At last year's Oscar ceremony, when 82-year-old Christopher Plummer won best supporting actor for Beginners, he kissed the gong and said: "Where have you been all my life."
Other ageing actors are far from fading stars - including Clint Eastwood, 81, Robert Duvall, 81, Max von Sydow, 83, and Martin Landau, 84. If you see the upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit, you'll see Christopher Lee at a stellar 90 not-out.
In other words, as long as you're healthy and have your marbles, acting is a profession with no retirement age.
But, when veteran British actress Pauline Collins calls it quits, she wants to check into a home especially for retired performers - just as her character does in the feelgood comedy Quartet.
"I tell you what," the 72-year-old jests, sounding sharp and plucky. "I'll put my name down for that one - I like a bit of a sing-song. Or the old actor's home called Denville Hall in Northwood. Or Brinsworth House in Twickenham, which is more for musicians and singers."
While set at a fictional retirement home for singers, dancers and musicians, Quartet marks the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman, himself 75.
Collins plays Cissy, a retired opera singer enjoying her twilight years with her opera star-friends Reginald (Tom Courtenay) and Wilfred (Billy Connolly). When the fourth and most revered member of their quartet (Maggie Smith) reluctantly checks in, they must patch up their differences and perform one last concert to save the home from closing.
Collins admits she had not seen the play that Quartet is based on (by Oscar-winning writer Ronald Harwood), but it was a no-brainer to do the film.
"I got a call from my agent to see if I would read the script and accept a call from Dustin Hoffman if I'm interested," says Collins, who won the Tony Award and an Oscar nomination for her most famous role, Shirley Valentine, in 1989.
"I said, 'would I ever.' So he called and we spoke for about two hours. He loves talking. I felt I knew him at the end. I got the job without auditioning or even meeting him.
"I found out later that both Maggie (Smith) and Tom (Courtney) had suggested me for it, which was very kind."
Indeed, like the ageing performers at that retirement home, Collins and her co-stars are a close community of friends and colleagues in real life.
"I've worked with Maggie before and met her socially through the years. I know Tom socially because my husband John was at school with him. I had not met Billy (Connolly) but John had met him years ago when they played a snooker game that lasted all-night long, fortified by lots of Scotch whisky."
Collins also knew some of the real-life singers, dancers and musicians who came out of retirement to play small roles in the film, including opera star Dame Gwyneth Jones and Andrew Sachs (Manuel from Fawlty Towers).
In an ode to the ageing stars, Hoffman included photos of their former glories in Quartet's closing credits.
"Dustin said to all of us at the start, 'I don't want you to do characters. I want you to be very close to yourselves'," Collins says.
"He said, 'we're all in the third act of our lives and let's not shy away from that in the film.' So we didn't. We let it all out and put it all on film - warts and all."
The average age of Quartet's cast was 71. Collins' Cissy suffers bouts of dementia while Connolly is the horny old devil who needs to pee 10 times a night. Smith and Courtney's characters were once married, bringing the scars of the past to the surface.
But while Quartet shapes up as the latest box-office winner for the grey-haired set, Collins is far from ready for retirement.
"I hope I will know when I really can't do it anymore," she says. "It's good to have a reason to get up in the morning, especially when you're older. But I still think of it as the most wonderful hobby I could have done while getting paid for it."
Now in the admirable position of "taking work" when she wants to, the stage and screen veteran admits to enjoying the fruits of her labour.
"I don't work 52 weeks a year any more and wouldn't want to. I like to keep a balance between life and work," she says.
"The last couple of years I've worked a little bit more than I've wanted to because I've had some wonderful jobs such as Albert Nobs and (Woody Allen's upcoming rom-com) You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger."
Besides a spot of writing and travelling, Collins says she still enjoys acting most of all."The phone is ringing," she concludes, "but not with things that I want to do. So I'm waiting for the New Year to bring me a lovely surprise."
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