The XX Factor

Connie Britton Is Not Old

Woman in her prime.

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

There is much to adore about Connie Britton, from her iconic turn as Mrs. Coach on Friday Night Lights, to her willingness to have sex with a ghost in a gimp suit on American Horror Story, to her highly covetable hair and swagger with a microphone on Nasvhille. And now a terrific profile in the New York Times Magazine gives us a whole new reason to admire Britton: At 45, she has triumphed over Hollywood’s insane career timeline for women (the one that makes the magazine’s headline of “Connie Britton is a Late Bloomer” true), and continues to fight to make sure Nashville doesn’t treat women her age as over-the-hill.

As Susan Dominus writes:

Britton spent the first three episodes of “Nashville” worried she made a terrible, career-altering mistake. She was particularly concerned about the way her character was being positioned—Connie Britton, playing an “aging country-music star,” a phrase she started seeing in countless blog posts and articles about the show … That Britton of all people would be asked to play a character whose life seemed to fall apart at 40 struck her as almost perverse. “That’s not even who I represent as an actor,” she said, sitting back in her seat. “My life started being awesome five years ago.”

It’s objectively true, of course, that Hollywood treats aging men and women differently. Where opportunities open up for men like Leonardo DiCaprio as they approach their 40s and cast off their pretty-boy pasts in favor of substantive parts and sober reputations, options often narrow for women. Even tremendously well-respected actresses like Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet work less often these days, and frequently end up in supporting and ensemble roles. At 39, Winona Ryder said she’d reached “that age I’ve been warned my whole life about”—meaning, when work would dry up for her. Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are definitely exceptions to the rule.

So, this is just the way it is in Hollywood, and we’ve long accepted it. But it’s still worth noting how insane the entertainment industry is when compared to many other professions. In academia, according to the National Science Foundation, the median age at which Ph.D. candidates get their doctorates, and the point at which they can really begin their careers, is 33.3 years old. Numbers vary by firm size, but the average age at which lawyers tend to make partner is also mid-30s. The average age at which Fortune 500 CEOs become CEOs is 50. Since founding editor Harold Ross started The New Yorker at 32, that magazine has never appointed an editor younger than Tina Brown, who published her first issue shortly before her 39th birthday.

In other words, Connie Britton has found career success at around the same time she would have had if she gone into almost any other field. Britton’s forties, rather than ushering in a terrifying era of terminal decline, turned out to be a time when the jobs available to her got more interesting. That she’s the exception rather than the rule is a reminder of how skewed Hollywood is—and how much potential it is leaving on the table.