Debra Winger: "Women Don't Write Enough"

Debra Winger, who has become a bit of a poster girl (against her will) for the difficulties women face in Hollywood as they age, sat down with Rachel Cooke to discuss the decisions she's made.

Winger, who was a leading lady in the 1980's, quietly left Hollywood to perform on stage throughout the past 15 years or so, dividing her time between plays, her family, and her job as a professor of Literature of Social Reflection at Harvard University. She was thrust back into the spotlight after Rosanna Arquette, using Winger as an example of Hollywood's cruelty toward actresses who dare to age, based a documentary, "Searching for Debra Winger," around her. Winger apparently was not pleased. "I was interviewed for it when it was called something else, and I said to Rosanna at the time, this is your question," Winger says, "I had no idea what she planned on calling the film, and she made me the poster child for something I was not talking about. I didn't give a shit [about what Hollywood was going to do to me]. I was just tired of it."

Winger, who is currently getting rave reviews for her performance in Rachel Getting Married, also takes a swipe at actresses (she refers to them as "boiled faces") who cave to the pressure, citing Nicole Kidman's permanently frozen face as a prime example: "Scary. They go in [to see their doctors] saying: make me look like myself - or like myself 20 years ago. But you know, I have a movie out now and I can't bear to watch it. I see myself up there, and it's not normal to scrutinise your own face on a screen this big; it's like opening a vein. So I do have some compassion for Nicole Kidman, or whoever, who has obviously looked at her face and sort of dissected it, like it's a thing. I don't want to be the poster child for wrinkles, and that's what they make you if you speak out about that whole culture. So I don't, mostly. But it has gotten so ridiculous as a job. [At the film festivals] the celebrities are dragging their movies in, going 'look at this!' instead of the movie being the thing, and they're just there to support it. It's a case of: 'Look at my dress, at my hair, at my face and ... oh, by the way, there's a movie here, too!'

In the end, however, Winger admits that she thinks the only way women are going to get good parts in Hollywood is if women actually start writing them: "Roles for women. There aren't any. They've been saying that since the 1920s, and it's true. [My theory is that] women don't write enough. Because who do they expect to write these roles? Men?"

Winger, who has just written a book, Undiscovered, has a point, yet it's a bit unfair to put the burden on female screenwriters alone, knowing that many of them wouldn't have final say over casting, anyway. Still, Winger has a point, and it is a point that has been made over and over and over again: Hollywood needs to understand that women do not fade out at age 25; they do not stop falling in love or messing up or being interesting or sexy or creative or troubled or worth watching. They do not all become a variation on a wacky Diane Keaton overbearing mother. And with Hollywood's A-list actresses all aging up, despite the amount of Botox they may try to use to fight it one wonders if Hollywood will finally begin creating more roles for what will be a representative of much of our population. As Winger notes, there are many actresses just waiting to bring real women to the screen: "In the early part of my life I carried the flame for fiery women: perky women who were not dumb. And now I feel like I could be the woman to play this role: the invisible woman."

Rachel Cooke Interviews Debra Winger [The Guardian]