows like that get greenlit now, with women over 40 actually being portrayed as having full lives in all aspects? Again, maybe I’m not paying enough attention.

  7. Teebee says:

    hopefully with the variety of streaming services available and the continued roll out of quality programming with “mature” actors like Olivia Coleman, Sandra Bullock, Angela Basset, Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, Viola Davis, Michelle Yeoh, Cate Winslet, Emma Thompson, etc. there will be roles and opportunities aplenty in years to come. Even actors we think of as youthful are now maturing and will hopefully continue to give great performances like Michelle Williams, Amy Adams, Kerry Washington… there are actors that we have seen grow up on screen that have strong careers. It’s up to us to continue to support and consume their content to drive producers to take them seriously as they age.

    In the end it is still about profit and dollars, but there’s a huge audience out there that does not need a bunch of teenagers on screen to keep them watching. In fact I turn off the show when I know the grown up plot I thought I was about to partake in is actually told through the experiences of the younger actors. I can’t be the only one!

  8. Turtle says:

    If you haven’t already watch her in AVA on Netflix she’s amazing in it.

  9. KA says:

    Someone told me recently that the ages of the Golden Girls were about the same as the ages of the Sex and the City reboot- which makes me so sad. I am all about older women having stories to tell and being on screen more- but if SATC is the new expectation for the appearance of women at that age…

  10. Ariel says:

    Enough of this- can you believe this unnamed guy???-
    Give us the name. At this phase in the game, we need to know who the sexist jack*sses are,
    We need to tell them they are wrong and gross.

    And I loved Thelma and Louise.
    My only issue with it was when it came out, it was marketed as an action/comedy- so when the rape scene comes up fairly quickly the movie takes a serious, upsetting turn, and i was not at all prepared for that.

  11. teehee says:

    I mean, its how men think though.

    it not fair, its two sided, its double standard and its gross– but it is at least honestly how men are.

    Now, would more exposure to age-matched couples increase mens interest in older (and better) women? Likely yes. it would show them theres nothing to be afraid of.

    What really bothers me the most is old farts fathering kids. Its like they get off the hook of parenting t begin with, so who cares? Make a bunch of babies, then die– and leave the young woman to raise them for you for the next 25 years.

    THAT needs to change too.

  12. Normades says:

    Cher would have made an AWESOME Louise, and wouldn’t have tarnished its legacy like problematic Sarandon.

  13. BethAnne says:

    Argh on the novels! I read a very silly one over the break, the male characters are all 500 (!) year old immortal faeries and the female human characters are….19. I had to stop reading because I’m just so over it.

    • P says:

      Ok, this must be ACOTAR. Same same in A Discovery of Witches, but at least the main character is in her 30’s (her vampire partner is 1,500 omg). With the vampires, it’s always because they’re unable to be around humans without murdering them or something for 200 years. At least in Twilight he was only 100 years older? I guess?? Yikes! I’m new to faerie fantasy novels, but at least in ACOTAR they seem interchangeable with fantasy vampires minus the blood drinking.

      Anyway, my real partner is five years older, and honestly I can’t imagine being with anyone much older.

      • BethAnne says:

        Ha, it was! I guess it was under “adult” because of the sex scene, but I should have figured out much faster on my own that it was really the young adult genre. Also the strong “not like other girls” vibe of the main character and the abusive undertones of the primary relationship were not awesome.

    • TeamMeg says:

      I just read the new Nick Hornby novel and it features an older woman/younger guy pairing. Refreshing! (Title: “Just Like You” — nothing spectacular, but hard to put down and a fun romp.)

  14. Penny says:

    One thing I’ve noticed about British tv shows and movies is that the wives and husbands are age appropriate. I just watched Hampstead and Diane Keaton is 12 years older than the man who was her love interest.

  15. Lena says:

    I remember Maggie Gyllenhaal at 37 was told she was too old to play a 55 year old’s love interest. I don’t know why but I always had a suspicion it was Kevin Costner. It might have hastened her desire to direct so maybe that was good in the end, although it’s ridiculous. I loved the Lost Daughter and for a large part because it’s about Motherhood – a very rich topic that has yet to be explored much in film.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      I don’t know what Costner is like as a person (he could be a major sexist). But when directs movies, he doesn’t seem to cast women 20 years or more younger than him as his love interest. Annette Bening (Open Range) is only three years younger, and Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves) is three years older than him. Again, it COULD be Costner, but I suspect it is someone else.

    • Charlotte says:

      I remember this as being about Jason Alexander, for some reason.

  16. AppleCart says:

    My Mom was widowed in her early 60’s and went to a widow group for awhile. Most of the time it was women complaining that men in their 70’s only wanted to date 35 y/o women. I think for the men they get to pretend they are younger also. Thankfully my Mom has a full life and never wanted another partner. But it’s sad everything is still so valued on a woman’s age and how it reflects on the man and their egos.

  17. lena horne says:

    i know a lot of women who are married to men 15 years younger. My cousin is one. Her third marriage and they have been married 20 years. She is a plus size lady and has never had a problem getting dates or husbands. Her attitude is -im not going o grow old alone.

  18. bears says:

    I firmly believe that men pursue much younger women because women that are their own age no longer put up with their selfish, childish stupidity. A young woman will laugh at the same sexist joke that a woman my age will roll her eyes at and promptly shut down. Men need their fragile little…egos…stroked and have a difficult time finding that with women their own age.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      I, too, think it is a power thing when older men want younger women — they want the maximum power differential they can get.

      But for the opposite, it’s a little more equal. Despite the age difference, the younger man may be closer financially and status-wise to an older woman. That doesn’t mean *every* situation is like that, but I think *generally* a male can achieve a level of success at a younger age, which would take a woman longer. So

      But with the older man/younger women, the power differential is even greater than if they were the same age. These sad men need an ego boost, and they look for it in young women.

      • Andrea says:

        I found it hard in my 20s and 30s to find a successful well off financially man. Now that I am 40, I suppose I need a 50+ but worry I may not be young enough for them. My father hasn’t liked some of the losers I have dated and to be fair, some were straight up moochers with poor work ethics. I stand to inherit some money, so it is important not to have to bail my man at financially like my 58 year old friend did when her 10 year affair finally left his wife and she had to pay off 20k of HIS debt so he could be debt free. I do not want that scenario at all.

  19. Rose says:

    The “Leveling Up” book series by K.F. Breene has a 40+ heroine and is thoroughly entertaining.