My Gina Bellman crush: A tribute to over-40 actresses

GinaBelllmanBasic cable is known for running even more commercials than network TV does. Its shows are best watched after recording them with DVR or TiVo to eliminate the need to sit through the ads. But some of us can’t wait and watch our favorite shows in real time. Cursing the commercials, we vow never again to watch without recording first.

Premium cable shows like The Sopranos and The Wire have won critical acclaim and millions of dedicated fans. Basic-cable series seldom, if ever, inspire that kind of reaction and, judging by production quality alone, perhaps they don’t deserve it. But, in recent years, basic-cable series have hired actors just as good as premium cable, not to mention network TV, which may have written them off as too old.

Two fine actors who were “relegated” to basic cable after their network, NBC, exiled their show, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, to basic cable are Vincent D’Onofrio (okay, he mails it in at this point) and that font of gravitas and seasoned cynicism Eric Bogosian.

Since switching to USA, though, the show has added veteran actor Jeff Goldblum. His renowned “quirkiness” once seemed designed to attract attention, but now that he’s nearing 60 it’s become endearing. In fact, you could make a case for him as the most compulsively watchable actor on all of television.

Another distinguished actor, Timothy Hutton, heads the cast of the basic-cable show to which I admit to watching in real time — Leverage. The series, which premiered in December 2008, is just completing its second cycle of episodes. With its criminals enlisted by law enforcement and high-tech assignments, it’s a combination of Ocean’s 11 and Mission Impossible. It’s even more reminiscent of The Equalizer, an eighties series starring British actor Edward Woodward as a former secret agent who offered his services free to average citizens as a troubleshooter or protector.

Transitioning to actresses, Beth Riesgraf plays an unusual and original character simply called Parker in Leverage who seems to be afflicted with Aspergers’ syndrome. But she’s only about 30 and we’re addressing more mature actresses — specifically, she who reduces me to a quivering mass of humanity: Gina Bellman as the grifter Sophie Devereaux in Leverage.

While you may not know her name, you might find her face familiar, as I did when I began watching Leverage. I finally placed Ms. Bellman — a stunning woman has a way of accelerating memory recall in the aging mind. She was a member of the cast of the British TV series Coupling, which, in 2002, two years into its four-year run, also began airing on PBS in the United States. The comedy was kind of a British version of Friends, but risqué to the point of licentious.

The character Ms. Bellman played, as ditzy as she was aggressive toward men, may have distorted her appearance, which I found unremarkable. Nor could she help but be overshadowed by Sara Alexander, perhaps the most luscious (if I may use that term without being accused of sexism) English actress since the young Polly Walker.

In any event, at 43 Ms. Bellman is vastly more charming and attractive than when younger. At first you think she’s quintessentially English because her lips and mouth come to a point as if perfectly formed to enunciate an English accent. But then you notice she’s what used to be called swarthy. Turns out that not only isn’t she English — she’s from New Zealand — but she’s of Jewish heritage.

It doesn’t even faze me when Ms. Bellman turns her head quickly and you get a glimpse of her snake neck. Nor does the thought that her thighs might be riddled with cellulite. Also, she just became pregnant with her first child and, as of a mid-August episode, she not only began showing, but her face was filling out — tiny blips on the radar of her attractiveness.

“Isn’t he a married man?” you might be wondering of the author. In fact, my wife turned me on to Leverage. Of course, she wasn’t aware that Ms. Bellman and I had a history. Besides, she has a crush on Ciarán Hinds, the great Irish actor. Lame excuses, I know. Such is the power of Ms. Bellman.

Basic cable boasts other actresses in her age group of comparable talent: Jada Pinkett Smith (can you say “luminous”?) who plays an improbably meddlesome head nurse in HawthoRNe, and, though I’ve never seen their shows, Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter.

Neither is there any shortage (or should I say less of one) of strong roles for mainstream movie actresses 40 or older: Cate Blanchett (40), Laura Linney (44), Tilda Swinton (49), Emma Thompson (49), Frances McDormand (52), Meryl Streep 60, Diane Keaton, 63, Helen Mirren 64, Julie Christie, 68, and Judi Dench (74).

We seem to have finally to have entered an era where aging actresses’ ability to retain their looks, whether through surgery or healthy lifestyle, is matched by an entertainment industry which has finally admitted that its audience is graying.

6 replies »

  1. I’ve seen Meg Ryan a few times in Tribeca, and she looks pretty good for an old lady:)

    Somehow, a bit of maturity from an already beautiful woman is very alluring. Like a fine wine, they get better with age.


  2. Over 40 is the new 20? Polly Walker (44), indeed. She was terrific in the BBC’s State of Play, which appeared six years ago or so, and was the basis of last year’s movie.

    Susannah Harker (44) doesn’t show up in much stuff these days, but when she does, she’s still got that great haircut she had in Ultraviolet.

    We saw Saskia Reeves (47) in a play two years ago–the play was a disappointment, but she was so luminous she carried it.

    Naomi Watts. Over 40. ditto Tara Fitzgerald (42). good lord.

    Wendy Crewson on ReGenesis. 53.

  3. Your shout out to older women is endearing but Jeff Goldblum is not. Not Vincent D’onofrio and never will be.