In Hollywood, there may be no truer saying than “age is just a number.” For as long as the movie industry has produced stories about teenagers, they have cast adults in many of those roles. The reasons for this vary. Movie magic can hide a lot. How old do you think Emma Thompson was when she played a 19-year-old in Sense and Sensibility? Leonardo DiCaprio was closer to 30 than 16 for one of his most famous roles! The following actors all played character’s well under their real-life age in some of the most popular TV show’s and movies ever made. For comparison, we’ve placed their TV or movie characters next to real-life photos taken around the same time period as their starring roles
Find out how old Hannah Montana’s brother really was on slide 7!
Emily Kinney In The Walking Dead
Season two of The Walking Dead introduced the character of Beth, daughter of Hershel Greene and sister to Maggie. At the time she was cast, Kinney was 26-years-old. Her character on the show was 16. We were shocked when we found out how old Kinney really was!
Since her departure from the show in 2015, Kinney has stayed busy in genre television, making guest appearances on Arrow and The Flash. And of course, with her youthful look still going strong at 33-years-old, she even made one last Walking Dead appearance in Rick Grimes’ final episode.
Every Spider-Man Ever
Oh let us count the ways over-age actors have been cast to play Peter Park in Spider-Man movies. Tom Holland was the closest to the right age when he was cast as a 15-year-old version of the character at 20. Andrew Garfield was 28-years-old and Tobey Maquire was 27.
Every new Spider-Man has started as a high schooler. By Spider-Man 3 Maguire finally was a little closer to the actual age of his famous character. Garfield sadly never got the chance to have the character catch up to him after he was replaced by Holland.
Up next, did anyone really believe Tom Welling was a teenage Superman?
Tom Welling Was A Super Old Superman
For anyone who was in high school or middle school during the aughts, Tom Welling was the definitive Clark Kent. Playing Superman before he got his cape in Smallville, Welling was built like a hero. If only he had been built like a 14-year-old.
When the show debuted, the character of Clark Kent was a high school freshmen. Welling, however, was a 24-year-old very well structured 6’3″ grown man. Somehow fans were able to suspend their disbelief. Smallville became one of the WB’s biggest hits and ran for ten seasons.
On the next slide, we reveal the truth about Leonardo DiCaprio and “Catch Me If You Can.”
The Complicated Case Of Leonardo DiCaprio
At 27-years-old, Leonardo DiCaprio was cast to play 16-year-old Frank Abagnale Jr. in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. The true story followed the teenager as he faked his age, pretending to be 27-years-old to earn millions of dollars as a doctor, pilot, and even a priest.
To unpack this whole scenario, DiCaprio was in his late twenties, playing a teenager, who was pretending to be in his late twenties. So even though DiCaprio wasn’t age appropriate, in retrospect maybe he was!
Stacey Dash Was The “Senior” Actress In Clueless
Stacey Dash might not be known as much for her acting today, but she used to be a budding star thanks to her role in Clueless. In a the movie, a then 29-year-old Dash played 17-year-old Dion. The character proved so popular, she returned for the television continuation.
Dash still acts today and even made fun of herself in Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens. Poking fun at herself was a smart move as she has also come under fire for her social media behavior.
Coming up, learn the real age of Hannah Montana’s brother!
Jason Earles Was Too Old For Hannah Montana
For the most part, Disney Channel has always done a better job than most casting teenagers in teenage roles. They threw their rulebook out the window when casting 29-year-old Jason Earle’s as Miley Cyrus’ teenage brother in Hannah Montana. Cyrus was 14-years-old at the time.
When the show ended in 2011, Earles was in his mid-30’s while Cyrus was coming into her own as a musician and entertainer. Amazingly, looking at the image above, you would never know Earles wasn’t an innocent-faced teenage boy!
Alan Ruck Seemed Mature For A Reason In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a classic teen comedy about a teenager who convinces his friends to skip school with him for a day. One of those friends is Cam, who is scared of his dad and serves as the emotional heartbeat of the story. Played by 30-year-old Alan Ruck, the performance is surprisingly mature.
Given Ruck’s age, and assumed maturity that comes with it, maybe it’s not so surprising. We had no idea until this writing that he wasn’t a teenager during filming. We’re still in disbelief about it now!
Taylor Kitsch Made Us All Uncomfortable As Tim Riggins
Friday Night Lights wasn’t a show about Tim Riggins, but when the public fell in love with Taylor Kitsch’s glorious locks, he became the face of the franchise. Kitsch was 27-years-old when he was cast as the 16-year-old high school fullback.
The fact that everyone and their mother was seemingly obsessed with Kitsch and his bad boy good looks makes this casting just a little bit creepy. The show ran for five seasons and Kitsch made the push to be a major movie star when he took the title role in John Carter.
Gabrielle Carteris Was Too Old For Beverly Hills
Fun fact; just about every actor in Beverly Hills 90210 was well beyond high school age when they were cast as 14 to 17-year-olds. The biggest offender by far was Gabrielle Carteris, who played school newspaper editor Andrea. Her character was 17 in the show while she was 29 in real life.
Carteris stayed on the show for five seasons and returned for one episode in the 10th and final season. The next oldest actor was Ian Ziering, who was 26 when the show debuted and they stuck with it all ten seasons.
Henry Winkler Set The Clock Back In Happy Days
Henry Winkler became a cultural icon playing high school dropout Arthur Fonzarelli in Happy Days. The too cool for school teenager was hilarious, and no one realized Winkler was 29-years-old at the time. When the show ended after ten years, Winkler was almost 40 and the Fonz was just out of his teens!
After a long career in Hollywood, Winkler was finally recognized for his talents in 2018, winning an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a comedy series for his role on HBO’s Barry.
Still ahead, Michael J. Fox wasn’t as young as you thought in the ’80s!
Michael J. Fox In Back To The Future
Michael J. Fox was 24-years-old when he first played Marty McFly in Back to the Future. The age discrepancy isn’t close to the worst we’ve seen until you consider this. The franchise has three movie that all take place months apart.
The movies, however, were not released months apart. That means that when Back to the Future; Part III came out, Fox was 29-years-old and still playing 17! Fun fact, did you know Fox wasn’t originally cast as Marty? Eric Stoltz was and was fired after filming had already begun.
Emma Thompson Won An Oscar Playing Young
In 1995, Emma Thompson won an Oscar for her work in Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. In the film, she plays 19-year-old Elinor Dashwood. Thompson was 35-years-old. She also wrote the screenplay for the critically beloved adaptation and likely had a foot up on the competition when the casting process began.
Thompson didn’t win an Oscar for her acting, though. She actually won the statuette for her screenplay, even though she was nominated in both categories. The film itself was nominated for seven Oscars. Only Thompson went home victorious.
Barbara Streisand In Yentl
When Barbara Streisand originally decided she wanted to turn Yentl into a movie, she would have been about ten years too old to pull it off. When she finally made the movie after another decade of waiting, she was 41-years-old. The character she played was in her late teens.
Like Thompson before her, Streisand was able to be cast with such an age discrepancy because of her involvement in the film. She didn’t just develop it, it was her directorial debut. Critics fell in love with the movie and Streisand became the first woman to win a Golden Globe for directing.
On the next slide, Felicity Jones real age is revealed!
Felicity Jones Was An Indie Darling In Breathe In
You probably know Felicity Jones best from her role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Before she was making a living as a big budget movie star, she gritted her teeth in small budget dramas. One of those dramas was Breathe In, where she played an 18-year-old foreign exchange student in New York.
Jones was 30-years-old when the film was made. It’s not the first time she’s played younger too. One of her breakout roles was in Like Crazy with Anton Yelchin. The small film was a huge hit on the festival circuit and made her a popular actress with casting directors.
Shirley Henderson And The Chamber Of Secrets
One of the most memorable characters from the Harry Potter franchise is Moaning Myrtle. The very first victim of the basilisk, Myrtle was 14-years-old when the giant snake too her life. In The Chamber of Secrets she was brilliantly played by 36-year-old Shirley Henderson.
Disguising the actress to make her look like a ghostly teenager turned out to be a lifesaver for the production. When the character returned four years later, producers didn’t have to recast the role because Henderson hadn’t outgrown it. Most recently, Henderson starred in The ABC Murders, a television mini-series.
Charisma Carpenter Went Back To High School In Buffy
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was huge hit when it premiered on television in 1997. One of the standout actresses on the show was Charisma Carpenter, who played the most popular girl in school; Cordelia Chase. The character was 16 while Carpenter was 27.
The 11 year age gap wasn’t an issue for producers, and the role helped make Carpenter a household name. She has worked steadily since, bouncing between television and movies. Most notably, she helped kick off the action palooza franchise The Expendables.
Stockard Channing In Grease
The movie Grease is remembered today more for it’s music than how grossly it miscast its high school characters. Olivia Newton-John was a decade older than her character, but one actress was even older. Stockard Channing was 34-years-old when she played Rizzo.
She might have been miscast, but the role helped push the actress to new heights. In 1993, she reached the peak of the profession, earning an Oscar nomination for her role in Six Degrees of Separation.
Eric Christian Olsen Didn’t Fool Anyone In Fired Up!
Teen comedy Fired Up! missed the mark completely when it cast 30-year-old Eric Christian Olsen as a high school football star. He looks every bit his age in the film while he tries to pass for a teenager hungry for female attention.
Not a lot about this film went right. The writer didn’t even use his real name for credit! The director, however, found success with the Emma Stone led Easy A just a few years later. For Olsen, his star never found a way to shine very bright.
As Paul Wesley Gets Older, His Character Stays The Same Age
Playing a vampire on television is a tricky thing, especially when you’re an adult playing a teenage vampire. Paul Wesley was 12 years older than his Vampire Diaries character when he got the role. When the show ended after eight seasons, he was a full two decades older than his character!
Oddly enough, just about every character in the show was cast above their age. Ian Somerhalder was 33 when he was cast as a forever 24-year-old vampire. Fans didn’t seem to care about the age discrepancies, though, as the show proved popular enough to spawn several spin-off series.
Wood Harris In Remember The Titans
Wood Harris achieved critical acclaim in 2000 when Remember The Titans was released. The actor, 31-years-old at the time, played one of the high school football team’s players. Harris fooled everyone, and by the end of the year he was for acting awards at the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards and the NAACP Image Awards.
Harris wasn’t the only actor too old for her role. Ethan Suplee was 24-years-old, Donald Faison was 26-years-old, and Kip Pardue was 25-years-old. Just about the only age appropriate role went to a very young Hayden Panettiere as Coach Boone’s outspoken daughter.
On Wednesdays She Wears Pink
Could anyone have guessed how old Rachel McAdams was in one of the most loved movies of all time, Mean Girls? She played a bully in high school in the film, but her age was far from school teenager.
McAdams landed the role when she was a young 25. Thank goodness for her good looks, because she pulled off that age difference exceptionally well. This was the film that helped make her a household name in Hollywood.
Much like Rachel McAdams in the slide previous, Gabrielle Union had to play a super young teenager for her role in Bring It On. The sassy cheerleader was only a teenager, but that didn’t stop the 28-year-old Union from nailing the part.
She played alongside Kristen Dunst, who we’re assuming had to lie about her age as well. We wonder if casting agents take a deep look into these things or just give them a solid eye test.
Do Chickens Have Large Talons?
Everyone’s favorite nerd has to be Napoleon Dynamite. If he isn’t then surely he’s in your top five, hopefully. Jon Heder scored the role of his life when he landed this back when he was 26.
And much like many others we’ve featured, Heder had to play a teenager. We didn’t know he was in his mid-20s while playing Dynamite. He probably was the only one who could have made this movie as funny as it was and we thank him.
Super Young Detective
By now, the trend is starting to settle in for you, hopefully. Veronica Mars was one of the most popular TV series to grace our screens played by the amazing actress Kristen Bell. We’ve got some news for you, Bell wasn’t 17 when she played this part.
Bell was still young, but the 24-year-old acted like she was 17 perfectly well. She did such a great job, that they made a feature film where she reprised her role.
The Dragon Princess
Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke seemingly became a star overnight after she became the Dragon Princess. Sure, she had been acting in other roles before this, but this was the part that pushed her over the top.
Clarke was 28 while playing the role of 16-year-old dragon tamer. We didn’t think such a young person could tame such a beast like that. We thought wrong, clearly as she became one of the show’s favorites.
Ryder Rode The Young Train
With a ten year difference, could anyone really tell when Winona Ryder landed her role in Girl, Interrupted? Ryder really is aging gracefully, so that’s a big part of it all. She played an 18-year-old when she was 28 for this role.
Her most recent success, Stranger Things, makes Ryder be more of her age, but we can still see the young glow she has. It’s tough to make her look older even if you tried.
Too Smart To Be That Young?
Jim Parsons of the highly popular show The Big Bang Theory played someone who is seven years younger than he is. Parsons has won several Emmys for this role as the younger Sheldon.
He is meant to be 37 in the show in case you didn’t already know. We knew it was impossible to be so smart at such a young age. We know the show is fictional, but many of the topics and ideas they discuss are very real.
He’s Not On Disney Anymore
The hit show Riverdale features one of the beloved twins from the Disney Channel, Cole Sprouse. Now, Sprouse is not so little and is 25-years-old. On Riverdale he’s a whole nine years younger than that. Do you think he’s pulling it off well?
The high school rebel he plays on screen is somewhat of a new breakout role for him. In the least, he’s helped make that show what it is with the popularity and what not.
Keaunu Adventured Too Old
For Keanu Reeves and and Alex Winter, they had one great adventure playing younger than they were. Reeves, has played in roles where he’s had to be younger, but this might be his youngest jump yet.
For this role, Reeves was 26 playing a rock messiah high school kid. Thanks to Reeves funny haircut and crooked smile, it made it more believable for us at home. That haircut was something else if you ask us.
Garfield Swung Into Action
The Amazing Spider-Man is meant to be in high school. The majority of high school kids these days are not in their late twenties as Andrew Garfield was when The Amazing Spider-Man came out. In all of the films Peter Parker has been in, he’s been in high school.
Even though Garfield looked younger than Tobey Maguire did, he was a 28-year old playing a teenager. Maybe that’s why Marvel went with Tom Holland for the next reboot.
Sean Patrick Thomas Was OLD
Save the Last Dance is one of the more memorable teen movies of the early 2000s. It might not have been the best, but it wasn’t that bad either. The two leads of Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas are what made the film what it is.
At the time of filming, Stiles was 19, which was an appropriate age for her character. Thomas, on the other hand, was the big 30. That wasn’t his first time playing young though.
Michael B Turns Back The Clock
Michael B. Jordan gave us one of his most inspiring performances yet when he played the younger Oscar Grant in the touching Fruitvale Station. Oscar Grant was killed by the police on New Years in the Bay are while being held outside the public transportation BART.
In real life, Grant was only 22 years old when he got gunned down. At the time, Jordan was at least four years older when the movie came out to the public.
Luke Pulling Off The Young Looks
90210 was filled with overage actors trying to play high school teenagers. They all actually did a great job at it. One in particular would be Luke Perry. The high school students of Beverly Hills were all beautiful and had a spry look to them.
Perry, who was 25 when he made his first appearance on the show didn’t look a day over 17 (are we lying?). Great actors can do great things and play younger is one of them.
These next stars were all tasked with the duty to play older characters, not younger.
Dawson Was A Little Too Young
The funny story about this is that Rosario Dawson was just sitting on her stoop in the East Village of Manhattan when a director noticed her. She then got cast for her part in the 1995 film Kids.
Leo Fitzpatrick was going around sleeping with as many women as he could in the movie, but he wasn’t telling them he had HIV. Dawson was one of the girls but she was only 16 in real life playing an older girl.
Just Her Luck
Lindsay Lohan is another actress who had to play someone older when she was younger just like Johansson. In the film Just My Luck, Lohan had aged up at least six years for her role.
At 20, she portrayed an executive who becomes involved with a man played by Chris Pine (he happens to be six years older than Lohan). We don’t think it’s impossible, but we don’t think Lohan’s character was supposed to be 20.
Scarlett Played Older
In the movie Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson did not play younger like many others on this list. She is one of the rare exceptions to have played slightly older if you can believe it.
She was only 18 when she shot this film, but her character was really a college graduate. It was more interesting thanks to Bill Murrary being a full three decades older. A little weird or is that just good acting?
Jennifer Lawrence Is Constantly Aged Up
Unlike many other budding stars on this list, Jennifer Lawrence received the opposite treatment and got aged up for many of her roles. She wasn’t he snarky cheerleader like McAdams or Union. She’s played older and done quite well in those roles.
From her Oscar-nominated character of a widow in Silver Linings Playbook to an unhappy married women in Amerian Hustle, she’s nailed the older characters. Not saying she can’t play younger, but perhaps she’s better this way.
Diane Lane Got A Huge Uptick
In the comic books, the mother of Superman, Martha Kent has always been an elderly woman. When fans saw Diane Lane, who was 47 at the time playing Martha in Man of Steel, they took exception.
She needed fake grey hair in order to age her up properly. Why would you want to make such an elegant woman look so much older for your superhero movie? We don’t know, but at least she accepted it
Aunt May Is Looking Younger Or Older?
If anyone who knows anything about Spiderman would also know that Peter Parker’s Aunt May is older than history books at your elementary school. For some reason, however, Marvel decided to use Marisa Tomei to depict an old woman.
However, they made her look young, but she’s supposed to be at least 70. This one is a bit confusing. Perhaps they were going with 70 being the new 50. We don’t know, but she isn’t supposed to look this young.
Linda Blair Was Too Young
When The Exorcist came out in 1973, it caused a huge uproar. It was based on the novel with the same name and inspired by an exorcism performed on a child, but that didn’t mean they had to get 13-year-old Linda Blair.
Many people and the Catholic Church were both concerned with how demonic the film was. Blair got a Golden Globe for her head twisting performance. She even returned for her role four years later in the sequel.