Not that that's a bad thing. As Streep and Clint Eastwood demonstrated in "The Bridges of Madison County," the older audience is substantial and capable of supporting a passionate romance between two older stars.
But this is where the economics really come into play. For "Bridges of Madison County," as with all his films, Eastwood has always taken less money upfront and a sizable cut of the profits--if there are any. Actors like Douglas and Ford still command top dollar--as much as $20 million a film and gross participation as well. And who's to say they don't deserve it? Ford's "Air Force One" was a worldwide blockbuster, grossing more than $300 million.
Superstar salaries almost ensure the film will cost upward of $50 million and, therefore, their appeal must be as broad as possible. Only Beatty worked for less to get "Bulworth" made. It still performed underwhelmingly at the box office, but at least he took responsibility for it.
Except for Nicholson, who has also romanced more mature leading ladies like Shirley MacLaine in "Terms of Endearment," as these actors have gotten older their leading ladies have remained the same age. They all have casting approval and demand younger co-stars, according to one casting agent. The actors argue that the roles are written for younger women, as if they had no power to alter that. The truth is that they desperately need the attentions of a beautiful young woman because she carries enough sex appeal for both of them.
Hollywood didn't create this double standard. But it certainly institutionalized it. In 1962, when Cary Grant (58) romanced Audrey Hepburn (33) in "Charade," audiences ate it up. A year earlier, when Vivien Leigh (48) ogled Warren Beatty (25) in "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone," it was presented as prurient and pitiful. (For more of Hollywood's historic age disparities, see adjoining chart.)
It's more than just starring opposite nubile leading ladies. Though most of these men are old enough to be grandfathers--and a few of them are--they've even been reticent to play fathers (again Nicholson is the exception). And when they have, the children have always been under the age of 10. When Jodie Foster (35) wanted to play Douglas' daughter, and not his sister, in "The Game," the actor balked. The role was recast with Sean Penn (38) playing Douglas' younger brother.
For Douglas to have a 35-year-old daughter was a stretch, though no more of an acting challenge than for him to have a 25-year-old wife. But it would have changed the audience's perception of him. The fear is once you've crossed that line, you can't go back. Viewers wanted to believe that a 55-year-old Ford rescued his young daughter by acting like a Green Beret in "Air Force One." Would anyone have thought him capable of such derring-do if he was trying to save his 7-year-old granddaughter?
It's not that these actors are no longer virile or heroic. There are probably few 60-year-old men who wouldn't trade places with Redford or even Connery. But for that matter Streep, Close, Goldie Hawn and Sarandon have also matured beautifully and they all complain how difficult it is for them to find good roles at all, much less romantic assignments.
There are exceptions. Not that long ago Sarandon heated up the screen when she seduced both Tim Robbins (12 years her junior) and Kevin Costner (who's nine years younger) in "Bull Durham." (However, her most recent love interest was 73-year-old Paul Newman.) Rene Russo, who is on the other side of 40, still generates sparks opposite slightly younger leading men like Mel Gibson in the "Lethal Weapon" movies and Costner in "Tin Cup." At age 48, Sigourney Weaver was a more than credible action hero in "Alien: Resurrection" (although she was given no romance).
But when Barbra Streisand, then 53, strutted around like a schoolgirl in "The Mirror Has Two Faces," she was mocked. It's not that the attraction between her and Jeff Bridges (only seven years her junior) was out of whack. It was her adolescent behavior toward romance. That a woman in her 50s would still moon like a schoolgirl made her appear immature and rather ridiculous. It also deprived the audience of a better story--how a middle-aged woman copes with her own self-image.
And that gets to the heart of this male Peter Pan behavior pattern. It's easy to believe that a 60-year-old man would be attracted to Halle Berry or Gwyneth Paltrow. What's not to like? They're beautiful and intelligent. The more important question is why a 60-year-old man is chasing the same obscure object of desire as he did at age 25. What does that say about him? And what does it say about the audience? The answer to those questions would make a great movie. In fact, Blake Edwards already made that film. It was called "10."