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Hypatia of Alexandria at the ripe young age of 65.

"...young adults pretending to look like grown-ups."
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In movies and television shows, an actor often tends to look younger than the age their character is supposed to be. When the character is middle-aged or older, this is a case of Hollywood Old. A character can be "supposed to be" a certain age in two ways: Either an age is stated outright in the story, or the character is a historical person.

Hollywood Old activates in three slightly different ways.

  1. The actor is far younger than the character is at any point in the story.
  2. The character starts out in an age bracket appropriate for the actor. However, as the years go by (or are skipped by time travel, whether in-universe or in the meta sense) and the character ages, hardly anything is done to make the actor look older.
  3. The actor and the character are technically the same age, but the actor looks much younger because of Botox, plastic surgery, etc. The character is a real person who looked their age or a fictional character inhabiting a time, place, or economic situation in which such things aren't available.
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When a Hollywood Old character has teenage or adult children, the age difference may become a Playing Gertrude.

Characters that are Older Than They Look should not be considered Hollywood Old, as long as the difference between looks and actual age is explained in one way or another. Improbable Age can be considered Hollywood Old when not justified in one way or another.

In itself, Hollywood Old isn't a gendered trope. However, like Hollywood Homely, Hollywood Old gets disproportionately applied to actresses, probably because of Hollywood Beauty Standards. Hollywood Old is the reverse of Dawson Casting, where a young character is played by an actor who both is and looks somewhat older than the character is supposed to be. See also Absurdly Youthful Mother. Compare Hollywood Thin and similar Hollywood Tropes. Compare White-Dwarf Starlet to see what Hollywood reserves for actual old actresses. Contrast Age Lift, where a story is changed so that the character will fit a (usually male) actor's age.

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Examples:

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     Film  

  • In Dan in Real Life 24-year-old Emily Blunt plays Ruthie Draper who's supposed to be 40ish. (Her age is never specified but she went to high school with Mitch and Dan, whose ages are also not stated. But Dan has a 17-year-old daughter and is played by Steve Carell so it is safe to say that the characters are at least in their 40s.) Ruthie has had a lot of plastic surgery, herself being a plastic surgeon.
  • Sara Dane: At the beginning of the movie, Sara is 18. The actress looks the part. However, the movie spans most of Sara's life, without the actress ever showing any signs of aging. Halfway through the movie, she has drifted into Hollywood Old territory. And at the end, she even has children who look older than she does.
  • The Aviator: A classic type 2. Leonardo DiCaprio is right for only the first few scenes, then looks way too young during the rest of the movie. Makes it look as if everything accomplished by the middle-aged Howard Hughes was actually accomplished by a man still in his 20s.
  • In Superman Returns, Lois Lane was the mother of a 5-year-old and was experienced and established enough in her career to have won a Pulitzer Prize. She was played by then-22-year-old Kate Bosworth.
  • Harley Quinn was played by 25-year-old actress Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad. At that point in the timeline, she had to be at least 35, as her crime career didn't start until after she received her MD (at 26), and backup commentary said she had been with Joker for 10 years (supported by extensive rap sheet). Likewise, Enchantress was played by 23-year-old Cara Delevingne, even though it's shown that her host body was of an archaeologist who is referred to as "Doctor", something that implies over a decade of studies.
  • In Scrooge (1970), a then 34-year-old Albert Finney played elderly Scrooge. They do a pretty good job of making him look older, but Finney still looks significantly younger than Scrooges in other adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Finney also played the young adult Scrooge (late teens/20s).
    • However, Scrooge may not be as old as most adaptations show him to be. He is usually played by actors in their late sixties (or made-up to look so), but if the woman Scrooge once courted had a teenager and an infant at the time when Jacob Marley died, which was seven years prior to the story's present, then Scrooge is probably somewhere around 50, maybe a few years older.
      • Speaking of Belle, in the 1951 and 1984 films, both her past and present ages were played by the same actresses.
      • Anyway, Albert Finney did an excellent job of playing the mid-50s Hercule Poirot, when he himself was in his mid-30s, in Murder on the Orient Express. It took the help of some make-up, but Finney is a very good actor.
    • Likewise, in ACT's annual stage production, the laundress and charwoman, who are middle-aged, are often played by younger actresses. The late John Gilbert, the original Scrooge in the production, started playing the role at age 37.
  • Having Angela Lansbury, famous for playing a Little Old Lady Investigates on Murder, She Wrote, play Agatha Christie's elderly spinster detective Miss Marple in the film version of The Mirror Crack'd might seem like a very logical move. However, said film was made back in 1980 when Lansbury by her own admission was 20 years too young for the role.
  • Speaking of Miss Lansbury, while their ages are not given in the film, she played Lawrence Harvey's mother in The Manchurian Candidate despite being only three years his senior.
  • In the Watchmen movie, Matthew Goode was about 27 or 28 when he was filmed as 45/46-year-old Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias. Possibly justified, as Veidt's age in the film is never given, Ozymandias has appearances in flashbacks two decades prior, and he's meant to be preternaturally youthful-looking anyway.
  • The main trio at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It's supposed to be 19 years later (putting them in their late thirties), but Harry and Ron only look slightly older and Hermione hasn't aged at all. Ginny does look somewhat convincing though.
  • In The Sound of Music, a then-35-year-old Christopher Plummer played Captain Von Trapp, who was actually in his 50s at the time the movie was set.
  • Guy Pearce appears with a quite unconvincing makeup job to play the very aged Peter Weyland in Prometheus. Footage of Weyland as a young man had been shot but was cut from the film and only appears on its website.
  • In Queen of the Damned, forty-year-old Paul McGann plays David Talbot, a character who's supposed to be quite old. At one point he says he's "too old to live forever" and it comes across a bit strangely, particularly if you know the line was written for someone who's actually old.
  • In The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, 36-year-old Luke Garroway is played by 29-year-old Aidan Turner.
  • In the film adaptation of Les Misérables (2012), 44-year-old Hugh Jackman plays the much older Jean Valjean.
  • Oddly averted in Forrest Gump, where Sally Field actually does look the appropriate age for her character of Forrest's mother. However, if you look at pictures of her in real life, she's actually quite attractive for someone in her 60's.
    • Another Sally Field aversion: The Amazing Spider-Man. Sure, as Aunt May, she doesn't look quite as old as the May from the comics, but in comparison with Field's own real-life looks, there's still a brutal difference.
  • In Star Trek (2009), Winona Ryder was cast as Spock's mother Amanda, who would first appear in a scene of his birth, and then wear old age makeup for the rest of her screentime. Then the birth scene was cut, giving the impression that a younger actress was cast for no reason.
  • In Le destin fabuleux de Désirée Clary, Gaby Morlay is initially much older than the titular Désirée, as she was 48 and convincingly played a woman in her late twenties/early thirties. However, flash-forward later to the last scene of the film, set in 1840 when Désirée was 63 and she still looks exactly the same, even though her husband shows very clear signs of the passage of time.
  • Happens by retcon with Moira MacTaggert in the X-Men films. If you accept that X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class are both set in the same timeline, and that Moira is the same character in both films, Moira would be nearly as old as Xavier in X3 (Patrick Stewart was 66 at the time). Moira, however, was played by then-38 Olivia Williams in X3, while then-32-year-old Rose Byrne portrayed her in First Class. Williams does look a bit older than just the 5-6 year gap between herself and Byrne, but nowhere near the 60+ she ought to be to match Xavier.
    • Two decades pass between X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse, and none of the characters appear to have aged a day, even though at that point Charles and Erik should be in their fifties.
    • This is handwaved in First Class regarding Raven and Hank, as Hank states her shape-shifting abilities provide her with extended youth, and she'll age much slower than the others (in order to excuse the fact she's depicted here as Xavier's age, where the prior films she was portrayed by Rebecca Romijn, who was in her late twenties during the original trilogy). Hank reverse-engineers this in order to make his (failed) mutant suppression serum, which transforms him into his Beast-like mutated form. As a result, it's assumed he gained her extended youth as well. Furthermore, given that mutants were, during First Class, still a newly discovered phenomena that they were only just beginning to understand, its possible that Hank's discovery of Raven's mutation-born extended youth isn't unique to her and may be a trait common among mutants (supported by the fact Wolverine as well explicitly doesn't age until the events of The Wolverine weakened his powers, and the same applies to Sebastian Shaw in First Class as well), which would explain this away for Erik and Charles as well...though it still raises the question as to why Moira MacTaggert didn't age during the 20 year gap between First Class and Apocalypse either.
  • Martha Kent in Man of Steel would have to be pushing 60 in the present timeline, but is played by 46-year-old Diane Lane. Justified in that she plays the character across a 20-year timeline. Kevin Costner meanwhile, was a good 10 years older than both her and his character John Kent when he dies in a flashback. Again somewhat justified as Kevin Costner is playing a farmer, so he can get away with looking older than his character's age.
  • The 1992 Steve Martin/Goldie Hawn comedy Housesitter has the then 46-year-old Martin and 35-year-old Dana Delaney play characters who had been high school sweethearts (and explicitly in the same grade even.) While no onscreen ages are given and it is fair to say Martin has a certain ageless quality he still looked a lot older than Delaney. The same film had Donald Moffet play Martin's father with only a 15 year age gap between the two actors.
  • Parodied in The Lovely Bones where Grandma Lynn insists she's thirty-five (despite having two teenaged granddaughters). She's played Susan Sarandon, who was in her 60s at the time.
  • Christopher Lloyd (born in 1938) was 47-years-old when he played Doc Brown in the original Back to the Future (1985). During the portion of the movie when Marty time travels back to 1955, Doc is in his forties too. But during the scenes set in the present year of 1985, Doc is in his seventies — though as with Albert Finney mentioned above, Lloyd is aged up rather convincingly. Back to the Future Part II forgoes the old age makeup for Doc, since in the sequels Lloyd is predominately playing the 1985 Doc in his seventies, rather than the 1955 Doc in his forties as he did in the first movie. Rather than having Lloyd wear old age makeup for the majority of his screen time in the sequels, Doc mentions that he underwent a rejuvenating procedure (and got his spleen and colon replaced to boot), which he demonstrates by removing his old age makeup to reveal that he now looks identical to how he looked in 1955, aside from the hair.
  • In The Greatest Showman Charity and Barnum have loved each other since childhood. The child actors were close in age but, Charity's adult counterpart Michelle Williams is 12 years younger than Barnum's Hugh Jackman.
  • Strangely inverted in The Mummy (2017). Russell Crowe identifies Tom Cruise as a "younger man" - apropos, considering he's on active duty in the military. Cruise is two years older than Crowe.
  • Although unstated in the film, Qui-Gon Jinn is supposed to be sixty years old in The Phantom Menace, but was played by then 47-year-old Liam Neeson, who doesn't look anywhere near sixty in the movie.
  • Actively defied by the makers of Book Club; an interview says that they were advised to cast younger "older" women. They ignored this advice and gave the four leads to Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen — all 60+, with Fonda in her early eighties and Keaton and Bergen also 70+.
  • Jupiter Ascending shows Kalique before the youth-restoring tonic with a bit of grey hair and wrinkles, and Jupiter guesses her age as "late forties". Tuppence Middleton was in her mid-20s and looked like a young woman wearing older age make-up.
  • Queen Ramonda of Black Panther (2018) has white hair to indicate that she's old. Her actress Angela Bassett was fifty-nine and did not look old enough to have such white hair.
  • The film of Easy Virtue treats Larita almost as an Old Maid, by giving Jessica Biel crows' feet in some scenes. She is several months younger than Ben Barnes - who plays her boy toy of a husband.
  • Jennifer Lawrence in every movie David O Russell has directed her in.
    • Silver Linings Playbook - she's the love interest of the 37-year-old Bradley Cooper and has been married for years, also having spent time in a mental hospital. She was twenty-one at the time. Anne Hathaway was the original choice for Tiffany - late twenties at the time - making it slightly more reasonable.
    • American Hustle - she was twenty-three playing a bitter housewife with an 8-year-old son. Rosalyn's real life counterpart was in her forties when the ABSCAM scandal took place.
    • Joy - Joy Mangano didn't start inventing or becoming a businesswoman until she was thirty. Jennifer was twenty-five.
  • The film version of Hello, Dolly! was criticised for casting the twenty-five-year-old Barbra Streisand as Dolly Levi. In the original stage version, she was played by Carol Channing, who was fifty.
  • A male version in Hidden Figures. The astronaut John Glenn was in his forties at the time the film takes place. They cast Glen Powell - who was twenty-seven. And they even show pictures of the real man in the end credits.
  • In the original 1934 version of Imitation of Life, Louise Beavers played the mother to Fredi Washington - who was only two years her junior. True to the trope's form, Louise played the role when her daughter is a child and continued to do so after a Time Skip. Her more matronly frame made the casting believable, as well as Fredi Washington not looking thirty at the time - Peola is meant to be eighteen.
  • Florence Foster Jenkins - the real Florence was ten years Meryl Streep's senior. Meryl - who did not look like a sixty-year-old - had her costumes padded.
  • The Lord of the Rings - Aragorn, who is age 87, is played by 43-year old Viggo Mortensen. Justifed because the race of men in Middle-Earth have very long lifespans.

     Live Action TV  

  • In Arrow, John Barrowman and Colin Donnell play father and son Malcom and Tommy Merlyn, when in reality they are only 14 years apart in age.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In one episode, Captain Picard is reunited with a woman he dated 20 or so years ago (Note, if this post refers to the first season episode, "We'll Always Have Paris," the woman is played by Michelle Phillips, who was in her early 40s and only 4 years younger than Patrick Stewart, so the pairing is both likely and age-appropriate). The woman looks like she's 25, as a result of 24th-century medical science.
    • "The Survivors" features 67-year-old John Anderson playing 85-year-old Kevin Uxbridge and 55-year-old Anne Haney playing 82-year-old Rishon Uxbridge (that said, the Uxbridge's given ages might be false because Kevin is really a powerful energy being and Rishon is an illusion).
    • The pilot has 67-year-old DeForest Kelley playing 137-year-old Admiral McCoy (although he does look pretty withered).
    • In the episode "The Pegasus", Terry O'Quinn plays Commander Riker's former CO, Admiral (formerly Captain) Pressman. Pressman is, presumably, 15-20 years older than Riker, but Terry O'Quinn, who plays Pressman, is barely a month older than Jonathan Frakes.
    • Captain Picard himself was consistently described in the original series bible as a man of about mid-fifties in age. This age was given precisely so that he would not be an Action Hero type captain, and would, therefore, act like a real starship captain relegating all of the action stuff to a younger first officer (in an attempt to address a common criticism of the original series depiction of Captain Kirk). The Star Trek Encyclopedia by Mike Okuda gives Picard's birth year as 2206. Being that the first TNG episode is set in 2363 or 2364 means that Picard is about 12 years older than Patrick Stewart was at the time he began playing the role. Stewart was only 45 at the time but Picard started at about age 58. The Star Trek Universe has already established that humans remain in their prime a bit longer.
      • Of course, given that Patrick Stewart looks almost exactly the same over two decades later, it was probably appropriate that he be aged up a bit.
    • The episode "Too Short a Season" centers around the 86-year-old Admiral Jameson, who uses alien technology to reverse his age. He's played throughout the episode by 27-year-old Clayton Rohner, wearing extremely obvious makeup in the early scenes.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the season one episode of classic Doctor Who "The Aztecs", the First Doctor has an Accidental Marriage to a woman we find in what's sort of an Aztec retirement village. The actress is younger than the one playing the Doctor's granddaughter. You'd think they could at least get a woman over thirty to play a woman over sixty.
      • William Hartnell himself was in his late fifties but playing a character who was the equivalent of at least seventy in human terms. In the 50th anniversary special An Adventure In Time And Space about the early years of the show, Hartnell is played by 71-year-old David Bradley, who's a perfect fit.
      • Of course, the Doctor is said to have been at least 450 years old at the time Hartnell played the character, and this would, therefore, apply to every actor who played the role after, especially Peter Capaldi, who as of the end of Series 9 in 2015 was now playing a character who is at least 4.5 billion years old. But the physical age of the body he has at any given time is relevant to this trope in the usual way. Hartnell's Doctor, for example, reacted to physical stress in a manner commensurate with his apparent age, which was no true of successors whose physical bodies corresponded to that of a younger man.
    • In the episode "The Girl in the Fireplace", adult Reinette looks exactly the same no matter what year she's shown in.
    • In season seven, a big deal is made out of the Ponds moving on with their lives and aging every time the Doctor comes back to see them (they mention having traveled with The Doctor for 10 years). The problem with that second bit? Not one bit of effort is made to make Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan look like anything other than extremely attractive people in their early thirties. Although considering Amy was maybe nineteen in her first episode and about twenty-one during season five, "early thirties" arguably is them aging and moving on with their lives.
  • LOST: With all the flashbacks and flashforwards and time travel going on, the same character can be Hollywood Old and looking too young in the same episode. In later seasons this is sometimes averted by making the same character be played by different actresses (who look really similar but with a clear age difference) in different time periods. This series contains several cases of Playing Gertrude that are NOT also cases of Hollywood Old.
  • Happens a lot in the present-day scenes in Cold Case, particularly in episodes where the case in question took place before about 1960.
  • This is the 50-year-old King Henry VIII according to The Tudors. This is the 50-year-old Henry VIII according to Hans Holbein the Younger.
    • Charles Brandon is this trope in spades. You'd never guess that Henry Cavill is supposed to be portraying a sixty-year old man during the war scenes in France. He looks young and fit until he's inexplicably given wrinkles and graying hair in the final episode.
  • In Jesus of Nazareth, Olivia Hussey plays the Blessed Virgin Mary, who appears to remain the same age until after The Crucifixtion.
  • Disney Channel sitcom characters are the kings/queen of this:
    • A.N.T. Farm has a principal who is supposed to be horrifically old. She is played by a 50-year-old woman.
    • The Suite Life on Deck has Ms. Emma Tutweiler. She is supposed to be a caricature of an old maid, worrying about being single, living with her cats, and one character remarks that she aged since high school in a very tactless fashion. This seems understandable and relatively bearable for a kids show. Except for the fact that she is played by this actress (see Erin Cardillo and for the costume, it doesn't change anything).
      • This is part of the joke for her.
    • Hilariously and wonderfully lampshaded in Wizards of Waverly Place, when addressing the eldest son and daughter's misconceptions about age. Thirty-five doesn't equal middle age. The scene is really cathartic in a form of media which generally displays sexism and ageism in order to pander to a younger audience.
    • On the other hand, it's parodied in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody with the twins' mother Carey. There are constant references to her being an Old Maid by her sons, but the joke is that it's because her actress Kim Rhodes is clearly young and pretty. Further parody happens in an episode where Hollywood wants to make a TV show about the twins - and they cast a 22-year-old actress to play Carey.
  • Grace and Frankie notably averts this, as all the main actors are over 70 and age-appropriate for their characters. However, due to money, surgery, cosmetics, and other Hollywood tricks, they all look amazing.
  • Edie McClurg played a woman going to her 30-year high school reunion in an episode of Mr. Belvedere. In the episode, she looked like she could be in her 40's while everyone else at the reunion looked like they could be in their 50's or 60's.
  • In Luke Cage, 42-year-old Mahershala Ali is portrayed as just a slightly younger contemporary of 63-year-old Alfre Woodard and 67-year-old Frankie Faison. This gets especially funny when his character appears as a teenager in a series of flashbacks to before Ali was even born.
  • Victoria cast 40-something Rufus Sewell as 60-something Lord Melbourne, the better to make an implied romance between Melbourne and 19-year-old Queen Victoria a little more palatable.
  • Slasher: Sarah is supposed to be around 30, but her grandmother Brenda is played by an actress who would be more convincing as her mother (who is already dead within the show's storyline) or aunt.
  • In Legends of Tomorrow, Agent Smith doesn't look a day older in the episode "Phone Home", despite it taking place ten years after his younger self was first shown. Also, Young!Stein looks the same at 42 as he does as a college student.
  • In-universe example in Feud - in which studio execs want to cast young actresses in the film version of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Ironically this didn't happen in reality - as the entire gimmick around the film was that leading ladies from the 1930s and 40s would star as has-beens.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • A strange case with Lana Parilla as the evil queen from Snow White. She's only a year older than Ginnifer Goodwin - who plays Snow White. While it's justifiable her appearing younger, since she's the stepmother, and her backstory episode pretty much says she was a Trophy Wife - a child actress played Snow in the episode that depicts them meeting. And ironically the show eliminates the 'wish to remain young and beautiful' aspect from the character.note 
    • Inverted where Barbara Hershey plays Cora in her sixties. Her younger self is played by Rose McGowan - who was forty (but didn't look it).
    • While It Makes Sense in Context for mother and daughter Snow and Emma to be the same age, around Season 4 they started dressing Ginnifer Goodwin down in an attempt to make her look older so she could come across as a more maternal figure.
  • Full House - Danny Tanner, played by 29-year-old Bob Saget, is a widower with a successful career in TV journalism, an 11-year old daughter, who also financially supports his brother-in-law and best friend.

     Music  
  • Eric Lambert ("MC Moisha") and Joe Stone ("Easy Irving") of 2 Live Jews (a comedic hip-hop act in The '90s) were indeed Jewish, but much younger than their Alter Kocker personas.

     Video Games  

  • Lusamine in Pokémon Sun and Moon claims to be 40, but looks no older than 20. Her connection to the Ultra Beasts might have something to do with this.
  • Old Lady Gibson in Fallout: New Vegas, despite her white hair, barely looks older than about 40. Then again, some people in real life get gray hair at 30 or earlier. This also applies to the older age settings for the player character (said to go up to 60), as there is no "wrinkled" face option for them outside of mods, unlike certain NPC's.
    • In fact, early Bethesda Games (Fallout, Elder Scrolls) had a weird issue portraying elderly characters, due to re-using one body frame for each gender. Thus you could have an elderly woman with a wrinkled face, grey hair... and a 23-year-old's firm and svelte body. They have addressed this somewhat, but there still are several characters who are old only from the neck up.
  • Atrus in Myst is played by the game's co-creator Rand Miller (who does double duty as Atrus' son Achenar) who was in his early thirties when he first assumed the role in the original game. Rand Miller has noted that he once felt he was too young to play the role of Atrus. But since his likeness and voice has become engrained as Atrus to Myst fans, it would have been wrong to recast the character in the sequels.
  • Sun Jian in the Dynasty Warriors franchise has three adult-aged kids and sports an entire head of white hair, yet he is still physically fit for fighting and doesn't look much older than 35. Somewhat Justified, as the real life Sun Jian was killed in his 30's.
    • In addition, the oldest character in the cast is not white-bearded Huang Zhong with his many references to his advanced age. It is actually, by a year, Jia Xu; who shows no sign of being any older than 30.

     Web Original  


Alternative Title(s): Historical Age Downgrade

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