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40-plus firebrands rip mask off Hollywood’s wrinkles

Hollywood’s most formidable female stars have united to condemn “sexist” film moguls for failing to find roles for women over 40.

Meg Ryan, Holly Hunter, Charlotte Rampling, Sharon Stone and Whoopi Goldberg are among 30 actresses who have taken part in a documentary by Rosanna Arquette that is seen as a thinly veiled attack on moguls who control the film industry and the careers of Hollywood actresses.

Arquette, 44, who rose to fame when she starred opposite Madonna in the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan, said her interest in what happened to 40-year-old women in Hollywood was sparked by the experience of Debra Winger, the star of Terms of Endearment, who announced that she was quitting in 1996 aged 40. “Ageing,” Arquette said this week, “equals career death.”

In the documentary, called Searching For Debra Winger, Winger, who has been nominated for three Oscars, tells how she decided to quit and reveals that while she was working on An Officer And a Gentlemen notorious producer Don Simpson told her that she needed diet pills.

The documentary will provoke heated debate in Hollywood, which has long been accused of discriminating against women for their age and beauty.

Arquette told The Daily Telegraph that she had already received criticism from film bosses. “There are a lot of misogynistic men who are very angry about it,” she said. “They’ve told me, ‘It’s just a bunch of chicks sitting around bitching about us’.”

In the film, Daryl Hannah, 43, says that the root of the problem lies “with the guys who run the studios. They choose projects that they identify with and they say, ‘I’d like to be that man having an affair with a chick of 18’”.

Samantha Mathis, 33, agrees. “It’s the revenge of the nerds syndrome, all these guys couldn’t get a girlfriend in high school. They are smart but they have no social skills; suddenly they are running studios in a position of power.”

Arquette’s subjects are candid and often angry about the way the industry has spat them out once they have aged. Martha Plimpton, 33, says: “For women it’s either, she’s a starlet or she’s an old hag.” Whoopi Goldberg adds that film producers “want you to think that you’re done” once actresses had turned 40.

Arquette, who is currently filming another documentary about musicians, continues to act and has recently been filming two comedies with British actresses Imogen Stubbs and Jennifer Saunders. She says certain elements of Hollywood have always annoyed her. “I find it offensive that in Hollywood a 68-year-old movie star is paired with a 30-year-old, or someone even younger. You think, ‘Come on, who are you kidding’. It is offensive.”

Holly Hunter, 45, who won an Oscar for The Piano, believes actresses peak after 40. “The deal is that actresses who are good have probably never been better once they hit 40. Once I hit 40, I had charms that I didn’t have when I was 30 and I want to use them.”

Teri Garr, 53, who has appeared in more than 50 films, including Tootsie, says: “I remember when I was young the great actresses telling me, ‘Wait till they tell you your face has been ravaged by time’.”

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