Last month, a Guardian article pointed out an interesting trend among Oscar-winning actors and actresses in the past decade or so – they’re getting older. In the 2000s, best actresses had an average age of 36, which then went up to 41 from 2010 onwards. Best actors have also seen a slight increase in the past decade, from an average age of 43 to 45. The article also pointed out a clear disparity when comparing the ages of male and female winners, with the Academy favouring younger female winners – 32 have won Best Actress in their 20s – while the majority of Best Actor winners were in their 30s and 40s (only one has ever won the award in their 20s – Adrien Brody for his role in The Pianist). Is this a result of actors simply getting better at their job as they age, or is this an inherent bias of the Academy?
One possible theory behind these ageing actors and actresses is that of the ‘Career Oscar’. This refers to the Academy awarding winners taking into account their long career. While this is not technically something that should be taken into consideration (as the Honorary Awards are given to recognise careers), many critics of the Oscars have claimed Academy members factor this in to their vote. In recent years, critics have cited Oscars given to first-time winners such as Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, and Christopher Plummer as ‘Career Oscars’. However, the problem with these claims is, to put it simply, that they cannot be proven. Complete objectivity is understandably unattainable, and with the Academy consisting of thousands of industry professionals, it is a safe bet that they would have acting quality as the main factor behind their decision.
“A reasonable conclusion to come to is perhaps that actors and actresses simply improve over time”
It would be unfair to say, however, that the Academy disregards younger actors and actresses with less experience, in fact, there is much evidence to support the opposite. In recent years, a number of younger actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence and Alicia Vikander were recognised for their stellar performances in their respective films despite being relatively younger and less experienced than their fellow nominees. Additionally, in a record-breaking case, young actress Tatum O’Neal was just 11 years old when she won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her acting debut, Paper Moon in 1973, making her to this day the youngest Oscar winner in history. But even with these examples, how come the statistics provided by the Guardian article show a recent trend of ageing Oscar-winners? A reasonable conclusion to come to is perhaps that actors and actresses simply improve over time.
Looking at it on a case by case basis, this argument is definitely valid. Actors such as Matthew McConaughey has had a relatively long career, with his breakthrough in the coming-of-age comedy Dazed and Confused in 1993, then moving on to a number of rom-coms like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and finally winning an Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club in 2013. The over 20 years of experience in a fairly wide range of genres had an arguably positive impact on his skill as an actor. This, coupled with a greater level of respect gained from his years in show business is what perhaps got him his Oscar. McConaughey is just one example too – other veteran stars such as Alan Arkin and Susan Sarandon had worked in Hollywood for decades prior to their first Oscar wins. On paper, it is also the only theory behind the ageing Oscar-winners that makes solid sense, as the simple fact that people get better at their jobs with experience applies to most, if not all professions out there. So maybe older does equal wiser.