Wendy Crewson may not be a household name, but you’ve probably seen one of her movies. Over the past two decades, the Hamilton-born actress — who grew up in Winnipeg, Montreal, and points in-between — has played the supportive wife opposite Sam Neill (Bicentennial Man), Judge Reinhold (The Santa Clause), Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Sixth Day) and Harrison Ford (Air Force One). She also had a hilarious turn as a sexually frustrated woman who finds unexpected ecstasy through her lesbian daughter’s sex toys in Anne Wheeler’s hit comedy Better Than Chocolate.
But you can only play someone else’s wife or mother so many times before you begin to crave bigger roles, so Crewson jumped at the chance to play Jackie York, a sharp-tongued, self-destructive author who has an affair with a man barely half her age, in Wheeler’s newest film, Suddenly Naked.
“You don’t often read a lot of comedies with 40-year-old women protagonists,” says Crewson, who is currently in town shooting This Much I Know with Leslie Hope, during an interview at the Sutton Place Hotel. “And I loved that her behaviour — and this gets me in a lot of trouble — was so male. Not all guys live like that, but it’s not generally seen as female behaviour — the kitchen’s a mess and she eats junk food all the time, and she smokes and drinks too much, and she lives like a cocky 30-year-old guy. And that really appealed to me.”
Jackie York is also quite promiscuous — she secretly sleeps with fans who show up at her door, then rates them in a database — but even she’s unprepared for the turn her love life takes when she meets the author of a novel that she’s been reading online. It turns out the author, Patrick McKeating (Joe Cobden), is only 20 years old — but Jackie has been suffering from writer’s block, and there’s something about Patrick’s writing, and his ability to counter her quips, that inspires her, so they embark on an affair. But Jackie is desperate to keep the affair a secret, lest it ruin her public image.
Crewson, who is 46, can identify with the age gap, sort of — she’s 18 years younger than her husband, actor Michael Murphy (An Unmarried Woman). But she says women like Jackie, who are at the older end of such gaps, still suffer from a social double standard. “Do you think anybody looks twice at Michael and me and thinks, ‘Oh man, he’s 18 years older than she is?’ Not a blink. It’s completely accepted that a man would have a younger wife, and quite frankly, we don’t often think about the age difference. But you put a woman who’s 18 or 19 years older than a man in this situation, then of course the conversation comes up. Guys have always gotten away with tons more. It’s always more acceptable for the guy to be out doing whatever, having casual sex, sowing his wild oats — what a guy! And if a girl does it, immediately she’s like some fallen woman.”
Crewson says she hopes the arrival of movies like Tadpole and Lovely & Amazing indicates our society may be more open to relationships where the woman is the older partner. But she cautions against the idea that middle-aged women are on the prowl for younger companions; the reason Jackie and Patrick click so well is that they had a meeting of the minds before they had a meeting of the bodies. “The popular belief that all older women are cougars that are letching after young men is, I think, complete crap,” she says. “The truth of the matter is that the young guy would be lucky if it happened at all, and quite frankly, most women I know aren’t really interested in a 20-year-old, because what the hell are you going to say to them? What’s the conversation ever going to be, in terms of a relationship? Who wants to be somebody’s babysitter? You get some guy who doesn’t know how to order a bottle of wine, doesn’t have any money and doesn’t know anything of anything, and it’s supposed to be cute?”
If Crewson is concerned about the impact this film might have on young men, it may be because the film has been marketed with just such an audience in mind. The script was originally called Show and Tell, but the producers — including Crewson, who took a co-executive producer credit on this film — agreed the title had to change. “The props girl came up with ‘Literary Affairs,’ which I thought was a brilliant title. But ‘Suddenly Naked’ apparently looked better on a video jacket when 14-to-24-year-olds are looking at it. I don’t know why they’d want to see the movie anyway,” she laughs. “I mean, I made it for 40-year-old women. I didn’t really make it for 14-year-old boys.”
Crewson, who won a best-actress Gemini for the CBC TV movie At the End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story, has plenty of other projects in the works. She recently starred in several CTV movies based on Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn mysteries, and she’ll also return to the big screen this fall in Between Strangers, opposite Sophia Loren, and in The Santa Clause 2. All of these shows were made in Canada, and the sheer amount of work here prompted Crewson and her family — she has two children, aged 12 and 9 — to move to Toronto after living in San Francisco for 10 years. The family made the switch so she could do more work without going on the road. “So I could actually go home at night and see the kids.” Being a wife and mother on the big screen may get tiring, but Crewson still likes to play the part at home.
— A version of this article was first published in The Vancouver Courier.