So I’ve just read that Melissa Leo has been under consideration for the role of Mags, the oldest District participant in Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games.
In Suzanne Collins’ book, Mags is in her eighties and cannot speak due to a stroke. She needs help keeping up, though she’s still sharp as a tack despite her difficulty communicating and still knows how to survive in the arena. It’a a good role, not a great one, and it should go to a performer who is at least as old as the character. I want somebody who I can really identify as a Mags, not someone three decades younger fishing for another Oscar.
Melissa Leo is 51. Maybe she should be reading for President Coin, though I already have already stated who should play that part.
There are dozens of actresses in their eighties and beyond who could make an strong impression as Mags. Most of them don’t get enough work because there aren’t roles for old women in movies – unless the movies are British.
Accent is not an issue since Mags does not speak, so I’m going global, which might make casting even more exciting, since I disqualify some obvious choices with excessive plastic surgery. Good news for Europe. North and especially Latin America, you’re on notice.
Also, while I think either everyone’s choice of Maggie Smith is fine, she has not reached my octogenarian age minimum, and she’s getting plenty of limelight as it is. Betty White, I love you, but let’s give the other ladies a chance to shine like you’ve had.
OK. Raúl will now brainstorm. Nominees are presented in random order. All are eighty years old or more, and all have a long history in acting. Clips from various career highlights are included.
I expect Mags to be played for dignity and courage, not laughs just because she’s old and disabled. The lack of speech means that the performer will have to communicate even more through body movement and facial expression. Again, sorry plastic surgery junkies, you’ve disqualified yourselves. You’ve got to use your face. Mags has to come through it.
So, we begin:
Cloris Leachman *. Still working at 86. Though she’s known best for playing Phyllis – spectacularly – on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the underrated, short-lived Phyllis spin-off, she’s an established dramatic actress. Watch her in some seventies TV-movies on the youtube. Watch her in The Last Picture Show!
Jeanne Moreau. Still working at 86. She takes no interest in nostalgia and hopes to keep moving forward instead of backward. She’s never had a role like Mags! Plus, having this French film legend, the film will find itself in filmographies that also feature directors Luis Buñuel, Jean-Luc Goddard, Michel Antonioni, François Truffaut, Orson Welles, Louis Malle, Elia Kazan, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The director of Catching Fire should have to walk over coals in order to get Jeanne Moreau and join the ranks of her directors. And Moreau can have a biting presence onscreen. She might add some fire to Mags. Plus, she sings! Maybe she can bring something unexpected to Mags’ limited vocalisms.
Ruby Dee. Still working at 87. She nearly won an Oscar™ for American Gangster. This could be her next chance. She played an ancient woman in the mini-series of Stephen King’s The Stand. Mags isn’t quite so old, but she’s getting close, and Ruby Dee can assuredly play ancient. Plus, look into her eyes. They will tell you what Mags cannot say in words. This clip, however, shows you what she can do with words.
Doris Day. Happily retired at 88. What will it take to coax her out of retirement? I listened to a radio interview this year, and contrary to tabloid reports, she was not only lucid, she was as warm and engaging as ever. This is my pipe dream, I know. Doris Day is happier in Carmel with the dogs. I would be, too. But she’s been game for surprises: I was somewhat surprised by how randy she gets in this clip!
Eva Marie Saint *: Still working at 88. I last saw her in the awful Superman reboot, so she needs something else to close her career on. She’s always referred to herself, not as a star, but as a working actress. Let’s keep that up. She’s worked with Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Liz Taylor, Karl Malden, and Brando, to name a few. She can hold her own with the kids of today. And she still has the simple loveliness that she’s exuded since On the Waterfront.
Julie Harris *. Working intermittently at 86 after recovering from a stroke. Mags can be part of the recovery. She kicked off her career sixty years ago in the Broadway and film versions of Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding and since has been in one of the scariest movies ever, The Haunting as well as the best nighttime soap ever, Knots Landing. Yes, that is Alec Baldwin as her most unfortunate son. Bathe in the glow of Julie Harris as Lilimae Clements.
Della Reese *. Still working at 80. She’s got a lot more than Touched by an Angel in her. If you think Mags needs an undercurrent of toughness, please refer to the clip below. She is not very angelic.
Rita Moreno *. Still working at 80. Did anyone see her as Vincent D’Onofrio’s mentally ill mother on that Law & Order show? She’s ready for anything, and she’s willing to go out on a limb. Case in point, The Ritz.
Carol Channing *, still working at 91. Really, I wasn’t sure about this one, but I knew that Doris W. would throw a tantrum if I didn’t at least float the idea. And actually, I can see it. I believe that Mags did do some communicating through moans and grunts, and I know that Doris W. would delight in hearing Channing’s approach to this, employing the squeaks, whistles, and low groans that she incorporates into her acts and impressions. Doris W., you’ve got me sold!
And finally, Olivia de Havilland *, now retired at 96, but I want her back anyway. She dates back to Gone with the Wind! Plus she was an integral part of the 1970s disaster movie craze, leaving the childhood version of Raúl absolutely spellbound during Airport ’77, when the plane she was on sank to the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle. Then there’s Lady in a Cage, which has one of the best trailers I have ever seen. And the movie is exactly what the trailer promises:
Lady in a Cage!
*has portrayed a passenger on The Love Boat.
Now who have I forgotten???