Aging, Not Old

I got an email recently from the agency that represents me requesting that I audition for the role of  a “somewhat clueless old man” in a movie that begins shooting in three weeks.

It’s not the first such request I’ve had. In fact, in just the past few months, I’ve had a half-dozen invitations to audition and with one exception — a role in the “Mr. Mercedes” TV series — all of the casting directors were looking for some version of a doddering old codger.

One of the requests came a week or so ago, and this was for a series of appearances that would have added up to a handsome check. Which I could very much use.

But they wanted a guy in his late 70s or 80s who sounded like a shambling old coot.

As I told my agent, I’m 73, but I’m also “supple and fit,” In fact, I had spent two hours earlier that day at the YMCA lifting weights. I also included a photo from a job last year that had me 30 feet up on a climbing wall.

When we were in our early 60s, a friend of mine used to say, “We’re getting old, JW.” He had special dispensation to use my first two initials, but being identified as getting old pissed me off. 

I’m not oblivious to changes as I age. My hair used to be brown; now it’s white, although I prefer to call it silver. The muscles I’ve worked hard to maintain are shrinking. I’ve got the kind of wrinkles I remember seeing on my grandfather’s face, and I’ve lost an inch in height. I took losing that inch personally. That was part of my identity, and I’m still not OK with it. But that’s reality.

Then one day at the gym a heavy-set guy lumbered past wearily, and commented, “I’m getting old. I’m 61.”

I was 62 at the time, and in far better shape than he was. I said nothing, but it gave me the answer I was looking for.

“We start aging as soon as we’re born,” I told my friend when I saw him next, “but getting old is a state of mind, and I’m not going there.”

That’s still my operative premise. Aging is reality; getting old is a choice. And that was the energy behind yet another note to my agent — this one more combative.

Hi J——, 

At the risk of being a pain in the you-know-what, my reaction to this audition is same as the one last week for P——.

Namely, clients have an outdated notion of what “old” is.

“Ageism,” as it is sometimes called, is probably the result of the lack of attention it gets due to the flashier, trendier stuff that seem to captivate the media and social media.

In any event, I am not a “clueless old man.” I would argue that whoever wrote that description is far more clueless than I am, and that such ignorance is getting tedious. 

As we both know from my last email, I am fit and agile and, if called upon, can go 30 feet up on a climbing wall.  

I told [another agent] the other day that on my very first job in the business 13 years ago, the photographer commented about my “weathered look.”

I did NOT give him a noogie, but I’m getting to the point now where it may be necessary to start knuckling some skulls. 

Thanks for hearing me out. No offense intended to you … I just needed to vent. And to explain why I am disinclined to audition for clueless people. 

Cheers,

John 

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