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Better with Age: Actresses Breaking the Hollywood Mold

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Who says you can’t conquer Hollywood after thirty?


There are a myriad actresses out there today pushing middle age with fortitude and class all across the entertainment industry—and more often than not garnering coveted awards in the process.


These are the women who remain undeterred in the face of one of the toughest industries, where careers can rise and fall based on youth and beauty. What they prove is that sheer talent and the right attitude matter, too. Plus, you could argue that a lot of these women are more gorgeous now than some of today’s ingénues.


Helen Mirren
Hands down the queen of breakout older actresses. No, really; she literally played the legend herself, Queen Elizabeth II in 2005’s The Queen, taking home the Best Actress Oscar at age sixty-one. Mirren slowly built her resume across the pond before she made a name for herself here in the states. By the time she showed up in the critically acclaimed Gosford Park in 2001, Mirren was a full-fledged fifty-six-year-old senior citizen! She may be a late bloomer, but at sixty-four, she’s already established herself as acting royalty.


Tina Fey
Fey worked for years as a writer for Saturday Night Live, eventually signing up as a cast member to co-helm “Weekend Update.” But it wasn’t until last year that the then-thirty-eight-year-old cracked into the cultural zeitgeist. Between helming her own sitcom, 30 Rock (which ended up nabbing her several Emmys and other awards), and her guest stint on SNL as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Fey ended up everywhere. And don’t expect the notorious multi-tasker to slow down any time soon.


Kathy Bates
Bates was a virtual unknown in 1990 when she showed up on the big screen in her now-iconic turn as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She was also forty-two years old. She later went on to stun Hollywood with her Best Actress win for that role. Since then, Bates has sustained her career with one great role after another and proven time and again that she’s a first-rate actress among the best of them.


Felicity Huffman
People took notice when she co-starred in the short-lived but revered SportsNight. Her career took off when she stepped into the role of harried mother Lynette Salvo on Desperate Housewives. While Huffman wasn’t the oldest cast member on the breakout hit when it premiered in 2004, the then-forty-two-year-old was undeniably among the stronger performers. She has also wisely used her talent to tackle work outside of Wisteria Lane and in 2005 earned a Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of a transgendered person in Transamerica.


Catherine Keener
Keener first gained traction as an actress in the 1998 ensemble piece Your Friends & Neighbors. But she really caught fire the following year at the ripe age of forty, first in Being John Malkovich where she earned her first Oscar nomination, and later in star turns in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Capote (earning a second Oscar nom for her portrayal of famed author Harper Lee). Look for Keener, now fifty, in the highly anticipated adaptation of the children’s classic Where the Wild Things Are this year.


Kate Walsh
ABC has been good to older actresses and Kate Walsh was one of them when she showed up on Grey’s Anatomy back in 2005 at age thirty-eight. As Addison Montgomery, Walsh quickly established herself as such a strong character that she warranted her own spin-off, Private Practice. She was forty years old when her own show debuted and it’s since been picked up for its third season coming this fall. Not bad for someone who spent most of her early career playing bit parts here and there.


Roseanne
The self-described housewife decided to embark on a comedy career in the early eighties, but thanks to her fateful performance in 1985 on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Roseanne wouldn’t toil around for long. Soon she was offered her own sitcom and in 1998, when she was thirty-six years old, Roseanne premiered. Her portrayal as a working-class mother turned her into a household name and the show lasted nine seasons. Also known for her fair share of controversy, Roseanne nevertheless remains in the comedic limelight and is currently in talks to develop a new Fox sitcom.


Megan Mullally
She wasn’t Will or Grace, but Mullally’s turn as Karen Walker on the prime time smash hit put her on the map at forty. She was such a standout that by the time Will & Grace wrapped in 2006, she already had her own talk show lined up. While that venture ultimately failed, Mullally hasn’t pulled away from Hollywood. She’s now starring in ABC’s In the Motherhood, and will soon be seen in the movie revamp of Fame.


It’s a known fact that Hollywood isn’t always as kind to the older ladies as it is to older men, making the accomplishments of these women all the more admirable. They’re bucking the, er, old adage and succeeding. The rest of the industry would be wise to follow suit. I mean, come on, this is the age of Susan Boyle! And when Meryl Streep can post her biggest movie opening at fifty-nine (as she did with last year’s Mamma Mia!), you know the tide is changing.  

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