Laura Dern Was 20 Years Younger Than Sam Neil In Jurassic Park – Now They’re Wondering Whether It Was ‘Appropriate’ For Them To Play Romantic Leads

At 23, Laura starred opposite 43-year-old Sam, playing his colleague and love interest in the blockbuster hit.

Jurassic Park lead stars

by Georgia Aspinall |

It’s been near 30 years since Laura Dern starred opposite Sam Neil in blockbuster Jurassic Park, the pair now set to reprise their roles for the sixth film in the franchise: Jurassic World Dominion. In 1993, Laura was a mere 23 years old, while Sam was 43, playing romantic leads in the sci-fi flick that made over $1billion (£794m) at the box office.

Their age gap was never explicitly stated in the film, it was merely accepted that a woman in her mid-20s (as Laura was cast at the time, playing graduate student Dr. Ellie Sattler) would be romantically linked to a man nearly twice her age (Sam played Alan Grant, esteemed palaeontologist).

At the time, double-digit age gaps in film were commonplace – Harrison Ford was 55 when he starred opposite 29-year-old Anne Heche in Six, Days Seven Nights, while in Entrapment, Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones had a 39-year age gap.

Jurassic Park
(L-R) Actors Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, Richard Attenborough as John Hammond, Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler and Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant, watching a robotic arm handle the dinosaur eggs in a scene from the film 'Jurassic Park', 1993. ©Getty Images

Now though, Laura and Sam are wondering how ‘appropriate’ it was for them to be cast opposite each other. When asked by The Sunday Times why they think director Steven Spielberg chose the pair as leads, Sam raised the question himself.

‘I am 20 years older than Laura!’ he said. ‘Which at the time was a completely appropriate age difference for a leading man and lady! It never occurred to me until I opened a magazine and there was an article called “Old geezers and gals” … And there I was, on the list. I thought, “Come on. It can’t be true.”’

‘Well, it felt completely appropriate to fall in love with Sam Neill,’ Laura added. ‘And it was only now, when we returned in a moment of cultural awareness about the patriarchy, that I was, like, “Wow! We’re not the same age?”’

The conversation has sparked intense debate online, and there’s a lot to consider. First, there’s the ageism of it all. It’s no wonder women in Hollywood face it so intently when 20-year age gaps between romantic leads have been the norm for so long. Just look at the latest romantic interest for James Bond: Léa Seydoux is 18 years younger than Daniel Craig.

But the word ‘appropriate’ in relation to Laura and Sam has been picked apart too. Because while it’s certainly problematic that Hollywood perpetuates ageist beauty standards and ultimately prevents older female actors from being cast as desirable partners in film, it’s not necessarily a question of ‘appropriateness’ – which implies one of the partners is underage or unable to consent to a romantic relationship.

At 23, playing a woman in her mid-20s, Laura is a consenting adult in a relationship with another consenting adult – does it not infantilise women when we dub it ‘inappropriate’ for an older man to be her partner? That’s what some are asking online, anyway.

While dating young women certainly says a lot about the emotional intelligence and insecurities of an older man, it’s surely more of a question of ‘What is it that an older man values in young women and what does that say about him?’ than whether or not their age-gap was ‘inappropriate’.

Frankly, many in age gap relationships have taken offence to the implication itself.

But of course it is a conversation worth having. We should be asking why Hollywood perpetuates large age-gap relationships, how that affects real women’s dating lives and the time at which they are no longer considered ‘desirable’ by society. We should be asking whether there is a sinister aspect to men choosing to date women likely to be less dating-savvy - being that they’re relatively fresh to it and potentially more emotionally vulnerable than a woman with more life experience. Or, whether it’s simply shallowness and immaturity masked by lad culture as being a ‘successful bachelor’.

It might not be inappropriate per se, but it’s certainly an intriguing subject for a larger reflection on our dating society, and men’s self-reflection.

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