Cher’s name deserves to be associated with any number of superlatives. Too fabulous? Naturally. Too otherworldly? Oh, for sure. Too talented? Definitely. But too old? Never. Unfortunately, that’s apparently not the way Jack Nicholson and director George Miller saw it way back in 1986, when Miller called her on the morning after her 40th birthday party.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the superstar, now 72, recounted the story during a show at the Borgata in Atlantic City over the weekend. After descending onto the stage as real-life goddesses tend to do, Cher regaled those in attendance with the sordid tale that's obviously stuck with her until this day.
After celebrating her birthday and going to sleep “dreaming these fabulous thoughts of being 40,” Cher was awoken by a phone call from Miller, who was set to direct her in The Witches of Eastwick alongside Nicholson. Here’s what he allegedly said, at least to Cher's recollection: “Hi, Cher, it’s George Miller...I just wanted to call and tell you that I don’t want you in my movie and Jack Nicholson and I think you’re too old and you’re not sexy.”
Cher described how Miller's cruel words brought her to tears and that instead of hanging up the phone after his initial insult, he reportedly continued. “‘I hate the way you walk,” he allegedly told her. “I hate the way you talk, I don’t like the color of your hair, I don’t like your eyes.” But at that point in her career, Cher wasn’t the kind of impressionable ingénue who might have let a powerful director get away with speaking to her like that. She was Cher, dammit, and she let Miller know it. "Okay, look motherf--ker," she told him. “You didn’t find me under a rock. I was nominated for an Academy Award for Silkwood. And I got the Cannes Film Festival award for best actress for Mask.’” Her clapback must’ve worked since she ended up getting the part in The Witches of Eastwick alongside Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer.
And though Cher’s anecdote happened over 30 years ago, actresses in Hollywood continue to face discrimination over their age. But there has been progress, which Nicole Kidman addressed while accepting an award at last year’s SAG awards. After thanking actresses like Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, and Meryl Streep for continuing to give “trailblazing performances,” well beyond their 40s, she said: “Twenty years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives, so that's not the case now. We have proven [that] these actresses and so many more are proving that we are potent and powerful and viable. I just beg that the industry stays behind us, because our stories are finally being told. It’s only the beginning, and I’m so proud to be a part of a community that is instigating this change.”