Would Meryl Streep play Pepper Potts if she came along now?


gwynethBack in the 1970s and 1980s, an Oscar win for a young actress usually meant a salary upgrade and the ability to land even better roles in A-level productions.

Meryl Streep won the 1979 best supporting actress Oscar and was off and running on an amazing streak of starring parts that would include “Silkwood” (below), “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” “Out of Africa” and “Sophie’s Choice.”

Jessica Lange used the clout she gained from an Oscar win for “Tootsie” in 1982 to leave similar ingenue roles behind for a series of meaty parts in “Sweet Dreams,” “Crimes of the Heart,” “Men Don’t Leave” and “Music Box.” The actress was also able to produce and star in a pet project, “Country,” about the plight of farm families in the early 1980s.

Sissy Spacek went from her Oscar winning role in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” to “Missing,” “Raggedy Man,” “Marie” and “Violets are Blue,” a star vehicle directed by her husband Jack Fisk.

I could go on, but I would get too depressed by the current plight of young-ish actresses after they win Oscars.

gwyneth1Nowadays, the career trajectory of a rising actress is more likely to include an Oscar win for an independent or low budget film and then a series of bum or secondary parts in the big budget movies that get booked into multiplexes.

You could argue that Charlize Theron and Halle Berry got better roles before they won their Oscars for “Monster” in 2003 and “Monster’s Ball” in 2001.

Berry’s post Oscar resume includes a James Bond picture, two “X-Men” movies and the recent flop thriller “The Call” (she was part of the large ensemble of last year’s would-be prestige picture, “Cloud Atlas,” but that film failed to connect, too).

Theron won strong roles in two serious dramas, “North Country” in 2005 and “In the Valley of Elah” two years later, but since they flopped she has supported Will Smith in the awful “Hancock,” played second-fiddle to Kristen Stewart in “Snow White and the Huntsman” and landed a nothing role in last summer’s “Prometheus. Next up for the South African Oscar winner is “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Gwyneth Paltrow won her Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love” 14 years ago, in the wake of good parts in a wide of array of films including “Emma” and “Sliding Doors.”

Since 1998, Paltrow has played a mixed bag of roles — with good ones in “Sylvia” and “Proof” — but in the past few years, her career and public image seem to be going backwards.

Last week, she was named People’s “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” — a foolish honor for an actress at 21, a desperate PR stunt at 40 — which was obviously cooked up as part of the promotion for next weekend’s “Iron Man 3” (above) in which she plays third fiddle to Robert Downey and the special effects (and is saddled with the dumbest character name in modern movies — Pepper Potts).

The position of Paltrow, Theron and Berry illustrates the depths to which women now have to sink if they are going to be part of the big studio movies that dominate the mainstream marketplace.

If a Meryl Streep or Jessica Lange (or Sissy Spacek or Diane Keaton) came along now, they might find good roles in indie films or on an HBO or Showtime series, but what would they have to play in a big summer movie?


Joe Meyers

2 Responses

  1. Joe Meyers says:

    Thanks for reading the post, Ken. This topic is endlessly fascinating and depressing because I miss seeing women in good roles in big multiplex movies.
    Meryl Streep was so lucky to establish herself in the 1980s and gain so much industry respect that she can still scoop up juicy roles for women of “a certain age” in movies that are still widely distributed. But she is a token figure in the 2013 marketplace.

  2. Ken Anderson says:

    The idea for this article is so smart and timely I wish I could steal it. I mean why isn’t anyone else writing about how strange the evolution of women’s roles have become?
    Was a day when lead actresses were heading to Broadway or Europe rather than allowing themselves to be cast in just another “girlfriend” role. Now, those roles are going to Oscar winners and are among the most high-profile around.
    And if there is any legitimacy to that whole “Oscar Jinx” legend, Halle Berry’s and Charlize Theron’s career trajectories certainly bear it out.
    You could have written three more columns on this subject, your observations are fascinating!