By Greg Adkins
Updated August 25, 2003 12:00 PM

When Rosanna Arquette turned 40 in 1999, she celebrated with a ’60s-theme party thrown by her younger brother, David, and sister-in-law Courteney Cox Arquette Arquette. “Everyone dressed up like hippies,” she recalls. “It was amazing.” But at the same time, the actress worried what growing older might mean for her career in a business obsessed with youth. “[Movie executives] treat aging like cancer, like a disease,” says Arquette. “It’s so painful.”

Arquette, now 44, decided to ease that pain by talking with fellow actresses about issues facing women in Hollywood, from the pressure to look young to the struggle to balance personal lives and careers. The result is the documentary Searching for Debra Winger, debuting Aug. 18 on Showtime. “It’s extraordinary,” says producer Linda Obst (Sleepless in Seattle). “For the first time women are speaking honestly, on camera, about what it means to age for an actress.”

For the film, Arquette interviewed 33 industry women including Gwyneth Paltrow, 30, Whoopi Goldberg, 47, and Vanessa Redgrave, 66. Arquette even tracked down Debra Winger, 48, whom she found living a quiet life in a New York suburb with her husband, actor-director Arliss Howard, 48, son Babe, 6, and Noah, 16, her son from her marriage to actor Timothy Hutton. “I always wondered what happened to her, why she left [the business],” Arquette says.

Arquette calls the interviews “an open dialogue about subjects that used to be taboo.” Only one interviewee, she says, asked for anything to be cut. “Meg Ryan told me about having just gotten a belly-button ring, and I had her lift her shirt and show it,” says Arquette. “Later she called and said, ‘Ro, I think I’m a little uncomfortable with that.’ ”

And Arquette, the thrice-divorced mother of Zoe, 8 (from her third mar- riage, to restaurateur John Sidel), admits she still struggles with some of the issues. “I’ve been very against plastic surgery,” she says, “But there are moments when I look in the mirror and, well, the pressure to look young in this business is ridiculous.”

Greg Adkins

Todd Gold and Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles