Ever the diplomat, Meryl Streep says she understands where Russell Crowe was coming from when he criticized actresses over 40. In a controversial January interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly, the actor scoffed at the popular notion that there are few good roles for middle-aged women in Hollywood. “The best thing about the industry I’m in — movies — is that there are roles for people in all different stages of life. To be honest, I think you’ll find that the woman who is saying that (the roles have dried up) is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue, and can’t understand why she’s not being cast as the 21-year-old,” Crowe told the magazine. “Meryl Streep will give you 10,000 examples and arguments as to why that’s bulls—, so will Helen Mirren, or whoever it happens to be.”
So, did Streep back him up? Sort of. At a press conference for Into the Woods, the 65-year-old actress said that she felt Crowe’s comment had been “misappropriated” as a broad statement on Hollywood, when he was really just talking about himself. “The journalist asked him, ‘Why don’t you do another Gladiator, you know, everybody loved that,’” Streep said (via The Huffington Post). ”He said, ‘I’m too old. I can’t be the gladiator anymore. I’m playing parts that are appropriate to my age.’ Then the conversation went on to actresses. So that was proving a point, that he was talking about himself, as most actors do. So that aside, I agree with him that it’s good to live in the place where you are.” Streep did note, however, that her role in Into the Woods was originally played by a younger actress. (Bernadette Peters was in her thirties when the stage musical premiered in 1986.) Watch the video of Streep’s response below.
The irony of Crowe’s comment is that Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are frequently cited as the exceptions to Hollywood’s ageist casting practices. Such high-profile actresses as Glenn Close and Viola Davis have complained that Streep is offered the kinds of roles that simply aren’t available to most middle-aged women in Hollywood. Yet even Streep has repeatedly spoken out against ageism in Hollywood, saying in 2006 that the roles offered to actresses her age are “usually… gorgons or dragons or in some way grotesque.” Jessica Chastain, for one, has said that Crowe’s statement is unrealistic. “I think Russell keeps getting his foot stuck in his mouth,” she told Cosmopolitan on Tuesday night. “There are some incredible actresses in their 50s and 60s that are not getting opportunities in films, and for someone to say there are plenty of roles for women that age … [that] is not someone who’s going to the movie theater."