A new start after 60: I became an actor – and I’ve never made so much money | Life and style

ANabel Graetz has always worked in the arts, but she won her first screen part when she was 62 – in a fire safety short with Tom Bosley, best known for playing Howard Cunningham in the TV series Happy Days. The film work has since rolled in. This summer, at the age of 80, Graetz cleared her debts for the first time in her life. “I am earning more money than I ever have,” she says. “It feels like a whole new world.”

Graetz’s turning point came when she made it on to the books of a casting company in Boston which helps studios and production companies hire actors. “They started calling me for auditions, and the shock was that the third time I auditioned, I was cast.” Still, she says, “I didn’t think I had a big future in it.” But she kept responding to calls to audition. “And I kept being cast.”

Graetz in the short film Ida’s 85th. Photographer: Publicityimage

In 2019, Graetz was cast as Cat Lady in Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds. It was her first role in a major motion picture. “And it turned out to be a blockbuster.” The film grossed more than $330m.

“I have the kind of face that directors really like to feature,” she says. “I have an interesting face. It doesn’t look like everybody else. So, it’s very expressive.”

Did she always feel like that? “Growing up, I practiced all the time. I knew what I wanted to be – much to my parents’ chagrin. I must have come out of the womb knowing that what I wanted to do was to sing and act.”

Graetz was born in 1942, “just when the US was entering the war”. Her parents “kept a kosher home, and they would invite people from the nearby air force base who were looking for kosher food to join them for special holidays.” Graetz would sing and dance.

Decades later, she heard that one of those guests had asked a mutual friend, “Whatever happened to that little three-year-old girl who entertained us so beautifully? Is she still entertaining?” Yes, Graetz says now, she is.

After school, where she struggled to tell left from right, Graetz had “a huge fight” with her parents. “I wanted to go to New York Actors Studio. We ended up compromising and I went to Boston University and majored in acting. I kind of wish they were here,” she says, “so they could see that as a matter of fact it’s paid off in spades.”

In August, thanks to Free Guy, Graetz paid off her credit cards. Previously, it had always been hard to make ends meet. After graduating, she worked as a waiter for a few years, and then sang professionally in a succession of ensembles, from a cappella to a two-woman singing group called the Proper Ladies, all while teaching singing.

She had always been “a not very risk-averse person”, “always in arrears”, but these days Graetz has noticed that, “there is a lot less anxiety in my life”.

And yet none of this might have been possible had Graetz not made a personal discovery in her late 50s, after her best friend, Mary Lee, died from ovarian cancer. “It was just devastating,” she says. “Things were coming in my mind over and over again that I couldn’t get rid of.” She kept replaying Mary Lee’s last days. The experience was so traumatic, they brought the workings of their own mind into focus, too.

Anabel Graetz as Ruth in Island Zero.
Graetz as Ruth in Island Zero.

“I started doing some research,” she says, and she realized that she has attention deficit disorder. She arranged neurofeedback sessions, which involved wearing a headset to measure brainwaves and provide real-time feedback on brain functions. “And after the first treatment, the obsessive thoughts were gone.” The effect “was almost like a personality treatment”.

Without it, she says, “I would probably not have been able to make a go of this film thing.” The distractions and pressures on set, the need to be punctual, the emotional intensity, would all have been too much.

Graetz hopes to work until she is 90. “There aren’t a whole lot of roles for people like me,” she says. “Then again, there aren’t a whole lot of people like me going for them.”

When she looks back at her work, she feels proud. And yet, “Would I like larger parts? yes Would I like a starring role? Yes.” There is still time. “Oh absolutely,” she says. “There definitely is.”

Tell us: has your life taken a new direction after the age of 60?

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