Elizabeth Banks And The Comic Book Movie Role She Was Considered ‘Too Old’ To Play

With roles in movies like The Hunger Games and the upcoming Power Rangers reboot, Elizabeth Banks is no stranger to taking on major franchise roles. Today, we learned that in the early 2000s, she auditioned to play main character in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.

A photo posted by Elizabeth Banks (@elizabethbanks) on

Spider-Man was released almost 15 years ago, but Banks remembers being turned down for the role of Mary Jane Watson like it was yesterday. In an interview with Glamour U.K. (via Vanity Fair), she opened up about the fatal flaw that cost the young unknown actress the role of a lifetime: her age.

“I was told I was too old to play her. Tobey and I are basically the same age.”

To be fair, Tobey Maguire was also on the older side to be playing high schooler Peter Parker, so Banks took the unfortunate news in stride. After the incident, she quickly learned that age and gender discrimination can be prevalent factors in Hollywood.

“I was like, ‘Oh, O.K., that’s what I’ve signed up for.’”

Banks was still cast in Spider-Man, role of Betty Brant, John Jonah Jameson’s assistant at the Bugle. Like Mary Jane, Brant also appears in all three Spider-Man movies, although in a much smaller role.

As we all know, the role of Mary Jane Watson ultimately went to Kirsten Dunst, who — at the far more high school appropriate age of 18 — was almost 10 years Tobey’s junior.

In retrospect, Kirsten Dunst played the role of MJ wonderfully, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone filling her shoes. Still, we’ll have to wonder what Elizabeth Banks could have done with the role.

In 2008, Banks , and disclosed how she was granted the smaller “consolation role” of Betty Brant:

“I auditioned to play Mary Jane Watson and [producer] Laura Ziskin said ‘She’s too old.’ It’s fine. I’m a lot older than Kirsten Dunst, so I get it. I’m not much older than Tobey, but. . . . But I got it back then. And I was a nobody. I had no expectations of even being in that movie. The casting director called and said, ‘As a consolation prize essentially do you want to be Betty Brant?’ So it started out as a consolation prize and it’s become a favor.”

Don’t worry, Elizabeth, you’re in good company. The number of actresses speaking out about age discrimination in Hollywood is growing rapidly. From to , some of the industry’s most acclaimed artists have encountered similar casting woes.

Here are a few others who have made their stance clear and discussed having a hard time being cast due to their age:

Maggie Gyllenhaal

Just last year, Maggie Gyllenhaal — who was 37 at the time — revealed to The Wrap she was deemed “too old” to play the romantic lead alongside a 55-year-old actor.

“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time. I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”

To her credit, Gyllenhaal is able to laugh at the notion of an 18-year age gap being too small. But it also highlights the absurdity the industry faces as a whole.

Emma Thompson

In light of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s confession, seasoned acting veteran Emma Thompson weighed in on the topic of ageism in Hollywood during an interview with Vulture last year. Thompson confirmed that this common theme of older actors being cast alongside excessively younger actresses is nothing new and, sadly, it’s only gotten worse.

“The age thing is insane. It was ever thus. I remember saying years and years ago, when I was 35, that they’d have to exhume somebody to play my leading man … Nothing’s changed in that regard. If anything, it’s got worse.”

Thompson recalled being told she was “too old” when she played opposite Hugh Grant in Sense and Sensibility in 1995. A comment which, understandably, she didn’t take well.

“I remember somebody saying to me that I was too old for Hugh Grant, who’s like a year younger than me, in Sense and Sensibility. I said, ‘Do you want to go take a flying leap?’”

Thompson proved all her critics wrong, however, after being lauded for not only her performance, but also her screenwriting abilities. Sense and Sensibility earned her an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, making her the only person in history to win an Oscar for both acting and screenwriting.

Olivia Wilde

In a similarly laughable story, last year Olivia Wilde appeared on The Howard Stern Show and shared her personal experiences with ageism in Hollywood. In 2012, Olivia Wilde auditioned for the role of Naomi Lapaglia in Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, but was passed over for not being “too sophisicated,” Hollywood code for — you guessed it — “too old.”

“I had heard for a part that I was ‘too sophisticated’… I’d found out later that they’d actually said ‘old.’ … I did not [audition for Vinyl] because I had auditioned unsuccessfully for The Wolf Of Wall Street. That’s the one I was ‘too old’ for.”

At the time of casting for Naomi Lapaglia, Olivia Wilde would have been about 28 or 29, which would have placed her at the exact age of the real-life inspiration for Naomi, Nadine Caridi, when she married Jordan Belfort in 1991. Instead, 23-year-old Margot Robbie was granted the role which has since launched her into superstardom.

No matter how you look at it, ageism is a glaring issue in the entertainment industry and a growing problem for both established and aspiring actresses. With enough support behind these women, I believe they will shatter this glass ceiling and continue to make great films at any — and every — age.

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MP Staff Writer, cinefile, and resident Slytherclaw // UCLA Alumna // Follow me on Twitter: kristin_lai