Turn on the television on any given night in North America or go to a movie theatre, and if you were to believe what you saw was a fair sampling of the population, you'd think that around 80% of our population was between the ages of twenty and forty-five and vapidly attractive. That figure rises even higher if you only concentrate on the female actors (the word actress is a diminutive that means lessor actor) as you rarely catch sight of a woman over the age of fifty doing anything other than cleaning up after one of today's beautiful losers.
In moments of idle speculation I wonder sometimes if there's not only really ten or twenty actors of each gender that are just given a variety of wigs to wear playing all the roles; they all look so interchangeable. I know that's a gross exaggeration, but with the way casting directors and producers cast shows and movies by type instead of by acting ability there is an awful tendency for the "look" of an actor - especially in the case of a woman - to matter far more than anything as mundane as artistry.
Male actors seem to have a little more leeway, as nobody seems to find the idea of a sixty-something guy with a twenty-something girl all that unusual; it's the reverse you'll see as often as hen's teeth. It's not as if there haven't been roles written for women over the more than two millennia that the performance arts have existed, they just never seem to be performed on this side of the ocean.
What makes this trend so terribly disappointing is the enormous amount of talent that is being ignored. Thankfully for those of us who want to see talented women perform, the miracle of modern technology rides to our rescue by giving us access to great performances from other countries, specifically England, where the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has been going about the business of producing some of the best classical and contemporary theatre as television for nearly its entire existence.
Warner Brothers Hove Video has taken advantage of that fact, and in tandem with the BBC has been presenting some wonderful packages of various productions, and even more excitingly, packages featuring highlights from a single performer's work with the BBC. Helen Mirren has risen to stardom in North America in recent years through her performances in movies like The Queen and Calendar Girls and re-broadcasts of her long running television show Prime Suspect.