Nia Long Was Told She "Looked Too Old" to Star in "Charlie's Angels"
The actor thinks that there was more to the reason she wasn't offered the role, however.
It's no secret that women in Hollywood have to deal with sexism, ageism, and impossible beauty standards—and that women who aren't white deal with racism, as well. How they look or what they are or aren't willing to do to change their appearance can impact whether or not they get offered a role. Actor Nia Long, now 52, says that she was told she lost out on a movie that would go on to be a hit, simply because she "looked too old" next to her co-star. Long was considered for one of the lead roles in 2000's Charlie's Angels, which ultimately starred Drew Barrymore (who was also a producer), Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz. And while The Best Man star thinks the part went to the right person, she has admitted that she believes there was more to her rejection than the powers-that-be were willing to admit. Read on to find out more.
She was compared to Barrymore.
In a 2023 interview with Yahoo, Long called a longstanding rumor that she turned down the role in Charlie's Angels to star in Big Momma's House with Martin Lawrence "the biggest fattest lie." She clarified that she was never offered the part of Alex Munday.
"Charlie's Angels did not want me because they said I looked too sophisticated and too old next to Drew Barrymore," Long said. "But listen, I thought Lucy Liu was great in that role. When I went back and looked at it, I was like, 'Whoa, she's really doing some stunts.' I don't know if I was quite ready for that. I don't, you can't do everything, and every opportunity isn't for you. And as much as it would've been fun to play that character, I think Big Momma's House was probably more fun for me."
Barrymore is five years younger than the Friday star. But, for the record, Liu, born in 1968, is two years older than Long, born in 1970.
She believes her race had something to do with it, as well.
Long isn't completely buying the reasoning she was offered. She also believes that she lost the role because she's Black.
"I was like, "What?' I love Drew Barrymore, I think she's amazing, but I think that was just a nice way to say you're a little too Black," she said in a 2020 interview with Insider. "Personally, that's what I think. Because if you notice there were no brown skin [actors]. I mean, honestly, I would have been the blackest thing in the film."
After her comments to Yahoo renewed the conversation about Long's Charlie's Angels experience, she was actually a guest on Barrymore's talk show. The You People actor claimed that she was also told that her eyebrows were "too sophisticated," but reiterated her belief that she wasn't cast in the action comedy for a much more troubling reason.
"I think what was happening during that time is there were all these conversations about diversity, but people weren't really pulling the trigger," Long said, after explaining that she thought her audition went "really well." "I think this is just a result of the fear of really putting a Black woman into a film that never cast anyone Black. It was a first time for them. There was this initiative to cast more Black women, have more Black women on set, but Hollywood wasn't quite doing it."
Barrymore was "mortified" by what Long went through.
Barrymore told her guest that she was "mortified" by what Long was told during the audition process and that she found the comments about her age and eyebrows "bewildering" to hear. The host also said that when she and her producing partner Nancy "Nan" Juvonen shopped the movie around, they were focused on making Charlie's Angels more inclusive, since all of the Angels on the show were white women. "When we even went in to present ourselves as producers for the film, all of our pitches for the combination of the trio all had diversity in it, and that was just something that felt right in our guts at the time," she explained. She added that they were "nervous" whenever she and Diaz were both set for the movie, because they knew they didn't want their trio of secret agents to all be of the same race.
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Long doesn't hold Barrymore responsible.
Long told Barrymore of the decision, "I'm 101 percent positive that it came from a studio exec that has no concept in understanding the importance of diversity, let alone what you stand for, because you've been in this game, Drew, for a very long time. And I know your heart." She added that though she did not take the loss of the role "personally," she was "glad [they were] having the conversation."
"Because Black women and white women, women period, we need to talk, we need to stay in communication," she continued. "Because at the end the day, it's hard for all women in this industry, I don't care who you are. It's harder for us [Black women], there's less roles, there's less diversity, but if we don't talk to each other, we can't next create [something] with each other. We have to keep the dialogue going."