Elizabeth Banks Was Turned Down For Sam Raimi's Spider-Man After Her Mary Jane Screen Test

Elizabeth Banks appears in the Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" trilogy as Betty Brant, the secretary of Daily Bugle publisher and CEO J. Jonah Jameson. In the comic books, she is one of Peter Parker's love interests. But Betty Brant was not the part Banks originally auditioned for. Like many young actresses in the early 2000s, she also tried out for the pivotal role of Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker/Spider-Man's ultimate love. Banks revealed to Glamour magazine (via Yahoo): 

"I screen-tested for the role of Mary-Jane Watson in the first Spider-Man movie, opposite Tobey Maguire. Tobey and I are basically the same age and I was told I was too old to play her. I'm like, 'Oh, okay, that's what I've signed up for.'" 

Elizabeth Banks was 28, only 16 months older than Tobey Maguire, who was portraying a 17-year-old. The role of Mary Jane eventually went to Kirsten Dunst, who was 19 at the time of filming — the closest in age to her character. While Maguire does have a baby face that doesn't look too far off from a teenager, it is unfair that there were never any qualms about him being over 10 years older than the part. Although Banks went on to the "Pitch Perfect" and "The Hunger Games" series, it is unfortunate that sexist Hollywood ageism prevented her from playing Mary Jane. 

Hollywood has a female age problem

A misogynistic paradox in Hollywood exists where women past a certain age cannot play someone younger or their own age. At 28, Olivia Wilde was too old to play Leonardo DiCaprio's wife in "The Wolf of Wall Street." Instead, the role was given to 22-year-old Margot Robbie (a cruel Jezebel article accused her of lying about her age). DiCaprio, who plays Jordan Belfort across an entire decade, was 37 during filming. Why was a man allowed to play someone younger, but a woman was not? 

As female actors mature into their 30s, some find it more difficult to secure roles, even ones meant for their age. Maggie Gyllenhaal relayed her experience to The Wrap

"I'm 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh."

Parts written for a 37-year-old are often taken by baby-faced young women such as Jennifer Lawrence, who in her early 20s was cast as a widow in "Silver Linings Playbook," 40-year-old Christian Bale's love interest in "American Hustle," and a middle-aged entrepreneur in "Joy." At the ripe age of 17, Scarlett Johansson played a college graduate in "Lost in Translation." Casting younger actresses in these roles reinforces the idea that youth is a woman's most valuable commodity.

Age becomes more complex when actors are expected to play teenagers. Ben Platt's dreadful turn in "Dear Evan Hansen" proved that not every male actor in their 20s can realistically play a teenager. However, a blatant bias exists against women in particular. Unfortunately Elizabeth Banks became another victim of the toxic mentality.