In 'The Only Living Boy in New York,' Kate Beckinsale has a romance with a 21-year-old. So what’s the big deal?
Age may be just a number. But in Hollywood, it's a number that reflects a totally BS double standard between men and women.
Just ask Kate Beckinsale.
The actor sat down with Chelsea Handler on the comedian's Netflix talk show alongside "Transparent" creator Jill Soloway and actor Niecy Nash to discuss current roles for women in the industry. During their chat — which garnered attention online for Nash's excellent explanation of why diversity goes far beyond "black and white" — Beckinsale brought up a particularly absurd double standard she experienced firsthand on the set of her new film.
In "The Only Living Boy in New York,” Beckinsale's character has sexual relationships with both a 21-year-old (played by Callum Turner) and his father (Pierce Brosnan).
The public's response to each relationship says a lot about how we view gender, age, and romance on-screen, Beckinsale told Handler.
"Women on television are doing different things," Handler said to the actor. "In your movie, you’re having an affair with a 21-year-old."
"And his father," Beckinsale, 44, interjected to cheers from the audience.
"The thing I found funny about it was, in that movie, I’m having an affair with a married man, who’s Pierce Brosnan. They got paparazzi pictures of [me and Brosnan] shooting — they’re like, 'Wouldn’t they make a lovely couple in real life?' And actually, they made a big deal out of the [21-year-old actor] being very young. But he’s 16 years younger than me, and Pierce is 21 years older than me. And I thought, that’s really interesting, because nobody bats an eye about the age gap that way. You can be a 90-year-old man, everybody goes, 'go for it.'"
Beckinsale (second from right) and Turner (right) alongside other cast members of "The Only Living Boy in New York." Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images.
Beckinsale's experience reflects a much larger issue facing Hollywood's leading ladies.
Movie executives are far more comfortable pairing younger women with (much) older men than they are with the reverse.
Just yesterday, a trailer for the new film "Mother!" raised eyebrows, as viewers realized Jennifer Lawrence, 26, was playing the love interest of Javier Bardem, 48, in the horror film.
This double standard has been the status quo for decades, with few signs of significant progress on the issue.
In 2015, a casting decision affecting actor Maggie Gyllenhaal ("The Dark Knight," "Donnie Darko") made waves for its overtly sexist implication.
"I'm 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55," Gyllenhaal explained to The Wrap. "It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh."
Gyllenhaal's experience, although frustrating, is not a rarity.
This double standard isn't just obnoxious — it has real ramifications, too.
Most leading roles are for men. So, too often, talented women are pigeonholed into playing the love interest — or some other role revolving around the male lead — instead of telling their own character's stories.
Because Hollywood generally prefers younger women in love interest roles, this limits the already limited opportunities available for women as they grow older, exacerbating the problem and affecting their paychecks. It's in part why Hollywood tends to categorize women into either "young and hot" or "old and dowdy" characters — a binary that doesn't exist for their male counterparts.
Maybe age really is just a number. But when it's a number that affects opportunity and income, we all should care about righting an industry wrong.