“When you’re my age, you’re invariably in a supporting role, so there’s often a young woman in her twenties or early thirties who is the lead, and you’re constantly put next to them. You’re watching yourself get old, on a screen that hides nothing.”--Fiftysomething actress Kristin Scott Thomas, quoted in Sheryl Garratt, “Kristin Scott Thomas: 'I Feel Like an Old Ragbag,'” The Sunday Telegraph (U.K.), July 21, 2013.
In the course of maintaining this blog, I maintain a “Quote Bank” culled from my reading over time. Sometimes, for the sake of an item that has just appeared in a newspaper or magazine, it might seem better to post the quote immediately. But if you wait, you never know when it’s going to gain new, unexpected relevance.
And so it happened last night, when, scrolling on the Internet, I notice the news headline, “Kristin Scott Thomas Quits.” In one way, the resulting article wasn’t that drastic (if she were giving up acting completely, the operative verb in the headline would have been “Retires”). But as I read about the self-described “aging actress”’ exhaustion with the film industry (“I realised I've done the things I know how to do so many times in different languages, and I just suddenly thought, I can't do it any more”), I noticed a conjunction of events:
Her shock, described above, at the Cannes Film Festival, upon seeing so many of her contemporaries looking “so beautiful and gorgeous and healthy,” of feeling “like an old ragbag” next to them and contemplating plastic surgery—and her latest movie, The Invisible Woman, in which she plays the middle-aged mom of Charles Dickens’ lover.
The actor who plays Dickens is Ralph Fiennes. You might remember him as Scott Thomas’ co-star (and partner in a steamy love scene) in The English Patient. Nearly twenty years later, he still gets to play the leading man, while she is stuck in a supporting role.
When you think about this, you realize that not much has changed in a quarter century in the film industry, when Sally Field played the lover of Tom Hanks in Punchline, only to take on the role of the mother of his (young) character only six years later in Forrest Gump.
Over time, the French have been held up as a model for their treatment of actresses of a certain age such as Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve—and indeed, as a Francophone, Scott Thomas has a number of French films among her nearly 70 appearances onscreen. But even in that country, it must be a struggle for her lately, because she says she is giving up films completely.
Luckily, Scott Thomas says she will continue to act for the stage. The stage is, as she notes, an arena in which, unlike film, an actor is called upon to give more than just “raw material” for a director. But it is also absent of the closeups on which film relies—the same closeups that, increasingly in the era of high-definition television, highlight every imperfection of an actor so much as to compel serious consideration of plastic surgery.
I was lucky enough four years ago to catch Scott Thomas on Broadway, in an imported production from the U.K. of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. (My review is here.) Yet, despite the complexity of her character, Arkadina, the role—of an aging actress fearful of losing her desirability—has to be among the most emotionally wrenching for a member of a profession so dependent on knowing how one appears. One hopes that she’ll find happier roles for one in her age group (Noel Coward’s Private Lives, perhaps?)
(Photograph of Kristin Scott Thomas at the Cannes Film Festival last year, taken by Georges Biard)