Eye on the Oscars: Talent Race

Don’t accuse Billy Connolly of having a senior moment when talking about “Quartet.”

“They’d say, ‘Nobody wants to see films about old people,’” he recalls. “And now it seems to be changing.”

“But I was the youngest one on the set, and I’m almost 70!,” he protests. “I was the baby!”

The movie about a home for retired opera singers, which also stars Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon, was directed by Dustin Hoffman and written by Oscar-winner Ronald Harwood. It is one of a series of movies featuring actors eligible for their AARP cards this year.

Filmgoers have seen older thesps reclaim a fading career (Clint Eastwood in “Trouble With the Curve”); concoct and execute a hostage rescue scheme (Alan Arkin and John Goodman in “Argo”); and retrieve five tons of weapons-grade plutonium (Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris in “The Expendables 2″). “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” also centers on retirees (personified by Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Smith), while Michael Haneke’s “Amour” stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as an octogenarian caring for his ailing wife (Emmanuelle Riva).

Harwood can remember a time when a film like “Quartet” would not have gotten the green light.

Where once they were relegated to cameo roles, now older thesps are moving back to center stage, he notes with approval.

“Old age can be talked about,” stresses Harwood, who won an Oscar for “The Pianist” and just turned 78. “It’s not a subject that’s forbidden. We all get old, we’ve all got to face it, and it’s now acceptable.”

“Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” screenwriter Ol Parker says that he wanted to write something that addressed the concerns of aging, while also celebrating their wit and vitality. “I’m proud that we showed them as still mentally sharp, physically attractive and sexually viable,” she says, calling “Cocoon” a huge influence on the movie.

Goodman, who just turned 60 and stars in “Argo” and “Flight” this season, suggests that the growing number of seniors on screen is tied to the growing number of baby boomers in the country. “There’s such a glut of us, and we always got what we wanted,” he says.

Arkin, 78, used his Hollywood experience to bring producer Lester Siegel to life in “Argo.”

“I based him a little bit on Jack Warner,” Arkin says. “I only knew him a little bit in the ’60s, but he was such a vivid personality that the little time I spent with him has stayed with me.”

Connolly, who graces “Quartet” with ever-active wit and libido, revels in the increased spotlight on characters’ golden years.

“I think it’s a thing people have always tried to avoid,” Connolly says. “But if you handle it right, it can be a very beautiful thing. If you handle the subject of death or dying right, it won’t be funny, but it can be light, and it can be fun.

Eye on the Oscars: Talent Race
Thesps discover damaged good | Talent weigh reel-life choice | Great performances in genre movies | Minors show their pluck in grownup fare | Seniors grab center stage | Roles all over the map in this ‘Atlas’ | Repeat contenders

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