Nifty at Fifty: This Year’s Acting Contenders Show Veterans Kicking Ass

Considering the dispiritingly youth-obsessed leanings of Hollywood, 2022 has been an encouragingly banner year for older actors in muscular roles. 

The array of brawny films led by strong quinquagenarians included Tom Gormican’s “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” with the 58-year-old Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalized version of himself across high-wire action sequences, generously paying homage to the action films of his past.

Joseph Kosinski’s “Top Gun: Maverick” was perhaps the leading title of this quiet trend. Maybe because we are accustomed to seeing Tom Cruise doing his own stunts with mind-blowing acrobatics across countless action films, we often forget that our ageless movie star is now at 60 years of age.

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s fierce “The Woman King” was another remarkable example of this group, with Viola Davis’ Nanisca in the lead of a group of female warriors protecting the African Kingdom of Dahomey. 

“When I first went into it, I thought, ‘there is no way that I’m gonna make it through this,’” Davis confesses to thinking when she joined the cast. “I was 56 years old.  All the other girls are in their 30s. But after a couple of weeks, I felt badass. I love Nanisca’s physical strength. I felt unapologetic about it.”

“As you get older, you feel like your life is over. But it’s not over at 50. So getting this opportunity in my 50s to kick ass on screen feels incredible,” says Ke Huy Quan on starring in the Daniels’ multiverse smash-hit “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which finds Quan playing Waymond Wang in several different universes — including one that involves some impressive action sequences. 

Quan is already the comeback story of the year; he was formerly best known as Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and Data in “Goonies.” Not having acted in nearly 20 years, Quan vigorously prepared for the film, getting in shape and learning all the moves. To grasp Waymond emotionally, he had to give himself permission to release his emotions he had always internalized, in line with his traditional Chinese upbringing. He also got himself a full team of trainers. “Acting coach, body movement coach, voice coach. It was really something.”

Quan’s behind-the-camera work with Wong Kar Wai, one of his all-time favorite filmmakers, proved helpful. “I watched him direct Tony Leung in ‘2046.’ And I paid homage to him with a whole universe.” 

Working second unit with action director Corey Yuen on films including “X-Men” and “The One” was also indispensable experience toward learning the language
of action. 

“When I stepped in front of the camera for the fanny pack sequence, I’d been doing it [behind the camera] for a long time.”

While she doesn’t have traditional action scenes in Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness,” Dolly De Leon — whose capable Abigail rises to a high-power status among a host of incompetent shipwreck survivors — relishes her character’s late-blooming authority. 

De Leon already knew how to do most things Abigail was required to tackle in Östlund’s satire. She could already build a fire thanks to a survival training program she attended. When the director asked, “Do you know how to clean a fish?,” she could say yes to that as well. “Growing up in the Philippines, we weren’t rich. My father was a good provider, but he wasn’t making as much money. When I was 12 or 13, he would bring home fish for dinner. And I was in charge of gutting the fish. I even know how to kill a chicken, remove the feathers and chop it all up. I didn’t have to study any of that.”

She adds: “The entertainment industry has focused a lot on young people for long, probably because they look good. This perception that you can only be interesting if you’re beautiful, young and fresh is unfortunate. I believe that people peak in their 50s. That’s when they’re even more beautiful than their 20s because they’re wiser, sexier, more confident. That really makes a more interesting story to tell the world.”

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