It’s well-known that Hollywood doesn’t like seeing women of a certain age onscreen — and, far too often, “a certain age” means 35. In 2015, a study found that just 30% of the already limited number of women shown onscreen are over 40, compared to 53% of men.
Director Lorene Scafaria knows just how hard it is to get movies about older women made. She directed the new indie dramedy The Meddler, starring Susan Sarandon as a recent widow who finds herself meddling in the lives of her daughter (Rose Byrne), her daughter’s friends, Apple store employees…basically everyone she encounters.
The Meddler was closely based on Scafaria’s own mother, so Scafaria had good reason to stick to her guns when it came to requests that she age down not only Sarandon’s character, but Byrne’s as well. She was also asked put more focus on the younger character and less on the titular “meddler.”
“When we were trying to get the movie made, people were asking me, ‘Can the character be in her 50s, can the daughter be in her 20s?’ and I said, ‘No, of course not. Why can’t someone over 60 have this romantic life and all the same hopes and wants?” Scafaria told BUST.
Here, Scafaria explains how The Meddler finally made it to the screen, why she refused to cast a 20-something in Byrne’s part, and what we can do to make sure that more movies about older women get made:
The Meddler is such a personal story for you — could you tell me about that?
It’s based on my mom, who is a bit of a meddler. She moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be close to me after my dad died about six years ago. She and I were just grieving in really different ways and I thought what she did was really brave: She moved 3,000 miles and was grieving so optimistically and beautifully.
What does she think of the finished movie?
It’s her favorite movie. She loves it. I shared the script with her as I went along, so she wasn’t surprised by information or anything. I think she was really moved by it, really touched by it, and she certainly loves that Susan Sarandon plays her! She loves to say, “Daddy would have been so excited to be married to Susan Sarandon.”
It seems like a movie like this may have been hard to get made. Could you tell me about that process?
Yeah, it was really, really hard to get made. Nobody wanted to make it. Nobody was taking it very seriously, even a lot of people that I work with. I don’t know if they saw it as a diary entry or if they thought, “It’s going to be too hard to get a movie made about a woman of a certain age.”
They were asking me for years to make it a two-hander, to make the daughter’s role as large as the mom’s, and not only is it exactly what I didn’t want to do, but it went exactly against the idea of the film, which is to peel back the layers of a meddler to see what it’s like to her when she’s alone, to never really leave her side or get a break, and see what loneliness really looks like.
They thought that we weren’t going to draw the kind of cast that would want to do it, but once we got Susan Sarandon on board, the rest of the cast, people like Rose and JK [Simmons], were just excited to work with her.
How did Susan Sarandon get involved?
I sent her the script cold! I was really frustrated after a couple years of nobody taking it seriously or helping to get it made, and I was seeing commercials and trailers for Tammy [starring Sarandon and Melissa McCarthy]. She was the first one that I pictured at the beginning, but at that point I kept seeing commercials and thinking,“Oh, she’s so funny, she’s so great,” so I sent the script unsolicited to her agent who liked it, gave it to Susan, who liked it. We met and a couple months later, I showed her this video I had made: I shot the first few minutes of the movie with my mother in the role as herself. I think when she saw my mom in action, she was like, “This is everything.” That sealed the deal.
When I walked out of the press screening, everyone was talking about how sexy Susan Sarandon was in the role. The film is about a woman who is older, but she still has sex appeal, she still has a love life, and that’s something we don’t see too often in media.
No, no, it’s a shame. Susan just is sexy, so you could just have her stand there for the whole film and people would say that. I think love is love. No matter what age you are, and feelings are feelings and crushes are crushes. You still blush and you still get excited over someone. So it’s not really a film about a sexual awakening or anything like that, but it’s a movie about a woman who hasn’t thought of having an open heart to romantic love again. Of course it’s never too late for romantic love, of course it’s never too late to look at someone like that or be looked at like that.
You said that you were asked to age down the daughter role as well?
Yeah, both parts! I mean, you know, it happens. People certainly think there are more choices or something like that when you open it up to different age groups, but it was really important to me that the Lori character be on the wrong side of 35 and that the mother be in her sixties. Because it’s really about women at those specific stages in life. It’s not about being a widow when you’re younger and what it means to move on. It’s really meant to be about, what is it like when you have this role of life for 40 years and your daughter is 35 but is acting 16? It would have lost a lot of weightiness if we had done that.
What do you think needs to happen for Hollywood to create an environment where movies like this — movies starring women, particularly older women — are welcomed and more easily made?
People need to go to the theaters to see movies like this. Money talks, so I think a lot of times the studios are responding to what they think the demand is. It seems like in the past six months or so, there have been a few movies like Grandma; I’ll See You In My Dreams; Hello, My Name Is Doris, that star women who are older. Hopefully, if people see these films and make it a success, more movies like this will be made.
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