Is Michael Douglas Right About the Decline of American Actors?

Michael Douglas - Ant-Man, Marvel

Source: Marvel Studios

The career of your average actor in Hollywood today is typically not hard to predict. We generally get a sense for how high someone’s star is rising as they begin appearing in a variety of roles, and then graduate to getting leads in major blockbusters. That list of actors netting a majority of lead roles is typically one most of us have down pat. It’s one we all run through in our heads when a major part is up for grabs, usually headed up by a small handful of Hollywood elites. In the realm of younger roles, veteran of the game Michael Douglas seems to think that list is including fewer and fewer rising American stars.

His general thesis is simple enough, addressing the reasoning behind the younger end of European and Aussie actors beginning to overshadow a game that Americans used to own. In an interview with The Independent, he posits his theory.

Clearly, it breaks down on two fronts. In Britain they take their training seriously while in the States we’re going through a sort of social media image conscious thing rather than formal training. Many actors are getting caught up in this image thing which is going on to affect their range.

Take a look at some of the marquee names right now in the industry and you’ll see notice the same trend: Liam and Chris Hemsworth (Australian), Sam Worthington (British), Jai Courtney (Australian), Charlie Hunnam (British), Benedict Cumberbatch (British), Michael Fassbender (German), the list goes on. Here in America, it’s basically Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, Chris Evans, and then the rest. In terms of actors you’d want in your Oscar-worthy project, the choice is pretty clear that our European and Australian counterparts have us beat on all fronts. Simply put, today’s American actors are better suited for Transformers than they are Shakespeare.

In some ways, this could be indicative of a larger, more gender-related issue, bluntly addressed by Amy Schumer in a recent episode of her sketch show on Comedy Central. Simply put, the expiration date of lead male actors is far later than that of their female counterparts. This in turn has led to a huge influx of younger actresses dominating the American industry (your Jennifer Lawrences and Anna Kendricks), while men continue to hit their “prime” in their late 30s/early 40s.

Your run-of-the-mill A-list actress typically is somewhere in her 20s, or at most early 30s; Lawrence at 24 years old is about the median age. For men, almost all of them play young on-screen well into their latter years. Chris Pratt (36), Channing Tatum (35), and Chris Evans (34) are all prime examples of this, showing a stark difference between the ages Hollywood considers appropriate for each respective gender. It’s a double-standard that only serves to limit the careers of talented women in the industry, while stunting the development of younger male actors, forced to wait in line behind leading men far older than them. Simply put, it’s becoming a no-win scenario.

That’s not to underscore that the real issue here is Hollywood’s treatment of women. The fact that the industry stops considering actresses viable leads past the age of 30 to 40 is of course the biggest issue at play. But as we circle back to Michael Douglas’s comments, it’s clear that two things are true: The younger generation of American actors is losing out to our overseas brethren, and there’s a far larger game at play here than simply than measuring the age of men.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

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