Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Actresses Without Children Can’t Play Mothers February 4, 2011

I saw this article posted online recently where British actress, Anne Reid (best known for her role the long-running soap Coronation Street) was quoted as saying that actresses who don’t have children lack the authenticity to play mothers on screen. Her explanation: “I think you kind of have to have been there. Because it’s a gut thing, isn’t it?”

I huffed and puffed appropriately of course, but then I took a step back and thought about it. I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother. I don’t know how the relationship between a mother and child feels. I know it’s unique and I can guess how it feels, but I really have no experience to tap into. I don’t think I’d play a very convincing mother, so maybe Reid is right.

Then I remembered: I’m not an actress. Duh! Of course I wouldn’t be very good.

So, Annette Bening isn’t gay, but you wouldn’t know if after watching The Kids are Alright. Helen Mirren is neither a mother nor a royal, but she had us convinced of both in her role in The Queen. Hilary Swank isn’t a boxer, Ellen Page isn’t a pregnant teen, Judy Garland had never been tossed over the rainbow by a tornado, and I’m pretty sure that Kathy Bates has never been so enamored by an author that she’s resorted to kidnap and torture. They are actresses; playing characters unlike themselves is what they do.

Anne Reid is clearly a talented actress and has won a major award for playing a mother, but she’s also played a host of other roles in her 50-year career, including a woman with Alzheimer’s. Were you not convincing in that role, Anne, because you’ve never had Alzheimer’s?

Didn’t think so. I rest my case.

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14 Responses to “Actresses Without Children Can’t Play Mothers”

  1. Rach Says:

    Oh im sorry but shes off her rocker.

    and no im not a mother to any living breathing babies but that doesnt mean i dont know what a relationship between a mother and child feels like – i do, like most people, have a mother, so yes i have a fair idea.

    this ranks up with the old line of “oh you dont have children so you really have no right to be making ANY kind of comment when it comes to children and child related matters” – meh, so? that doesnt mean im not entitled to an opinion and perhaps, just perhaps because i dont have children, that would give me a difference perspective that others may appreciate?

    great post.

    ~x~

  2. Marcie Says:

    Ditto!!

  3. Christy Says:

    Yikes! It’s ACTING! It’s PRETENDING! Where IMAGINATION is king.
    I may not perform for an audience, but I fancy myself a mother all the time. I change my baby’s diapers. I read my 5 year old a bed time stories. And I share my thoughts on sex and drugs with my 14 year old. I even have grandchildren in my little fantasy world. With some acting lessons and a good script, I’d play the hell out of a mother role.

  4. Mali Says:

    Good points. I so agree.

  5. Sue Says:

    This juror rules in favor of the defendant! Great post! I love it!

  6. loribeth Says:

    There’s a story I love about Dustin Hoffman & Sir Laurence Olivier when they were making the movie Marathon Man. Hoffman was very much into method acting — his character was on the run, being tortured, & so Hoffman wasn’t getting any sleep, not eating, etc., to get into character. Olivier looked at him in amusement & said, “My dear boy, why don’t you try ACTING? It’s much easier.”

  7. Kathleen Guthrie Says:

    I can’t get this story out of my mind. It is so insulting.

    Last weekend I re-watched the peerless Merle Streep play Julia Child in Julie & Julia. Some of the most moving moments are her reactions to a mother with a pram and when she receives news that her sister is pregnant. Julia was unable to have children, and she desperately wanted to be a mother. I could completely relate to Julia/Merle in these moments. Clearly, even though Merle is a mother of 4 and can never fully relate to being childless like me, she is an actress who does her homework, who is empathetic, who can draw on her observations of other humans to create real characterizations. That’s what great actors do (and I love the Olivier comment above, loribeth).

    But what bothers me the most is this perception that we childless women are less than worthy, have less depth, less ability, less talent, less empathy than women who are mothers. Look in the mirror, Anne, and ask yourself who is lacking.

  8. Elena Says:

    Yes, this is just simply an insult. To childless actresses – and to herself, for saying something so insanely stupid.

  9. Elena Says:

    Actually i think someone should send this blogpost to her…

  10. Elena Says:

    sorry – me again 🙂
    German television has its own “Coronation Street” soap opera. It’s called “Lindenstrasse” and has been running for 25 (!!) years. An important character is “Mutter Beimer” (mother of the Beimer family). This character is played by actress Marie-Luise Marjan who recently turned 70. She grew up in an orphanage and hasn’t any children of her own. In a recent interview, she was asked how it’s possible that someone with this biography has spent most of her professional life playing the role “mother”. Her answer: “Well, i don’t have to be a murderer, to play a murderer either, do I?”

  11. lmanterfield Says:

    Great comments, ladies! Thank you.

    And you’re right, what’s implied in this remark is that childless women are missing some emotional depth. Grr!

  12. loribeth Says:

    It’s the same as the suggestion in some quarters that gay actors can’t/shouldn’t play (or aren’t believable in) straight roles, and vice-versa. I honestly forget Neil Patrick Harris is gay when I see him playing the lecherous Barney on “How I Met Your Mother” — he’s such a hoot. : )

  13. […] heated protest (on our comments page) in response to British actress Anne Reid’s insinuation that “Actresses Without Children Can’t Play Mothers.” What a load of […]


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