Jane Fonda has branded ageism in Hollywood “alive and well” after studio bosses wanted younger stars to front a movie instead of her and fellow Oscar-winner Diane Keaton.
The women star alongside Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen in Book Club, a film about four older friends who reinvigorate their sex lives after reading Fifty Shades Of Grey.
But the film’s creators resorted to making it independently after they said executives told them they would only produce the movie if the characters were younger.
Speaking to the Press Association in Los Angeles, Steenburgen said it was a “miracle” that it ever got made, while 80-year-old Fonda added that it was an example of age discrimination’s prevalence in Hollywood.
Director Bill Holderman said studios had applied a “tremendous amount of pressure” to reduce the ages of the characters to their late 40s, despite pitching the two widely-recognisable stars.
“It’s an industry that’s very much driven by youth and beauty. Ageism is alive and well,” said Fonda, who won Oscars with Coming Home and Klute.
“I think that’s beginning to change though.”
Keaton, 72, who won an Academy Award for Annie Hall, said it demonstrates the difficulties faced by older women in the industry and in other fields.
“It means it’s tough. But it’s tough always for older people. They’re used less frequently in every field – it’s not just in the performing arts,” she said.
Steenburgen described Book Club as a “quietly subversive and revolutionary” act.
“It’s kind of a miracle, actually, that it ever occurred because Hollywood does kind of ask you in some ways to rather disappear as you get older,” said the 65-year-old, who won an Oscar with Melvin And Howard.
“That’s a shame because people should be able to enjoy life and be reflected in movies and television scripts as long as they’re alive.”
Candice Bergen, 71, said that snubs for Fonda and Keaton tells other older women to get “a day job”.
Dr Martha Lauzen led research by San Diego State University which found that older men have an easier time finding roles than older women.
The study found 46% of male characters were over 40 in top Hollywood films last year, while 29% were women in the same age group.
Commenting on the Book Club scenario, Dr Lauzen said: “The majority of mainstream films continue to reflect the dreams and desires of the white male creatives and executives who work behind the scenes.
“I suspect that if more women occupied executive suites at the studios and creative positions behind the scenes, we would see more films featuring female characters of all ages.”
Book Club will be released in UK cinemas on June 1.