Quirky Casting: Actors Who Played Characters Outside Their Age Range
Although major Hollywood studios can often develop a reputation for being formulaic and risk-averse, a great deal of guesswork and instinct goes into a movie’s casting. Sometimes, a whim that puts an actor in the right role can make the difference between a modest hit and a timeless classic.
But it’s also true that those instincts don’t always make sense, at least on paper. And one way this has been historically apparent in Hollywood can be seen in the ages of actors compared to the age of the character they’re supposed to play, such as these actors.
Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls)
Mean Girls director Mark Waters told E! News that while he was impressed by Rachel McAdams’s audition, he thought she was too old to play 17-year-old Regina George at 26.
However, he was ultimately so won over by how well she played the role that he decided growing up too fast just fit George’s character.
Nasim Pedrad (Chad)
Nasim Pedrad’s comedy series Chad explores the life of an awkward 14-year-old boy in his quest to fit in. And the fact that she started playing him at the age of 39 is supposed to be part of the joke.
As Pedrad told Entertainment Weekly, “I also just thought it would be cool to tell a coming-of-age story where the teenager at the center of it wasn’t a teenager, but an adult who is in on the joke.”
Brooke Shields (The Blue Lagoon)
Even when the film was made in 1980, the fact that Brooke Shields’ character has an explicit romance with her cousin scandalized the public even though The Blue Lagoon was a commercial success. And the fact that Shields was only 14 at the time seriously did not help matters.
As The Independent relayed, Shields said, “Never again will a movie be made like that. It wouldn’t be allowed.”
Michael J. Fox (Back To The Future)
According to CBR, Michael J. Fox was 24 years old when he played high school-aged Marty McFly in the first Back To The Future movie.
But while that enters him into a long history of adults playing teenagers in Hollywood, Fox was able to pull it off due to his boyish looks at the time.
Tobey Maquire (Spider-Man)
According to ScreenRant, production delays led Tobey Maguire to play 17-year-old Peter Parker at the age of 26 in the first Spider-Man movie.
However, this age gap between actor and character was mitigated in the sequels, as Parker is no longer a teenager in them. No wonder everyone loves Spider-Man 2.
Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen)
According to Vanity Fair, even those behind the movie adaptation of the hit play Dear Evan Hansen knew that 27-year-old Ben Platt was starting to outgrow the titular teen he played on Broadway.
But as director Stephen Chbosky said, “His understanding of the character is so complete and so profound. I couldn’t imagine anybody else playing it. It’s his part. I felt very strongly about it. And to me, it was never even a consideration.”
Natalie Portman (Leon: The Professional)
Natalie Portman turned 12 on the set of Leon: The Professional, which was her screen debut. And while some considered the bond she shared with the titular hitman uncomfortable when considering her age, the real signs that she was too young for a film like that came after it wrapped.
In the year that followed, Portman would be deeply disturbed by the explicit ways that fans and critics alike talked about her. In a statement obtained by CNN, she said, “I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world that I’m someone worthy of safety and respect.”
John Travolta (Grease)
Grease is fairly infamous for how obviously older its cast was than the characters each actor was supposed to play. And that was just as true of its stars.
As Parade explained, John Travolta was 23 when he played the 18-year-old Danny Zuko. However, that gave him one of the smaller age gaps between actors and characters compared to his castmates.
Roger Moore (Live And Let Die)
Although Roger Moore is a classic Bond actor due largely to the humor he brought to the role, Newsweek confirmed that he also set records for the oldest debut as Bond at 45 and the oldest actor to play Bond in general.
But while his age wasn’t too much of a hurdle in 1973’s Live And Let Die, it became impossible for audiences to ignore when he was approaching 60 in A View To A Kill.
Stockard Channing (Grease)
Although nobody in Grease who played a teenager was genuinely at that age, Parade reported that Paramount Pictures executive Allan Carr was particularly concerned in Stockard Channing’s case. That’s because she was playing 18-year-old Betty Rizzo at 33.
As Channing said in 2016, “Allan showed up on the set with a brown pencil and started dotting freckles on my nose so I would look younger. I said, ‘I don’t look younger! I just look dirtier!'”
Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver)
Iris Steensma is a Taxi Driver character whose exploitation at such a young age is so abhorrent to the main character that it becomes the tipping point for his rampage. But while her controversial role is supposed to make the audience uncomfortable, the dynamic worked too well because Jodie Foster was playing a teenager at the age of 12.
And as The Independent relayed, that fact was just as uncomfortable for her co-star and the director as it was for the audience. In Foster’s words, “They were very uncomfortable about my character. Nobody knew how to direct me.”
Cole Sprouse (Riverdale)
Based on the popular Archie comics, the CW show Riverdale was a massive hit, with Cole Sprouse playing the role of high school student Jughead Jones. The issue was Sprouse was a 24-year-old playing the role of a student.
Thankfully, his real-life age began to make more sense when the series flashed to the kids as adults.
Mel Gibson (Braveheart)
Mel Gibson was 38 when he played William Wallace in Braveheart, which was noticeable to Scottish history buffs because the real William Wallace was in his 20s during his rebellion against British rule.
According to Screenrant, Gibson wasn’t comfortable with this age gap either and sought a younger actor. However, Paramount Pictures executives said they wouldn’t finance the film if he didn’t play Wallace himself.
Olivia Newton-John (Grease)
Although her youthful glow and doe-eyed expression hid this well, Olivia Newton-John was 29 when she filmed her parts as Sandy Olsson in Grease.
Unfortunately, nobody was more aware of this than her, as Parade reported that she expressed concern that she was six years older than co-star John Travolta at the time. This led cinematographer Bill Butler to use a softer lens for their scenes.
Kirsten Dunst (Interview With A Vampire)
Kirsten Dunst’s turn as Claudia in Interview With A Vampire came when she was twice as old as the character she was portraying. However, one aspect of her performance at 11 makes it easy to see why the character aged up even further in future versions.
Namely, the fact that the first on-screen kiss of her career was with the then 31-year-old Brad Pitt. As she told Entertainment Weekly soon after the movie wrapped, “It’s weird because he’s an older guy, and I had to kiss him on the lips, so it was gross.”
Carla Gugino (Spy Kids)
During an interview with Variety, Carla Gugino said she was 28 when she played the mom of the brother-sister duo in Spy Kids. She felt she should have been at least ten years older to credibly play a mom of two with 20 years as a secret agent behind her.
But director Robert Rodriguez assured her it would work, and she’s mostly agreed. As Gugino put it, “I think it only hurt me a little because people did think I was older than I was for a period of time. But I would never have given up that experience.”
Mariel Hemingway (Manhattan)
While the fact that Woody Allen’s character in Manhattan dates a 17-year-old is supposed to be an uncomfortable aspect of the movie, Mariel Hemingway was actually 16 when she shared her first kiss with the then 44-year-old Allen.
According to Vanity Fair, she said, “I had never kissed anybody. So the kiss in the cab around Central Park terrified me. I was worried about it for weeks.”
Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name)
The story of Call Me By Your Name is inherently controversial due to the age gap between its main characters. However, Slate explained that this aspect appeared even starker due to the wider age gap between the actors.
That’s because Armie Hammer was 31 when he played the 24-year-old Oliver, while Timothée Chalamet was 21 while playing 17-year-old Elio.
Thora Birch (American Beauty)
According to The Berkshire Eagle, Thora Birch was 17 when American Beauty was filmed, which presented a problem. That’s because the script called for her character to undress in front of a window while her crush watched.
As a result, the scene only made it into the film because Birch was able to secure permission from her parents.
Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite)
While Hollywood indeed has a long history of having actors in the 20s play teenagers, Jon Heder’s turn in Napoleon Dynamite presented a particularly extreme example of this phenomenon.
Not only was Heder 26 by the time he started playing the high school student, but People reported that he had already been married for a year.
Linda Blair (The Exorcist)
According to NPR, Linda Blair was barely 12 years old when filming began on The Exorcist. But while this made her a match for her character’s age, director William Friedkin wasn’t expecting to actually find an actress that young, given the intensity of what she would be subjected to.
In his words, “And so we started to look at 15- and 16-year-old girls who looked younger. And we still couldn’t cast it, for a variety of reasons, but principally that I felt that the experience of doing this film would have damaged most of those young girls.”
Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
While Vogue couldn’t fault Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Joy, the outlet noted the absurdity of a 25-year-old woman playing a divorced mother of two.
It is indeed worth mentioning that the real Joy Mangano was 34 years old by the time she invented the Miracle Mop depicted in the movie.
Sally Field (Forrest Gump)
Up until the titular character of Forrest Gump comes of age, there’s nothing amiss with Sally Field’s casting as his beloved mother when she was 47.
However, Insider noted that this changes when Tom Hanks steps into the role after Gump grows up. That’s because she’s only ten years older than the then-37-year-old Hanks.
Keira Knightley (Love Actually)
Keira Knightley was 18 when she played a newlywed who married then-26-year-old Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character in Love Actually.
This age gap strained credibility somewhat, but Good Housekeeping noted that this only made her five years older than Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who played a little boy in the movie. In other words, she was closer in age to that kid than the man playing her husband.
Betty Buckley (Carrie)
Although Piper Laurie was at a credible age to play Sissy Spacek’s mother in Carrie, the same could not be said for the actress who played her teacher.
According to Insider, Betty Buckley was only two years older than Spacek when she played Miss Collins. That makes for quite the casting decision considering Carrie was supposed to be in high school.
Angelina Jolie (Alexander)
In the maligned 2004 movie Alexander, Angelina Jolie plays the mother of Alexander The Great.
But as The San Francisco Chronicle noted, this made for an absurd pairing with Colin Farrel, who played Alexander. After all, it’s hard for someone who’s only a year older than the star to play his mom convincingly.
Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing)
Although the age of Jennifer Grey’s character in Dirty Dancing is a little ambiguous, an estimate from Screenrant puts her between 17 and 19 years old. Considering the difference in age between her and the dancer she falls in love with, it’s not hard to understand her father’s reservations.
However, he needn’t have worried in real life because Jennifer Grey had just turned 27 when she stepped into the role.
Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones)
According to Bustle, the Game of Thrones creators adjusted the starting age of Margaery Tyrell from 16 to 18 to make Natalie Dormer a more believable casting choice.
However, it’s unclear precisely what effect this decision had, as Dormer came into this role at the age of 30. The age gap is significant either way.
Stacey Dash (Clueless)
According to ABC News, Dionne Davenport was supposed to be 17 years old by the time Stacey Dash played her in Clueless.
However, this meant Dash would have needed to recall what it was like to be a teenager to take on this role because she was 28 when she was cast.
Lee Pace (The Hobbit)
Both in The Hobbit and throughout the relevant trilogy, Lee Pace plays Thranduil, the father of Orlando Bloom’s character Legolas.
As Insider noted, the problem with this was that Pace was only two years older than Bloom at the time. The nigh-immortality of elves only explains so much in this case.