Last night on Charlie Rose, actress Robin Wright broke down briefly when her host asked if she'd wanted to be "the best actress of her generation" — raising questions about what Hollywood expects of women.
Rose tells Wright that "Jodie Foster once said [...] that if you'd wanted to, you could've been the best actress of your generation, suggesting that you didn't want to." Wright says "I never thought I was good," but later Private Lives of Pippa Lee director Rebecca Miller suggests that Wright has had "maybe not the most pragmatic career." And elsewhere Wright has mentioned passing on roles to spend more time with her kids. A recent Redbook interview quotes her as saying, "I turned down so many films because I wanted to be a mom that…they stopped offering." But she also makes it clear that this was a choice, something she "wanted" more than being the best actress of her generation, whatever that means. When Redbook's Stacy Morrison tells her, "People might be tempted to say, 'You gave up your life so he could be Mr. Sean Penn,'" she responds, "He was already Mr. Sean Penn. " And she says,
I really wanted to be a mom. I didn't want my kids to be raised by a nanny, which would have been the case if I were working two movies in a year, you know? And I would have been hospitalized with fatigue. So that's where the no-brainer came in. I did what I wanted to do: I raised my kids.
The fact that Hollywood's version of greatness is incompatible with Wright's preferred family life may be more Hollywood's problem than hers. Underscoring this, Wright makes it clear that The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is the first movie she's truly proud of. It's that pride that appears to prompt Wright's tears, and she later says of working on the film, "Me personally, as an actress, I think I just went, 'get over being scared.'" This kind of confidence comes later in life for many people, not just actresses, and it's a shame that Hollywood is most interested in women when they've not yet developed the self-concept age can bring.
The obsession with youth may be one reason that, as NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis said yesterday, "women are starved for representation of themselves" onscreen. It's not just that older women want to see older women — it's also that women want to see female actors portraying the same variety of human experiences that male actors do, and in order to do that, they may need to mature a little bit. Much has been made of the male actor's ability to grow old and still get roles, but this isn't just about a few gray hairs and the ability to appear opposite younger starlets — it's also about the freedom to grow and change as an artist, something Hollywood doesn't allow very many women. The movie industry, like so many others, needs to make space for women to live their lives, which may include taking some time off to have kids, and definitely includes getting older and wiser.
Related: Robin Wright Penn: Life After Sean [Redbook]