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Winona Ryder as Spock’s Mom: Are Young Women Cast as Matriarchs the New Trend?

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I quite enjoyed the most recent Star Trek movie. I’m married to a total sci-fi geek and we saw it in IMAX once, a regular old boring movie theater once, and now on our own TV at least three times. Each time, I catch a few more neat little references J.J. Abrams has thrown in there and I think wow, great flick, clever guy. But something has been bothering me ever since that first viewing — the casting of Winona Ryder as Spock’s (played with humility and candor by Zachary Quinto) human mother.

Winona Ryder as Spock's mother in the new Star Trek movie. Now I may be ignorant of Vulcan gestational practices, but here on Earth, having a mother that young would be quite, er, impossible. See, Ms. Ryder was born in 1971; Quinto in 1977. If math still serves my feeble brain, little Winona would be physically incapable of birthing a child at the tender age of six. This physically improbable yet magically accepted practice Hollywood foists upon us is sadly representational of a system that casts younger women in the role of middle-aged mothers, when clearly there is a plethora of talented, appropriately-aged actresses out there who could fit the bill, so to speak (no offense to Ms. Ryder — glad to have you back, girlfriend).

Take these examples (from this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine) in which they discuss the ridiculous mother/child age differences, or lack thereof, on a few TV shows:

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008): Lena Headey 34, Thomas Dekker 20 — Sarah would have been 14 when she gave birth. Not completely crazy given this current climate in America of children having children; however, knowing the story, we all know Sarah Connor did not give birth to John Connor when she was 14. Yes, the American public has a short attention span, but we are fierce when it comes to this story, guys — we've all seen the first movie a kabillion times. Give us a break.

Kath & Kim (2008): Granted, the show was dreadful. Surely part of its complete unwatchability (aside from Selma Blair, 36, attempting comedy) was the fact that no one bought Molly Shannon, 43, as her mom. Perhaps the seven-year age difference was part of that recipe for failure for a show that was surely doomed from the start… who knows?

Gilmore Girls (2000): Please, don’t shoot me, but I was never a fan of this show. Both Lauren Graham, 33, and Alexis Bledel, 19, are talented actresses and I’m glad the show did well and I wish them continued success. But I never bought the premise; they just always looked like sisters to me, dammit. And given their age difference – 14 years – now I understand why. (I think in the show, Graham was supposed to have had her daughter at the age of 16-ish?) I know it was hip and cool and all that, peppering each episode with pop culture references (or Gilmore-isms); they even talkedreallyfast to mirror the fast-paced dialogue of today’s American teenager. Ugh.

Of course, this practice isn’t new. Go back to the movie The Graduate. Though she certainly looked like a middle-aged, albeit sexy, harpy, Anne Bancroft was actually only six years older than Dustin Hoffman when she played the iconic role of Mrs. Robinson. I know. In this case, obviously the right actress was cast and the chemistry was undeniable. Hoffman, Bancroft, and even Katherine Ross (who, for the uninitiated, played Bancroft’s daughter) all earned Oscar nominations. Who am I to question the brilliance of famed director Mike Nichols? And yet… even Bancroft expressed reservations in playing the role of the “older woman” given that she was only 36 at the time of filming.

Moving into the '80s, we have Lea Thompson playing Michael J. Fox’s mom in the sci-fi classic Back to the Future. This was particularly galling given that they were exactly the same age. In defense of this casting choice, most of the cast was “younger playing older,” and they were all playing dual roles — their high school selves and their future selves. In my personal opinion, her makeup looked totally fake and silly when they aged her (though apparently it took over three hours to apply); it was if Spielberg and Zemeckis were flaunting their ability to pull the wool over our eyes while at the same time making it patently obvious — a wink wink, if you will. Nevertheless, people love the movie to this day; the sequels not so much. It's great escapist fare. The casting choice was seen as a great break for Thompson and she was thankful, as any young actress would be, for the boost it gave her career.

About RachelintheOC

  • Jen

    At least in Star Trek, they attempted to make Winona Ryder look older than Quinto.

  • http://www.giltfree.blogspot.com rachelintheOC

    It’s also worth noting that ALL of the movies I mentioned in my article were directed by men.

  • V

    I think you’re reading too much into the Winona situation. The only reason she was aged visually for her role is because they also filmed a scene in which she gave birth to Spock (Whilst young), which was later removed from the theatrical release but can be found on the DVD. It’s logical – pardon the pun there – for them to go for a makeup attempt at aging rather than recasting an older actress.

  • http://www.giltfree.blogspot.com rachelintheOC

    Jen, that’s true. My husband said the same thing–they did age her. I kind of felt “Why bother” We KNOW it’s Winona & she’s clearly a youngish, kind of pixie looking woman anyway, so why not go with an older woman? The role was so limited (probably due to time constraints–apparently there was a whole scene involving Spock’s birth that was cut) that it just seemed silly to me.

  • http://www.giltfree.blogspot.com rachelintheOC

    V–we must be on @ the same time. I did consider that & knew in my research about the birth scene & saw the stills where she was young so I can appreciate your point. Still, and this is just my opinion as I was watching the movie multiple times, I think there are plenty of more appropriately-aged actresses out there that could have played the part (both parts actually) and it wouldn’t have seemed so, IDK, goofy.

  • V

    I definitely understand your point about the other examples you mentioned in the article, but I guess in ST it just wasn’t goofy to me since 1) As a Trekkie I thought she captured the essence of Amanda Grayson wonderfully and 2) Like you also said – Winona’s finally back!

  • Jen

    Rachel—I agree: Winona is so known to all of us that, despite wearing make-up, it’s a challenge to totally suspend your disbelief. I agree…just find an older actress to begin with!

  • http://www.trevorclinard.com/ Trevor

    Hey I have to pipe in here about Winona. Sure she’s young with could work… I mean Back to the Future. However, I’m just not seeing why we had to go with Winona. Why not some else, young even, but less known? I see her and I see an Android from Alien: Resurrection with a mole/mp3 hook up. Just saying.

  • Mea

    I LOVED Winona as the mother. She looks so caring and sweet and I think they did a great job on aging her – gracefully and beautiful yet old looking.

    She look like the original actor from the original cast and I find it logical that they choose a younger (She really isn’t that young anymore anyway) actress because they still suck at making old people look young and they needed her to look young in the birth scenes..

    Anyway, I loved her in the movie..