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How I’ve Kept My Wits in Hollywood Over 50

Catherine Dent is best known for the role of officer Danny Sofer in the FX series The Shield. Her character was “a single woman in a world that understands brutality more than beauty,” according to her IMDB profile, but in real life, Dent has a firm grasp on beauty. She is also a woman of depth and substance.

In this “as told to” essay, the 51-year-old actress, wife, and mother (whom we profiled earlier this month) shares her experience with growing older in Hollywood and finding self-worth beyond good looks.

If you look at my résumé, it looks like I work all the time. I am very, very lucky. I have had a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race kind of career. I still work consistently, but it’s not what it was. And I can pinpoint exactly when the phone stopped ringing.

When I was playing Danny on The Shield, I was a little bit older than they thought I was. I was 35 or 36 when I did the pilot, but because I played this cop, with my hair in a ponytail and no makeup, I looked younger than I was. When love interests were cast for me, the guys were always younger, because the casting directors thought I was younger.

During that time, I would get job offers all the time. But the minute IMDB posted my age on the Internet, the phone stopped ringing. The phone literally stopped ringing when casting directors realized I was in my 40s.

The phone literally stopped ringing when casting directors realized I was in my 40s.

I wasn’t exactly aware of it at the time. I got pregnant at 39 and was still shooting the show. I was a new mom juggling a baby and career. It didn’t hit me until few years later, when I came out of the mommy fog. The Shield ended, and it was really hard to get work. I was only about 42, but I thought, Hey! What happened? Where did everybody go?

I remember when I was in my early 30s, I once had 17 auditions in a week. Now I’m lucky if I get 17 auditions in a year. That’s how dramatically it’s fallen off.

I am a mature woman; I look like a grown-up. It’s taken me a lot of years to come to terms with that. We all want to be young and sexy because that’s what society tells us is bankable, but we are fortunate if we get to grow older. I just saw a documentary on Whitney Houston — gorgeous, huge talent — gone at 48?!

Actress Catherine Dent - The Fine Line 4

I recently went to a crazy Hollywood party. A big fundraiser. This gorgeous home with the most stunning view. A-list movie stars. And I was completely invisible. It feels disappointing to be invisible. For those of us who have tried to lead lives of grace and integrity and strength and charity and raising healthy kids and being loving partners, it’s disappointing to find out that that’s not always how life validates you. It feels like a loss. I feel a loss inside my body.

But I will also tell you that when I’m at a party and there are all these people who are dressed to the nines and then there is this one woman who has the really long naturally gray hair and she’s got a really interesting piece of jewelry and she’s kind of funky — that’s the woman I want to talk to. I’m drawn to a woman who is authentic and comfortable in her own skin. That’s the woman I want to have a conversation with. She’s the one I want to get to know.

 I’m drawn to a woman who is authentic and comfortable in her own skin. That’s the woman I want to have a conversation with.

When I was  younger, I wasn’t obsessed with how I looked because I didn’t think it was anything that was bankable for me. It wasn’t what I was invested in. And so I traveled and read books and worked my ass off — and that’s been a bigger pay off for me than anything. But the message that how you look is what’s important is so prevalent. Until we have women in positions of power and leadership, women will be judged by how they look.

To be clear, I still shave my legs, and I’m all for a little bit of Botox. I dye my hair and whiten my teeth. And I’m not even embarrassed to admit that before I went to that A-list party, I was googling “makeup for women over 40” and watched a YouTube makeup tutorial! I want to look pretty, but I think that women still need to do and focus on really interesting things.

My advice is this: Dig down deep into your craft and into your work. Sigmund Freud said, “Love and work. Work and love. That’s all there is.” Our love lives are equal to and just as important as our work lives. Our work lives are equal to and just as important as our love lives. That is what defines us as people — whom we love and what we do.

The more we can appreciate art and craft and literature and travel and other people’s experiences, the more we can become conscious, substantive women.

And a woman with something else going on besides the way she looks will have an easier time with growing older.

Photographer: Darian Zahedi; stylist: Philip Bloch; hair and makeup: Ryann DuNann

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