Penelope Ann Miller Reveals the Biggest Beauty Mistake Women in Hollywood Make

You’ve seen her on the big screen, Broadway and TV, and now, 52-year-old actress Penelope Ann Miller is gearing up for what she calls a project she’s “really, really proud of,” the much-buzzed-about (and controversial) The Birth of a Nation, in theaters October 7.

In the film, Miller plays Elizabeth Turner, the matriarch of a family of slave-owners who she says, “is not your typical slave-owner.” What she liked most about the script: “It’s not just a story about your stereotypical roles we are used to seeing—these are real human beings living in an oppressed environment, but they all have human qualities as well. Even though my character owns slaves, which is obviously an awful thing, she is trying to do some good things. It’s not all evil.”

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On Hollywood’s Ageism Problem
Miller also plays 30-year-old Armie Hammer’s mother in the film, something she admits wasn’t easy. “They aged me in the movie; they gave me wrinkles! Of course, I wish I was playing his wife, but whatever, I went for it.”

It may go without saying, but she says, as an actress in Hollywood, aging is difficult, and it’s something she’s struggled with. “We are so judged by how we look, especially women. There’s a stigma put on women to look young. Then you look at your male costars and they’re allowed to age. They are allowed to have wrinkles, go bald and get pudgy, and we still consider them sexy. We don’t look at them with a magnifying glass the same way we look at women. Then when you cast their female costar, they are 20 or 30 years younger! There’s still that idea that women HAVE to look young.”

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It’s that almost-impossible expectation Miller thinks scares a lot of older actresses. “We have to keep up this youthful appearance. Then some women get caught up in that and they start doing surgery, and then they start not looking like themselves, and then that can also hurt your career. There’s a danger in that. It can become an addiction—once you start, you can’t stop. It’s a scary road to go down.”

“There’s so much scrutiny. It’s really challenging. It’s hard not to get insecure. I am in that category. I am an older actress. I am an actress of a certain age. I lose parts to much younger actresses, and I used to be that actress that older women were losing parts to! I guess it’s karma. It’s really tricky.”

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But, Miller also says she looks at it like, “you can’t be the ingénue forever” and credits television’s current landscape with providing more roles for older women than ever before. “It’s still hard to find film roles with strong women roles with actresses my age. But then you see someone like Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench. There are actresses out there who get great work and who are incredible, but there aren’t that many roles out there for women of a certain age."

On Her Best Beauty Secret
Like most women, Miller thinks the key to aging gracefully is not doing too much that veers away from your natural beauty. “Hopefully, you can maintain your looks. For me, I just try to be as healthy as possible, I try to eat well and exercise, I try not to get too stressed out and I try to get my rest, even though I have two young girls. It’s more of a healthy outlook. I guess the secret is to not too get too caught up into looking like a 20- or 30-year-old when you aren’t.”

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And her ultimate look-younger solution is pretty simple: “Sleep is so crucial. We have this notion in our society that we don’t need a lot of sleep, sort of like it’s a bad thing. It’s just good for anyone overall, but definitely good for a beauty regime. Sleeping can definitely make you look younger! I can tell the difference when I sleep—I feel like a completely different person. I’m less stressed and I can see it in my face.”

On the Film’s Controversy
While there’s a lot of anticipation surrounding The Birth of a Nation, there’s also been scandal (director and star Nate Parker was accused and acquitted of rape charges during college), but Miller stresses that she hopes the movie speaks for itself. “The word that keeps coming out of everyone’s mouth is how powerful the film is; I think the story transcends the controversy. The story resonates with so many people and taps into a nerve of so many people. It’s an important story that needs to be told. It’s not one person’s film—400 people made this film.”

“I do what I do to make an impact and to tell stories we can all hopefully be moved by. It’s my hope people will go see the film and realize that we all put our blood, sweat and tears into this. It really is a passion project.”