High school students in television look nothing like high school students in real life (well, not always), for one good reason: they're often played by actors who are upwards of fifteen years older. This dates back to the earliest days of Hollywood, if not further, making it Older than Television. Despite this trope being a prime source for ridicule, mockery, and parody, there are actually a lot of legitimate reasons for why this is done. Among them include stricter rules for employing children and limitations on what they are allowed to perform on camera, or at the very least Ability over Appearance. See the Analysis Page for more details.
This happens when dealing with teenage characters in the range of 14-18 years old, especially in dramatic shows. If younger, casting usually tries for children actors, and if older it is simply far less noticeable. If a show or movie carries a greater focus on the adults rather than the kids then they will usually avert this. This ought to be horribly distracting, but by and large, television audiences have learned to manage. It is so ingrained into our mindset that almost all aversions end up being notable.
It can sometimes result in a paradoxical effect: teens that look more like actual teens (either with real teenage actors or in animation) are described as looking "too young" (see Reality Is Unrealistic). Conversely, actors in their early-to-mid-twenties, especially those who make their name in these kinds of shows, often have difficulty being taken seriously playing characters their own age. Very specific actors can pull it off, usually attributing it to the character being Older than They Look. In other cases, some stories work with this because a key plot point may be the character does not actually look their age and are trying to pass off as older than they really are. But with no such luck Hollywood will get by with appropriate clothing, hairstyles, makeup and mannerisms.
Named for Dawson's Creek, which was notorious for it — James Van Der Beek (20), Katie Holmes (18), and Joshua Jackson (19) playing 15-year-olds (at the time of the pilot's filming). 17-year-old Michelle Williams was the only one still high school aged. In season two, the new main character Jack was 16, and actor Kerr Smith was 26. While maybe not the worst case example (Jack aside), it is a joke that has filtered into the cultural mindset regarding the show.
By and large this trope requires some research, you can't know for certain that an actor/actress is a certain age unless you scour around Wikipedia or IMDb. Also consider that production time may vary greatly from release of the movie or airing of the episode. The actors are of course younger during filming. Timeline issues sometimes make this more apparent, as 5 seasons of a tv show may only cover one year within the context of the story, making an actor who was an aversion become a straight example over time. Consider also that the exact age of the character may also be in question (a generic "high schooler" can be anywhere from 14 to 19). In the case of voice acting that field has nothing to do with appearance and everything to do with vocal performance, as such only notable aversions are mentioned (consider what the point would be to list examples of Race Lift in voice acting). This is also part of why we have Crossdressing Voices.
Ultimately realize that that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this trope, all forms of entertainment is about the illusion and with that in mind what really matters is if you believe in the character. At the same time this is not about age discrepancies, just being three or four years older doesn't mean the production is "trying to pull a fast one" on the audience. If anything finding a 19 year old to play a 17 year old is well ahead of the curve.
Compare Age Lift, Age-Inappropriate Dress, Hollywood Old, Playing Hamlet and Three-Month-Old Newborn. Contrast Playing Gertrude. See also Artistic Age for an intentional drawn equivalent. Cross-Dressing Voices is more-or-less the animated version of this trope, as partially explained above.
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Although there's generally no actual casting involved, many fanfics involve describing the characters (both existing and new) in terms that don't fit with eleven to seventeen years old. Sometimes there actually is casting, when the author creates banners or pictures for the cast, and generally uses "teen" models or actresses in their early-mid 20s.
Practically all Role Players cast their characters into age illogical celebrities.
Most 'teacher inspires group of hoodlum kids'-type films are guilty of this. Usually the central character among the kids will be in their 20s or even 30s playing a 15-year-old (Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, etc.)
Most live-action adaptations of Alice in Wonderland have this problem. The titular role is usually played by a woman at least in her late teens. Alice is supposed to be seven. The youngest actress was at least twelve.
The 2010 Tim Burtonproduction plays with the subsequent expectation on the part of the audience, leading us to believe at first that this is just another "adult playing Alice" film only to reveal after she tumbles down the rabbit hole that this is a sequel and the Alice of the story is about to turn 19.
Funnily enough, the Disney Animated Canonversion used a child voice actress (12-year-old Kathryn Beaumont) even though animation provides the perfect excuse for using an adult. Beaumont was also the physical model for the character, so Alice ended up being drawn looking like she was about eleven or twelve rather than seven. Played straight decades later when Beaumont, in her sixties by this time, voiced Alice in Kingdom Hearts.
Aloha Summer is a 1988 comedy-drama film about a group of teenagers and their experiences one summer in Hawaii. The film stars Tia Carrere (21), Chris Makepeace (24), Don Michael Paul (25), and Yuji Okumoto (29).
This is the case with some of the films from the American Girl series. The actresses playing the roles are a few years older than the protagonists they depict, although this is less of an issue when Abigail Breslin was cast as Kit Kittredge, as she was 11 by the time the film was produced.
Shailene Woodley was 13 when she played as Felicity, and it's an even more extreme case with Canadian actress Erin Pitt portraying the yet-to-be-released 2014 Girl of the Year Isabelle in an upcoming film.
In The Aviator, Gwen Stefani plays Jean Harlow, who was 19 at the time the film shows her; Gwen was 34 during filming, eight years older than Jean when she passed away.
21-year-old Georgina Cates lied about her age and pretended to be a teenager in order to play a 16-year-old in the film An Awfully Big Adventure. It worked — the cast, crew and director fell for it. Possibly also a subversion, because when Cates first auditioned and gave them her real name and age, she was told she was too old for the role.
Michael J. Fox plays 17-year-old Marty McFly into his late twenties, having done the first film when he was twenty-three. He also played himself at 47.
Lea Thompson, who plays Lorraine, is just nine days older than Fox. Thomas F. Wilson, who plays Biff, is just two years older than Fox, while Crispin Glover, who plays George McFly, is three years younger than Fox. All three actors invert the trope in 1985 scenes, where they are playing the characters as they are in their late 40s. But this is justified because the actors also have to play high school age versions of their characters in 1955. Though it's also played straight in 1955, with Thompson being 23 and playing a 17 year old Lorraine, Wilson being 25 and playing an 18 year old Biff, and Glover being 20 and playing a 17 year old George.
Then there's an inversion with the 47 year old Christopher Lloyd playing Doc Brown, who is in his seventies. This example necessitated that for Part II, it be explained that Doc went to a rejuvenation clinic that added 30 years to his life so that Lloyd wouldn't need to wear old-age makeup. They also replaced his spleen and colon.
Bad Day at Black Rock is one of the most egregious examples ever: 55-year-old Spencer Tracy played John J. Macreedy, a World War II veteran in a movie set in 1945, when Macreedy would in all likelihood have been no older than his mid-twenties, and certainly no older than his mid-thirties.
Perhaps not. Given the tremendous manpower demands during the war, many men who normally would have been too old ended up serving in the military.
The Burton/Schumacher Batman films have quite a bit of this.
There's Michael Keaton, who was 38 when he first started portraying Bruce Wayne/Batman — even though, according to the comics, Wayne was only in his mid-twenties when he first became Batman.
And 52-year-old Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier (The Joker) — when, in the script, Napier is said to be still in his thirties.
Danny DeVito was in his late forties at the time of the filming of Batman Returns. Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin is explicitly said to be 33 years old. And with the makeup, DeVito looks even older.
Then 25-year-old Chris O'Donnell as college student Dick Grayson/Robin in Batman Forever. Close, but still something of a stretch.
Averted in Batman & Robin when 21-year-old Alicia Silverstone plays a college student.
Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. Both were born in the early 1940s, and both starred in a series of Beach Movies in the late 1960s with vague plots about how "school is out, so let's go to the beach."
Mickey Rooney, born in 1920, 5' 2" with chipmunk cheeks, based his whole adult career around playing teens, until he was almost 50 years old. He went from explicitly underaged characters, and then transitioned into young adult roles by playing characters with no expressed age, but who were still ambiguously young. For example, his character "Peachy Keane" in the 1965 beach party film called, "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini." This image of youth was helped along by the fact that he was a perpetual newlywed in real life.
Fabiano Anthony Forte often played a restless teenager with a penchant for singing.
Beaches — Hillary and C.C. meet as 11-year-olds in 1958 and write letters until they reunite as adults. The reunion, Hillary has graduated from college to become a lawyer, dresses as a hippie, and the various vehicles place the timeline circa 1970, in their early 20s. Adult Hillary and C.C. are played by 40-something Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler.
A Beautiful Mind: Russell Crowe was in his late 30s while playing the main character. The movie begins as he enters Princeton University, which the real John Nash did when he was 20 years old.
In the Liberace biopicBehind The Candelabra, which takes place during the final decade of the showman's life, 42-year-old Matt Damon plays Liberace's lover, Scott Thorson, who was in his late twenties when Liberace died.
The 1996 film version of The Birdcage features Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart playing an 18-year-old. She was 31 at the time of filming. Dan Futterman, who plays her (20-year-old) fiance, was about 28.
Blackboard Jungle from 1955 may be the Ur Example, with Sidney Poitier (28 at the time), Vic Morrow (28) and Jamie Farr (21) playing high school students. Made even more ironic by the fact this film is credited with launching teen-favored rock and roll music into the mainstream (even though the man who recorded the title song, "Rock Around the Clock," Bill Haley, was actually a little older than Poitier and Morrow).
In the original 1958 version of The Blob, high-schooler Steve Andrews is played by 28-year-old Steve McQueen in his first starring role.
Christine Taylor (Marcia), Jennifer Elise Cox (Jan), and Christopher Daniel Barnes (Greg) were all in their twenties when cast in the mid-90s Brady Bunch movies. Interestingly, Cox is actually older than Taylor in real life, despite playing her younger sister.
Most of the actors in The Breakfast Club were out of high school, with only 2 actually being under 18.
In Breakfast on Pluto, Cillian Murphy plays Kitten both as an adult and as a teenager, and makes a pretty good teenager for an actor in his early 30s. Of course, playing a 16-year-old is much easier than playing a drag queen.
Breaking Away: The four lead characters are supposed to be 19. Jackie Earle Haley was 17 at the time, then there was Dennis Quaid (25), Dennis Christopher (24), and Daniel Stern (22).
In Rian Johnson's Brick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Emilie de Ravin, and Meagan Good were twenty-two years old during production, playing high school students, and Brian J. White was twenty-eight.
Bring It On — Some of the actors are in their 20s, most notably Gabrielle Union (age 28) during the first one, and Christina Milian (age 28) during Fight to the Finish. Though the trope was averted with Kirsten Dunst (age 18) and Eliza Dushku (age 19) in the first film, Hayden Panettiere (age 16) in All Or Nothing and Ashley Benson (age 18) in In It To Win It.
In the film version of Astrid Lindgren's The Brothers Lionheart 12-year-old Jonatan was played by Staffan Götestam who was 26 at the time. However the character was aged up intentionally as it seemed a bit improbable on film that a 12-year-old would be entrusted with such a degree of leadership in a La Résistance group.
Swanson later played a teenager (or at least an early twentysomething) in her early 30s in Dude, Where's My Car?.
In Bunraku, teenage Momoko is portrayed by 25-year-old Emily Kaiho, who sort of pulls it off by being fresh-faced and petite. Much is made of how Yoshi is the youngest of the protagonists, and inexperienced and hot-headed as a result. Gackt meanwhile is pushing forty (but looks twenty years younger).
The Burning Bed covers a specific period in Francine Hughes's life from age 15 to age 29. You would think that they would cast someone around the age of 22, someone halfway between 15 and 29. Instead, they cast 37-year-old Farrah Fawcett.
Candy in The Candy Snatchers is 16 years old and played by 21-year-old Susan Stennett.
In the 1976 version, the eponymous 16-year-old protagonist was portrayed by a 26-year-old Sissy Spacek. She was the same age as P.J. Soles, who played Norma Watson. This was true for most of the teenagers, who were, oddly enough, only a few years younger than 29-year-old Betty Buckley, the actor playing Miss Collins.
The sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2, features various people in their 20s, most notably 24-year-old Emily Berg in the leading role, 27-year-old Jason London as her boyfriend, and 27-year-old Dylan Bruno as his friend.
Angela Bettis was 29 when she portrayed Carrie in the 2002 version, with 26-year-old Tobias Mehler as her balding prom date with forehead wrinkles.
The 2013 version inverts this with the casting of Carrie; Chloe Moretz was 15 years old during filming, playing a high school senior who would've been 17 or 18. But then it plays it straight with 23-year-old Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell and 24-year-olds Portia Doubleday and Alex Russell as Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan. Then there are those who don't have their birthdays listed on IMDb (absence of a D.O.B. usually equals a much older actor who is relying on this trope for employment). The contrast between a girl in her mid-teens compared to adults in their mid-twenties highlights this trope.
The Carry On film Carry On Camping featured a school girl played by the 32-year-old Barbara Windsor.
In Catch That Kid, Corbin Bleu, Max Thieriot, and Kristen Stewart play 12-year-old kids who rob a bank. At the time, the actors were 15, 16, and 14, respectively.
Charlie's Angels features a flashback montage at the beginning with Charlie's voiceover, "Once upon a time there were three very different little girls…" They then show three adults dressed as girls up to high school age. In the sequel, three years later, they do it again with 28-year-old Drew Barrymore, 31-year-old Cameron Diaz, and 35-year-old Lucy Liu. Apparently, this is humorous.
In Cherrybomb, the three 16-year-old protagonists are played by Kimberley Nixon (who was 22 at the time), Rupert Grint and Robert Sheehan (both of whom were 20). It generally gives the audience a bit of a jolt when Sheehan's character confirms how old they are towards the end of the movie, firstly because the cast are blatantly older than this, and secondly because we've just watched said character engage in a sex-and-drugs orgy and violently murder someone.
In Prince Caspian, 25-year-old Ben Barnes was cast as the 17-year-old titular prince. (He's 13 in the book.)
In Dawn Treader, Eustace is supposed to be 10. He's played by 17-year-old Will Poulter. The main four get some of this as well, though not as bad. In the first book, they're 13, 12, 10, and 8. In the first movie, the actors playing them were 18, 17, 14, and 10.
In City of Ember one of the two 12-year-old leads is played by Saoirse Ronan, who was 13 at the time of filming. The other is played by Harry Treadaway, who turned 23 during production.
Inverted in Click where 19-year-old Katie Cassidy plays the 27-year-old version of Adam Sander's daughter.
Clueless: Stacey Dash was 28 portraying a 16-year-old in the movie and then came back for the TV show where she played a 16-year-old until she was 31. (Dee, Stacey's character, lampshaded this in one episode when she mentioned when they were 27 they'd be "old enough to play teenagers on TV.") The rest of the teen cast had an average age of 21, but 19-year-old Alicia Silverstone and 18-year-old Brittany Murphy work fairly well as 16-year-olds.
Four years after Carrie, then-30-year-old Sissy Spacek played Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter — starting at the age of 14.
The Conspirator features 42-year-old Norman Reedus playing Lewis Payne who was 21 at the time of his death.
In the 1996 film The Craft, 16-year-old coven member Rochelle was played by 30-year-old Rachel True. The other three 16-year-old girls were all played by actresses in their 20s, but were all at least half a decade younger than True - Robin Tunney as Sarah was 23, Fairuza Balk (Nancy) 21; and Neve Campbell (Bonnie) 22.
Cry-Baby — Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker (27-year-old Johnny Depp) is the leader of a gang of "Drapes", which includes his teenage mom sister Pepper (22-year-old Ricki Lake), facially disfigured Mona "Hatchet Face" Malnorowski (34-year-old Kim McGuire), wild and free-spirited Wanda Woodward (22-year-old Traci Lords), and Milton Hackett, the nervous son of overzealous religious activists, (24-year-old Darren E. Burrows).
Cry_Wolf features Lindy Booth (in her mid-20s at time) as an 18-year-old.
The Dark Knight Rises inverts this: Tom Hardy portrays Bane. Hardy is in his early thirties, when a flashback that happens near the end of the movie makes it clear that Bane is supposed to be in his late 40s or possibly even his early 50s. Even more so, his relationship with Miranda Tate aka Talia al-Ghul gets Squicky when you consider that Marion Cotillard is actually a few years older than Tom Hardy.
David And Lisa, 1962, starred then 26-year-old Keir Dullea and 19-year-old Janet Margolin in the title roles — respectively sixteen and thirteen.
Twin Peaks, Fire Walk with Metakes place days before the TV show and all the 20-something actors (mentioned in the TV section) are a few years older, with some flashbacks taking place years before the TV show, and Sheryl Lee playing 15. There were some additions to the movie that weren't in the TV show, such as 24-year-old Moira Kelly as 17-year-old Donna Hayward, and 27-year-old Pamela Gidley as 17-year-old Teresa Banks.
In Wild at Heart, 23-year-old Laura Dern plays her character as a 13-year-old in flashbacks. Dern had trouble passing as a teen when she was one, for instance when she was 19 in Blue Velvet.
In Dune: Sting (then 33) and Kyle MacLachlan (then 25), play Paul Atreides and Feyd Harkonnen, notwithstanding that both those characters are between the ages of 15 and 18 for the entirety of the original novel. To be fair, the makers of the TV miniseries of Dune also went for this trope as well, citing the availability of credible 15-year-old actors to play the lead part.
Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused sometimes plays it straight: Christine Harnos and Sasha Jenson portrayed incoming high school seniors despite being older than age-appropriate Matthew McConaughey, who played a twenty-something graduate.
Dean Koontz's Phantoms — 25-year-old Rose McGowan plays a character that was 14 in the book.
Deux. This French film stars Isabelle Huppert as twin sisters in an extremely confusing storyline that jumps crazily backwards and forwards in time and space, with no attempt to make Huppert look appropriately older or younger. There are a couple of lengthy sequences in which she appears as a schoolgirl, despite being in her late forties. In addition her/their mother, played by Bulle Ogier, is seen in flashback as a young heavily pregnant woman despite being in her sixties.
Devil in the Flesh — 25-year-old Rose McGowan plays a teenaged murderess.
Sure enough, in Dirty Dancing, Jennifer Grey (now 27) plays 17-year-old Frances (Baby). She did look the role, though. Johnny is 25 years old, and played by 35-year-old Patrick Swayze, who unfortunately looked his age, making it look a bit squicky.
Disco Pigs brought us Cillian Murphy, then 24, playing a 16-year-old. He was pretty convincing until he was shirtless . (Not that most of the audience probably minded much. Or at least, they normally wouldn't have, but the monologue he delivers while shirtless can come across as rather ... icky). It is rather justifiable, as he actually looked very convincing, and he did play the character in the stage play version at 19 years of age.
Earth Angel (1991) was a movie about a prom queen who dies in the 1960s and then has to do a good deed 30 years later. It was seemingly influenced by movies such as Back to the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married, and like those movies, needs actors that can pass as both teenagers and middle-aged people. Of course, no real teens were cast, and most of the actors were in their 30s and 40s, most notably 42-year-old Erik Estrada.
All of the "kids" from Easy A are between 21 and 25 years old. This actually presents a minor problem, as one of the characters is supposed to be too old for high school, having been held back repeatedly, but appears indistinct from the other actors. Additionally, they had gotten age-appropriate actors for the flashbacks, and this meant that, in the four years between the past and present, the characters seemed to have aged ten years.
Teen idol Elvis Presley, in his 20s and beyond, would portray characters that were explicitly adolescent, such as in King Creole and Love Me Tender, or age-unspecified young adults who live with their parents, aren't yet married, headed for college or the military, are newcomers on the entertainment scene, hold down jobs suitable for high school dropouts, and enjoy youthful beach parties.
Ever After - 18-year-old Danielle is played by 23-year-old Drew Barrymore. Her two wicked stepsisters, of approximately the same age, are played by 20-year-old Malanie Lynskey and 28-year-old Megan Dodds. "Prince" Henry, is played by 33-year-old Dougray Scott.
Henry may be an exception. Prince is simply the title given to a King or Queen's male children. After all, Charles "Prince" of Wales turned 65 in November of 2013. Since an age is never given for Henry, he could easly be in his late 20s or early 30s, which would explain why his parents (who certainly seem old enough to have a 25-35yo son) want him to get married.
Face/Off: In the second half of the movie, 43-year-old John Travolta plays 30-year-old Castor Troy. Averted in the first half where 33-year-old Nicolas Cage is playing Castor.
The 2009 Fame remake has numerous examples: Victor (played by Walter Perez, age 27), Denise (Naturi Naughton, 25), Marco (Asher Book, 21). The actors closest to the actual age of the characters they play are Kherington Payne (Alice) and Kay Panabaker (Jenny), both 19.
Olesya Rulin plays a 16 year-old girl in Family Weekend despite being twice that during filming. Matthew Modine's father character is probably supposed to be younger than him as well; he's old enough to be Rulin's father, if on the young side at 21, whereas he would have fathered a 16 year-old at 37.
Female Trouble — Mink Stole, in her late 20s, plays a 14-year-old, and it's heavily lampshaded.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off merits notation. Matthew Broderick was 24 at the time, Jennifer Grey (Ferris' younger sister) was 26, but Alan Ruck (Cameron) topped them both by turning thirty a few weeks after the film was released.
Fired Up: has 23-year-old Sarah Roemer, 27-year-old Nicholas d'Agosto and 30-year-old Eric Christian Olsen playing high school cheerleaders.
Another really bad example comes from the rather poor film adaptation of the novel Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews, in which actors that look like adults are cast as characters who, in the book, were 14 and 12. This even breaks the plot; the male lead is large enough to simply physically overpower his abusive grandmother while the rest of his siblings simply walk out the front door of the mostly empty mansion.
In For Your Eyes Only, 22-year-old Lynn-Holly Johnson played the 14-year-old Bibi Dahl, though this was likely done to reduce the squick of her infatuation with Bond.
Foxfire — 20-year-old Jenny Lewis, 21-year-old Angelina Jolie, 23-year-old Hedy Burress, 25-year-old Sarah Rosenberg, and 29-year-old Jenny Shimizu as high school students.
Friday the 13th — You'll be hard-pressed to find a real teen in any installment of this teen slasher series.
Fun Size: A high schooler (19-year-old Victoria Justice) goes with her best friend from school (baby-faced, but tired-looking, 23-year-old Jane Levy) to a Halloween party to be with a "boy" from school (26-year-old Thomas McDonell). Chelsea Handler plays the mom, 11 years older than Thomas McDonell.
Ginger Snaps centres around the lives of two teenage sisters; the older sister was played by an actress pretty much dead on the right age (17 or so), while her little sister was played by a young-looking actress, four years older than her screen sibling.
In Girl Interrupted 28-year-old Winona Ryder played the titular 19-year-old. Critics at the time mentioned that whilst Ryder did look younger than her age this was still pushing it more than a bit.
In Goodfellas, Henry Hill and Tommy DeVito are played by child actors in the opening fifteen minutes, then the film jumps forward a few years and they are replaced by 34-year-old Ray Liotta and 47-year-old Joe Pesci. The story covers a period of nearly thirty years, so the choice of actors makes sense (it's considerably harder for someone in their twenties to make a believable 40-year-old than in the opposite situation), but it does produce a bit of an "er, what?" moment when the narration identifies Ray Liotta as a "21-year-old kid." Similarly Jimmy, played by Robert De Niro who was well into his forties by that point, is first introduced as a 28-year-old. Fortunately, they whiten his hair in the later parts to age him.
The Goonies: 26-year-old Steve Antin plays the high school bully Troy.
In Grace Of Monaco, 45-year-old Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly during the early '60s. At the time Princess Grace was in her early thirties.
The Graduate paired 30-year-old Dustin Hoffman as a recent college graduate, and 36-year-old Anne Bancroft as the middle-aged wife of his father's business partner. Not to mention 27-year-old Katharine Ross as her daughter Elaine. 37-year-old Gene Hackman was originally cast as Bancroft's husband, but Mike Nichols decided he couldn't pull off the middle-aged look as well as she could and wound up recasting the role.
An (in)famous movie example: 33-year-old Stockard Channing (in other words, old enough to have actually attended high school in the 1950s), as 17-year-old Rizzo in Grease (not to mention most of the rest of the "teenagers" in the cast; of the central teen characters, only one was actually a teenager — then-19-year-old Dinah Manoff). Even more audaciously, Manoff is paired with Channing as her Lancer…and it works. The sequel features a full cast of 20-somethings like 24-year-old Michelle Pfeiffer.
Hackers — 17-year-old Jesse Bradford is the only teen actor. The other leads are played by people in their early 20s, ranging from 20-year-old Angelina Jolie to 25-year-old Matthew Lillard.
Hairspray 2007 — 21-year-old Amanda Bynes as Penny, 21-year-old Brittany Snow as Amber, and 20-year-old Elijah Kelly as Seaweed.
The original 1988 film had 27-year-old Michael St. Gerard as Link.
The Halloween Series, about a guy who kills high school seniors
Harold and Kumar in Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle. Played straight with John Cho, who, at 30, played a character two years out of college — but averted with Kal Penn, who was a relatively age-appropriate 26. By the time the sequel came around, this trope was played straight with both actors (35 and 31 respectively, playing their characters at 24-25 since the action picks up right where the first film left off).
Moaning Myrtle (a ghost who died in her teens) was played by then-37-year-oldShirley Henderson in Chamber of Secrets (her being a ghost, her appearance thusly being quite worked-over already and somewhat obscured by the opticals involved, probably helped hide the fact).
A convoluted example involves Tom Riddle, who appears as a 16-year-old in two films made seven years apart. In Chamber of Secrets, 23-year-old Christian Coulson played Riddle. By the time Half-Blood Prince rolled around, Coulson was pushing 30 and the part was recast with actual 16-year-old Frank Dillane.
Deathly Hallows Part 2 features an inversion, where the Distant Finale has everyone being played by the same actors as before, only with special-effects applied to try and make them look like they're in their late thirties, around 37 or so, despite only being in their early 20s.
The best example has to be Hating Alison Ashley, which centers around a year 9 (though it was grade six in the book) camping trip. The actors in the movie version were 20 and 21 at the time of its release.
In Hellgate, Ron Palillo plays one of four college students who encounter evil in a ghost town. He was 40 at the time.
I Am Number Four: the two leads, 14 in the book, are played by a 21-year-old and a 25-year-old.
I Love You Beth Cooper was filmed the year Hayden Panettiere, as the titular high school cheerleader, turned 19. So far so good. Unfortunately Paul Rust as Denis, the "I" in the title, was almost 30. (The film has a scene where Denis can't buy beer because he doesn't look old enough, a moment which fulfils director Chris Columbus's quota of irony for the next few decades.) The end credits feature high school pictures of the main cast and the above-the-line crew; Panettiere is just about the only one of the former (and it's safe to say the latter, unless there's something 20th Century Fox isn't telling us) who looks the same as she did working on the movie!
If These Walls Could Talk — 23-year-old Hedy Burress plays a high school student.
In The Name Of The Father had Beatie Etney play 17-year old Carol Richardson while at least 30 herself at the time of filming (however she's later aged up as her character spends 15 years in prison).
All the adult characters in In Time have physically aged exactly 25 years, but Amanda Seyfried was the only cast member who was actually 25 at the time of filming. Cillian Murphy was 35. The premise also allowed for some justified inversions of the trope, such as actors in their twenties or thirties playing characters with triple digit ages as well as 26 year-old Olivia Wilde playing Justin Timberlake's 50 year-old mother.
The 2006 version of The Initiation of Sarah, featuring 25-year-old Summer Glau as 18-year-old Lindsay.
Almost every live-action adaptation of Jane Eyre. Jane is supposed to be 19 when she starts working for Mr. Rochester, yet she has been played by: 28-year-old Susannah York (1970 film), 23-year-old Sorcha Cusack (1973 miniseries), 28-year-old Zelah Clarke (1983 miniseries), 24-year-old Charlotte Gainsbourg (1996 film), and 25-year-old Ruth Wilson (2006 tv miniseries).
Jawbreaker — Some high school girls accidentally kill another high school girl during a high school prank. Starring 24-year-old Judy Greer, 26-year-old Rose McGowan, 27-year-old Julie Benz, and 28-year-old Rebecca Gayheart.
In the 1974 Werner Herzog film Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (also known as The enigma of Kaspar Hauser), the lead role of about-16-year-old Kaspar Hauser was played by 41-year-old street musician Bruno S. Herzog has commented that he was chosen for the role because his life had parallels with that of the historical Kaspar Hauser, and also because he gave the impression of being outsider to society at large, one that was a stranger to his own body.
Johnny Be Good — 20-year-old Anthony Michael Hall and 24-year-old Robert Downey, Jr. as high school seniors.
Justin Long made a careertoughout his 20's, of playing almost exclusively characters a good 10+ years younger than he is. He can make it work though, since he has a rather youthful face. He pretty much stopped once he turned 30.
Ralph Macchio was in his early twenties when he first played the 17-year-old Daniel La Russo in The Karate Kid. By the time the third movie came out, Macchio was still playing teen-aged Daniel despite being in his late twenties. (His boyish good looks and the fact that his voice remained in a higher register after breaking helped.)
In the movie Keith done in 2008, Elisabeth Harnois played a 17 year old although she was about 29. Her co-star Jesse Mc Cartney was only 21, also playing a 17 year old.
Kick-Ass 2 — Though the freshmen are played by people in their teens, the seniors are played by people well into their 20s, most notably 28-year-old Clark Duke.
Many of the actors in Kids, including Chloe Sevigny, were 18 and older (but really did look and act like young teens).
Kidulthood stars Noel Clarke, who was 29 when playing the 18-year-old leading man Sam. At 32, Clarke returned to play a 24-year-old Sam in the sequel Adulthood.
Killer Joe casts 22-year-old Juno Temple as the adolescent Dottie. However it is very justified as 1) it plays into Dottie's character as a young girl who is trying to be older than she is while also being very childlike, 2) Temple looks young for her age and 3) there is absolutely no way in hell that an actual child actress or teen actress would be allowed to film some of the scenes required in this movie.
A Killing Secret stars 28-year-old Ari Meyers as a high school student.
La Bamba features a 24-year-old Lou Diamond Phillips playing 17-year-old Ritchie Valens.
Jackson Rathbone age 25 plays 15-year-old Sokka (at least in the series) in The Last Airbender.
Randy Quaid was 23 when The Last Detail was made. It is never specifically stated how old his character is, but he isn't old enough to drink.
The Last Starfighter — 24-year-old Lance Guest and 25-year-old Catherine Mary Stewart as a teen couple. Their group of friends are in their mid-twenties, as well, but the only one with a real speaking part was 25-year-old Peter Nelson as Jack Blake (the obnoxious guy in the cowboy hat).
The 1981 Italian zombie flick Le Notti del terrore (US title: Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror) has a disturbing example with a then 25-year-old midget (Peter Bark) playing a 10-year-old child with a serious mother fixation. He not only doesn't look like a child at all,◊ but was cast apparently so they could have a scene where the zombified child comes back to see his mother, who offers him a bare breast and is killed when he starts chewing the nipple off.Ew.
Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural — 13-year-old Lila Lee is played by 18-year-old Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith.
Les Miserables (2012): Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks; their characters Cosette and Eponine are supposed to be in their late teens. Same can also be said for Aaron Tveit, who is nearly 30 when Enjolras is said to be in his mid-20s at most.
The Life Before Her Eyes — 19-year-old Evan Rachel Wood and 22-year-old Eva Amurri as high school students. Also of note, Uma Thurman, in her late 30s, playing a character in her early 30s.
On the far end of the trope is 66 year-old Sally Field playing the twenty-years younger Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln.
A particularly ironic example is Logan's Run in which the film's hook is that it's about a society where people are killed once they reach 30. Predictably, much of the cast were well into their thirties and looked it as well.
Any adaptation of Lolita. Justified in that Vladimir Nabokov insisted that this be done for any adaptation of his book on the grounds that it would be cruel to make such a young actress even pretend to go through what Lolita went through.
The satirical 1966 film Lord Love A Duck has high-schoolers played by 23-year-old Tuesday Weld and 38-year-old Roddy McDowall.
In perhaps one of the most extreme examples of this trope, The Lovely Bones cast 22-year-old Rose McIver as the character of Lindsey Salmon, who is supposed to be a 13-year-old girl. The incongruity was made even worse by the fact that the character of Susie Salmon, who is Lindsey's 14-year-old sister, went to 15-year-old Saoirse Ronan, who actually looked like she was about the right age — so the audience was treated to a 22-year-old playing the younger sister of an obviously-younger 15-year-old. This lead to widespread confusion among audience members as to which sister was supposed to be older. Justified, though, as the movie starts outwith Susie being murdered and the rest is all Posthumous Narration. Most of the scenes with Lindsey in them take place a few years later, and since Lindsey was only a year younger than her sister to begin with, she's already passed Susie's terminal age.
The Sci Fi Channel movie called Mammoth, featuring 25-year-old Summer Glau as a teen girl.
Both played straight and averted in the animated movie Mars Needs Moms. When it was released in 2011, Seth Green, who did the motion capture for 9-year-old Milo, was 37. He was originally slated to voice the character as well, but the creators realized he sounded too mature for a kid, and had him dubbed over by 11-year-old Seth Dusky.
In Peter Bogdanovich's Mask, the then-24-year-old Eric Stoltz played the 15- to 16-year-old Rocky Dennis. Granted, with all the makeup he had to wear to deform his face, it's less noticeable. Somewhat averted with Laura Dern, who was about 18 around the time it was filmed.
Played With in Matchstick Men. Alison Lohman plays an adolescent girl a number of years younger than her actual age, but it turns out that she's actually a lot older than she had claimed. Lohman played a teenaged girl in Flicka when she was 25.
Mean Girls had 25-year-old Rachel McAdams and 21-year-old Lacey Chabert and Lizzy Caplan playing High School Juniors. On the other hand, Amanda Seyfried and Lindsay Lohan, both also playing 16-year-olds, were 18 years old and 17 years old respectively. Amy Poehler, who played McAdams' character's mother, is only six years older than she is. In the sequel, the principal cast who played Jo, Mandi, Hope, Chastity, and their boyfriends… all in their 20s. The exception would be the actress who plays Abby, Jennifer Stone, was 18. However, this is still part of the trope in that they show a flashback to Jennifer Stone playing Abby in junior high when Abby was around 13 years old.
Melody (S.W.A.L.K.) - Jack Wild plays a character of 12-13, almost completely believably, despite being 17 at the time of filming. Wild was notoriously young-looking throughout his teens, and played another 13 year old in Flight of the Doves the same year.
Men In Black 3 — Agent J travels from 2012 to 1969, 43 years into the past. He wakes up and sees a young Agent K, played by Josh Brolin. Brolin is only 21 years and 5 months younger than Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the older Agent K.
The casting of Moonstruck is all over the place in terms of age. Cher was a 42-year-old playing a 37-year-old (not a stretch). Danny Aiello was 54, playing a 42-year-old. Nicolas Cage was just 23, and although the age of his character is never mentioned outright in the film, the plot (involving his romance with Cher's character) just wouldn't make much sense unless we assume he's significantly older, at least mid-30ish.
In the movie adaptation of Mortal Instruments, the main protagonists Clary (15) and Jace (17) are being played by Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower, both of whom are 23. Isabelle (16) and Simon (also 16) are being portrayed by 24-year-old actors Jemima West and Robert Sheehan, while Alec (18) is being played by 27-year-old Kevin Zegers. To make matters even more mind-boggling, the character of Luke (who is pushing forty, and acts as a surrogate father to the kids) is being played by the 28-year-oldAidan Turner.
Mr. Holland's Opus — Rowena, the high school senior who tempts Mr. Holland because she's intellectually mature and looks older than her years? She looks mature for her age because she was played by 23-year-old Jean Louisa Kelly. The baby-faced 13-year-old freshman clarinet player who later becomes governor? Played by 20-year-old Alicia Witt.
Tim Roth played a 19-year-old serial killer in a TV movie ''Murder in the Heartland". He was 33 when it aired. Being short and thin probably helped but couldn't fully cover the age difference.
To an extent in Mystery Team. Granted, the characters are 18, so it's far less noticeable.
In Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin, 23-year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a teenager.
In the 2007 movie The Namesake, based on the book by Jhumpa Lahiri, Kal Penn is Gogol/Nikhil in high school (as well as throughout his life). Kal Penn is 32, and he is only 7 years younger than the actress playing his mother (Tabu). Also, Moushumi Mazumdar is played by Zuleikha Robinson when Moushumi is in high school and in her 30s, but Robinson seems to pull it off better.
Sacha Guitry's Napoleon has this and the inverse with the titular character. 33-year-old Daniel Gélin plays Bonaparte from his mid-teens to his early 30s, at which point 29-year-old Raymond Pellegrin takes over, that is, from Napoleon's 30s to his death in his 50s.
Another example involving Napoleon is in Abel Gance's movie: Albert Dieudonné is 38 and plays Bonaparte in his early to mid 20s.
In Napoleon Dynamite, 26-year old Jon Heder, 30-year old Efren Ramirez, and 25-year old Trevor Snarr all played high school students. Most of the other cast members were teenagers, though.
National Lampoon's Joy of Sex (1984) 22-year-old Michelle Meyrink and 25-year-old Cameron Dye as teens.
In Never Been Kissed. Drew Barrymore plays a 25-year-old who is pretending to be a high school student, and no one thinks she looks too old. In real life, Barrymore was 23 for the duration of filming. David Arquette, who plays her younger brother, is actually four years older than her. Averted with at least two of her fellow students — Leelee Sobieski and Jessica Alba were 15 and 17 respectively when the film was made.
The Neverending Story: The Childlike Empress, immortal and described in the book as looking no more than 10 years of age, is played by 21-year-old Julie Cox in the 3rd movie, and Ms. Cox is credited as "The Empress."
The New Guy — 22-year-old Eliza Dushku and 24-year-old DJ Qualls as teens.
Nowhere (1996) by Gregg Araki — Mena Suvari and Joshua Gibran Mayweather were both teens, but the rest were between 20 and 40 years old.
The Other Sister — 26-year-old Juliette Lewis as 18-year-old Carla Tate.
The 1983 film version of SE Hinton's The Outsiders cast a then 31-year-old Patrick Swayze to play the protagonist's 18-year-old elder brother.
Sometimes the whole point of a character is that it is a child being played by an adult:
Pee-wee Herman is an ambiguous man-child who is always referred to as a "boy" but is played by the obviously adult Paul Reubens. In the live Pee-wee Herman Show performed with the Groundlings, as well as Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Pee-wee has a number of friends who are also adults playing children.
In Clifford, the 43-year-old Martin Short plays the 10-year-old Clifford. Forced perspective, body doubles, and oversized props serve to make the character look child-sized.
Earlier on SCTV, Short played a TV child star whose show ran on for decades, necessitating oversized props and playing against huge football players.
In Peggy Sue Got Married 32-year-old Kathleen Turner plays 40-year-old Peggy Sue. So far, so good. Peggy Sue is then transported back to her senior year of high school, and Turner also plays the 18-year-old version of Peggy Sue.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians had the titular character's sidekicks fall under this even after bumping their age up from the novels. In the book, Annabeth is 13, while in the movie she's 16, and actress Alexandria Daddario was 24 at the time of filming. Similarly, Brandon T. Jackson was 25 also playing a high schooler. This is even more jarring considering that in their most prominent roles coming into the film, they were already playing adults: Daddario in White Collar and Jackson in Tropic Thunder. This trope will be very present in the sequel, which was filmed three years later with the same leads.
Justified in Grover's case, as he is said to look older than the others (he has a goatee in the first book already) and is in fact 24, although since satyrs age half as fast as humans, he is the equivalent of a human 12-year-old.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the story of a shy 13-year-old high school freshman being befriended by a bunch of 17-year-old seniors. Given how implausible this is, Dawson Casting actually makes the story more believable.
In Pitch Perfect, about college a cappella groups, the characters are supposed to be college age, from 18 to 22. However, most of the cast was 25 and older. In fact, Anna Camp (Aubrey) was 30.
In the 1920 silent film Pollyanna, 27-year-old Mary Pickford plays a 12-year-old girl.
Pickford was famous during much of her career for playing child characters: cf. The Poor Little Rich Girl, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Through the Back Door, and Little Lord Fauntleroy (in which she played a 10-year-old boy).
Famous for pulling it off, too. In Sparrows, she is 34, but she plays a young teenager. Her co-stars for most of the film are children ranging from about age six to age 10, so if she were obviously much older, it would show up in contrast to the real children, but it doesn't.
In Poltergeist, Dominique Dunne was 23, playing 16-year-old Dana.
Porky's, probably the prototypical teen sex farce, featured an entire cast over 20 playing high school students, so that it could actually show nudity.
This trope is constantly invoked in porno films: Any actress that qualifies as flat chested is usually cast as a "teenager", even if they've looked like they've popped a couple of kids or have been traveling the strip club circuit for a bit too long. Infamous director Max Hardcore made a cottage industry of hiring short/flat chested actresses, dressing them in toddler clothes, and filming the scenes as if he were making some sort of underground child porn video.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes — 35-year-old Stacy Chbosky as 19-year-old Cheryl Dempsey. Cheryl is the Final Girl of the film, and her age is carefully handled in that the view of Cheryl at the beginning is shown only through the shaky, grainy, damaged footage of the killer's Jitter Cam, so she's hard to see. After a few dark, far-away shots, Cheryl/Stacy wears a mask for 8 years before we see her face again, which is probably aged from stress and malnutrition, plus that Chbosky looks sort of young for 35.
In Precious 16-year-old Precious Jones is played by 26-year-old Gabourey Sidibe. Not quite that obvious because of the way she was dressed and the fact that Sidibe does not look her age.
Richard Wilson was 21 when he played Mikey in The Proposition, who is implied to be about 14.
Johnny Depp was 46 when he starred as John Dillinger in Public Enemies. The real John Dillinger was killed at the ripe old age of 31.
20-year-old Sally Thomsett played 11-year-old Phyllis in The Railway Children, and was forbidden by contract to reveal her age during the making of the film.
The 1956 film adaptation of the stage play The Rainmaker featured a 49-year old Katharine Hepburn playing a woman who is supposedly only in her late 20s or early 30s yet is considered undesirable because she is "plain" (often delivered with a viciousness suggesting that what the other characters really mean is ugly — even though it's Katharine Hepburn, even a middle aged Katharine Hepburn) and thus doomed to never start a family of her own (and technically Hepburn was too old to have kids safely by that point in real life). This is blatantly, almost laughably obvious in the scenes with her family, where she is clearly old enough to be the wife of the actor playing her father and clearly older than Lloyd Bridges, who played her "big brother" and just makes her performance feel bizarre rather than sympathetic as she tries to play a part she was clearly too old for.
The original Red Dawn (1984): Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze are cast as teenage brothers. Sheen was 18 at the time, but Swayze was 29!
In the 1986 Girls Behind Bars parody flick Reform School Girls, Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics plays a character ostensibly a teen despite being an undisguised 36.
La Reine Margot stars Isabelle Adjani and Daniel Auteuil, who were 40 when they played a queen and king who were historically 19. Auteuil shows his age, but many have expressed surprise that Adjani was any older than her twenties.
In Remember the Titans, most of the actors playing the 16- to 18-year-old high school football players were well into their twenties, and Wood Harris was 31, a year older than the actress who played the wife of Denzel Washington. However, Ryan Gosling as one of the players was about 19 and Kate Bosworth as the girlfriend of one of the players was 17.
Riding In Cars With Boys features 26-year-old Drew Barrymore as 15-year-old Beverly. Beverly's best friend is played by 24-year-old Brittany Murphy, Beverly's boyfriend is played by 34-year-old Steve Zahn. The movie spans from when teen Beverly gives birth to a baby boy named Jason, until Jason grows up to be a teenager himself, played by 28-year-old Adam Garcia.
George Mather was 42 when he portrayed 22-year-old college student Lewis B. Moffet in Ring of Terror. Most of the cast catches grief from Joel and the bots for looking too old for their roles.
In Rob B Hood, Jackie Chan, who was 52 years old in 2006, nevertheless plays a professional burglar with family problems who ends up having to care for a baby for several days. He engages in his usual acrobatic and martial arts stunts alongside his co-star Louis Koo, who plays Chan's character's partner-in-crime, who is 16 years younger than Chan.
In Rock 'n' Roll High School, almost all the "teen" actors are, at the youngest, in their mid twenties. (An exception was Loren Lester, who was actually of high-school age during the time of filming.) The main character, Riff, was played by 29-year-old P.J. Soles. The sequel Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever also features a teen cast of twenty somethings.
Romeo and Juliet: Juliet is explicitly said to be 13, and Romeo is repeatedly called a "youth," so he's probably not much older. Mercutio is a good friend, so he's probably a comparable age to Romeo. Examples of noticeably older actors taking the roles:
Leslie Howard, at 43, played Romeo in a 1936 version and Juliet was played by 34-year-old Norma Shearer). Even more geriatric was John Barrymore, Sr. as Mercutio, who was fifty-four at the time.
At the time of filming of the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were 15 and 17 respectively. This was considered a radical innovation at the time, and much of the film's success was due to the stars' very believable youthful passion. Ironically Olivia Hussey wasn't allowed to attend the debut of the film because the film had nudity and she was too young. It was her own nudity that she was prevented from seeing.
The Room: Denny, the youngest character in the movie (who is said to be starting college, but it's never made clear), was played by Philip Haldiman, one of the oldest members of the cast.
The Roommate is pretty bad. Minka Kelly, born in 1980 and Leighton Meester, born in 1986, play college freshmen. Freshmen born during the setting of this film would have been born in 1992.
Used distractingly in Running With Scissors, in which the audience is expected to believe that 20-year-old Joseph Cross is Augusten Burroughs at as young an age as about 13. Evan Rachel Wood's character is supposed to be of a similar age, and she's no more convincing. Considering that neither of them look nor act at all like middle schoolers, what age they're supposed to be is straight-up confusing — and then surprising, once Augusten is stated late in the film to be fourteen.
Save The Last Dance: the leading male was in his 30s playing a high-school senior (somewhat convincingly.)
Parodied in Scary Movie. In a "If this were a movie" conversation, one character says "We'd be played by actors in their late 20s/early 30s". The characters then pause for a moment, letting the phrase sink in.
A minor example from School of Rock: while all the kids were around the right age (Miranda Cosgrove was only 9), Kevin Clark, who plays Freddie Jones, was pushing 14 — as his husky, cracking voice leads the viewer to suspect.
Scott Pilgrim plays this trope straight with Knives Chau (17) and Stacie Pilgrim (19), both are played by actresses who are (or almost) 25. Making both older than Michael Cera, who is 22. note Scott's given age is reduced from the Graphic Novel's 23, probably to match Cera's age. Or to make his relationship with Knives less sketchy. "Young" Neil (20) is a borderline case; his actor is nearly 24. The rest of the cast largely averts this, if their ages are known.
The first film in the Scream series stars an entire cast of mid-20s actors playing 17-year-old students. Neve Campbell and Rose McGowan at 23, Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard at 26 (older than David Arquette, who plays the 25-year-old Dewey) Drew Barrymore being closest to her characters age at 21 years old. Although considering the satiric nature of the film this was probably intentional.
The first sequel continues this with Elise Neal as a college student, playing a contemporary of Neve Campbell at the age of 31. The third sequel has a rare aversion with Emma Roberts (who though 20 by the time of its release was 19 during filming), although played straight with Hayden Panettiere (who celebrated her 21st birthday during filming — though she averts this trope elsewhere on this page) and the rest of the cast.
Both inverted and played straight in Scrooge, where both the elder Scrooge and his young self were played by Albert Finney, then in his early 30s.
In Sin City 24-year-old Jessica Alba (who otherwise generally avoids this trope) played 19-year-old Nancy Callahan.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit: Nuns help some wayward youths, and while most of the youths avert this trope, there's still a couple of 20-something-year-old teens played by Devin Kamin and Ron Johnson.
Slaughter High, a slasher movie from 1986, is about a group of high schoolers (probably seniors, supposedly 17 or 18) whose prank on a nerd goes bad. Cut to a supposed high school reunion where they get picked off one by one. The usual high school reunion is 10 years later (supposedly when they're 27 or 28). One would think that they'd find actors at the halfway point, maybe 22 years of age. Instead, they have Frank, played by 29-year-old Billy Hartman; Marty, played by 30-year-old Simon Scuddamore; and Carol, played by 37-year-old Caroline Munro... more like second high school reunion, Am I Right?
Mostly averted in the original Sleepaway Camp, but for the rest of the series, some of the teens are pre-teens, some of the teens are teens, some are teens are 20-something, and one is undercover: Angela is pretending to be a teen camper in Teenage Wasteland, and making up various excuses for why she looks old. Some of the excuses are funny, such as mentioning the fluoride in her drinking water, and some are sad, such as when a guy says that she doesn't look like a teen, she must have had a hard life, to which she agrees.
The trope comes into play in Sleepers when the narrative jumps from 1967 to 1983. Nobody besides the four boys is played by a different actor and no effort was made to make the other actors appear older.
In Space Camp, the teenage members of the Blue Team were all in their low- to mid-20s. During filming, Lea Thompson and Larry B. Scott were both 24. Tate Donovan was 23, and Kelly Preston was 22. Averted with Joaquin (Leaf) Phoenix; he was only 10, and likely younger than the character he was playing.
In Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire and James Franco were about 26 and 23, respectively, playing high school seniors.
Cliff Robertson, who played Uncle Ben, was nearly 80 at the time of the first film. Rosemary Harris, who played Aunt May, was 75 in the first film and 80 by the third film. While it's never said exactly how old they are supposed to be, it seems unlikely that they would be around 60 years older than Peter, their nephew.
Catherine Tate plays Brian's Mom, despite being just 11 years older than Brian actor James Mcavoy.
In the 2009 Star Trek, most of the cast is semi-plausibly close to the ages of recent Starfleet Academy graduates. However, John Cho is 37 years old, playing the 21-year-old Sulu. Karl Urban is also 37, though he's closer to his character's official age of 30. And Zoe Saldana (Uhura) is 31.
Inverted in The Suburbans, about a One-Hit Wonder group from the early 1980s aiming for a comeback in the late 1990s with the help of a young record company executive — who turns out to have been a huge (and their only remaining real) fan of the band since she was seven. The executive is played by Jennifer Love Hewitt, who was 19 at the time — and who would have been two years old at the time of their hit. Produced by J. J. Abrams, which explains a lot.
The casting of the title role in 1984's Supergirl isn't too bad by the usual standards of this trope; Helen Slater was 20 at the time, playing a high school age girl. But her roommate Lucy Lane? Actress Maureen Teefy was 31 at the time the movie was made!
The Saturday Night Live movie Superstar had high school students who were mostly in their 20s. Leading roles go to Elaine Hendrix, 29, Will Ferrell, 32, and Molly Shannon, 35. Apparently, that was supposed to add to the humor.
Played with in Suspiria: For his horror classic, Dario Argento wanted to have the students of the girls' boarding school to be prepubescent to increase the emotional impact and play into the dark fairy tale theme. His producers nixed the idea because of the difficulties of hiring and working with so many child actors on such a project. Argento compensated by having all the students (played by actresses in their 20s) behave immaturely and building sets that made them look small.
Take Me Home Tonight is about a group of characters in their early twenties but much of the cast is ten years (or more) older. Anna Faris and Dan Fogler in particular were both 34 playing fresh university graduates. The difference in appearance between them and those characters who are played by actors in their early/mid twenties is quite jarring.
In Taken, the 25-year-old Maggie Grace's character is repeatedly stated to be 17, not old enough to leave the country without both parents' permission. Oddly enough, the character's friend is pointedly stated to be two years older than her, though the actress Katie Cassidy is three years her junior. But amazingly enough Liam Neeson, who plays the father of Maggie's character, actually IS old enough to be her father in real life (born in 1952 Neeson would have been 29 when Maggie was born).
Teen Wolf — 24-year-old Michael J. Fox as Scott, 27-year-old Mark Holton as Chubby, 28-year-old Mark Arnold as Mick, 28-year-old Susan Ursitti as Boof, 28-year-old Jerry Levine as Stiles.
Teenage Caveman. Robert Vaughn was only 26 when playing the titular character, but looked older due to the brylcreem (which somehow survived the apocalypse).
In Teeth, then-26-year-old Jess Weixler plays the teenaged Dawn O'Keefe.
Terminator Linda Hamilton was 28 in the first film, playing 19-year-old Sarah Connor. In T2, she was 35 and the character was 29. John was a strange case. At the beginning of T2, the police computer shows John's DOB as 1985, and his age as 10 (making the setting of the movie 1995). Edward Furlong was 13 at the time. In the third film, they establish John's age as about 13 when he stopped attending school, subverting the trope but setting the second film two years later. Interestingly, perhaps noticing that Linda Hamilton was clearly not a teenager in the original film, the opening narration of T3 retcons Sarah's age saying she was 23 years old when the Terminator attacked her in the first film.
Audie Murphy played himself from his late teens to early twenties in To Hell and Back, made ten years later. It wasn't too bad, as he remained quite young-looking as well as short.
The 2013 teen sex comedy The To Do List prudently uses this. Sexually curious high school valedictorian is played by 29 year old Aubrey Plaza. In fact the youngest actor playing a major role is 24 year old Alia Shawkat.
19-year-old Summer Bishil played a 13-year-old in Towelhead. This is somewhat lampshaded by a line even featured in the trailer in when hearing her age a character responds "You look older." There is no way such a young actress would ever be cast in a movie with its sexual content.
True Grit 1969 has 21-year-old Kim Darby playing 14-year-old Mattie Ross.
Alexis Bledel was 21 years old when she played 15-year-old Winnie in Tuck Everlasting (the character had already been aged from a child to a teen in order to accommodate her.) At 29 she played a teenager in Violet & Daisy and was thirteen years older than her actually teenage co-star Saoirse Ronan.
Parodied and played straight in 21 Jump Street. Many of the characters who are actually in high school were played by actors in their twenties, while Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum played police officers in their twenties who were going undercover as high schoolers. Tatum in particular was really pushing it—this is of course lampshaded.
Parodied and lampshaded even harder in the sequel, 22 Jump Street, when they try to pass off as college students. Nobody believes them, and the other students assume they're just creepy older guys trying to act cool and young.
In the film Unfaithful, while a specific age is not given, we are led to believe that Oliver Martinez' character is much younger than Diane Lane (37 at the time of filming). Her husband is shocked at how young he is when he encounters him, and later blasts his cheating wife—"you threw our life away for some f—king KID!". However, Martinez is only a year younger than Lane.
Parodied in Walk Hard, where the 14-year-old version of Dewey Cox is played by 42-year-old John C. Reilly, and his 12-year-old child bride Edith is played by 34-year-old Kristen Wiig. The other students in the scene are a grab bag of realistic and hilariously inappropriate age. This scene was intentionally made even sillier by the fact that it is immediately preceded by 8-year-old Dewey being played by actual 8-year-old Conner Rayburn.
In Warlock, a 30-year-old Lori Singer played a 20-year-old character.
Wet Hot American Summer has hilariously age inappropriate actors including Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd playing high school aged camp counselors. I believe it was intentional.
A prequel is in the works, and the entire cast will be returning to play younger versions of themselves.
Lampshaded in What's New Pussycat? as flashbacks depict Peter O'Toole's pivotal experiences with women in grade school, high school, and college, all with O'Toole in character (his twelve-year-old self in school uniform looking very Angus Young).
In the 1954 White Christmas, 32-year-old Vera Ellen plays Judy Haynes; Judy's age is never expressly given, but based on comments made by other characters (she is repeatedly called "kid" and "little Judy"), that she orders a malted when the others order alcohol, and that 25-year-old Rosemary Clooney plays her older sister Betty, it appears that she's supposed to be about 19.
Willow inverts the trope by featuring then-17-year-old Warwick Davis as a father of two who must be in his 30s at least.
The movie version of The Wiz has 33-year-old Diana Ross managed to get herself cast as Dorothy, pushing out 20-year-old Stephanie Mills (who was the stage Dorothy) in the process.
16-year-old Judy Garland was cast as the 11-year-old Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (indeed, most people who haven't read the books don't realize Dorothy isn't supposed to be a teenager). Legend has it the studio forced her to wear a tight band around her breasts to make them less noticeable during the filming, among the many other nasty things they did to her and other actors of the day. Meanwhile, Billie Burke played the beautiful Glinda at the age of almost 60. She was old enough to be the mother of Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West), several years older than Frank Morgan (the Wizard) and just four years younger than Clara Blandick, who played the elderly Auntie Em.
In The Film of the Book of The World According To Garp, Garp is played from age 15 and up by then-30-year-old Robin Williams, while Glenn Close (herself only 4 years older than him) played his mother.
In the live-action movie version of Yatterman, 13-year-old Gan Takada is portrayed by 27-year-old Shou Sakurai. The actress playing Doronjo is actually younger than Sakurai. In the anime, Doronjo is clearly much older than Gan.
Yentl, with a 40-year-old Barbra Streisand in the title role. In the original short story by I.B. Singer, Yentl seems to be younger than 20, although Streisand made the character 28 years old in the movie. Interesting in that the plot revolves around the main character disguising herself as a young man to study in a yeshiva, which when done by a 40-year-old woman stretches the imagination a bit. Then again, so does Streisand's Brooklyn accent in a movie set in Poland around the turn of the century. (The MAD satire "Mentl" summed it up perfectly by having her disguise be seen through by a blind man!) Mandy Patinkin was 30; his character Avigdor's age is never given, but he's young enough to be eagerly awaiting his wedding night.
The 1936 Yiddish musical Yidl Mitn Fidl (Yidl With His Fiddle) stars the Yiddish stage icon Molly Picon, who was about 37, as a teenage girl (who poses as a boy, then falls in love).
Your Highness — 40-year-old Justin Theroux plays 19-year-old Leezar. 31-year-old Zooey Deschanel as Belladonna. Leezar remembers Belladonna when she was a baby, making her years younger than him. Assumingly played for laughs.
Yours Mine And Ours has Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda playing expectant parents, at the ages of 57 and 63.
The Langoliers, from 1995. Kimber Riddle, born 1966, as rebellious Bethany Simms. Christopher Collet, born 1968, as nerdy Albert "Ace" Kaussner. Both kids played by people in their late 20s.
Pirates of Silicon Valley — 27-year-old Noah Wyle and 31-year-old Anthony Michael Hall as teenaged Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Inverted in Into The Storm. Brendan Gleeson is far younger than Winston Churchill was, so the makeup team had to age him up a bit.
Searching For Sonny is about a ten-year reunion, but all the actors play both their present-day selves and the flashbacks to their high school days. Masi Oka, who plays title character Sonny, was 37 at the time of filming and managed to pass for both 28 and a teenager.
Elvis and Me starts off with explicitly-stated 14-year-old Priscilla, portrayed by 25-year-old Susan Walters.
The Babe Ruth Story, 42-year-old William Bendix (and he looked every day of it) plays the Babe starting at age 18.
The 10th Kingdom — 23-year-old Lucy Punch as a girl experiencing her 18th birthday.
Just the Ten of Us — Teen characters Marie and Connie were played by 24-year-old Heather Langenkamp and 25-year-old JoAnn Willette.
This trope is subverted in 21 Jump Street, where the main characters are clearly identified as adults, but they are assigned to this undercover unit because they all look young enough to pass as teens, though many of the non-cops play this trope straight.
Chiara Zanni, who plays the main character "Amy" on The N show About A Girl, was 29 years old during filming, yet she plays a supposedly "young college student."
In the British comedy Absolutely Fabulous, 16-year-old Saffron is played by 24-year-old Julia Sawalha. Also somewhat inverted with her mother Edina; in an episode dealing with Edina's 40th birthday, actress (and writer) Jennifer Saunders was only 34.
Julia Sawalha does genuinely look 16, though. Does it fit the trope if the actor genuinely does look like a teenager?
When the series picked up after a break, Sawalha's age was beginning to catch up with her, and she looked closer to her real age than to Saffy's age. There is a joke, when another character looks at her passport and says she can't believe Saffy is that young, she looks older. Saffy makes a sarcastic comment with a look at her mother, that stress ages a person.
This was heavily Lampshaded in a French and Saunders sketch where Sawalha also appeared as Saunders's daughter and claimed that, at 42 (much older than she really was), she was getting too old for it.
31-year-old Gerard Christopher was cast as the title character in the live-action Superboy series which ran from 1988-1992. Superboy/Clark Kent was supposed to be a 19- or 20-year-old college sophomore at the time.
On the Soap OperaAll My Children, Sarah Michelle Gellar first appeared on the show at the real-life age of 15 in 1993 as the main character Erica Kane's previously-unknown teenaged daughter, Kendall Hart. Since Susan Lucci, the actress who portrays Erica, had been on the show since it first aired in 1970 and the show had claimed Kendall was conceived when Erica was raped as a teenager, Gellar's character was rapidly aged from 16 to 23 years old several months after the character's debut. For two years, a teenaged Gellar played a character in her early twenties and nobody really bought it but just wrote it off as Willing Suspension of Disbelief. After Gellar left and Kendall's character was brought with a recast 6.5 years later, the character's birth year was reverted back to her original birth year, making her a 16-year old girl again in 1993.
American Horror Story: Murder House - 24-year-old Evan Peters as Tate, a high school student. The five classmates that are shown are played by people in their early 20s, as well. Among the girls who bullied Violet are 32-year old Bianca Lawson. The only teens on the show who aren't portrayed by someone over the age of 20 are Violet and Leah, portrayed by 17-year-old Taissa Farmiga and 19-year-old Shelby Young.
The Beverly Hillbillies: One early episode states that Elly May is "almost eighteen". Donna Douglas was 29 at the time. Even more egregiously, her love interest in the episode, college-age Sonny Drysdale, was played by 49-year-old (and looked it) Louis Nye.
Beverly Hills 90210 is well-known for this sort of thing, but believe it or not, quite a few of the cast members were actual teenagers. Of course, some of the core cast of high school juniors (ages 15-16) were well into their twenties: Luke Perry (25), Ian Ziering (26), and, most famously, Gabrielle Carteris, who was 29. Series star Jason Priestley was comparatively young at 21. Still, these examples alone are so egregious, coupled with the fact that 90210 predates the Trope Namer by several years, that it is also called "90210 Syndrome".
This trope is played ridiculously straight on the reboot 90210. The youngest cast members were 19 when the series started, and the rest range from their early twenties to Trevor Donovon who was 30 when he began his stint. Honorable mentions are Michael Steger (28 at the beginning) and Matt Lanter (25 at the beginning). What's even crazier is that those three "teens" are all older than actor Ryan Eggold who plays the English lit. teacher!
Parodied in The Simpsons episode, "Marge Vs. The Monorail" in reference to "Springfield Heights 90210" star, the Luke Perry-esque Kyle Darren:
"Let's have a warm welcome for the stars of the popular teen soap opera, Springfield Heights 90210! He's cool, he's sexy, he's 34 years old! Say hello to Kyle Darren!" (Darren smiles, excessive wrinkles show on his face)
On Big Time Rush, Carlos Pena (21), Logan Henderson (21), James Maslow (20) and Kendall Schmidt (20) play 16-year-olds. It sort of works out, though, because of their rather boyish yet still mature good looks and their mid-pitched voices. Kendall and Carlos could pass as a bit older, though.
Gerard Campion, the star of the long-running BBC series about Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School (Bunter was in the fourth form), was 29 when he began playing the role. It lasted for close to a decade...
Trina McGee started playing high school senior Angela Moore on Boy Meets World at age 28; this is really glaring because every other major cast member was more-or-less age-appropriate.
The Creek was not the worst offender. That title might well go to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the tenth-graders (16-year-olds) were played by Nicholas Brendon as Xander (25), Alyson Hannigan as Willow (22) and Charisma Carpenter (26, making Carpenter the same age as her teacher played by Robia LaMorte. Possibly lampshaded when Wesley first meets her and mistakes her for a teacher. The Running Gag surrounding the supposed inappropriate nature of Wesley's attraction to Cordelia is also rather ruined by the fact that Alexis Denisof (Wesley) was 33 while Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) was 29.) On the show's spinoff, Angel, the role of Angel's 16-year-old son Connor was portrayed by then-22-year-old Vincent Kartheiser. Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was 19 when she began playing a 16-year-old Buffy, was the only one of the leads who was actually (just about) a teenager at the time of her casting. Flash forward to Season 2, when there's an extended flashback to when Buffy is 15, played by 21-year-old S.M.G.
It got a little better in later seasons when they started making the seasonal timelines and lapses much longer in order to accommodate for the actors' and actresses' increasing ages. Instead of keeping them in high school, Buffy and the Scooby Gang are graduated and attending college by the end of Season 3, and Season 5 begins with most of them in their early to mid-twenties, joining the workforce, and facing the Real Life problems and responsibilities that come with being full-fledged adults.
Senta Moses is an actress who is very short and has very curly hair... which contributed to her playing a 17-year-old at age 27 on the show Bull. She wasn't alone on this part, however: Her 16-year-old brother was played by 25-year-old Fred Koehler.
Similarly, she played a 16-year-old computer genius in an episode of Vengeance Unlimited two years earlier (at 25).
And in 2009, at 35, she's playing an apparently early 20-something computer tech on General Hospital.
The plot of Caprica revolves partially around two 16-year-old girls. Of the actresses who play them, one was 21. The other was 23.
In Code Lyoko Evolution, Quentin Merabet, Mélanie Tran, and Diego Mestanza, who play Ulrich, Yumi, and William, all characters in their early-to-mid teens, are 21, 20, and 19, respectively. This is made all the stranger by the fact that the rest of the main characters avert Dawson Casting — Gulliver Beverenage, who plays Ulrich's best friend Odd, is 14.
Cold Case — In the episode "Love Conquers Al," then-22-year-old Summer Glau plays a teen athlete.
In the first season, Annie is explicitly stated to be 18, but Alison Brie was three months and change shy of 27 when the first episode aired. Troy, who was in the same high school classes as Annie and in the second season is also revealed to be a year older, is played by Donald Glover, who is nine months younger than Brie. The real kicker is the fact that Gillian Jacobs, who is all of 78 days older than Brie, plays a character who's close to ten years older than Troy and Annie.
It's vague how old Abed is (around the same age as Troy), but Danny Pudi was 30 while filming most of the first season.
The CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "Neverland" heavily featured three fourteen-year-old characters. Two were played by actual kids of that age (one from Heroes). The last was played by an actor who's 18.
In CSI: NY "Grounds for Deception", Stella Bonasera is revealed to have been born in 1975, making her character 35. Melina Kanakaredes who portrays Bonasera is currently 42.
In Dad's Army, 17-year-old Frank Pike was played by Ian Lavender, who was 22 years old when the series started and 31 when it ended, while Pike had not aged.
Also inverted. The oldest members of the cast were Arnold Ridley (Charles Godfrey) and John Laurie (James Frazer), both into their seventies as the programme started, while 70-year-old L/Cpl. Jack Jones (having served in the Mahdist War, the Boer Wars and World War I) was played by Clive Dunn, 48.
The 1998 Made-for-TV Movie of David And Lisa has Lukas Haas (22 at the time) and Brittany Murphy (21) as the title teens (which is nowhere near as extreme as the 1962 cinema version elsewhere on this page).
Back to the trope namer, Dawson's Creek: Much worse than Dawson's leads were the actors introduced later on: Kerr Smith (26) and Meredith Monroe (29) playing siblings (and high school sophomores) Jack and Andie McPhee starting in Season 2. Worse considering that Andie was likely the younger sibling.
On the behind-the-scenes parts of the Series Finale movie, James Van Der Beek was amused that it was the first time he and Dawson were the same age (because there was a five-year time skip from the last episode to the movie).
A five year Time Skip between the fourth and fifth seasons of Desperate Housewives has led to this trope being inverted for several of the characters: 23-year-old Danielle Van de Kamp and 24-year-old Julie Mayer are now several years older than the actresses playing them (19-year-old Joy Lauren and 18-year-old Andrea Bowen).
23-year-old Carole Ann Ford as 15-year-old Susan Foreman (though she is a Time Lord). A woman in one episode is said to be "only a few years older" than Susan. Her actress was in fact two years younger than Ms. Ford.
In one First Doctor story, The Aztecs, we get a reverse-Dawson in Cameca. We find her in basically a retirement village; minimum age to live there is at least 51 and they are often consulted for their wisdom. We don't get a number, but as the first girl-of-the-week to fall in love with the Doctor, and the Doctor being the grandfatherly William Hartnell version, she is probably not intended to be a new arrival on her 51st birthday. Actress' age: 29. (No, she's not secretly a Time Lord.)
21-year-old Maureen O'Brien as 15- to 16-year-old Vicki.note Her exact age isn't given, but in "The Myth Makers" she says a 16-year-old character is 'hardly any older than me'.
25-year-old Jackie Lane as 18-year-old Dodo Chaplet.
21-year-old Wendy Padbury as 15-year-old Zoe Heriot (just to add to the confusion, according to The Brigadier she looks "about 19").
And again at the age of 27 in the stage adaptation "Seven Keys To Doomsday", she played 17- to 18-year-old Jenny Wilson.
23-year-old Mark Strickson as Turlough. This one is perhaps less egregious, as Turlough was actually an alien of indeterminate age, but he was posing as a human boy in boarding school, and did not look young enough at all. For that matter, neither did most of his classmates.
The new series two-parter The Doctor Dances/The Empty Child has a subversion. Nancy, played by 21-year-old Florence Hoath, appears to be about 16, having a 5-year-old "little brother" and helping out a band of homeless children. The Doctor realizes she is actually about twenty, old enough to be the boy's mummy.
The ultimate inversion, however, in the case of the Doctor. As pointed out in numerous interviews with the writers and actors in 2013, whether it's 55-plus William Hartnell or Peter Capaldi playing the role, or 20-something Peter Davison or Matt Smith, they're still hundreds, if not thousands of years younger than the character.
Of course, even within that, Doctors are sometimes played 'younger'. For one example, 40-year-old Tom Baker was supposed to appear to be in his early 30s, and started out dressed in a costume intended to resemble a university student in order to exaggerate his apparent youth (which soon got switched out for more mature Awesome Anachronistic Apparel as both he and the character aged). Expanded Universe books tend to describe him as appearing to be in his thirties, which is rather generous towards the end of his tenure — Chris in the "Shada" novelisation struggles to accept the idea of the Doctor being "any older than forty", causing Romana to observe that he's 760. For another example, Matt Smith was 27 when he started playing the role, but is described by other characters to look about 18 or 19, with his first outfit based on Hipster fashion. River even describes him to Amy as resembling a twelve-year-old, but she was exaggerating for tragicomic effect.
Downton Abbey starts out by doing this; for example, Lady Sybil is 16 at the time the show begins, but played by the 21-year-old Jessica Brown Findlay. Since the show's time progresses considerably faster than real time, this doesn't last; by the end of season 2, Sybil has actually passed Findlay's real age.
Parodied in an episode where Joey tries to play a 19-year-old, but he is absolutely unconvincing.
Joey: Come on, am I 19 or what?
Chandler: Yes, on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the dumbest a person can look, you are definitely 19.
Also played straight, as every flashback to (and video evidence from) Ross, Monica, and Rachel's high school days featured the regular actors playing themselves at 18, with very little attempt to disguise it.
All the older teenage characters in the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones, such as Jon Snow, Danaerys Targaryen, Robb Stark, Samwell Tarly, Theon Greyjoy, Loras Tyrell, Gendry and for Season Two Margaery Tyrell, as played by Natalie Dormer. The characters are all between 15 and 20 (aged up roughly two years from the books), the actors between 23 and 29.
Peter Dinklage (mid 40s) playing Tyrion Lannister (early 20s) is a rather extreme example, even though the character is out of his teens. Justified, as casting a dwarf in a serious drama is rather difficult. This should also become an issue as the actors who play the younger children, such as Arya Stark, who are now relatively close in age to their characters, grow up.
Tyrion's case can become Fridge Brilliance: the character is described in the books as being horribly ugly as well as a dwarf, and while Dinklage is quite good-looking, it can be inferred that Tyrion's ugliness is actually looking much older than he is.
Lampshaded(?) on Gidget. 15-year-old Gidget (played by 19-year-old Sally Field) fails to convince a job interviewer that she's 19.
At 26 years old Keiko Agena played the then 15- or 16-year-old character Lane Kim in Gilmore Girls.
Milo Ventimiglia was 25 when he started playing 17-year-old Jess.
Glee is extremely guilty of this with most of their cast being High School characters. The youngest member of the original "teen" cast is the now 23-year-old Chris Colfer (who was 18 when he was cast) playing a now college freshman with the oldest being 31-year-olds Cory Monteith and Mark Salling playing 19-year-olds.
Justified/Lampshaded with at least one member of the rival glee club, Vocal Adrenaline, who is a 24-year-old "6th year senior" who has been repeatedly flunked because he's the only one who can do a particular dance move.
Of the season 4 additions to the cast, 20 year old Blake Jenner is now playing high school sophomore Ryder Lynn.
The TV adaptation of Gossip Girl is chock full of this. Spoofed on The Daily Show after the 2008 Olympics scandal of the Chinese gymnasts possibly being underage; Stewart questioned how qualified Americans are to judge such a thing with a shot of the GG cast.
On the other hand, many people are surprised to learn that Taylor Momsen is the same age as her character.
Which actually ended up causing problems when Chace Crawford objected to his character's romance with Momsen's character, because while the characters were only two years apart Momsen was fifteen and he was twenty-three. They ended up scuppering the pairing because of how uncomfortable he was with it.
Grey's Anatomy pulls this off with tweens: in season 1, the characters start their internship at the Seattle Grace, so they should be around 25 (give or take). Ellen Pompeo playing Meredith was 35 at the time of filming and the actors of Cristina, George and Alex were also in their thirties. Only averted with 26-year-old Katherine Heigl as Izzie.
It's justifiable, at least in some cases — Meredith, for example, is said to have taken time off before med school, and most of the characters don't have stated ages. But it's kind of confusing when considering a character like Cristina — Sandra Oh is clearly in her 30s, so the only logical explanation is that Cristina also took time off at some point during her education, something that Cristina would never do.
Cristina is said to have a PhD, however, which might explain why she's a bit older — she might never have taken time off from her education, but that doesn't mean she went straight to med school after getting her Bachelor's.
Miley Cyrus averted this during Hannah Montana, being in her teenage years at the time. However, her character's still-teenaged older brother was played by Jason Earles. For the record, Earles is currently 35.
Arthur Fonzarelli in Happy Days was supposed, in the early episodes at least, to be seventeen years old. The Fonz was played by Henry Winkler, who was twenty-nine when the show started, and thirty-nine when it ended. His age seemed all the more obvious when he was seen romancing an actress clearly in her teens or twenties. Also featuring Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham, a high-schooler with a lacquered combover.
The series also had 24-year-old Pamela Sue Martin as 16-year-old Nancy Drew. Her replacement, Janet Louise Johnson, was 19.
In Heroes, Nicholas D'Agosto was 27 years old when he started playing high school student West Rosen.
Hiro Nakamura is stated to be 24, but actor Masi Oka was 32 at the time.
Some of the younger patients on House have this. One example is the 15-year-old supermodel in the 2nd season episode "Skin Deep" played by an actress aged 25.
Several of the doctors on the team invert this to some extent, at least presumably, being played by actors who would be extraordinarily young to be in their position.
The episode "Not Cancer" had an incredibly obvious example, with an alleged 4-year-old (who was only seen briefly) being played by a kid who was clearly, like, eleven.
A younger example, Cuddy's daughter was also played by a girl who was at least four years old. She was two at her oldest, and treated as such, which to some made it seem like the child had developmental difficulties.
How I Met Your Mother is a minor example in that Ted, Lily and Marshall are all supposed to be the same age yet Jason Segel is 6 years younger than Josh Radnor and Alyson Hannigan. The age gap between Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris is 9 years, as opposed to the 4 between Robin and Barney. A more obvious example is the flashbacks to scenes in college, with the characters' younger selves still played by the same actors. The same goes for the flash forward scenes, though the actors are usually heavily made up to look older. In "Time Travellers" however, 20-years-from-now Ted and Barney, who'd both be in their fifties look pretty much the same as before.
iCarly: The actor who played Gibby inverts the trope, being 3 years younger than the character when introduced. The filming schedule stretch has actually brought both the character and the actor to almost the same age, and the actor is going through the same growth spurt that Freddie went through in between Season 1 and Season 2.
Griffin, Carly's love interest in "iDate A Bad Boy", was played by a 23-year-old and looked like it, especially in some shirtless scenes, is supposed to be a high school senior. The episode involved some heavy make out sessions with the star of the show Miranda Cosgrove, who was 15 when they filmed them. Miranda apparently got to choose which guy they casted.
In I, Claudius, because the series takes place over nearly eighty years, this is both played straight and later inverted with many of the same characters. Just to name a few major examples:
Derek Jacobi, aged 38, played Claudius from the age of 19 to his death at 63.
Siân Phillips, aged 43, played Livia from the age of 34 to her death at 86.
George Baker, aged 45, played Tiberius from the age of 18 to his death at 77.
Margaret Tyzack, also aged 45, played Antonia from the age of 27 to her death at 73.
Some examples where this is purely played straight include John Hurt (aged 36) as Caligula from the age of 17 to his death at 28, Christopher Biggins (aged 28) as 17-year-old Nero, and Graham Seed (aged 26) as 13-year-old Britannicus.
The television version made in Italy in the '70s of the book Il Giornalino di Gian Burrasca (Johnny Whirlwind's Diary) have 30-year-old people as 6-year-old children.
The Inbetweeners. The four main characters, 17-year-olds, are played by actors ranging from 22 to 26.
The WB's Jack & Bobby featured 24-year-old Matt Long as 15-year-old Jack McCallister. Made glaringly obvious by the fact that Logan Lerman, who played Jack's 13-year-old brother Bobby, was actually 12 at the time of filming.
Jeeves and Wooster has it both ways. Both Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were in their early 30s when the series started in 1990. The ages of the characters are never given in the books, but it would seem that Bertie Wooster (Laurie) was in his early-to-mid 20s and Jeeves (Fry) in his 40s. Of course, their ages are never given in the series, either, so Powers That Be could get away with it. By way of contrast, the Jeeves movies of the mid-1930s starred 40-year-old Arthur Treacher as Jeeves and 25-year-old David Niven as Bertie.
German actress Josefine Preuss (b. 1986) has not visibly aged since she was about 15. Guess which roles she usually gets.
K9 features 19-year-old Keegan Joyce as 14-year-old Starkey, 16-year-old Philippa Coulthard as 14-year-old Jorjie Turner, and 20-year-old Daniel Webber as 15-year-old Darius Pike.
Kamen Rider shows usually avert this, since they have a habit of casting late-teens actors for their late-teens characters. However, Renn Kiriyama as Shotaro in Kamen Rider Double was 25 when the show was airing, and while Shotaro's never given an explicit age, he is shown wearing a high-school uniform. This would indicate he's in his late teens as well.
Kath and Kim's Kim is supposed to be in her mid-to-late 20s. Gina Riley, the actress who plays her, is pushing 50.
Jane Turner, who plays her mother, is only five months older than her... but when the sketches the show originated from began, they were both in their early thirties, making Turner's Kath an inversion of this trope. She's only recently caught up with her character's age. In the second season, there were flashbacks to Kim's birth (when Kath would be in her early twenties) and to Kim as a teenager. Both actresses were 42 at the time.
Subverted in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit which featured an adult conwoman who posed as a teenager in several different high schools to the point of having sex with her teenaged boyfriends, and had her current lover killed when he found out. The actress in question is actually younger than the role she was cast in, she was 26 and the character was 28. As many other cases, the plot was Ripped from the Headlines: see it here. (And see below)
In an episode of Law & Order with a similar plot, the female murderer is played by a 20-year-old actress. The character is a 26-year-old woman pretending to be a 16-year-old girl.
The Ripped from the Headlines (sort of) precursor of the above, an adult writer posed as a teenager in order to sell her scripts; naturally this was made into TV movie.
In CSI: NYthis was gender-reversed; the conwoman was turned into a pair of paedophiles, the girlfriends were date-raped and the guidance counselor was killed when he found out.
27-year-old Peta Wilson as 18-year-old Nikita in La Femme Nikita. 31-year-old Marnie McPhail as her childhood friend of the same age in the second episode of the first season. Though it turns out she's an imposter, but this trope is still pretty glaring until the Heel-Face Turn.
Julianna Rose Mauriello was 13 when she took on the role of 8-year-old Stephanie on the children's show LazyTown, and is still playing her at 17. By the second season, filmed when she was 15, it was obvious that Julianna was no longer a little girl, and in Lazy Town Extra, filmed when she was 17, the character mentions she's lived in Lazy Town for a year, which would make her 9.
The six main characters of the short-lived show Life As We Know It were all supposed to be high school sophomores (15/16), but all of their actors were 21 or 22 during filming, except for Jessica Lucas, who was 19.
The Canadian sitcom Life With Derek premiered in 2005 with lead characters Casey (15) and Derek (16) played by then 19-year-old Ashley Leggat, and then 18-year-old Michael Seater, respectively.
Lincoln Heights has quite an extreme example with the 27- to 28-year-old (during season 1) Erica Hubbard playing 16-year-old Cassie Sutton. What makes this particularly interesting is that the actors portraying her parents where born in 1970 and 1974, making them only 9 and 5 years older than her. Even more interesting is the actors playing her younger sibling were born in 1992 and 1993, making her 13 and 14 years older than them.
Erica Hubbard's original birth date was thought to be January 3, 1984 which would have made her about 22-23 during season 1.
Due to the fact that time on the show passes much slower than in real life, 10-year-old Walt Lloyd on LOST was played by roughly 14-year-old Malcolm David Kelly in season 3, who was 12 when the series began.
They try to disguise his aging... but in the season 4 finale, they don't disguise it, since it's in flashforwards set three years after he left the island, which still doesn't work because he's too old for 13. Prior to his appearance in the flashforwards he had appeared a few times and the show began to lampshade the changes to Walt, for instance Locke described how Walt suddenly showed up, but was taller, more so than the few months that had passed on the show to explain.
Inverted in the case of Locke's father, played by Kevin Tighe, who is only eight years older than Terry O'Quinn.
In the miniseries Love, Lies and Murder, a woman is murdered and two teenage girls are involved. 24-year-old Sheryl Lee plays 17-year-old Patti Bailey, and 23-year-old Moira Kelly plays 14-year-old Cinnamon Brown.
Maddigan's Quest is full of this: Jordan Metcalfe and Rose McIver were 18 and played Timon, aged 15, Garland, 14, respectively. Olivia Tennet was 14 and Zac Fox was 15 when they played 11-year-olds Lilith and Eden.
MADtv parodies and lampshades this repeatedly in "Pretty White Kids With Problems". The actors are obviously way too old to be playing teenagers, which they constantly make sure to point out.
Actor in his mid-30s: 15 can be a difficult age. And that's how old I am. 15.
Gary Burghoff of M*A*S*H fame. He was already 27 when playing the teenaged Radar, and continued the role well into his 40s. Burghoff, however, had such a childish frame and voice, that little besides his thinning hairline betrayed his true age. The producers tried hard to get him to keep his hat on in later episodes.
There was a heavy dose for most of the cast, especially in the later seasons. The book establishes Hawkeye as 28 years old, but TV-Hawkeye was played by Alan Alda, born in 1936 — 36 when the series started (which would have made Hawkeye of draft age during WWII), 47 by the time it ended. Mike Farrell was 36 when he was cast as 28-year-old BJ Hunnicutt, Harry Morgan was 60 when he played a character who was young enough to be underage at the time of World War I.
These issues were exacerbated by the fact that the show ran almost four times as long as the actual Korean War, making the disparities in long-running characters even more striking near the end of the series. Not relevant in the cases of characters whose ages are not given.
Matt LeBlanc played underaged boys from his first appearance at age 18 on TV 101, until he landed his role on Friends. He specialized in playing the boyfriend to underaged female characters on sitcoms such as Married... with Children and Just the Ten of Us. as the good-looking, Italian "hunk" (from some unspecified East Coast city).
McHale's Navy ran from 1962 to 1966. In peacetime, to find a Third or Second Class Petty Officer (E-4, E-5) in their thirties or forties, you would have to look extremely hard. Most are in their twenties. This is especially true in wartime when advancement is obscenely easy. Ernest Borgnine served in the real Navy during WWII, getting out as a First Class Petty Officer at age 28, but also played a Commander at age 45, which is not unreasonable. Another actor, Victor Mature, was in the Coast Guard in WWII, and he made Chief Petty Officer (E-7) in 14 months. Given this, some of the casting for "McHale's Navy" was extremely egregious. Carl Ballantine (PO 2 Gruber) was 47, in real world he would have been an E-7/E-8, not an E-5. Billy Sands was 51, too old for the military, peacetime or wartime. Surprisingly, most of the others were at least close to their appropriate age. I believe it was a case of the producers not caring.
The cast in The Middle are a lot older than they actually are. However to be fair, Brick's actor (Atticus Shafer) has Type IV Osteogenesis Imperfecta and is a lot shorter than someone his age would be otherwise.
Siblings Axl Heck (15 in Season 1) and Sue Heck (13 in season 1) are portrayed by actors born in 1990 and late 1991 respectively, even though both do a good job of acting and looking (almost) the right age. Brick Heck (8 in Season 1), is portrayed by Atticus Shaffer, who was 11 at the time. Shaffer is now 14 playing an 11 year old, but due to his small stature (a result of osteogenesis imperfecta), he pulls it off most convincingly.
The Mists of Avalon miniseries had an extreme example, where 13-year-old Morgause at the beginning was played by Joan Allen, who was 44 and looked it.
In the Mini Series adaptation of Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers, callgirl Avril Devereaux — a blonde in her twenties in the novel — is played by Joan Collins. While the hair colour can be overlooked, her being 43 years old at the time is another matter. (Then again, producer Ross Hunter was known for skewing older in his casting choices.)
When My Family began, only one of the Harper children was played by an actor close to the character's age; 21-year-old Daniela Denby-Ashe played 15-year-old Janey, and 27-year-old Kris Marshall played 18-year-old Nick. Averted towards the end of the series where Janey was "almost 30" and only two years younger than Denby-Ashe (thanks to Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, since the show ran for eleven years.) Marshall left after three series of the show, and has stated in interviews that the fact that he was much older than Nick made it more difficult for him to play the character.
25-year-old John Hensley playing 16-year-old Matt on Nip/Tuck (made glaringly obvious off-screen when Hensley began dating Joely Richardson, the actress, only 13 years his senior IRL, who played his mom on the show). Also made glaringly obvious when he started getting a receding hairline.
The O.C. is guilty of this, as mentioned in the quote at the top, with teens in their late 20s and parents in their early 30s. It hangs a lampshade on this trope, among many others, with their show-within-a-show, "The Valley."
In the first season, the show was criticized for having what looked like a 40-year-old actress playing 28-year-old Emma Swan, though the actress was actually more around the age of 32. In the second season, the same actress, now 33, is spending half an episode in a flashback to when Emma was 18.
Though the age may not be explicitly stated like the Emma example, many of the actors play the younger version of their characters, at least a decade younger, for instance Ginnifer Goodwin playing Snow White as a young adult/late teens, though Goodwin was in her early 30s. Other people in their 30s playing much, much younger versions include Lana Parrilla and Josh Dallas.
And then there's 40-year-old Rose McGowen as "young Cora." She does look like "old Cora" (65-year-old Barbara Hershey) due to their matching plastic surgery.
26-year-old Parker Croft as Felix, one of the Lost Boys. The casting call describes him: "A few teen boy roles are being cast that might be recurring. One of the boys is named Felix, and he's their leader."
In the Brit ComOn The Buses, Reg Varney played the role of Stan Butler, a bus driver in his late 20s, he was 53 years old when the series started.
In BBC sitcom Open All Hours, David Jason plays Granville, nephew and errand boy of Ronnie Barker's Arkwright. Jason would have been around 35 when the series proper started and 44 or 45 when it finished. In itself, it's not technically implausible that he could be Barker's nephew (even without stretching their ten year age difference). However, although never(?) explicitly mentioned, none of Granville's character (obviously meant as young and inexperienced), the generational dynamic between the two leads and their obvious statuses — and the fact that no-one thinks it strange that he's still doing an errand boy job — makes any sense until you realise that Jason is playing a character around half his real age.
Parker Lewis Can't Lose — Older actors playing teens include Corin Nemic, Billy Jayne, Abraham Benrubi, Jennifer Guthrie, Harold Pruett, all in their early 20s.
Party of Five had the (then) 26-year-old Scott Wolf and 20-year-old Neve Campbell playing the respectively 16- and 15-year-old Bailey and Julia. Lampshaded in season 3 where Bailey's friend, seeing his fake ID, was very surprised that anyone would believe he's 27. On the other hand 11-year-old Lacey Chabert (Claudia) and 16-year-old Jennifer Love Hewitt (Sarah) were the same ages as their characters.
All of the secondary school pupils in the seventies Britcom Please Sir! were quite visibly in their late twenties or early thirties.
Power Rangers is a common offender, with the original season's 15-year-old characters being played by actors as old as 24. Operation Overdrive had an 18-year-old SmartChick being played by a 28-year-old actress (who, however, looks quite young and seems to actually be able to get away with it) and a guy of 19-20 being played by a 29-year-old.
The early seasons had most actors between 18-21, with subsequent seasons going off in many different directions.
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers has an excuse: the characters were originally intended to be high school seniors, as evidenced by the original plot for the two-part episode 'Doomsday' involving the Rangers going to Senior Prom. When the show became a hit, they needed to keep the characters around, so they refrained from actually giving ages for the Rangers in order to keep the high school setting as long as possible.
Though in that case, the trope still would've been played straight as several of the actors were a few years older than a high school senior. The trope would've been averted, though, with Austin St. John, who was 18 at the time.
As far as high school seniors go, some of the cast members weren't all that bad for the role. The male actors were the only problem. Walter Jones actually somewhat looked the part, even at 22, but David Yost, Jason Narvy (Skull), and Paul Schrier (Bulk) were 19 (Narvy), 23 (Schrier), and 24 (Yost) respectively and looked like it.
David Yost was 27 when Billy graduated high school a year early.
The 28-year-old actress from Operation Overdrive has stated in interviews that she was also given an audition for the Harry Potter films as 15-year-old Cho Chang...
Melanie Vallejo, who plays the 17/18-year-old Madison in Mystic Force, was 27 at the time of filming...
Played straight and inverted in the case of Olivia Tennet (Dr. K) from RPM, in which the 17-year-old actress (when production began) played her character at ages 14 (during a flashback in "Doctor K"), 18, 19 (as of "The Road to Corinth"), and then 20 (as of "If Venjix Won").
Power Rangers Dino Thunder actually wasn't bad compared to just about all the other seasons, though it was still sort of played straight. The characters were 18-year-old high school seniors, and Emma Lahana (Kira) and Kevin Duhaney (Ethan) were both 19 at the time of filming. James Napier (Conner), however, was 21 and (to an extent) looked it, and Jeffrey Parazzo (Trent) was 25. Except Jeffrey looked very young for his age, was arguably the youngest-looking of the cast members, and actually pulled it off the best.◊ Also, Jason David Frank was 30 playing Tommy at 25. He pulled it off, too.◊
Power Rangers Jungle Fury has Casey and Lily, both 18, played by Jason Smith (24) and Anna Hutchison (22). Theo, 17, was played by Aljin Abella (23).
Power Rangers S.P.D. has Bridge, canonically 21 (despite the Jetix website inexplicably listing him as 17), played by 27 year old Matt Austin.
One episode of Psych quite possibly took advantage of this trope. The killer was a young-looking adult posing as a high school student. Because of Dawson Casting, it's easy for the viewer to dismiss his possibly looking older than he should, when in-universe, he IS older than he should be.
The Channel 4 docudrama series The Queen had a mild case with the 26-year-old Katie McGrath playing the 21-year-old Princess Margaret (though she is 25 by the end of the episode). More extreme is the 35-year-old Emilia Fox playing the 25-year-old Queen Elizabeth II.
The same two actresses played sisters again in the BBC's Merlin, although this is arguably more justified as the Arthurian legends tend to suggest a fairly wide age gap between Morgause and Morgan le Fay/Morgana
Actress Rachel True played teenagers when she was in her early 30s and young twenty-somethings when she was in her late 30s to early 40s.
In Half Baked, at 32, she's girlfriend to 25-year-old Dave Chappelle. Of course, her character's age isn't given, and this editor doesn't see why he couldn't date a chick seven years older than him, especially as Hollywood does the inversion of that all the fucking time.
Patrick McKenna was 31 when he started playing teen-aged Harold on The Red Green Show. Interestingly, Harold did slowly age as the series progressed, eventually going to college and getting various full-time jobs.
In series three of Robin Hood, 29-year-old Clive Standen played 20-year-old Archer and 30-year-old Joanne Froggatt played Kate, whose age was never stated but it was heavily implied that she is supposed to be a young teenager.
Inverted to the point of absurdity on Rome where Vorena the Younger and little Lucius are played by children under the age of ten throughout the series, in spite of nearly 20 years passing from the pilot to the finale. Especially odd when Octavian ages properly, and when Caesarion, who is born when Lucius is at least four or five years old, appears to be played by someone older than the actor playing Lucius when he appears in the second season.
Roswell: not one of the members of the younger cast (supposedly 16-17 at the start) was a teenager, with the exception of 18-year-old Majandra Delfino and (joining in mid-season) Emilie de Ravin. Shiri Appleby, Nick Wechsler and Katherine Heigl were 20, Brendan Fehr and Colin Hanks were 21 and Jason Behr was a whopping 25 years old when the first season premiered.
Melissa Joan Hart started playing 16-year-old Sabrina the Teenage Witch when she was 19-20 (depending on when it started filming, she was 20 when it first aired). By its final season she was 27, though by then she'd been going to college and then on to a career in journalism.
A rather glaring example of this trope is the casting of a BALDING MAN to play a highschool student.
This is actually a good example of how the line blurs as actors and characters grow older, although this effect only happens in works where the characters age roughly in realtime.
Additionally, when she was 15 she played the role of the similarly aged Clarissa Darling in Clarissa Explains It All which ran from 1991 to 1994.
The spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures features 20-year-old Daniel Anthony as 14-year-old Clyde Langer and 18-year-old Anjli Mohindra as 15-year-old Rani Chandra. Mohindra, at least, is probably a result of the producers having to write out Yasmin Paige (who played Maria Jackson) at the end of the first series so the actress could sit her GCSEs. Considering they also had to write out Tommy Knight (Luke Smith) two series later, you can't really blame them.
Played straight, naturally in The Secret Circle. The youngest cast member of the main cast, Britt Robertson, is 21 and the oldest, Jessica Parker Kennedy is 27. The rest of the cast members include Thomas Dekker who's 24, Phoebe Tonkin who's 23, Louis Hunter who's 22, Chris Zylka who's 27, and Shelly Hennig who's 25.
Not to mention Adam Harrington plays the younger version of Ethan from the 90s (Adam Harrington is 42).
Exaggerated in a few October 1968 episodes of the soap opera The Secret Storm. Christina Crawford (of Mommie Dearest fame), the 29-year-old actress who played the 28-year-old Joan Borman Kane, called in sick for about a week. Her replacement was her adoptive mother, legendary actress Joan Crawford, who was 63 years old at the time. (Thankfully, few clips of these episodes survive.)
Amazon High with 25-year-old Selma Blair as a high school student.
Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane starring 27-year-old Selma Blair as high school student Zoe.
The American version of Kath and Kim with 36-year-old Selma Blair as twenty-something Kim (though this wasn't nearly as bad as the Australian version; see below.)
In 7th Heaven Barry Watson was 22 when he started playing high school junior Matt Camden, though the rest of the actors playing the Camden kids were of the right age.
On the UK "dramedy" Shameless 21-year-old Fiona Gallagher was portrayed by then 33-year-old Anne-Marie Duff. In an interview, the actress herself admitted that she was surprised to have been offered the role, as she thought she was "too old to be seen for it."
Shameless also gives us 15-year old Ian (played by 20-year old Gerard Kearns) and 16-year olds Lip, Mandy and Karen, played by actors who were 22, 22 and 21 respectively.
Duff was 30 years old when she appeared in The Magdalene Sisters as Margaret, who ages from 16 or 17 to 20-ish. The film also starred the then 25-year-old Eileen Walsh as teenage Crispina.
23-year-old Lauren Ambrose plays highschool-aged Claire from Six Feet Under.
Although Kristen Kreuk, and Allison Mack were just barely 18 at the start. Michael Rosenbaum was 29 playing the supposedly 21-year-old Lex. It doesn't seem so bad once you get out of the teen years.
Sam Jones III (Pete Ross) was also 18 at the start.
Erica Durance was 26 when she first appeared. Lois is supposed to be 19 at the time.
Tom Welling is two years older than Brandon Routh (Clark/Superman in Superman Returns), yet plays the same character at a much earlier point in his life (although admittedly in a different continuity). Welling also began playing Clark at about the same age (maybe a year younger) that Christopher Reeve made his screen tests to play Superman in the mid-1970s.
In-universe example: in Smash when Rebecca Duvall joins the cast of Bombshell it's pointed out that she's older than Marilyn Monroe was when she passed away. Duvall is played by Uma Thurman, who is indeed several years older than Marilyn — in fact, she turned 42 (Marilyn left us aged 36) the day before one of her episodes premiered!
Square Pegs is a show from the 1982/1983 season about the two groups of 14-year-old freshmen who vie for popularity. It is often overlooked for this trope because half of the cast is under 18 (though all older than their characters). However, the other half was over 18, including Tracy Nelson (Jennifer) who was born in 1963, Jon Caliri (Vinnie) who was born in 1960, Merritt Butrick (Slash) who was born in 1959, and Claudette Wells (LaDonna) who was born in 1954, making her 28, making her twice the age of her character.
Nog, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was supposedly a young teenager as of the first season, but played by Aron Eisenberg, who was in his twenties when the series started. This is, however, something of an odd aversion: he was cast because a kidney transplant in his youth stunted his growth and they wanted him to remain short, since Ferengi are smaller than other humanoids. However, it got incredibly jarring, because his best friend Jake (whose actor was two years older than the character, but didn't look it) had some crazy growth spurts and ended up being 6'3" by the time the series ended. I guess they didn't expect Nog to stick around as a recurring character for that long.
Justified since he wore so much makeup that you couldn't really tell what age he actually was.
When first introduced, 19-year old Ziyal was played by (then) 23-year old Cyia Batten and (then) 25-year old Tracy Middendorf. During her major appearances in seasons five and six, she was around 21-22 years old and was played by (then) 34-year old Melanie Smith.
The best-known example in the Original Series might be Chekov, who was supposed to be 21 years old when 31-year-old Walter Koenig joined the show in 1967.
The 2009 movie retcons this by giving him a birthdate that would have made him 26 when he debuted in the show.
Strangers with Candy — 30-something Amy Sedaris plays 40-something Jerri Blank, who decides to go back to high school as a freshman. Jerri doesn't lie about her age, and this trope is mostly inverted by casting actual teens as the students to make the situation seem even more ridiculous. Until the last episode, when 30-year-old Winona Ryder played "Fran" the coolest girl at school.
In the Canadian series Student Bodies, all the actors playing teenagers were in their early 20s.
Inverted with Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger with 16-year-old Karin Ogino playing 23/24-year-old Yuko Yamada aka Yumeria Moegi. Justified and lampshaded in that she's supposed to look much younger then she is.
Although not as egregious as the main cast of some other shows set in high school, the youngest of the main cast of Teen Wolf, Tyler Posey (Scott) and Dylan O'Brien (Stiles), were both 19 when the show started. Gage Golightly (Erica) is the new youngest at 19 during the second season.
This has gradually changed due to the show progressing only a few months over the length of four seasons. Holland Roden (Lydia), Keahu Kahuanui (Danny), and Charlie and Max Carver (Ethan and Aiden) were all 24 during their first seasons, Daniel Sharman (Isaac) was 25, Crystal Reed (Allison), Sinqua Walls (Boyd), and Shelley Hennig (Malia) were 26, and Arden Cho (Kira) was 28. Well over half of the cast have been on the show for two or four years, so the majority of Teen Wolf's actors are late-20-somethings playing high school students over 10 or 12 years younger than them.
Although he was 23-years-old when filming started, no one's quite sure of the supposed age of Tyler Hoechlin's character, Derek Hale. He was stated to be 19-years-old in the first season, but it's bounced up and down the age brackets since then, randomly altering the age of both Derek and his older sister Laura depending on when the creators wanted the Hale family fire to take place.
Several actors and actresses, including Crystal Reed, have cited this as being one of the main reasons why they decided to leave the show. Playing a 16/17-year-old high school student while in your late 20s to early 30s, especially one who doesn't appear to be ageing or graduating any time soon, can be quite frustrating for an ageing performer. And depending on their appearance, it has become increasingly difficult for some of the show's actors to be passed off to audiences as still being in high school.
In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, 26-year-old Summer Glau played Cameron Philips, who is able to pass as a high school student. Cameron's cyborg form is patterned after a teen named Alison. And one assumes that all teens from the future live a harsh life that causes crows feet and deep smile lines, as seen on Glau's face in closeups.
A reporter for Boston's Fox affiliate referred to Glau and costar Thomas Dekker as the show's "teen stars" in a promo for an interview segment. Dekker was 20, playing 15.
In a second season episode, Cameron was seen being served alcohol in a bar. It's likely she has IDs to cover a wide variety of ages.
Similarly, but less drastically, is Summer Glau's portrayal of River Tam in Firefly. Summer was 21 (23 during the filming of Serenity) but River was only seventeen. And in the R. Tam Sessions, it went even further, with Summer playing River when she was fourteen years old. Surprisingly, she plays all these ages quite convincingly as she still looks very much like a teenager now.
In Terminator 2, Sarah Connor is called "29 years old" in an APB. Since her son (conceived in the first movie) is now 10 (played by 14-year-old Edward Furlong), she would have been 19 in the first movie. Linda Hamilton would have been 28 at the time of the first movie.
That '70s Show — Danny Masterson (Hyde), Topher Grace (Eric) and Ashton Kutcher (Kelso) were respectively 22, 20 and 20 in 1998 when the show debuted. Mila Kunis was 14, younger than her character was meant to be. However, because it ran for 8 years but was set between 1976 and 1979, she soon caught up with her character's age, then overtook it.
On That's So Raven, 18-year-old Raven-Symoné played 14-year-old Raven Baxter and 19-year-old Anneliese van der Pol played 14-year-old Chelsea.
Then-18-year-old Olivia Burnette was cast as a preteen Justine O'Neil in the miniseries The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years. While someone of her petite height could plausibly have passed for someone younger, her... development made it painfully obvious she was well past puberty.
Supposed teenagers in Tower Prep include Dyana Liu (29) as Suki and Ryan Pinkston (22) as Gabe.
Kal Penn was 29 when he played a high school student in Season 6 of 24.
In Underbelly: The Golden Mile the initially 17-year-old John Ibrahim is played by 25-year-old Firass Dirani, although the character was 28 by the end of the series. Ironically, the show still attracted controversy by depicting Ibrahim having sex onscreen.
Italia Ricci is ever so slightly too old to play a high-schooler in Unnatural History at 24.
Period drama Upstairs Downstairs is an interesting justified case: at the beginning of the series, Elizabeth Bellamy is 17, played by 26-year-old Nicola Pagett. But there are frequent Time Skips forward, making the character around 29 at her final episode.
Pauline Collins is several years older than the age of her character, Sarah, in the first few episodes, but like Elizabeth, they line up better by her last episode. It seems less egregious with an adult actor, because it's perfectly legitimate to cast someone according to the age she appears, rather than her actual age, and Collins did look younger than she was.
An inversion seems to have been the original four series of Upstairs Downstairs, which covered thirty years of historical period but only four years of real time. The characters remained the same age throughout the series, frozen in time between 1903 and 1930. The only attention paid to the passage of time seemed to be James, who grew grey about the temples. In the modern remake, Jean Marsh, now forty years older, reprises her role as Rose Buck, meaning Rose ages forty years in only six between the end of the Bellamy era in 1930 and the beginning of the Holland residence at Eaton Place in 1936. It does help, however, that the cast changed periodically, with Hazel and then Virginia replacing Lady Marjorie as "her Ladyship" and the introduction of another young lady, Georgina, to take on Elizabeth Bellamy-Kirbridge's role in the story. In the servants' hall, the cast similarly gains and loses members (adding Frederick and Daisy in the 1920s), but as the series progresses we still never see Rose, Edward, Hudson, Mrs Bridges or Ruby age.
The teenage characters of The Vampire Diaries are played by 20something actors, starting with Nina Dobrev (20), Steven R. McQueen (21), Katerina Graham (20), Caroline Accola (22), Kayla Ewell and Zach Roerig (both 24). All of them play high school students. Stefan and Damon Salvatore, who got vamped at the ages of 17 and 24 respectively, are played by Paul Wesley (27) and Ian Somerhalder (31).
This is rendered extra absurd by the fact that 22-year-old Sara Canning plays an aunt in her late 20s to Dobrev and McQueen's characters, when she is younger than some of the actors who play their classmates.
May or may not be true with Katherine. Her age of turning is never stated. If nothing else she's done this In-Universe when pretended to be 17-year-old Elena.
In their junior year (season one), when you would expect them all to be about 16 or 17, some of the main characters of Veronica Mars were: the titular heroine (24-year-old Kristen Bell), Wallace Finnel (22-year-old Percy Daggs III), Logan Echolls (22-year-old Jason Dohring), and Dick Casablancas Jr. (23-year-old Ryan Hansen).
Which worked fine, except for the episode in season two, in which then 24-year-old Kristen Bell and 25-year-old Aaron Ashmore (Troy), playing high school seniors (~18), interact with 18-year-old Michael Cera and 17-year-old Alia Shawkat... who were playing college students. One of them at least in his sophomore year, as he was acting as a tour guide to profros. That was sort of disorienting.
The series actually had an even more prominent example in the first season; Amanda Seyfried was only 18 when the series started, yet Lilly was supposedly a year older than Veronica (and all of her contemporaries — again, as noted above, played by people in their 20s). Then again, Seyfried's voluptuous figure (which the writers and directors were not afraid to draw attention to) helped her look more developed than Bell, even though Bell's face was more mature. Which is interesting in light of Seyfried's role in Mean Girls (see above), made the same year.
There was also Charisma Carpenter who played the 25-year-old Kendall when she was 35 and clearly looked like she was in her thirties. The show was not above indulging in a little meta humour about all this:
Duncan: She's like our age.
Veronica: She's twenty-five.
However, it's later found out that Kendall had assumed the identity of a younger highschool student and was actually older than first thought.
Even then Kendall's 'real' is still about seven years younger than Charisma's and presumably she was supposed to at least look 25, in-universe if nothing else.
Kind of lampshaded in the mini-episode shot to promote a possible season 4. Veronica is supposed to be in her mid-twenties, having graduated both college and the FBI academy, yet as one of the younger new recruits, she gets picked to go undercover as a teenager.
The Walking Dead — Fans are usually shocked 27-year-old actress Emily Kinney plays the 17-year-old Beth Greene. This is a rare case where the older actress might even look younger than the young character she portrays.
Webster — Teenaged Emmanuel Lewis plays a seven-year-old.
Gabe Kaplan stated in interviews that he believed part of the reason the ratings for Welcome Back, Kotter began to decline in series three was that the Sweathogs, whose actors were now 24-29 years old, were simply too old to still be believable as high school students.
A truly bizarre example from The West Wing. In a season four episode, Joe Quincy is being assisted by a White House Aide whom He thinks looks about fourteen and who claims to be twenty-two. She is played by Kiersten Warren who was in her late thirties and looked it. The character is never seen again aside from that scene, almost pushing it into Big Lipped Alligator Moment territory. Like one of the page quotes, Warren actually did have a child who was the same age as the character She played.
Both averted and played straight in What I Like About You. Extremely averted with Holly (who's in-universe birthdays were near her actress, Amanda Bynes'); played straight with Henry, Vince, and Gary, all of whom were played by actors who were 24/25 at the time of their introductions, and Tina, whose actress was 28 at the time of her introduction.
I want to live in Dawson's Creek, where the kids are in their 20s and their parents are in their 30s.
Will Smith was 21 when he began playing the 16-year-old titular character of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His music had already established that trend, with story songs placing him in the role of a young teen in high school even though he was in his late teens and early twenties at the time.
J.D. Williams was 24 when he began playing then-16-year-old Bodie Broadus on The Wire. Julito McCullum was 17 when his character (Namond Brice) was 14, and Tristan Wilds was 18 when his (Michael Lee) was 14. Other characters were exceptions to this trope (see below).
Another adult example is the 35-year-old Michael K Williams as the approximately-28-year-old (in season one) Omar Little. This seems like a fairly trivial age gap, but it seems more striking when paired with Ernest Waddell (who is almost twenty years younger than Williams, making him 17 during the filming of season 2), who played Omar's lover Dante in seasons 2 and 3.
Popular — A show about two opposite groups of high school sophomores, some explicitly stated as 15 and 16. From youngest to oldest, there's Carly Pope (19), Sara Rue (20), Bryce Johnson (22), Tamara Mello (23), Leslie Bibb (25), Christopher Gorham (25), Tammy Lynn Michaels (25), Leslie Grossman (28). Ron Lester was 29 in the first season, therefore 30 in the second season and still playing a teen.
In Telemundo's soap opera Marina, the main character of the same name played by Sandra Echeverría had a son called Chuy played by Alfonso Dosal and an adoptive daughter called Patty played by Ilean A Lmaguer. Curiously Sandra and Ilean were the same age (23) and Alfonso just one year younger (22) when the series was filmed.
Inverted with Maura West, who was born in 1972, playing Diane Jenkins on The Young and the Restless during 2010-2012, a character that was created when West was ten years old and was already an adult of at least 25. So not only was she playing a character old enough to be her mother, but she looked young enough that she could have been more convincingly Dawson cast than play a woman in her 50s.
A rare example from the other end of the age spectrum can be seen in Rescue Me when Jerry Adler joins the cast as Chief Feinberg. Feinberg is an old man, but since he is still working a regular shift in a firehouse he presumably must be a good deal younger than the 78 years Adler was when he took the part.
In the Tim Allen series Last Man Standing Middle daughter Mandy Baxter, who is supposed to be a senior in high school during the first season, is played by Molly Ephraim, who was 26 when the series started in 2011.
Head of the Class — Most of the cast members are in their 20s, but Dan Frischman was in his late 20s and early 30s during the show's run from 1986 to 1991. The creators and producers of the show have said this... Season One: 9th grade, Season Two: 10th grade, Season Three: 11th grade, Season Four: First semester of 12th grade, Season Five: Second semester of 12th grade. So they were all playing 14 year olds in the first season.
On Hawaii Five-0, Max hasn't been given a specific age, but his biomom was killed in the 80s and he has no memory of her, making it likely that's the decade he was born in; actor Masi Oka was born in '74. His love interest Sabrina is played by Rummer Willis, a full thirteen years his junior and actually born in the late 80s, but they look like they could share a birthday.
Dick Clark, host of American Bandstand and New Year's Rockin' Eve was called "America's oldest teen." Seriously at first back in his 20s, then humorously, then fondly with headlines like America's Oldest Teen Dead at 82
Jennette McCurdy began playing Sam Puckett on ICarly when she was 14; by the time the series ended she was 20, and when the spinoff Sam & Cat ceased production she was 21. Similarly, her Sam & Cat costar Ariana Grande was 20 when Nickelodeon shut it down (they turned 22 and 21 - both actresses celebrate their birthday on June 26 - before the network officially cancelled the show).
Alice Cooper, born in 1948, has been singing "I'm Eighteen" for over 30 years.
Bryan Adams had a hit with "18 Till I Die" in 1997, at the age of 37.
Pat Benatar, born in 1953, built an entire discography around singing about how "we are young" back in the 1980s.
A more direct example is the video for Love is a Battlefield (which has the "we are young" line in question), where she plays a teen runaway. She was 30 at the time she made the video.
Marilyn Manson, born in 1969, has been singing, in a first person narrative, of being a disgruntled youth, since 1994 when he was 25.
Madonna's early musical career centered around insinuating that she's a troubled youth, being a material "girl" who was "like a virgin" and juggling youthful crushes and youthful rebellion and wants to know "where's the party", contrasted with tougher issues such as whether or not her "daddy" would be angry that she's pregnant, and running away from home because "daddy" is abusive. She was 25 years old when she released her self-titled debut. 3 years after that, she still considered herself young enough to kiss a 13-year-old in the music video for "Open Your Heart", but her critics disagreed.
Belinda Carlisle had a youthful-sounding voice and used it to make references about being a "kid" in "school" finding love for the first time with her band The Go-Gos. In the late 1980s, she became a solo artist at the (relatively) mature age of 29, replete with air-brushed album covers to make her look like someone born after 1958.
Cyndi Lauper, another 30-something in the 1980s who got famous about singing about being a "girl" instead of a woman.
Pete Burns was 26 when he released his album "Youthquake" and the other members of British New Wave band called "Dead or Alive" were in their late 20s and early 30s.
The Beach Boys continued to sing love songs to teenage girls even after they became middle-aged, bearded, creepy men. Not counting the unreleased track "Lazy Lizzy", in which Brian sings about stalking an underage girl, the most pedo-worthy track to appear on a Beach Boys disc was undoubtedly "Hey Little Tomboy" — made even worse by a bootlegged outtake in which the Boys seem bent on gang-raping the title character.
At the age of 26, Katy Perry played a 13-year-old high school student in the music video of her song "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)".
Several of Taylor Swift's videos, such as "Fifteen", "You Belong With Me", and "The Story of Us", in which she plays high schoolers. Minor examples earlier, as she wasn't that much older than her characters, but it's started getting played more and more straight as she gets older (though to her credit, she doesn't look it).
Van Halen's members were in their late twenties when they came out with the song "Hot for Teacher", where David Lee Roth describes himself not as a college student, not as a high school student, but what sounds like an elementary school (an American school for pre-teens) student, lusting after his teacher. The video averts this by having scenes depicting the band as actual children, as well as being blatantly comedic in the first place.
20-something Kesha has made an entire discography over referring to herself as a young girl who believes herself to be a rebel who is living on the wild side despite her vanilla bubblegum antics, especially her song "Die Young" (which has endless references to her youth) or the video for "TiK ToK" (which has her living with her parents and riding a bike because she's too young to drive). Her debut album, Animal, was released in 2010 when she was 23.
In the Music Video for "Stupid Girls" by P!nk, she rather convincingly portrays a 16-year-old girl (purging in the bathroom during a school dance), as well as other characters covering a wide age range. She herself was 27.
In the music video for "Sixteen Military Wives" by The Decemberists, the band members portray a high school Model UN. They all look at least ten years too old for the role. However, most of the actors in the video who aren't band members look plausibly teenage, and one of them is clearly in fact too young.
The music video for Fancy, featuring 24-year-old Iggy Azalea, 22-year-old Charli XCX, and their equally adult friends portraying teen characters from the high school film Clueless.
Hustle's Monster Bono was only six years younger than his "father", The Great Muta, and was seven years older than his mother, Yinling The Erotic Terrorist.
In Pokémon Live!, the characters are pre-teens. The actors... aren't. Kind of inevitable, really.
In the original runnote although the third actor in the role and film version of 1776, 26-year-old Edward Rutledge was played by then-forties John Cullum. There's even a line in the play about how Rutledge is the youngest man in Congress. But who cares about that when you've got Cullum's beautiful soaring baritone?
Done for artistic reasons in The Golden Ticket, an opera based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — to emphasize Charlie's innocence and kindness compared to the other kids in the story, he's the only character played by a kid. The four brats and several jealous tots who are at hand for the factory opening are all played by adults.
In Wicked the age range of the leads Elphaba and Glinda is about 18-23 years, and sometimes there are actresses those ages that play them; but more often than not the roles are given to women in their late-20's to mid-30's, and sometimes even older.
Tedd from El Goonish Shive invokes this in an EGS:NP strip by claiming to be twenty-one outside of continuity due to Comic Book Time. Grace counters the gap might be up to a year, making Tedd eighteen. She then goes on to say that it doesn't matter anyways since none of them are likely to look any different before they turn 30.note Though the revelation that he may be under the drinking age causes Tedd to excuse himself so that he can dispose of a keg in the fridge before his dad finds it.
This was the initial reason that some viewers suspected lonelygirl15 to be a hoax. The Real Life implications of this are apparent in an episode of MaxterBexter, in which former lonelygirl15 actors Becki Gregoski and Maxwell Glick complain about needing to show ID before they would be served alcohol, even though Maxwell Glick was 29 at the time.
On the website hosting the Whateley Universe, the stories centering on Chau Lee (Bladedancer) are often illustrated with pictures of Zhang Ziyi. The character is fifteen, the actress at least twelve years older...
Mocked in A Very Potter Musical with CLEARLY College aged Darren Criss stating "I'm just a 12-year-old kid".
Lucas Cruikshank was 14 when he started playing six-year-old Fred Figglehorn. Justified in that he created the character to be performed by himself.
Lindsay and Doug both play teenage versions of their characters in videos, respectively 27 and 30 as of writing.
Behind The Veil is an interesting case of this, with the "actors" being limited to celebrity representations of what the character's appearance would be. However several characters ages are either older or younger than the celebrities portraying them, for example the 32-year-old Jack Raven being represented by the 45-year-old Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
South Park couldn't help but use this trope when they did the live action reenactment in "I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining" by casting guys in their mid 20s to play the ten year old boys. Cue the narrator emphasizing "These four 4th graders" throughout.
Avatar: The Last Airbender zig-zags with this trope. On the one hand, you have child characters like Aang and Toph who are played by child voice actors, but on the other hand, you have 14 year old Katara voiced by a then-17 year old voice actress, 16-year old Prince Zuko who is voiced by a man in his late twenties, and 14-year old Azula whose voice actress was in her mid-thirties. Even they, however, get a pass, as Zuko's voice actor sounds young enough to portray him well, and Azula is Younger than She Looks.
Young Justice featured multiple kid, tween and teen heroes who were voiced by actors in their 20s, 30s and sometimes even their 40s (we're looking at you, Nolan North).
The Virgin Mary is usually played by an actress over the age of 20, but historians say she was about 14 when she became pregnant with Jesus. (Obviously there's no evidence for Mary's actual age, but she clearly has the status of a girl who will be married soon, but not yet, and the ancient Jews had pretty strict cultural norms about at what age you went through important milestones in life.)
A woman from Texas, the aforementioned Treva Throneberry, pretended to be a teenager throughout her 20s and early 30s and moved from foster home to foster home. She got a tuition to go to college and was finally arrested for fraud. Interestingly, she didn't look especially youthful.
31-year-old Patricia Dye posed as a teenage boy so that she could have sex with a teen girl.
A 29-year-old woman named Lorelei Corpuz did the same, passing herself as a 18-year-old boy named Mark Villaneuva to both couch-surf and hit/date teen girls.
Cosplayers regularly portray characters that are considerably younger than themselves. Characters in their younger to mid-teens are prevalent in many popular series; meanwhile, the skills you need to make your own costumes require time and practice to develop. Even if you opt to buy your costumes, cosplaying eats up a LOT of money either way, so you're generally much better off if you have an income level more typical of an adult.
Kevin Bacon enrolled as a high school student prior to filming Footloose just to see if he was still believable as a teen at age 25, according to the DVD commentary.
Riley Weston was born Kimberlee Kramer in 1966. In May 1997, she changed her name and began claiming her date of birth as 1979 in order to be considered for acting roles. The deception was assisted by her small size, with a height of 4' 11" and weight of 93 pounds. In 1998, she began drafting screenplays and marketing herself to television studios as a recent high school graduate. She was soon hired by the WB Network as a writer for the show Felicity after they saw one of her scripts about teenage sisters. Hailed as a child prodigy and "wunderkind," she was featured on Entertainment Weekly's October 1998 list of the "100 Most Creative People in Entertainment," which described her as an up-and-coming 19-year-old, though she was really 31. Shortly thereafter, she was offered a half-million dollar screenwriting deal with Disney. After Entertainment Tonight began working on a segment about Weston, her real identity and age soon emerged. Soon after, her contract with WB expired and was not renewed, and her deal with Disney fell through.
Barbora Škrlová was a 33-year-old Czech woman suspected with child abuse and cannibalism who fled to Norway and pretended to be a 13-year-old boy named "Adam". It worked for a while, though she was eventually arrested and sent back to the Czech Republic. Before that, she has posed as a 13-year-old girl named Anicka, the supposed "adoptive daughter" of one of her Czech accomplice.
When Shirley Temple was signed with Fox Studios (later part of 20th Century Fox), the studio shaved a year off her age to make her seem more precocious, even altering her birth certificate. She was initially presented to the public as a four-year-old when she was actually almost six. Shirley didn't learn how old she really was until she was thirteen.
Similar to the Shirley Temple example above, Gypsy Rose Lee and her sister June Havoc had years shaved off their ages when they performed as child stars. Their mother, the legendary Stage Mom Rose Hovick, reportedly had many fake birth certificates for them and they couldn't be sure of their real ages.
A 34-year-old woman named Charity Johnson pretended to be a 15-year-old high school sophomore for nearly an entire school year at New Life Christian School, fooling teachers, classmates and even the woman who took her in.
Jennifer Connelly was 14, the same age as her character Sarah, during her audition for and throughout filming of Labyrinth.
Michelle Trachtenberg was in her late teens playing 18-year-old Jenny in Euro Trip.
She played the 11-year-old sixth-grader Harriet in Harriet the Spy, while the actress was 10 years old to the day when shooting began on October 11th, 1995 (this may have been done for labor law reasons, or it may have been a coincidence).
She went on to play the 17-year-old lead in Ice Princess, filmed when she was 18. Her co-star Hayden Panettiere, whose character is around the same age as Michelle's (they're in the same grade at school), was 14 at the time.
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson were all roughly the same age as their characters in Harry Potter when they began the film series. Of course, as time has gone on, the actors have gained a bit of a lead on the characters they play, to the point that, as of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, they're all 20-21 years old but playing 17- to 18-year-olds.
Emma Watson actually started off younger than Hermione. In the first film, she was 10 years old playing 11-12.note Hermione is roughly ten months older than Harry, making her 12 for most of the first book/film.
This was the subject of a misaimed parody in Epic Movie, where the "kids" were all in their forties, and "Hermione" was nine months pregnant. It gets even more inappropriate: "Hermione" was shown smoking.
The title role in Babe was played by 48 different piglets, because they grow so quickly. A makeup artist was employed to make the pigs look similar.
Sue Lyon was 14, and playing 14, when she filmed Lolita. (In the original novel, Lolita was 12; the character's age was raised to comply with the censors. Nabokov himself had said "to make a real 12-year-old girl play such a part in public would be sinful and immoral.") Many are under the mistaken impression that she was 16, because the film was released in 1962, and Lyon was born in 1946. The film was, however, filmed between November 1960-May 1961, and she was born July 10th, 1946, making her 14 for the duration of filming.
Similarly, Dominique Swain was 15 when she played the 14-year-old Lolita in The Remake (again, the character's age was raised to comply with the censors).
Michael Cera (Evan) was 18 and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogel/"McLovin") 17 when playing their graduating high-school characters in Superbad. Jonah Hill (Seth), by contrast, was 23 (due to legal regulations, Mintz-Plasse's mother actually had to be on the set of Superbad the day his character's sex scene was shot).
The 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film of Romeo and Juliet featured one of the only examples of an actress playing Juliet being anywhere near her age. Juliet, who is supposed to be nearing 14, was played by 15-year-old Olivia Hussey. Hussey was famously barred from the premiere due to her age. In effect, she was deemed too young to witness a scene featuring her own nude body. Seventeen-year-old Leonard Whiting was impressively young for Romeo, as well.
Gogo Yubari, the psychotic 17-year-old killer from Kill Bill was played by the 18-year-old Chiaki Kuriyama (the film was released on her 19th birthday).
Leonardo DiCaprio was twenty-two when he played twenty-year-old Jack Dawson in Titanic. Also, 22-year-old Kate Winslet as 17-year-old Rose DeWitt.
Inverted in Mysterious Skin with Brady Corbet and Michelle Trachtenberg. Corbet was 15 and playing a 17- to 18-year-old, while Trachtenberg was 18, the same age as her character.
Kirsten Dunst was eleven years old in Interview with the Vampire, where she played a vampire who was infected at eleven years old and was never able to grow up. Her kiss with the adult Brad Pitt led to a fair amount of controversy. Her character was aged up from about six for practical reasons.
The Virgin Suicides: The actresses playing the younger Lisbon sisters were close in age to their characters, from Kirsten Dunst (16) as 14- to 15-year-old Lux, to Hanna R. Hall (14) who played 13-year-old Cecilia, to Chelse Swain (15) as 15-16-year-old Bonnie.
Lost in Translation: Scarlett Johansson was not yet 18 when she played Charlotte, who is in her early-to-mid twenties (going by her reference to having graduated from college a little while previously). Johansson had just graduated from high school when she got the part.
In Somewhere, 11-year-old Cleo is played by 11-year-old Elle Fanning (she was 12 by the time of its release).
Yet another Sofia Coppola film, Marie Antoinette, features a partial subversion — it starts off playing the trope straight by having 23-year-old Kirsten Dunst portray the future queen of France at age 14, but Dunst continues to play her all the way into her thirties.
The Film of the BookTwilight: Kristen Stewart (Bella) was actually seventeen and Taylor Lautner (Jacob) was fifteen during filming. Robert Pattinson is twenty-two, in contrast to the eternally 17-year-old Edward. The rest of the actors playing the Cullens are mostly in their early twenties, but it's justified as their characters aren't even really of high school attending age to begin with.
Chloe Moretz, at 11, plays 10-year-old Hit Girl in Kick-Ass. 17-year-old Kick-Ass himself is played by 19-year-old Aaron Johnson. At 15, she stars in the 2013 remake of Carrie as the titular 16-year-old character.
Matchstick Men is an unusual case in that an actress in her twenties plays a 14-year-old girl with surprising believability, yet in the end it's revealed that her character really is in her twenties.
In Apocalypse Now, Laurence Fishburne played a 17-year-old soldier, but he was only 14 years old when filming started (due to the film's long period of production and post-production, Fishburne was 17 when the movie was released).
In Sixteen Candles the 16-year-old protagonist is portrayed by a 16-year-old Molly Ringwald. In the same movie, the trope is delightfully lampshaded by Ringwald's comments on a classmate (played by then-25-year-old Haviland Morris). "I swear to God, Caroline Mulford had to flunk about nine grades."
In Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald was 18 while playing a high school senior.
In the movie Real Genius, Gabe Jarret played a 15-year-old, and was actually 15 at the time of the film's release.
Partial subversion: In the film version of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, eighteen-year-old David Kross plays main character Michael Berg from the age of fifteen into his early twenties. Considering the fairly explicit sex scenes with co-star Kate Winslet, there was very little chance of Michael being cast any younger. It is also worth noting that, although this is not mentioned in the film, the book features a brief scene in which Kate Winslet's character Hanna Schmitz expresses the false understanding that Michael is at university already when she starts having sex with him, implying that he looks several years older than he actually is.
Evan Rachel Wood was fourteen when she was cast in 13, the title referring to her character's age (Wood turned fifteen during filming). Considering the sex-and-drugs subject matter of the movie, probably no one would have blamed them if they had cast a baby-faced adult, so it's a notable near-aversion.
Tara Steele was about ten when she played teenaged Katie in Mockingbird Don't Sing, though the character was 'supposed' to look much younger than she really was.
Victoire Thivisol was four years old when she played the main role in Ponette, that of a four-year-old who loses her mother. She even won a Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the 1996 Venice Film Festival for her heartbreaking performance.
All of the teenagers in Casper were played by people between the ages of 13 and 15 (including the voice actor for the titular character), and the temporarily revived Casper is played by a 17-year-old. For somebody used to this in movies, the sight of an entire classroom of teenagers who actually look like teenagers is actually rather jarring.
The live action adaptation of The Last Airbender both plays this straight and subverts it. Jackson Rathbone (Sokka) was 25 playing 15 and Dev Patel (Zuko) was 19 playing 16, but both Noah Ringer (Aang) and Nicola Peltz (Katara) were the same age as their characters during filming (12 and 14 respectively).
Disturbingly avoided in Taxi Driver. Jodie Foster was 13 when she played the role of a 12-year-old prostitute (except for the nude scenes, which were performed by her older sister, who was of legal age).
The Sound of Music largely kept the actors relatively close to their ages — Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich) was fifteen playing fourteen, Heather Menzies (Louisa) fourteen playing thirteen, Duane Chase (Kurt) thirteen playing eleven, Angela Cartwright (Brigitta) twelve playing ten, Debbie Turner (Marta) eight playing seven, and Kym Karath (Gretl) six playing five. Played utterly straight, however, with Charmian Carr (Liesl), who was twenty-one playing sixteen-going-on-seventeen.
In Another Cinderella Story, Selena Gomez was 15 and playing a 15-year-old high schooler. Critics were squicked that Drew Seeley, who played her love interest, was 24, but the movie makes it clear that his character really is that age. A Cinderella Story also averts this with Hilary Duff (whose character is 17 — she was 16 when the film was released).
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid film adaptation. The supplemental film diary mentioned that a lot of the child actors used were actual middle-schoolers and that the two boys playing Greg and Rowley actually missed their first days of sixth grade to film the movie.
Borderline case: Most of the actors playing students in Sky High were between 17 and 19 at the time of the film's release, although many of them played high school freshmen.
Brooke Shields, in her 1980s movie appearances from age 14-17 (most famously The Blue Lagoon), appeared in a variety of R-rated films that involved frontal nudity. In each case, an over-20 body double covered those moments for her.
Mandy Moore was 18 when she played high school student Jamie in A Walk to Remember, though her also high school aged love interest was played by Shane West, who was 21 at the time.
Walking the line in Mystery Team; the actors are in their early twenties, and their characters are high school seniors.
Ann Miller played a character several years older in You Can't Take It With You when she was fifteen.
While a number of the cast members who play tributes in The Hunger Games are borderline cases, it's definitely averted by Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove), Jacqueline Emerson (Foxface) and Amandla Stenberg (Rue) — aged 15, 17 and 13 respectively at the time of release.
Nikki Blonsky was 17, playing teenaged Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray. She had her 18th birthday on-set.
The cast of Stand by Me were close in age to their characters, although still a straight version of the trope, with the exception of Jerry O'Connell. Wil Wheaton was 13 (playing "12 going on 13"), Cory Feldman was 14 and River Phoenix almost 15. Jerry O'Connell was 11.
A bit of a twist: the actress who plays the antagonist in Orphan was 10 or 11, playing a 9-year-old who's actually in her 30s.
Inverted to the point of lunacy in Aces: Iron Eagle III - Christopher Cazenove, Horst Buchholz and Sonny Chiba (born in 1943, 1933 and 1939 respectively) play World War II aces, while Paul Freeman (born 1943) plays an ex-Nazi bad guy. Run that by me again?
Mostly averted by Lords Of Dogtown, in which Victor Rasuk (age 19), Emile Hirsch (age 18) and John Robinson (age 18) convincingly play teenage Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and Stacy Peralta, respectively. However, in real life Peralta and Alva were four years older than Adams, who is portrayed in the movie as being approximately the same age as them. Likely Hirsch was cast due to the difficulty of casting a real 13-year-old for the part.
Claire Danes (Angela) and Devon Gummersall (Brian) from My So-Called Life really were teenagers at the time of filming — although the rest of the teenage characters were played by twentysomethings (including the aforementioned Senta Moses).
This is a rare, possibly unique inversion, especially for an actress, as the producers knew that Danes was only 13 years old (at the start of filming) yet they still cast her to play a character two full years older than the actress, without any retcons or fudging the numbers.
Justified with Jared Leto in the character of Jordan, who is repeating the grade the rest of the kids are in...at least for the second time.
The teens on Degrassi are all played by real teens — but they're much more attractive than the typical bunch of high schoolers (see Hollywood Homely).
The show has been slipping into example of this, but only due to a change in season coverage. Early seasons went at an equal time (1 school year per season), since season six ended they now run the series at half the speed (half a school year per season). This means that members of the cast are now older than their characters. However, most new characters are still about the same as their actors when introduced, leaving it well short of being as bad as The Trope Namer or any other example.
An odd recent aversion is casting 17 year old (16 during filming) Niamh Wilson as a 12th grader, making her younger than her character and all but one of the cast regulars, who plays a 9th grader.
Beverly Hills 90210 did manage to avoid this in a few cases: Shannen Doherty (19) and Jennie Garth (18) were borderline, but at least they were still teenagers. Brian Austin Green and Tori Spelling, both 17, were clear aversions. Douglas Emerson, who played Scott Scanlon, was actually 16, making him the only actor the same age as his character, but he was written off in the second season.
Most of the original cast on Saved by the Bell were close to age-correct, though there was a little leakage into the 20s by graduation from the portion of the cast not from the original Good Morning Miss Bliss:
Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played Zack, was 14 when he started on Good Morning Miss Bliss, playing an eighth-grader and was 19 at "graduation". Lark Voorhies, who played Lisa, was only a few weeks younger than Gosselaar. Dustin Diamond was three years younger than them, and the youngest in the cast, playing an eighth-grader at age 11 (and a high schooler at 12). If you were wondering why it took so long for Screech's voice to drop, that's why.
The two kids from Good Morning Miss Bliss who did not carry over to Saved By The Bell, Max Battimo and Heather Hopper, were 14 and 12 respectively.
Mario Lopez (Slater) started out at age 16, graduating at 20; Tiffani(-Amber) Thiessen started at 15, making her the same age as Gosselaar and Voorhees. The eldest was Elizabeth Berkley, 17 when she started and 21 when it ended.
The other kids on Hannah Montana, including star Miley Cyrus, were actually in their early-to-mid-teens when the show started, making the casting of Jackson all the more glaring — and baffling, though that only applies when you find out his actual age; seriously, if you didn't think he looked like he was in his late teens, you are either blind or really need your eyes checked. This is funny in that he's more believable as a teen in Hannah Montana than he is as a grown adult in Dadnapped.
Averted in Shake It Up, where the characters are supposed to be in high school. In fact, leads Bella Thorne (Cece) and Adam Irigoyen (Deuce) were only 13 years old playing high school freshmen at the start of the series.
Mostly averted with Sonny With A Chance and its spinoff So Random!, except for one member of the core cast, Tiffany Thornton, who was 24 years of age when she played 17-year-old Tawni Hart.
Super Sentai often averts the trope: post-2000 series rarely feature main cast members older than 22-23 maximum, save for some Sixth Rangers who were older than the main heroes. Several recent series have had 15 to 17-year-old characters played by actors of the same age and even teenagers playing characters older than themselves — Shinkenger has 14-year-old Runa Natsui as 17-year-old Kaoru. There are however a few examples of the trope played straight, such as Goseiger where 20-year-old Mikiho Niwa plays 17-year-old Moune.
In Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters, Ryuji is played at 28 years old by Ryouma Baba (who turned 27 soon after the start of filming) and at 15 years old by Koudai Matsuoka (a year younger than the character.)
Possibly the most hilariously exaggerated inversion yet — in Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger, 23-year-old Yumeria Moegi is played by 16-year-old Karin Ogino.
Christina Applegate was 15 years old and playing a 15-year-old in the first season of (her character's age was said to be 16 a few months before Christina herself, making it a rare case of a teen actor younger than her role).
David Faustino was much the same, playing a 12-year-old boy when he was in fact 12 years old. In both cases, the characters aged at the same rate as the actors. Of course, while Kelly was repeatedly stated to have an active sex life, Applegate wasn't actively portrayed making out on camera until after she turned 18.
Katey Sagal was 33 and Ed O Neill 41 when the series started, though for comedic effect Al and Peg often referred to the other as being several decades older than that.
The Bill features a 19-year-old character, played by an actress who was 17 when she started filming.
Sarah Michelle Gellar was 16 when she started playing Erica Kane's long lost daughter Kendall Hart on All My Children in 1993. The character was initially 16 years old but, via a retcon, her age was later changed to 23 due to the continuity errors of Erica having a teenaged daughter from a teenaged pregnancy created. When the character was brought back 6.5 years later, Kendall's birth year and age were reverted back to her original age when she first appeared as a teenager in 1993.
Freaks and Geeks had a good percentage of its cast close to or of the high school age (24-year-old Linda Cardellini and 21-year-old James Franco being exceptions). John Francis Daley, playing a very small and scrawny 14-year-old, was the same age as his character.
Also, in Bones, in which a now 24-year-old John Francis Daley plays 24-year-old wunderkind psychologist Lance Sweets.
In Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined), Kara "Starbuck" Thrace is about 28-29 years old by the end of the third season, going by a reference to her having graduated from the military academy six years previously. Katee Sackhoff, the actress who played Kara, was only 26 at the time.
For that matter, the fact that she was cast could be considered an inversion of this trope: the original script for the miniseries described Starbuck as being in her thirties. Katee was 22 when she tried out for the part and eventually got it, despite initial objections from the casting directors that she was too young.
Firefly has twenty-year-old Jewel Staite playing Kaylee, who is implied to be older than 17-year-old River (played by Summer Glau, who IRL was a year older than Jewel).
F Troop's "Wrangler Jane", presumably a character in her twenties, was played by Melody Patterson. Melody got the part after lying about her age initially, and was only 15 years old at the start of the show.
The 15-year-old character of Jackie Burkhart was played by the actually 15-year-old Mila Kunis. The story goes that when asked how old she was, Mila said, "I'll be 18 on my birthday." She just didn't say which birthday. The producers liked her so much that they decided to keep her even when they found out the truth. Thus, she was 14 when they started filming the series, but the producers thought she was 16.
When the show started, Laura Prepon and Wilmer Valderrama were also teens; however, they aged normally, while their characters did not.
In Supernatural, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are actually almost exactly the same ages as their characters, Sam and Dean Winchester. They are each one year older than their charactersnote Although that may have just been an accident. There's a pretty large gap of time between when an episode films and when it airs, and their birthdays might have just happened in the meantime., but the four-year age gap between them is the same.
However, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays their father, is only 12 years older than Ackles (something Padalecki and Ackles used to tease him about). This begins to border on squick for those who also watch Grey's Anatomy, considering Jensen Ackles (his son) and Katherine Heigl (his girlfriend) are the same age.
Played straight with Teen!Dean in "After School Special," but inverted with Teen!Sam: the actor playing 14-year-old Sam played 8-year-old in "A Very Supernatural Christmas" a year before. The kid was about 12 years old or maybe 13, but very small for his age.
Grey's Anatomy watchers might also find it strange Sarah Drew plays 17-year old Nora in the season 5 episode Swap Meat despite being 30-year old, and playing an age-appropriate doctor in Grey's at the time.
The cast of Skins are generally the same age as the characters they play — which makes it a rather interesting exception given the show's apparent policy of "sex, drugs, and nudity whenever possible."
The American version landed in hot water with the Moral Guardians for casting teenaged actors, who accused the producers of violating "child pornography laws" for a semi-nude scene using a 17-year-old actor. They weren't actually doing anything illegal, but the resulting Squick did put a lot of viewers off the show.
Gilmore Girls featured 33-year-old Lauren Graham as 32-year-old Lorelai Gilmore, and 18-year-old (at the time of casting) Alexis Bledel as 16-year-old Rory Gilmore.
Lucy Griffiths, who played Marian in the BBC's 2006 version of Robin Hood was 18 and playing a 21-year-old character in the first series.
On The Wire, Jermaine Crawford (Duquan "Dukie" Weems), Maestro Harrell (Randy Wagstaff) and Michael B. Jordan (Wallace) were the same ages as their characters (15, 14, and 16 respectively).
Many Nickelodeon shows using a live-action cast actually used actors around the same age as their characters.
Notably, The Adventures of Pete & Pete actually paid attention to how old the characters were and raised their ages accordingly and the producers later commented that the kids essentially grew up on the set because they'd been doing the shorts and television series for so long.
Drake & Josh had the title actors be the appropriate age, with Miranda Cosgrove playing a 10-year-old. But the show's timeline was different then real time, and the actors were hitting their 20s when the characters were still in High School. Cosgrove especially was about 14, still supposedly about 11 or 12.
Same situation for Neds Declassified School Survival Guide, sort of. Devon Werkheiser and Daniel Curtis Lee were both 13 when they started the show which is fine for 7th graders. However, for the next 2 years the show never went past 8th grade and ended with the 2 boys 16 years old still playing 8th graders. Lindsey Shaw on the other hand, was 15 playing a 7th grader when the show started, a true Dawsons Casting. She ended the show playing an 8th grader at age 17.
Melissa Joan Hart was fifteen when she started playing Clarissa Darling, and her character aged up accordingly.
Claire was 17 years old — and played by 16-year-old (when the series started) Hayden Panettiere — until the writers noticed fans enjoying the chemistry displayed between Claire and 26-year-old Peter and writers docked her age down one or two years to make them less comfortable with the pairing until The Reveal of Peter and Claire being related.
The kids who play Molly Walker and Micah Sanders are about the same age as their characters, or at least they were until the show took some time off. Micah is supposed to be eleven, and the actor is now fourteen, which is very noticeable as puberty has begun to kick in and his voice changed. Deepest voice on an eleven-year-old ever.
In Home Improvement the actors playing the kids were all of appropriate age: Zachary Ty Bryan (Brad) was the same age as his character, Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Randy) was a year older than his character and Taran Noah Smith (Mark) was a year older than his character.
Season 4 continues this but plays around with this and Older than They Look. George Micheal becomes the target of sex offenders due to his youthful looks despite being and perhaps because he's 22. Maeby is still in high school, purposely posing as a senior for the last five years. Of course she's barely fooling anyone.
Recent set photos show Cera exploring UC Irvine, so probably not.
Tyler James Williams, the young Chris Rock on Everybody Hates Chris, was 12 when he began playing his middle-school-aged role. Unfortunately, he's since hit puberty ... and now his voice is noticeably more baritone than that of the adult Chris Rock, who narrates the show.
Not to mention one of the early jokes of the show was that Chris' younger brother was taller than him (mirroring Chris Rock's real life younger brother who grew taller than him at an early age). After puberty, Williams was much taller than the other actor, not to mention his constant bully (though the bully remained much bulkier than the skinny Williams).
Holly Tyler of What I Like About You was exactly the same age as her portrayer Amanda Bynes (starting at 16 in the pilot), AND aged in real time to boot (both were nearly 20 in the finale).
Neil Patrick Harris was more or less the same age as his character when he was in Doogie Howser, M.D., although the show does illustrate why this trope exists — he really grew from season one to season two. However, Max Casella was 22 years old when he began playing 16-year-old Vinnie.
Most of the Boy Meets World cast (with the already-mentioned exception of Trina McGee) were fairly close to the ages of the characters they portrayed. In the first season, Will Friedle was 17 and playing a 15-year-old and 11-year-olds Cory, Shawn, and Topanga were portrayed by Ben Savage (13), Rider Strong (13), and Danielle Fishel (12). But the timeline actually moves faster in the BMW universe than in real life: The gang takes five years to graduate high school instead of seven, making Savage and Strong the same ages as their characters (and Fishel a year younger). Matthew Lawrence joined the cast in the fifth season at age 17, playing Shawn's older brother, despite being two months younger than Strong.
In fact, even though only two years of college are shown, it is strongly implied that at least three years have passed; Eric, Jack, and Rachel are all graduating despite (apparently) being Juniors. This makes Maitland Ward, who joined in the sixth season at age 21, yet another aversion.
On the other hand, the use of accurately-aged actors added a nice flavor of realism to the physical changes during puberty for the main characters. For example, Topanga grows breasts over the summer at the same time that Danielle Fishel grew them during the hiatus between seasons. And in season 1, Rider Strong is more than six inches taller and considerably larger-boned than Ben Savage (to the point where their difference in size was the subject of a few gags), although both the actors and their characters are only a few months apart in age. Fast-forward to season 3, and not only have both actors grown considerably, but Savage has shot up to a couple of inches taller than Strong, as well as becoming noticeably bulkier than the latter.
Willa Holland really was fourteen when she played fourteen-year-old Kaitlin Cooper on The O.C.. Actually, she didn't turn fourteen until just after her first episode aired, but that's fine because Kaitlin was eleven two seasons earlier, anyway. (Though humorously played by an actress who was the same age)
Mischa Barton was 17 when Marissa was 16 in the first season.
Malcolm in the Middle does this by a couple years; at the beginning, 14-year-old Frankie Muniz played (approximately) 11-year-old Malcolm; 9-year-old Erik Per Sullivan played his 6-year-old younger brother Dewey; 20-year-old Christopher Masterson played his 16-year-old brother Francis; but his older brother Reese was played by 13-year-old Justin Berfield (who was taller than Frankie, and remained so throughout the entire series, to the producers' probable relief).
Invoked in one episode, an adult woman in her early 20s poses as a student in order to bust drug dealers. Nobody is fooled.
Matthew in One Life to Live is canonically about a year older than actor Eddie Alderson.
Richard Castle's daughter Alexis is eighteen, as is her actress Molly Quinn.
The whole Castle family falls under this trope. The actors portraying Richard Castle and his mother (Nathan Fillion and Susan Sullivan) were 37 and 66 when filming began. That makesCastlea young father, but it does work out.
Lie to Me: Cal Lightman's daughter is 15/16; the actress playing her 18.
Although the flagship character of Caprica (Zoe Graystone) is played by someone about six years older than the character, Tamara is herself a semi-exception. Genevieve Buechneris older than Tamara Adama but she's much closer than her colleagues to her character's age, being only 18 while her character is about 15.
Claire Danes subverted this somewhat in her first major role in My So-Called Life. The producers thought she looked too old for the role of Angela Chase, when she was actually younger, and the character's age was revised downward to match the actress's actual age of 15.
A deleted scene from the Pilot of The X-Files shows Scully as a teacher at Quantico, and it has been noted by many fans that she looks much younger than her students.
Gillian Anderson was actually four full years younger than her character on The X-Files. She lied to the producers of the show to say she was 27, to make her seem more credible as an FBI agent with a medical degree.
New Zealand series The Tribe averted this with every one of the actors playing characters the same age, give or take a year.
The Canadian TV series Ramona, based on the Ramona Quimby books, subverted this surprisingly well. Ramona is 8 years old and in third grade. So is her actress. (The film, on the other hand, is a ludicrous example of this trope played very straight!)
Breaking Bad's high school-age Walter White, Jr. is played by high school-age RJ Mitte. As of Season 3, both character and actor are 17.
The George Lopez Show averts this with Max, who is played by Luis Armand Garcia. They are both the same age. Played somewhat straight with Carmen (Masiela Lusha), in that Masiela Lusha was 17 at the start of the show and Carmen was supposed to be 13-14.
All characters on The Wonder Years had ages to match their roles, with star Fred Savage being 11 years old when the show first began. Following this trope, Fred Savage has had trouble finding work as an adult after his lauded childhood acting career (acting work, that is — he's been considerably busier as a director).
Pretty Little Liarsaverts this with Sasha Pieterse who began playing the role of Alison DiLaurentis at age 14, one year younger than the character. As The Other Wiki puts it, "being only 14 at the time, she is the youngest actress on the show, all her co-stars being in their late teens to early 20s."
Averted in Earth 2. 8-year-old Uly Adair and 10-year-old True Danziger were played by actors aged 8 and 10 respectively.
Unlike almost all of her costars, Michelle Trachtenberg was the same age as her character, Dawn (14 years old when she first appeared on the show).
Another aversion: at the time of Faith's first appearance in Faith, Hope and Trick, Eliza Dushku was actually seventeen, Faith's age at the time (she had to apply for legal emancipation so she could work on the show unencumbered by child labour laws).
Taylor Momsen was fourteen when Gossip Girl premiered, same age as her character Jenny. This ended up pulling the plug on the planned Jenny/Nate romance in season two since Chace Crawford (in his twenties) wasn't comfortable with a storyline that would have him regularly making out with a then fifteen-year-old.
In The Sarah Jane Adventures, Luke Smith and Maria Jackson were played by actual teenagers. This demonstrates one of the advantages of Dawson Casting because both actors had to leave the show for academic reasons.
Inverted on The West Wing. Elizabeth Moss is at least a year younger than Zoey Bartlet.
On 3rd Rock from the Sun, Tommy was Really 700 Years Old, but his fake Earth age was always the same as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's real age (both were fourteen in the first season). Both his girlfriends were played by actresses (Shay Astar and Larisa Oleynik) born in the same year as him. However, there was the interesting situation of Joseph Gordon-Levitt looking younger than he actually was, especially in the early seasons. August looked like she was a good year or two older than Tommy, but actually Shay Astar is seven months younger than Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
On South of Nowhere Chris Hunter was 18 at the time of filming playing the 17- to 18-year-old Glenn. It's notable because he was three years younger than the actress playing his younger sister.
In the Made-for-TV MovieBirds Of Prey David Janssen plays an ex-WWII pilot who now flies a traffic helicopter. The film was made when Janssen was 41, and he was 14 when the war ended!
Totally averted by BBC children's dramas Byker Grove and Grange Hill, where all the actors playing children were about the same age as their characters. Some were even a year or so younger.
Effectively averted in one case on Glee, in which Chris Colfer was not only 18 years old when he was cast as 16-year-old Kurt Hummel, but went through a rather dramatic late burst of puberty after being cast, supplying a very effective visual of Kurt growing up (literally, as he gained about three inches in height) on screen. As Colfer still looks Kurt's age (19) in Season 4, it's becoming disconcerting to see Kurt standing next to his on-screen stepbrother Finn, who is supposed to be roughly the same age but was played by Cory Monteith, who was closer to 30 than 20 and starting to show it.
In the UFO episode "Destruction" Sarah Bosanquet is said to have "ten years' service" at her job, which is a little tricky given that actress Stephanie Beacham would have been about twenty-three at the time of production.
John Owen Jones was 26 when he first assumed the role of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, who ages from late thirties-early forties at the beginning of the show and into his sixties by the end. Alexander Gemignani was 27 when he starred as Valjean in the Broadway revival. This kind of thing also happens to a lesser degree with Javert and the Thenardiers, who age similarly to Valjean throughout the show, and are usually cast near the younger end of that range (i.e. 40s). Valjean, however, is most susceptible to inverted Dawson Casting due to the role being written for a high tenor, and there are few men Valjean's age who can hit those high notes with the kind of power necessary for the role.
Similarly, this has been a respected convention for the casting of the very aged King Lear, due to the exhausting nature of the role (in one scene, Lear has to carry around Cordelia's body). However, this has not stopped many of the Shakespearean actors in their sixties and seventies from taking on the role, particularly more recently, and often multiple times throughout their lives. As a result, Lears come in all different ages.
Sir John Gielgud at 26, 46, 51, and finally at 90(!), as part of an all-star radio production.
Both 13 and the recent revival of Bye Bye Birdie averted this, casting real teens to play the teen characters. Ditto for certain stage productions of High School Musical, notably those by real high school theatre departments.
Amy Nuttall was 16 when playing Christine in The Phantom of the Opera on the West End, and to date is the youngest leading actress ever featured in the London production. Christine is almost always played by an actress in her mid- to late 20s, because most younger singers don't have the training needed for the demanding numbers.
The cast of Newsies. Neil Patrick Harris made a joke at the Tonys about the "hyper-acrobatic 35-year-old 15-year-olds" in the show.
Teen/18 Porn sites often feature women in their 20's who look young.
Incredibly, Maria Callas began her opera career at the age of 15, as the leading lady in Cavallera rusticana, which is about a young, knocked-up village girl, probably about 15-16. Since it requires performers who can sing over an orchestra, this trope doesn't have many opera exceptions, folks.
Although there is one other noticeable aversion in the field of opera — Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. Tchaikovsky felt that older singers playing young, passionate lovers would cause people to be unable to take his opera seriously. He had students at the Moscow Conservatory put on the first performance of Eugene Onegin.
Lampshaded by the The Firesign Theatre on their album Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers; High school student Porgie Tirebiter's best friend Mudhead is in court, and the prosecutor (Porgie's dad) says "So you don't go to school?" to which Mudhead replies, "Hell, no! I'm thirty years old!"
This one is in "Other" because it derives from Theatre, Live-Action Film, and Television: Patty Duke in three separate productions of The Miracle Worker. Duke was able to play Helen Keller on Broadway well into her teens, and played her again in the 1962 film adaptation, partly because she was very small: even in adulthood she has never grown taller than five feet. Her height presented a particular challenge to the producers of the 1979 TV remake, in which she played Annie Sullivan, because she was cast opposite fifteen-year-old Melissa Gilbert — confronting audiences with a seven-year-old Helen Keller who was taller than her teacher.
The Full Cast Audio book recordings, which was founded by Bruce Coville, always uses age-appropriate voice actors for every book they record.
In the notorious "Friday" video, 13-year-old Rebecca Black and her real-life friends (who are presumably in the 12-14 range) play characters who are at least 16, as one of them is driving a car. This has been observed and lampshaded in many parodies.
In the music video for Aerosmith's song "Crazy", 17-year-old Alicia Silverstone and 16-year-old Liv Tyler play two students who skip class and go on a road trip together. The fact that this is an exception is surprising because the video is fanservice-heavy and even features Liv doing a striptease at one point. Not to mention the fact that Liv is lead singer Steven Tyler's daughter.
Lots of examples posted on this tumblr, with comparison photos of the actors when they were actually teenagers.
School plays and musicals usually invert or avert this. Well... mostly. A high school theatrical production will of course have all the roles played by high school students, so if they're supposed to be high school students it's an aversion (or inversion if they're supposed to be older). However, it's not uncommon for there to be a younger brother or sister in the play who's supposed to be a pre-teen, who's usually played by the shortest/youngest-looking person who tries out. If they're supposed to be 12, this can work okay; if they're supposed to be 6, it's less believable.
Traci Lords did adult entertainment when she was a minor. She did (and does) look older than most people who were born in 1968. When the feds tried to bust the pornographers for hiring someone underage, the case fell apart when the government admitted that it, too, had been fooled when Lords traveled to Europe on a fake passport.
Which is all true, but there are some 'verts going on. One being that she often played teen characters, for instance a girl skipping school and having sex with her teen lover. Another being that her teen lover was often played by someone who wasn't a teen, or at least 18 or 19. Another is that, when Lords "came out" as underaged, some of her scenes were re-shot with an adult body double, so that the character is being played by both a minor and major. Another is that she was a teen who would occasionally play an adult who was pretending to be a teen.
"I've been 17 for the last 6 summers. And the rest of the time, I sell real estate." — Bad Girls III note High school drop-out Lords owned her own porn production company that was so successful that it bought other production companies or put them out of business, forcing the employees to work for Lords.