Daniela Nardini: Women over 35 don’t get interesting screen roles

Daniela Nardini pictured in November 2014. Picture: Robert Perry
Daniela Nardini pictured in November 2014. Picture: Robert Perry
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Daniela Nardini has criticised Britain’s television and film industries for failing to create enough interesting characters for women over the age of 35.

The Scottish actress, who shot to fame in the BBC drama This Life 20 years ago, has blamed a “youth-obsessed culture” for a lack of strong female roles on screen.

Nardini shot to fame in TV series This Life.

Nardini shot to fame in TV series This Life.

Nardini, who got her big break playing hard-drinking lawyer Anna Forbes in the cult series, said women were seen as unattractive for film and TV roles when they pass “children-rearing age.”

She said there was still sexism at play in the industry as men were regularly cast for lead roles in their fifties - and blamed a lack of female writers and directors.

The Ayrshire actress, who has just turned 48, admits offers of screen roles have dried up in recent years.

Nardini, whose last major screen role was in the big-screen version of Sunset Song, said: “I’m quite quiet at the moment, to be honest. I’ve been up for a couple of things but I’m still waiting to hear about them.

I think women have been put into quite an ageist category, whereas men are still playing romantic leads well into their fifties

“I’ve got a little girl, who is nine now, so I’m careful not to be away too much from her. I’ve been a full-time mum as much as I can be.

“The theatre parts I get offered are definitely more interesting. There is also a different age range.

“The more interesting you become as a person the less interesting everybody else finds you.

“Television and film are quite youth-oriented a lot of the time. I think we have a culture that is obsessed with youth and looks and fashion.

At the launch of playwright David Greig's first season as Artistic Director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre.  (left to right) Karine Polwart, Douglas Maxwell, Zinnie Harris, Ramin Gray, Janice Parker, Max Webster, Cora Bissett, Jenny Lindsay, Dominic Hill, Front row, John Browne, Amanda Gaughan, David Greig, Wils Wilson, Daniela Nardini, Linda Maclean. Picture Ian Rutherford

At the launch of playwright David Greig's first season as Artistic Director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre. (left to right) Karine Polwart, Douglas Maxwell, Zinnie Harris, Ramin Gray, Janice Parker, Max Webster, Cora Bissett, Jenny Lindsay, Dominic Hill, Front row, John Browne, Amanda Gaughan, David Greig, Wils Wilson, Daniela Nardini, Linda Maclean. Picture Ian Rutherford

“It’s a shame, because older people have got the wisdom and the knowledge, but they are not so cool.

“I think women have been put into quite an ageist category, whereas men are still playing romantic leads well into their fifties.

“Women are seen to be off the market when they are 35. It categorises women that they are no longer attractive when child-rearing stops.

“I get a script in and it is always male heavy. There are a few women, and the older woman is usually the smaller part. The younger woman is the one that has to get her clothes off.”

Nardini was speaking at the launch of the new season of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, in Edinburgh, where she will be starring later this year as the lead in the mid-life crisis comedy Jumpy, a previous hit in London’s west end.

It will be her first stage role in Scotland for more than a decade, since appearing as a hard-noses career women in Top Girls at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

Nardini, last seen on stage in London in A Streetcar Named Desire, said: “The longer you leave it the more scared you get of it.

“Theatre is just a completely different discipline from being on screen. But once you get into it in a way it’s more enjoyable because you own it more.”

Nardini admits she will have more than a little in common with her character in Jumpy, who is struggling with the prospect of turning fifty and handling a teenage rebellion from her 15-year-old daughter.

Director Cora Bissett, who met with Nardini to pitch the role to her, says the show will be “a sharp tragi-comedy, acutely-observed but laugh-out-loud funny, in that kind of painful oh-too-familiar sort of way.”

Bissett said: “There is something really interesting at the core of it about what is feminism now and how do these different generations relate to each other.

“You have Hilary as a mother has a whole idea of what it is to be strong and liberated and a daughter who has a completely different view of that. It is kind of about that battle and trying to find a way forward.”

Nardini said: “My character in Jumpy, Hilary, is in every scene, which I’m trying to ignore at the moment. But the part really speaks to me. It is very relatable to me at this time in my life - there are a lot of similarities and parallels.

“She is approaching 50 and is experiencing panic attacks. Her work’s not going well, she is not enjoying her job, her marriage is very lukewarm and she’s experiencing a very difficult relationship with her teenage daughter who is experimenting with sex and boyfriends. She was also a protester at Greenham Common and was a proper feminist

“I went along to meet Cora with an open mind and we clicked. We had a really interesting discussion about women’s place, how women’s roles have changed and the whole feminist thing.

“We were talking about people like Rihanna and Beyonce, that are so sexualised, and wondering where feminism comes in.

“Some people that a women’s sexuality is empowering when it is graphic, but I personally don’t. I think it goes too far.

“I wouldn’t really want my daughter to dress up in a thong and wiggle her bum.

“There is a fine line. I guess Madonna has that argument the whole time. Sometimes she gets it wrong and sometimes gets it right.”

Nardini, who appeared at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe while she was studying at the RSAMD in Glasgow, will be returning to the stage of the Lyceum 22 years after her last appearance playing Mary Queen of Scots in Liz Lochhead’s famous play about the doomed monarch.

Nardini added: “It’s a lovely theatre - it’s quite grand, but it’s still quite intimate. I think it’ll be exciting.

“The last show I did here was Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off in 1994, directed by David McVicar, who is now a world-renowned opera director.

“I was at the RSAMD in Glasgow with him. We formed our own theatre company together after leaving college, called Pen Name, and did these ridiculously obscure tours around Scotland. It was really good fun - I was the driver of the bus.

“I was also in Kidnapped at the Lyceum during the same season, which was very bizarre as we had a ship on the stage. I played lots of little parts like sailors and redcoats.”