The Boardwalk Empire, Gosford Park and Trainspotting star admitted she felt “so lucky” to still be appearing on screen due to the lack of roles for women over 40.
Speaking before heading down the red carpet to launch her new drama Puzzle at the Edinburgh International Festival’s opening night, Macdonald said a lack of women in senior roles in the industry was to blame.
Macdonald said it was “very rare” for her to have come across any female directors during a career stretching to her debut in Trainspotting in 1996.
And she said film and television were lagging behind the world of literature when it came to creating interesting female characters.
In Puzzle, which was made by Little Miss Sunshine producer Marc Turtletaub, Macdonald plays a woman in her early 40s who attempts to escape a stifling home life with her husband and two sons after discovering she has a knack for solving jigsaw puzzles.
Macdonald, who turned 42 earlier this year, described Puzzle as a “coming-of-age” film. It is her first lead on-screen role since Stella Does Tricks, which was released the same year as Trainspotting, although more recently she provided the voice for the character of Merida in the Disney-Pixar animated film Brave.
Macdonald said: “I just feel so lucky to still get a job at all.
“I’ve read and listened to so many interviews with actresses past the age of 40. I’m aware that if you are a woman, as soon as you reach 40 it is like you are done. It’s like you are a footballer.
“I feel I have got so much more to offer at this. This is the most interesting time for a woman. I knew nothing when I was in my 20s and 30s. I feel I’m starting to get the hang of it a little bit now, the whole life thing.
“He is a very good friend of mine, but years ago I played Colin Firth’s daughter in a film and then a few years later I played his love interest. I joke with him that I’m going to play his gran next. That’s the way it seems to go for females.
“There are just not as many roles for women, which is real shame, because I’m sure the material is out there. In literature there are so many female characters, but film and television just seem a bit slow on the uptake and when parts do come up they are so highly coveted.
“It’s quite a good time for this film. It’s a conversation that needed to be had. In a business sense, it seems madness to me because there is a huge audience out there.
“Women make up the majority of the cinema-going public. You would think if you were a business person in film you would want to utilise that more.”
Growing numbers of actresses have been speaking out over the poor representation in front of and behind the camera, highlighting how men are still dominating nominations for the major awards.
Latest figures revealed that women made up just 18 per cent of the directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers who worked on the top 250 Hollywood films released last year.
Macdonald added: “It’s definitely the case that if you go to any kind of film event, it is mostly men in the room. It’s very rare that I have worked with a female director.
Women are beginning to come up in this world.”