Ian McKellen has become the latest leading actor to speak out against the dearth of opportunities in television and theatre for older actresses.
McKellen said the complaint was a familiar one among actresses and added that while it was in part due to the dominance of male roles in the classical canon, it was important that new playwrights looked to create roles for older female performers.
“It’s a familiar cry from women friends of my age – or younger,” the 70-year-old actor told The Stage. “It’s not fair that, particularly in the classics, although there are some great parts for older women, there aren’t nearly as many as there are for men, in say Shakespeare. Judi Dench has now really run out of parts to play in Shakespeare.
“But look at Calendar Girls and Madame de Sade. They are next door to each other [the Wyndham's and the Duke of Yorks] and not a man in sight. And both are so popular – that is very telling. People might have thought, who wants to see plays about elder women? Well, the general public do. An awful lot of older women and gentleman go to the theatre and now the population is getting older. Plays about old age are perhaps going to be more popular than they used to be and that should help playwrights think, well, we can find some fabulous parts for the fabulous actresses there are around.”
McKellen said, if it was the case that TV commissioning editors had been asking screenwriters to lower the age of women in their dramas, as previously revealed in The Stage, that reflected badly on them.
He added: “If they are just titillated by the stories young people have, they are missing out. If Shakespeare hadn’t been interested in older people and people in their prime, we would not have had Antony and Cleopatra, and many other characters.
“Everybody wants to see actresses like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, it’s just up to people to provide them with the material to do so.”