The latest installment of the James Bond franchise – Spectre – had its Royal Premier in London, Monday. All of the main stars – Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, and Monica Bellucci – were in attendance, posing on the red carpet before the world’s media before making their way into the Royal Albert Hall for the first official screening.
Spectre is the most expensive and longest Bond movie ever made, but the movie breaks ground not just regarding scale and size, but also culturally. For the first time ever, an actress over the age of 50 has been cast as a Bond Girl, the female love interest that forms an integral part of the James Bond canon.
Monica Bellucci is the oldest Bond Girl to be cast in the history of the franchise, and director Sam Mendes has been lauded for his decision. The casting not only subverts and overturns the sexism, which has been ingrained in the Bond franchise since its inception, but also that of the wider movie industry and double standards when it comes to gender.
Hollywood has long maintained the double standard that women over 50 are “past-it.” The roles available to women over 50 have been extremely limited in a way that those available to men over 50, have not.
Whereas male leads can be as old as 60, female counterparts are hardly ever over the age of 35 even if they play lovers.
The parts on offer to older women tend to be narrow and de-sexualized characters, typically defined by a sense of authority or solicitude – doctors, teachers, secretaries, and mothers.
The older woman in Hollywood has all too often been reduced to an asexual caricature, narrative counterweights that are excluded from sexual or action elements of a plot.
In an interview with The Red Bulletin, Daniel Craig was asked a question that encapsulated this double standard and the expectation it engenders. The interviewer latched on to the novelty of Bond “succumbing to the charms of an older woman” in Spectre.
Craig’s curt answer brought the focus back to substance – Bellucci’s charisma as an actor, a woman, and not her age – “I think you mean the charms of a woman his own age, We’re talking about Monica Bellucci, for heaven’s sake. When someone like that wants to be a Bond girl, you just count yourself lucky!” When speaking about casting Bellucci, Sam Mendes spoke of her “incredibly seductive presence in life and on the movie.”
So what does Monica Bellucci herself make of the attention that has centered on her age? When asked why her casting for Spectre had attracted such publicity, Belluci offered a very direct and powerful explanation.
“Because the world is a man’s world. Men have the power in everything: journalism, acting, direction; in banks, finances, schools. All the laws are made by men. Men think that women, when they’re not able to procreate any more, become old. That is not true – they are still amazing! That’s why I think that Sam Mendes, in choosing me, an adult woman, created a big revolution.”
Much of Bellucci’s acting career has been spent in the European film industry, where gender double standards are not so rampant as Hollywood. A number of European actresses such as Juliet Binoche, Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, and Isabelle Huppert, land leading roles and consistent work, despite being beyond their twenties, the usual expiration date for female leads in tinsel town.
Speaking to United Airlines’ Rhapsody Magazine, Bellucci said, “There are a lot of women getting beautiful roles as they get older, and I think it’s right …. there’s a certain beauty with youth, but there’s another one that comes with age. Your soul grows, and that’s sexy.”
Perhaps the difference in culture and industry between Europe and Hollywood explains Bellucci’s natural assurance when it comes to her sexuality and seductive aura, the very qualities that make her perfect for the role of Luciana Sciarra, the beautiful, mysterious and unattainable, Italian widow to a gangster who holds powerful “secrets” central to Spectre‘s plot.
“We should not be worried about age when it comes to love and attraction, Just as younger women are attracted to older men, it shouldn’t be considered strange that men in their 20s and 30s are drawn to older women. It’s the chemistry and energy between men and women that counts. True sexiness is in the mind, the imagination, not in the age of the body….When I was younger, people would tell me I looked cold, but maybe that was because I was scared and insecure, and knew so little about life.”
Spectre will be the 24th James Bond, with the average age of a Bond girl across those 24 movies being 29-years-old, a statistic which illustrates just how radical a departure the casting of Monica Bellucci is.
The Bond Girl has been a staple part of the James Bond universe, as inevitable as the fast cars, hi-tech gadgets and vodka Martinis. But Mendes and Bellucci have brought something unique and totally new to the Bond lexicon – for the first time we truly have a Bond Woman.
“I’m a true woman, not a Bond girl. A Bond woman.”
Spectre opens in the United States on November 6.
[Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images]