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NPR Arts & Life

This Summer, A 'Mature' Season For Action Stars And Fashion Models


This is NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


SIMON: The thriller "Taken" spawned two sequels and turned 62-year-old Liam Neeson into an action star.


LIAM NEESON: (As Bryan Mills) What I do have are a very particular set of skills - skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.

SIMON: And Liam Neeson isn't the only older actor these days with that particular set of skills. Bruce Willis, Denzel Washington, Pierce Brosnan, Sylvester Stallone - they're all just some of the stars who are at least 60 years old and are still making action flicks. And, of course, there is 67-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger. He'll be back this summer in another "Terminator" movie. NPR's Ina Jaffe covers aging. She joins us now for a conversation we call 1 in 5 because Ina...

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Because in just 15 years, one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 or older.

SIMON: Which is very close to the actors we've just mentioned. But before we get carried away with is this something new - I mean, John Wayne used to make action films, too, I think, into his 60s, didn't he?

JAFFE: Oh, yeah, he did. The difference now seems to be that there is a bunch of these guys at once. "The Expendables," which was co-written, directed by and starred Sylvester Stallone, featured an ensemble of older actors and spawned two sequels. "RED" was another ensemble movie; again, there was a sequel. There is also a sequel in the works to Denzel Washington's "The Equalizer."

SIMON: The fact that there are a lot of sequels suggests that a lot of these movies must be making money. So who's going?

JAFFE: Apparently, the same people who have been watching these stars the past two or three decades. There's a company called Rentrak that gathers demographic data on audiences, and they found that the audience for "The Expendables," for instance, was noticeably older than the audience for "The Fast And Furious" movies. Rentrak's senior media analyst is Paul Dergarabedian, and he told me that being an action hero isn't necessarily identified with youth anymore.

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: It's really about how you play the part. Of course, there are some action stars that are definitely looking a lot older. And they actually kind of make fun of it, and that's part of it, too, that self-deprecating, awe shucks, I know I'm really old, but I can still kick butt on screen persona.

SIMON: So where is this going - old guys kicking butt has become its own genre?

JAFFE: (Laughter) No, I mean, the biggest thing in action movies these days, Scott, is superheroes. And, you know, it's one thing to still be able to kick butt on screen, but having a butt that looks good in a spandex costume is something completely different. And there's something I should add, though, that being an action hero isn't just a guy thing. One of my favorites is Dame Helen Mirren.

SIMON: It was the "RED" movie, right?

JAFFE: Right, it was the "RED" movies, and she had an automatic weapon in each hand, just like the guys did. But Dame Helen is also part of another trend I want to talk about, Scott. Listen to this.


HELEN MIRREN: Grow another year bolder. Look and feel more radiant. Our perfect age is now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Age Perfect from L'Oreal Paris.

MIRREN: So are you worth it? More than ever.

SIMON: Well, Dame Helen Mirren can convince me of anything and she certainly does in that spot.

JAFFE: Yeah, she's the spokeswoman there for L'Oreal. But recently, a lot of older women have been front and center in beauty and fashion advertising. Jessica Lange from "American Horror Story" - age 65 - she's promoting makeup for Marc Jacobs. Gray-haired models whose names you don't know have shown up in ads for J. Crew and American Apparel. The Gap is represented by Anjelica Huston, who's 64. And, you know, I started noticing this stuff and I wanted to know is it just my imagination or is this really a trend? So I asked Alice Ericsson. She's an executive creative director at Grey Advertising. She says trend.

ALICE ERICSSON: I mean, there's no escaping. You see it all over the place. I mean, it does create an acceptance of older beauty, which is great, and I think it would be hard to go back to just a completely non-generational view where you just have 15-year-olds or just 18-year-olds.

JAFFE: She said older models are never going to replace the younger ones, but they are probably here to stay. And speaking of here to stay, the upcoming issue of W Magazine features 77-year-old Jane Fonda on the cover, and she's their oldest cover model ever.

SIMON: "Barbarella."

JAFFE: Yes, that was a long time ago, Scott.

SIMON: (Laughter) I know.

JAFFE: We date ourselves.

SIMON: (Laughter) NPR's Ina Jaffe - 1 in 5 - talk to you soon, Ina.

JAFFE: Good deal, Scott, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.