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Dawson Casting

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Nobody understands the teenage mind better than an adult actor. note 

"This is just like The O.C., except without 25-year-old teenagers and 35-year-old parents."
Jack, Will & Grace

High school students in live-action films and shows very often look a lot older than their real-life counterparts for a very good reason: they are often played by actors who are old enough to have finished high school. This practice has been around since at least the 1920s (when Hollywood was new). As detailed on the Analysis page, Dawson casting is done out of practicality.

If a show or movie carries a greater focus on the adults rather than on the children or teenagers, then the casting will try for actual child or teen actors.

This 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 not looking their actual age. In other cases, some stories work with this because a key plot point may be the character is trying to pass themselves off as older than they really are. But with no such luck Hollywood will get by with appropriate clothing, hairstyles, makeup and mannerisms.


Dawson casting works better with females than with males. Girls can keep a very similar facial structure and vocal range even after going through puberty, whereas boys tend to have a significantly deepened voice, more defined musculature, and some facial stubble that is faintly visible even if thoroughly shaved. Therefore, it's much easier for an actress in her 20's to pass herself off as a teenager than a male actor that age. For example, look at 18-year-old Austin St. John, playing a high school freshman on Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. It does not look right. Now look at 22-year-old Amy Jo Johnson, playing a high school freshman on the same show. The casting is not as obvious here.

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). Seventeen-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 was a certain age when they played a certain role unless you scour around Wikipedia or IMDb. It's also worth noting that actors have a legal right to not reveal their real age in auditions or on resumes, unless they're under eighteen.note  And there's nothing stopping them from lying (Lisanne Falk was 23 when she starred in Heathers but lied that she was 19 and they never found out). 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 didn't qualify previously a clear example over time. Consider also that the exact age of the character may also be in question (a generic "high schooler" is usually anywhere from 14 to 18). 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.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this trope; all forms of entertainment are about the illusion. What 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 necessarily 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, and Three-Month-Old Newborn. Contrast Hollywood Old, Playing Gertrude, Underage Casting, and Children Voicing Children. 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. Also used to avert a Stage Mom situation.


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Straight Examples

     Anime and Manga 
  • While this is usually not an issue with animation, it becomes somewhat noticeable when idol series, like Marginal #4 and Uta no Prince-sama, have the voice actors perform concerts in-character. Though, some of them definitely look the part, like Unicorn Jr.'s Shouta Aoi and Toshiyuki Someya (both 30 at the time of the franchise's first big concert; their characters are 15 and 16). Somewhat subverted with the third member of the trio, Alto, who's supposed to be 16, but looks so much like his voice actor that he seems older, even in the animation.
  • Princess Principal: In-Universe - Dorothy is 20 years old, and undercover as a high schooler. Ange lampshades it by saying her class must be very kind.
  • Anime in general is somewhat notorious for having teenager characters designed in a way that makes them appear much older than the age they're supposed to be (and the same even goes for adult characters too). It's especially common in Shōnen, and some Shōjo series, and it's something of a meme within the community.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Although there's generally no actual casting involved, many fanfics involve describing teenaged characters (both existing and new) in terms that don't fit with their ages. 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.
  • Role Players tend to cast their characters into age-illogical celebrities.
  • In the author's notes of My Immortal, Tara Gilesbie suggested that Gerard Way (!) should play Draco in the next Harry Potter film. Gerard was almost 30 at the time.
  • Butter Up of the Actingverse in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction plays Fluttershy, and is a full adult, unlike the child stars who play the other characters.


  • Alice Cooper, born in 1948, has been singing "I'm Eighteen" since 1970.
  • 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. 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.
  • Korn have made a career out of teenage angst and high school ostracizing; so far they've been at it since 1993, being at the time 22 years old plus.
    • The video for the song Thoughtless, being set in a high school, no doubt features numerous instances of it. The most prominent (although, age-wise, the gap isn't that big), especially now, is on the part of the video's "lead character", played by a then-22-year-old Aaron Paul.
  • 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.
  • Spice Girls
  • Beastie Boys
  • 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.
  • New Kids on the Block
  • Backstreet Boys
  • Indigo Girls
  • 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.
  • Brand New are still performing their Ode to Youth "Soco Amaretto Lime" at the end of their shows, when the band members are close to 40.
  • The song and video for Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl", which depicts Gwen as a high-schooler. She was 36.
  • In her video for "Mickey", Toni Basil portrays a high school cheerleader. She was 39 at the time.
  • Rob Halford of Judas Priest mixed this with Boomerang Bigot on the group's 1986 synth-metal album Turbo, which included songs about how teenagers are "wild", "hot" and crazy" and adults are uncool. Most blatantly, there's the line "We don't need no, no, no, no parental guidance here!" Halford was in his mid-thirties when he wrote and sang that line, making him more like a cool young uncle than a hip teen.
  • In the music video for "Bad", Michael Jackson, who was 29 at the time, plays a high school student.
  • The song 3LW's "No More (Baby I'ma Do Right)" has the lyrics "But that was last year in the eighth grade". The singers were a few years older than most ninth graders.

  • Acknowledged in Interstitial Actual Play when the party heads to the High School Musical world. In-universe, the cast all look like they're in their twenties, which helps actual twenty year olds Edith and Roxanne blend in.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Fighting Opera 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.
  • TNA did a storyline where "Father" James Mitchell claimed to be the father of Abyss...except taking into account their relative ages meant that Mitchell was only 9 when Abyss would have been born.
  • Bull Nakano Produce Empress featured a 50s & 40s & 30s & 20s & 10s five on five Tag Team match with a wrestler on each side for each age group, except for one of the 10s was Dramatic Dream Team's Cherry, who had claimed to be 18 eight years ago and would logically would be 26.
  • Kelly Kelly evoked this, even though her character was intentionally written to subvert it. When hired to appear as an "exhibitionist" on ECW on SciFi in the late spring of 2006, Barbara Jean Blank, born in 1987, was not yet 20 (her birthday is in January) and looked even younger than that. The commentators and other performers frequently called attention to the fact that Kelly was "underage", even though 20 is comfortably over the age of consent in the United States and most European countries; they were merely trying to emphasize that she was the youngest person on the entire roster. As if those innuendoes weren't enough, Kelly was also paired romantically with Mike Knox, a man so gargantuan that he looked more like her father than her boyfriend - and who acted like her father, too.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Quite common with shows involving puppetry that have characters who represent children. The most notable example is Caroll Spinney playing the six-year-old Big Bird on Sesame Street for 50 years. When he retired, he was 84, making him the oldest example of this trope.

  • Bleak Expectations: The first series has the three main characters as supposed teenagers, played by actors in their thirties. Later series avoid this, as there are successive Time Skips, but series 3 manages to take it to ludicrous (and at this point, definitely intentional) extremes by having Anthony Head playing his character in flashbacks to when he was a child.

  • In Pokémon Live!, the characters are pre-teens. The actors... aren't. Kind of inevitable, really.
  • In the original runnote  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, as well as the 2017 Broadway musical adaptation of the same — 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 17-23 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.
  • The 2015 Broadway production of Gigi has 26-year-old Vanessa Hudgens playing 18-year-old Gigi. Coincidentally, Leslie Caron was the same age when the original film was made. On the other hand, the role of Gaston, who was played by 36-year-old actor in the film, is being performed on Broadway by Corey Cott, who's only 24!
  • In the novel of Les Misérables, Fantine only reaches her mid 20s, while grown-up Cosette and Éponine are only about 16 or 17. In the musical, Cosette and Éponine tend to be played by actresses in their 20s, while Fantine's actresses tend to be in their 30s or older. This is even the case in the 2012 film version, with 30-year-old Anne Hathaway as Fantine, 27-year-old Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and 22-year-old Samantha Barks as Éponine.
  • Due to the fact that Hamilton covers such a long period of time—1776 to 1804 not including the prologue covering the first 19 years of Alexander Hamilton's life—this was pretty much a necessity. However, by far the most blatant example occurs with Alexander's eldest son Phillip. He's the only one of the Hamiltons' eight children with a role in the play (the other kids are mentioned but he's the only one who appears), and the same adult actor plays him at both 9 years old and 19. It helps that his original actor, Anthony Ramos, has a smaller frame, boyish face, and higher vocal range, making it much less distracting than, say, having the hulking baritone Okieriete Onaodowan (Hercules Mulligan in the first act, James Madison in the second) in that role.
  • Hamlet is a tough call. According to the play, he just interrupted his studies at Wittenberg, so he's a university student. But elsewhere, the play implies he might be in his thirties. The role of "Hamlet" has acquired a reputation as being sort of the "crown jewel" of an actor's career, so you'll find men cast as Hamlet when they're in their thirties or older, usually at the height of their fame. It depends on the director's interpretation and casting choices.
  • While the film version was a notable exception, Heathers tends to play this straight. Barret Wilbert Weed was 25 during the Off-Broadway production; Ryan McCartan was 20 and one of the younger cast members.
  • It's very rare that you'll see a production of Romeo and Juliet where Romeo is seventeen, much less one where Juliet is barely fourteen. Leaving aside the challenges of mastering Shakespeare's language and characters, the subject matter (including a rushed marriage, murder, and suicide) is dark and bracing enough as it is. Sometimes the production will just Age Lift Juliet by a few years, even if the actors are still out of their teens. In a more extreme case, the 2019 ACT Theatre production had Mercutio played by the same actor as the much older Lord Montague.
  • Likewise, Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly is supposed to be fifteen in Act I and eighteen in the later acts. But considering the difficulty of her role, she requires a master performer with a fully developed voice, so she (and many other opera ingenues) are Dawson Cast.
  • Puny Humans has Emma, a pre-teen, played by a mid-20s actress, albeit a short one Older Than They Look.
  • Spring Awakening is about early high-school-aged students (fourteen or fifteen years old) having sex. The script calls for simulated masturbation, a light BDSM scene, and a sex scene in which the original Broadway choreography calls for the female and male lead to briefly appear topless and bare-butted, respectively. Even if individual productions choose to omit the nudity (as colleges often will if appearing in plays is a requirement to graduate from certain majors), the subject matter and language still make Dawson Casting a safe bet.
  • Most productions of The King and I, including the film, apply this trope to Anna Leonowens and Playing Gertrude to the King, presumably to make their battle of wills feel more evenly matched and to enhance their Unresolved Sexual Tension. The real Anna was in her late 20s or early 30s (though she most likely claimed to be younger than she was) when she came to Siam, while King Mongkut was nearly 60, but they're usually both played by performers in their mid to late 30s or 40s.
  • The 20th anniversary staging of Sera Myu has the 35-year-old Yamato Yuuga playing the high-schooler Chiba Mamoru note . Yamato left the role after five years, with her last musical having Mamoru going to Harvard as a plot point, which makes him a college student played by a 40-year-old actress.
  • Practically enforced with Takarazuka Revue in the case of characters who are young children (or their child selves), given that the bottom of the age requirement to join the Revue's two-year training program is 15.
  • Despite playing the roles of young girls, the cast of American Girl Live are in their late teens to early adulthood, presumably to save both the production company and American Girl the trouble of having to deal with child labour laws as they are in a nationwide tour, with different states having differing legislation concerning child performers.
  • Both Kristen Vigard and Andrea Mc Ardle were 14 when they played the title role in the original 1977 production of Annie, though this is more or less averted in some of the later productions, notably with Lilla Crawford who was around Annie's age in the 2012 revival.
  • Frozen (2018): Much like in the movie, Princess Anna is eighteen, three years younger than Queen Elsa, who is twenty-one. At the time of the musical's debut, Patti Murin, who plays Anna, was thirty-seven, and Caissie Levy, who plays Elsa, was thirty-six.
  • Zigzagged in the 2019 premiere of Mrs. Doubtfire: The Musical, in which 15 year old Lydia Hillard was played by 20 year old Analise Scarpaci, though actual child actors played her younger siblings and she had a 16 year old understudy.
  • In Book-It Repertory Theatre's 2020 play of The Turn of the Screw, 8-year-old Flora and 10-year-old Miles were both played by actresses in their 20s, also making the latter a Crosscast Role.

    Video Games 
  • The teenagers in Final Fantasy VIII look to be in their early to mid-20s. Since the game is supposed to be like an American-style high school drama and was made at the height of Squaresoft's period of trying to be 'cinematic', it comes across as an intentional stab at creating the look of a Dawson-cast movie. This is especially apparent with Squall, who was modelled after a musician who had been in his 30s at the time of development. There is a sadder element here as well - with the characters being Child Soldiers, so they could have aged slightly due to all their combat training (the game opens with their final exam being thrown into a war zone as peace keepers).
  • Angela from Silent Hill 2 is intended to be a teenager, but was played by an actress in her 40's. This was done on purpose to emphasize how damaged she was after her Dark and Troubled Past.
  • The Last of Us 14-year old Ellie is voiced by 30-year old Ashley Johnson. Additionally, 16-year old Riley is voiced by 32-year old Yaani King (and they both sound it, especially the latter).
  • The Danganronpa series has many examples, most notably high school students Hajime Hinata and Nagito Komaeda being voiced by 47-year-old Minami Takayama and 46-year-old Megumi Ogata.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 

    Web Original 
  • 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".
  • The 30 year old Hilly Hindi playing the 15 year old Five for The Hillywood Show.
  • Lucas Cruikshank was 14 when he started playing six-year-old Fred Figglehorn. 0 that he created the character to be performed by himself.
  • That Guy with the Glasses
    • 20-something Bhargav playing Ma-Ti, who is somewhere around 14. He said he was fourteen when he woke up to see MarzGurl and The Nostalgia Chick in bed with him.
    • Lindsay and Doug both play teenage versions of their characters in videos when are in their late twenties/early thirties.
    • Because she's short and they have clothes that will hide her bust, Tamara often plays kids in Critic skits.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars Uncut: In this Fan Film remake of Star Wars: A New Hope during the scene on the Death Star bridge Leia (circa 20 years old) is played by a woman who has got to be pushing 80.
  • Epic Rap Battles of History:
    • "Romeo & Juliet vs. Bonnie & Clyde": In the original play by Shakespeare, Juliet is only 13 years old, while Romeo is probably not much older. This was lampshaded by their opponents, where Bonnie called Juliet a "prebuscent vixen", and Clyde referred to Romeo as a "boy". In real life, Grace Helbig (Juliet's actress) is a year older than Bonnie's actress, Hannah Heart (they're 30 and 29, respectively). While NicePeter, who portrayed Romeo, is 36.
    • Wendy (as in the mascot of Wendy's) is an 8-year-old girl who was portrayed by the adult MC Goldiloxx... and, despite being a little girl, still saw fit to use "old enough to be my daddies" as an insult against Ronald McDonald and the Burger King. Wendy also compares Ronald to a child abandoned in a Playplace; said "child" was played by the very adult Atul Singh.
  • Out With Dad: All of the actors who played the main teenage characters were at least four years older than them starting out. Kate Conway as Rose was nine years older to begin with.
  • The Gumdrops is about college students, with the characters implied to be second years at the youngest (meaning 20-21). The only actor who actually is that age is James Byrne, playing Pete. Rebecca Rose Flynn, Corey Patton, Ellen Jones and Bobby Calloway are all mid-twenties (although in Ireland college students can be any age over eighteen - and Rebecca in fact had just finished college when she was cast). Ingrid Igoe and Kaireht Yovera were already in their thirties! Neither looked it.
  • The film Mr Peterson:
    • The Clyde siblings are implied to be late teens/early twenties. Both their actors Harley Cubberley and Bobby Calloway (again!) were slightly older than that. Although Bonnie and Robbie could just be immature twentysomethings still living at home.
    • Archie and Deco are implied to be teenagers as well (one of the cops asks Deco if he wants them to call his mother, implying they at least think he's underage). Adam Douglas was eighteen, Thomas Fitzgerald was twenty-two.
  • Almost the entire cast of Shipwrecked Comedy's "American Whoopee" is 20- and 30-somethings playing high school students. This might be part of the point since it is a parody of teen comedies that typically play this trope straight.
  • In Atop the Fourth Wall's "Leaves of Grass" review, Linkara ends up commenting on how it's a comic book, yet the teenage villain in the B-plot still looks like he's still been cast with a 30-year-old actor.
  • SuperMarioLogan: Every single child character is voiced by an adult, and no attempt is made to hide this. Bowser Junior, for example, is 12 as of this writing, yet is voiced by series creator Logan Thirtyacre; naturally, this makes him sound no younger than 20.

    Western Animation 
  • Not only there are many, many examples of adult voice actresses who voice the roles of young/teenage girl characters who are a lot younger than them, but there are also adult voice actors who voice the roles of young/teenage boy characters who are pretty younger than them. For example: Teen Titans where the main voice actors, who are adults, voice the titular team, seeing how they were teenagers, hence the name.
  • 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.
  • Parodied in an episode of Family Guy, in which the "older kid" on Dawson's Creek is an old lady who behaves in a stereotypically grandmotherly way (fixing Dylan's sock for him, and reminiscing about how things used to be).
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender averts this in the show itselfnote , but the Show Within a Show The Ember Island Players play it straight. All of the adolescent characters are played by very obviously adult actors.
  • Lampshaded In-Universe in a third season episode of Kim Possible called, "And the Mole Rat Will Be CGI," where a famous action movie director about Kim, Ron and Rufus, and the director decides to cast an actress named Heather to play Kim and an actor named Quinn to play Ron—Ron points out that Heather and Quinn are in their late 20s, and are thus way too old to be playing high school-aged teenagers.
  • Lampshaded in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Thirteensomething", where Babs disguises herself to get a role on the titular show (which has a Humans-only cast). Her Paper-Thin Disguise features a much curvier figure than you'd expect for a human girl of Babs' approximate age.
  • A strange example with Sofia the First. Ariel Winter was 14 when she became the voice of the titular character, but said character is 7 years old.
  • Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat has two odd examples. Holly Gauthier-Frankel, who was around 20 at the series' premiere, voices the 6-year old titular character. Meanwhile, the aforementioned character's grandmother, Nai-Nai, is voiced by Sonja Ball, who was much younger than Neil Shee, who was the voice of her character's husband Yeh-Yeh, at the time.
  • In Kaeloo, all of the characters are children (or are supposed to be anyway; this distinction tends to be blurred quite a bit), but are voiced by adults.
  • Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts: Kipo and Benson are both voiced by actors in their twenties.
  • Looney Tunes: Many children characters in the original cartoons were voiced by adults. A notable example is Tweety, voiced by Mel Blanc with his voiced pitch-shifted to sound more childlike. In the early days, many young boys were voiced by women, as mentioned above. And Dick Beals, whom had a hormonal condition that prevented his voice from deepening during adolescence (not unlike Gary Coleman), voiced Ralph Phillips.
  • At the time of voicing the 13-year old protagonist of Milo Murphy's Law, "Weird Al" Yankovic was in his late 50's.

  • Teen/"Barely Legal" pornography runs on this trope, featuring performers who look like teenagers and act out adolescent scenarios, but they're legal adults in real life. They could very well be 18 or so, but many porn stars who specialize in this image can carry the illusion well into their 20's.
  • 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.)
  • It's a common lesson, in art class, that the more lines you add while drawing a face, the more aged your subject will look. Also, the more angular the subject in the picture is, the older they will look. Therefore, most young characters should be drawn with no lines and a rounded face. Some artists don't apply these rules.
    • In this analysis of Rob Liefeld's work...
    In "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way," "Drawing Comics in the Style of Detective Comics Comics," "Aping Shit the Valiant Way," and every other drawing tutorial I've been a part of, it clearly says that every line you draw on a person's face adds to their age. When you're drawing children or sexy young women you give them clean surfaces to suggest youth and a tightness of veins, and when you draw Clint Eastwood in an eyepatch hanging out with Gen 13 you draw all over his face to let people know he's old. Depending on who you talk to, every line can equal a year added onto the life of your character. Shaft, the young leader of rogue operative team "Youngblood," is 900 years old.

    Real Life 
  • In a rather squicky and creepy example, a 29-year-old named Neil Rodreick III was found posing as the 7th grader (12 years old) Casey Price, fooling even the two people he was living with.
  • A woman from Texas, Treva Throneberry (mentioned in the Live-Action TV section), 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.
    • In fact, the woman who adopted her turned out to younger than her.
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.
  • Adult police officers will often pose as teens to catch sexual predators, or to catch juvenile offenders.
  • A member of the Hong Kong police force successfully posed as a 15-year-old high school student to uncover Triad recruitment of high school students. He got the idea from a movie.
  • There was an incident where a client of a prostitution ring requested an underage girl. The owner of the ring contacted the police anonymously and agreed to help set up a sting against the client. The police sent a female officer to him claiming to be 15 years old. He believed it and discussed sexual activities with her, leading to his arrest.
  • 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 buy your costumes, cosplaying eats up a LOT of money either way, so you're much better off if you have an income level more typical of an adult.
  • Cameron Crowe enrolled as a high school student at age 22, to research his book on teen life, called Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
  • 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 of 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 had posed as a 13-year-old girl named Anicka, the supposed "adoptive daughter" of one of her Czech accomplices.
  • 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. In fact, the woman who took her in as her daughter, was actually younger than her.
  • KidZania, a now international theme park chain originating from Mexico, basically does this with its visitors. In KidZania parks, children can pretend to be adults doing various jobs, even getting KidZos (the park chain's currency) to buy souvenirs with!


    Film - Animated 
  • Pixar favors actual kid actors:
    • Monsters, Inc. had an actual four year old play Boo, including all of the laughter. During the door system roller coaster ride, they actually had her on their knee, bouncing her up and down.
    • Toy Story got an actual kid, John Morris, to play Andy in the first movie. He had to audition to reprise the role in Toy Story 2, as he was several years older but the film took place only a few months after the first. When making Toy Story 3, the creators were delighted to discover that Morris in his mid-twenties had an incredibly youthful-sounding voice, and so invited him back to play the now 17-year-old Andy.
    • Up had Jordan Nagai, then nine, playing Russell.
    • The Incredibles: Though Violet's actress was already in her thirties, Spenser Fox was eleven when he played Dash. The sequel kept this up by recasting him with Huck Milner. Jack-Jack also was "voiced" by a series of babies.
  • Disney in general usually avoids this trope and has been doing so from very early on:
    • Pinocchio Cast child actor voice actor Dick Jones in the titular role.
    • The Lion King Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the voice of young Simba while Niketa Calame voiced young Nala.
    • TheAristocats Duchess's kittens were all voiced by child actors.

  • 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.
  • The 1991 Broadway production of The Secret Garden cast then 11-year-old Daisy Eagan, the youngest female recipient of a Tony Award, as 10-year-old Mary Lennox.
  • Dear Evan Hansen made headlines for casting 16-year-old Andrew Barth Feldman in the highly demanding role of the 17-year-old title character. (The first person to play the role was 23 year old Ben Platt, who won a Tony award for his performance.)

    Western Animation 
  • At the insistence of Charles Schulz, all of the Peanuts animated films & specials have used children to voice the characters (save for Snoopy & Woodstock, whose chatter was provided by lead animator Bill Melendez) for the sake of authenticity. Since many of the kids used weren't professional actors, this led to the specials' iconically stiff manner of speaking, with quick pauses every now and then. The simple concept of averting this trope is often credited with popularizing A Charlie Brown Christmas in the first place.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender had child characters like Aang, Toph and Katara played by child voice actors. Effects of this trope came into play, Aang's voice deepened over the course of the show because of his actor. The line producers played around to ensure the contrast wasn't too great.
  • ReBoot actually changed the voice actor for their child character Enzo several times over the course of production to ensure he kept a little kid voice. Including a separate actor for flashbacks in season four and a Plot-Relevant Age-Up for the adult version, they ended up with six different voice actors over four seasons. One early kid returned later in the series voicing a one-off character.
  • Transformers: Prime used older actors for the teenaged Jack and Miko, but had an age appropriate actor for the adolescent Rafael. Like other examples, a few years into production his voice started to deepen and they had to pitch shift it accordingly.
  • The New Archies had the middle schooler characters all voiced by children.
  • Chowder used a real kid for Chowder's voice (his actor being 9, precisely, at the outset). The Amazing World of Gumball follows suit (even opting for The Other Darrin when their first actors age up too much to voice Gumball and Darwin convincingly and giving it an in-universe explanation, no less).
  • All of the child characters in Hey Arnold! were voiced by children and many were replaced when their voices broke. However, in Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie, a few of the original actors note  reprised their roles despite being well into adulthood now (and Bartlett having always been an adult). We also have Hope Levy, who's 46 years old, voicing the queen of the green eyed people, who's at least 9 years old.
  • Lincoln and Clyde from The Loud House are voiced by actual children.
  • The titular character of Dora the Explorer has been voiced by three different girls who were around Dora's age when they started recording.
  • Peppa Pig has gone through two child voice actresses, with the second one remaining her voice actor to the present day, even after she was no longer a child.
  • While most of South Park's kid characters are played by adults, kindergarteners and toddlers are generally voiced by real kids. Trey Parker's own daughter voiced Ike throughout season 20.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Inverted with Jojo in the music video to "Leave (Get Out)". She was only 13 but was pretending to be a 15-17 year old high schooler.
  • In The Nutters, the whole cast were the same age as their characters (sixteen-seventeen).

    Real Life 
  • One of Jeffrey Dahmer's victims, Konerak Sinthasomphone, escaped and ran down the street, drugged, suffering brain damage, and only fluent in Laotian. His nudity attracted the police, who brought him back to Dahmer's home, where Dahmer convinced them that Konerak was 19 instead of 14, despite looking more like 10.

Alternative Title(s): Old Teenagers, Hollywood Young


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