Jude Law is having a good day. Today, it was announced that he is set to take a leading role in the latest film to join to Harry Potter franchise – the sequel to Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. Starring alongside Johnny Depp, who will play Grindelwald, Law will become the face of one of the most iconic Potter characters, Albus Dumbledore.
But not just any Dumbledore. “Young” Dumbledore. A Dumbledore who is wise, but not with years and experience; a Dumbledore with less wizard-beard, fewer wrinkles and more spring in his step. Played by 44-year-old Jude Law.
It’s not a shock casting – in fact, it makes a lot of sense. Law is, rightly or wrongly, a highly esteemed British actor. He’s respected and admired, a natural contender for the role. And he has very blue, very shiny eyes. Just like Dumbledore.
Yet, so far, much of the response has centred on his age. And it’s interesting. Twitter immediately said that Law was too young to play young Dumbledore, on account of the character’s age. Some speculated that Law’s agent was trying to inject a little youthfulness into his “branding”, on account of the fact that this announcement follows his role in The Young Pope. Hardcore Potter fans, on consulting Fantastic Beasts, quickly qualified the decision with cold hard facts: “You should know,” one tweet read, matter of factly, “that as of 1926, Fantastic Beasts’ period, Dumbledore is the same age [as Law]: 44.” At least that’s cleared up.
A female actress playing Dumbledore would not be 44, she’d be 24 and already getting a bollocking off the Daily Mail for 'flaunting' her ageing body in a bikini on a beach
And, of course, 44 is no particular age for a male actor. It’s barely noted when a man on screen passes for younger and likely won’t be, regardless of his slightly, balding head and the wrinkles forming on his cheeks. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Because, if Dumbledore was a woman, would we ever see a female actor cast as a “young” Dumbledore at 44? Of course not.
When I saw the headlines this morning announcing Law in this “young” role, it made me laugh. Because, regardless of how old the character is (in the Harry Potter films, Dumbledore is 150 years old), a female actress playing Dumbledore would not be 44, she’d be 24 and already getting a bollocking off the Daily Mail for “flaunting” her ageing body in a bikini on a beach.
And this sort of casting – of the “young” 44-year-old actor, and the hype that goes with it – only makes it all the more glaringly obvious the double standards men and woman are held to in Hollywood: the young women are awarded Oscars, while older male actors are awarded, which my colleague wrote about; the way we speak about older female bodies. A quick search on IMDb for “actors over 70” – the actors who played “old” Dumbledore were both over 70 – shows Hollywood’s dearth of older female actors in all its glory. Out of 100, just 20 on the list are female. And a few of them – including Barbra Streisand – haven’t taken on any starring roles in years.
While Law can be balding and still portray youth, a woman’s career is too highly associated with her looks to allow such a thing. In Hollywood, a 44-year-old man can play “young” popes, “young” Dumbledore – and a 44-year-old woman can’t be “young” at all.