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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Older actresses hit back at Hollywood
Rosanna (left) and Patricia Arquette
The Arquettes took centre stage at Cannes
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By Helen Bushby
BBC News Online, Cannes
Actress Rosanna Arquette has an axe to grind, and it is a big one.

She feels that Hollywood is over-obsessed with starring young, gorgeous women in its films, and that roles "all but dry up" once they get a few wrinkles and their bodies lose their "perkiness".

Arquette, 43, the star of films including Desperately Seeking Susan and Martin Scorcese's After Hours, decided to hit back by making a film exploring exactly what her fellow actresses think about being sidelined.

Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi: Philosophical about ageing
She also looks at how they juggle their careers with motherhood and relationships, and probes them for their views on plastic surgery, which is becoming increasingly common in the acting world.

The end result is a fascinating documentary called Searching for Debra Winger, shown out of competition at Cannes on Thursday. It includes candid interviews with 25 leading actresses including Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone and Vanessa Redgrave.


Arquette told BBC News Online its title was inspired by actress Debra Winger, the star of movies including An Officer and a Gentleman and Terms of Endearment, who bowed out of Hollywood six years ago after 20 years and three Oscar nominations.

We need more female writers and directors

Salma Hayek
Rather than battle for ever-diminishing film roles, Winger decided to opt out partly because it was getting increasingly difficult to balance her home and work life, and it was now "depressing" to sit in front of a mirror for an hour each day while shooting a film.

Winger said her new "passion" was her family life, and Arquette's sister, actress Patricia, told BBC News Online she thought Winger dropped out of acting because "it was painful to be a part of it" when roles became more infrequent.

But although actresses including Meg Ryan and Robin Wright spoke of working only once a year after they become mothers, most of the women interviewed seemed keen to continue acting.


Whoopi Goldberg, who presented this year's Oscars ceremony, was philosophical about ageing, saying: "I'm being stalked by my ass - it's gotten bigger since I hit 45 and there's nothing I can do about it - no amount of exercise will change it."

Hollywood is skewing towards the teen demographic

Robert Ebert, film critic
She laughed as she said plastic surgery was not for her, saying: "If bits of my body went from down there to up here people would notice immediately - it would look ridiculous."

But although she also resented the lack of parts for older women, she did not feel vulnerable against the might of Hollywood, saying it had to accept her as she was.

Sharon Stone, who is on this year's Cannes jury, also said she would continue her career through her 40s.

Interesting comments

Stone, who said on Wednesday she wanted to "play women of my age" and joked about being regarded as an archaeological relic, said in the film it was vital for actresses to support each other by saying "You go girl!" rather than being competitive.

One of the most interesting comments made in the film was by actress Salma Hayek, who said: "We need more female writers and directors. It is important that we take this responsibility as we have a lot to say."

But surprisingly, when BBC News Online asked Rosanna Arquette about this, she did not appear to take Hayek's comments on board, saying only that the real problem was a lack of scripts for older women in Hollywood.

Rather than comment on the number of female writers and directors currently working, she would only add that better roles for women were found in the independent film sector, where she had done much of her work.

'Regular-looking women'

Several actresses, including Martha Plimpton, who was in The Goonies and Parenthood, spoke of excruciating casting sessions, in which men "as ugly as Mr Potato Head" decided they would get a part if he found them attractive.

Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda had to balance love and work
"There are some men doing great work with a face like a foot," she said. "But there are no regular-looking women."

Jane Fonda's revelation in the film was perhaps the most surprising, as she said that on only her second date with media mogul Ted Turner, he told her she would have to abandon her career if she wanted their relationship to work.

Fonda, who has won two Oscars, said that after working all her life she had never had the time or space for an "intimate relationship", and so she opted for Mr Turner, although their marriage ultimately did not work out.

Another thought-provoking comment in the film came from the only man who appeared in it - Roger Ebert, film reviewer for the Chicago Sun Times.

Boys' ideal

"Hollywood is skewing towards the teen demographic", he said, adding that the thirst for films with special effects had produced films such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, a computer-generated woman whose body fits many teenage boys' ideal.

It was a shame that Arquette did not speak to older women who are still managing to conquer Hollywood, such as Oscar-winners Dame Judi Dench, Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep, as it would have been interesting to hear their views.

But overall the film raised some important issues, which will no doubt get a sympathetic reception in Cannes. Whether they will be so well-received in Hollywood will be another matter entirely.

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