You know how sometimes you're watching a show and you think, "Hey, isn't that person too young to be a doctor?" This is an example of under-aged casting, and it happens when an actor or actress is not actually old enough to be their character—for example, a 22-year-old actor or actress playing a character who's said to have a PhD (which can take around 10 to 12 years to earn if you go to school full-time).
This happens most frequently to characters who are doctors, lawyers or some other profession that requires a lot of schooling, and actresses tend to be cast in older roles more often than actors.
This can coincide with Playing Gertrude if the character has a teenage or adult child. However, it can also result from Playing Gertrude if the actor or actress portraying the parent is physically too young to have borne the child in question (e.g. a character played by a forty-year-old actress having a thirty-year-old daughter).
This trope is subverted when the character has actually skipped grades in Canon. It is not simply the opposite of Dawson Casting, because it doesn't only require that the actor is younger than the character. The actor must be too young to be the character.
Sometimes applies when the character being played is extremely elderly, such that an actor of equal age, if not retired, would be too physically frail to endure the rigors of a demanding production schedule.
See also Improbable Age.
Contrast with Age Lift.
- In an example where a Playing Gertrude causes this, Angela Lansbury was only three years older than the actor playing her son in the original The Manchurian Candidate.
- Sally Field played Tom Hanks' mother in Forrest Gump, though she's only ten years older than him. Granted, the two didn't share the screen together much since many of her scenes are flashbacks to when he was younger. Once it came time for them to act off one another, Field was in old-lady makeup while Hanks was invoking Dawson Casting by playing a man in his 20's.
- In Superman Returns, Lois Lane is played by Kate Bosworth, who was only 23 years old and looked it. She was supposed to be an experienced reporter with a Pulitzer or two under her belt, not to mention a kindergarten-age son. Brandon Routh (Clark Kent) was 26 during production. The most problematic part of all this is that the movie is supposed to take place five years after the events of Superman II, which makes these characters 35 at the very minimum.
- Katie Holmes played an assistant district attorney in Batman Begins despite being 26 years old and looking to be about 23. If she'd gone to law school straight out of college, she'd have graduated at 24 or 25. It's unlikely given her youth and inexperience that she'd be handling cases—especially major, high-profile ones—on her own.
- In Fantastic Beasts, protagonist Newt, played by Eddie Redmayne, is nine years younger than his brother Theseus. The actor who plays Theseus, Callum Turner, is eight years younger than Redmayne.
- In Oldboy (2003), the actor who plays Lee Woo-jin, Yoo Ji-tae, was born in 1976, while a scene in which his character is a teenager takes place in 1979.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
- Sean Connery plays Dr. Henry Jones, Sr., father of Henry Jones, Jr., or Indiana Jones, who is played by Harrison Ford. However, Connery is only 12 years older than Ford (Connery was born in 1930, Ford in 1942), even if his baldness and white beard disguises it well.
- Alison Doody was 22 when she was cast as Dr. Elsa Schneider, and although her age wasn't stated onscreen, she would have to be at least 30 to have her credentials as an experienced archaeologist.
- The Bourne Series:
- Julia Stiles played Nicky Parsons, one of Jason Bourne's field handlers on an extremely sensitive mission and apparently has beyond Top Secret clearance given what she is involved in (monitoring all of the Treadstone field agents). In other words, significantly more dangerous to the Agency than Bourne is if she screws up, or if something was missed in her vetting and she is less than 100% loyal. When The Bourne Identity was released, Stiles was a very young looking 21. There's an attempted Hand Wave in The Bourne Supremacy when Nicky explains her cover was an exchange student studying in Paris.
- The latest film in the series Jason Bourne has this problem as well, with 27-year old Alicia Vikander playing a high-ranking CIA official, who concludes the film angling for an even higher position.
- Any incarnation of Harley Quinn really counts, since she's always presented as a very young (or at least, childlike in manner and appearance) character, despite the fact that she held an M.D., specialised in psychiatry, and was experienced enough to be allowed to spend time alone with highly dangerous patients - meaning that she would presumably be in her mid-thirties at the youngest by the time she became The Joker's acolyte, which she apparently has now been for some time. The version of her in Suicide Squad (2016) has to take the cake, though, as she is played by the 25-year-old Margot Robbie, who in real life would be just about finishing med school and choosing her speciality at that age, and wouldn't be let loose unsupervised on a prisoner of the Joker's calibre for years to come. (And unlike some other professions on this list, psychiatry is one that is very difficult for "teen genius" types to get into early, since it requires rigorous demonstrations of mental and emotional maturity as well as raw intelligence. One depiction tried to explain away her getting to where she is with the excuse that she slept with her professor for good grades, but again in a psychiatric career path that just wouldn't fly.)
- Suicide Squad also has examples in the couple Rick Flagg and June Moone (aka the Enchantress) - the former is a colonel, a rank probably expected for someone older than 36-year-old Joel Kinnaman; the latter is referred to as "Doctor", meaning she has spent at least a decade studying to get a Ph.D in archaeology, and yet her actress, Cara Delevingne, was only 23.
- Birds of Prey attempts to square the circle with Harley by establishing that she is, in fact, a decent amount older than Robbie's actual age.
- In Days of Thunder, then-23-year-old Nicole Kidman played a full-fledged neurosurgeon. At that age, she would be at most only halfway through medical school. Even coming from a country that doesn't require a college degree before entering medical school, she would still only be fresh out of school.
- The World Is Not Enough was much mocked for having its main Bond Girl, Christmas Jones, played by then 28-year-old Denise Richards and looking even younger, be supposedly a world-renowned nuclear physicist. What makes it stand out even more is that another (male) nuclear physicist who was working for the bad guys was clearly in his fifties.
- In Willow, then 17-year-old Warwick Davis played a married man with small children.
- Ultimately inverted by All the Money in the World, where the 80-year-old J. Paul Getty was to be portrayed by 58-year-old Kevin Spacey, disguised with aging makeup... until Spacey's sexual scandals erased him from the movie, and a replacement by Christopher Plummer, whose age of 88 is five years higher than Getty's whole lifespan!
- In Men in Black, Tommy Lee Jones had just turned 50 when he first played Agent Kay, who'd served in the MIB since the early 1960s, which should've put him at least in his early 60s. Word of God had considered casting Clint Eastwood, who would've fit the right age, before casting Jones.
- The Karate Kid Part III: The character of Terry Silver would, in order to be a legitimate Vietnam veteran in 1989, have to be 34 years old, minimum. Thomas Ian Griffith, who played Silver, was 25 at the time of filming, making him not only far too young for the role, but also two years younger than Ralph Macchio, who played the titular kid.
- Shaft (2019): Despite being a sequel to Shaft (2000), Richard Roundtree's Shaft is retconned into being Samuel L. Jackson's Shaft's father, instead of his uncle like in the 2000 film. Jackson is only 7 years younger than Roundtree.
- A mermaid character was cut completely from Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie. She was played by a 15-year-old actress who would have had Godiva Hair. She was also supposed to be a Love Interest for Adam. Given the Dawson Casting for the Rangers themselves, it resulted in MayDecember Romance if you consider cast age rather than characters.
- The Room: Johnny's fiance Lisa is implied to be at least in her late twenties, since they've been together for seven years, but Juliette Danielle was twenty-two at the time of filming. This is apparently a result of the original actress for Lisa dropping out, and Juliette Danielle (who'd been cast as Michelle) getting bumped up.
- Keira Knightley in Love Actually plays a woman getting married, and her husband and other love interest were in their late twenties and early thirties respectively. She was eighteen, and had in fact been playing her real age in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Bend It Like Beckham and The Hole just before.
- Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook plays a woman who has been married for several years and is the love interest of thirty-seven-year-old Bradley Cooper. She was twenty-one. The original actress Anne Hathaway was the slightly more believable age of twenty-eight.
- In Harakiri, Nakadai Tatsuya plays a man who has an adult daughter and an infant grandson, at only 30.
- Blake Lively was 23 when she was cast as Carol Ferris in Green Lantern, yet several lines imply she's the same age as Hal Jordan (played by 35-years-old Ryan Reynolds) and Hector Hammond (player by 39-years-old Peter Sarsgard), the latter of whom was a professor.
- House: Real doctors (not including Doogie Howser, M.D.) usually graduate from medical school in their mid-20s, and at that point they've still got years of residency ahead before they can do the kinds of jobs the characters on the show do. When their respective characters joined the cast, Olivia Wilde was 23, Jesse Spencer and Charlyne Yi were 25, and Odette Annable was 26.
- When she was cast on Law & Order, Jill Hennessy was twenty-four. The minimum age at which a normal person can graduate from law school is twenty-five. Although this is a minor example since the way a person aged 24 and one aged 25-27 looks isn't that much different if at all, someone aged 24 could conceivably play a person 3-4 years older and no one would notice.
- Gillian Anderson was cast as Dana Scully on The X-Files at 24, though she lied and said she was 27 to make her seem more believable as an FBI agent with a medical degree; her character is 28 at the start of the series. A combination of Underage Casting and Improbable Age for the character make for noticeable dissonance. Scully is a teacher at Quantico and a forensic pathologist, a career which requires 13-15 years of education. This is in addition to the two years she is stated to have been with the FBI in the pilot. Scully should be at least in her mid-30's in the pilot.
- On Miami Vice, Helena Bonham-Carter was twenty when she played a doctor who was supposed to be about thirty. At the time, she looked like she was twelve.
- The Newsroom: Olivia Munn was 29 years old when she started shooting Season One when the character is supposed to have two PHD's and several years of real world experience beside, prior to the start of the show, making her character at least a few years older than her actual age.
- Similar to Wilfred Brimley as mentioned above, Rue McClahan was only 51 when she was first played retiree Blanche on The Golden Girls, whereas her castmates were all in their 60s (however, in an early episode, Blanche does first encounter menopause, so early fifties might have been right). Her costar Estelle Getty was 62 when she started playing Sophia, the 80-year-old mother of Dorothy, despite being a year younger than her onscreen daughter Bea Arthur.
- Star Trek: The Original Series, episode "Whom Gods Destroy": Fleet Captain Garth of Izar, whose exploits've been studied by Kirk at the academy's played by a 34-year-old actor. Steve Ihnat was in fact younger than William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Pegasus", Terry O'Quinn plays Riker's first commanding officer, Admiral (formerly Captain) Pressman. Pressman is presumably 15-20 years older than Riker, but O'Quinn is barely a month older than Jonathan Frakes, who plays Riker.
- Within the show, Captain Picard was pushing 60 at the time the series started. Patrick Stewart, on the other hand, was 47 at the time TNG premiered.
- Similarly, in "Half a Life", David Ogden Stiers played Dr. Timicin, who is soon to turn 60, at which point the people from his society commit ritual suicide. Stiers was 48 at the time he did the episode.
- The majority of Power Rangers teams are high school students (played by 20-somethings), but the occasional season will have a team of rangers with other professions that require extensive training still played by the typical 18-25 actors they always have. Dana Mitchell of Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue was a paramedic played by 20-year-old Allison McInnis, who was then a full-fledged pediatrician the next year. Similarly, by the time of Dino Thunder, Tommy Oliver (then-31-year-old-Jason David Frank) had finished college, gotten a Doctorate in Palaeontology, and developed the Dino Thunder technology, all in the six-year span since he graduated high school midway through Turbo.
- General Hospital: Jason Thompson plays Patrick Drake, a well-known neurosurgeon, despite the fact that he premiered in 2005 when he was 29 years old...which is a few years younger than the average age of most attending physicians. Similarly, Kimberly McCullogh returned as Robin Scorpio at roughly the same time as an attending, though she (and her character) were 27 at the time, which meant that she would have been more likely to be a resident.
- An in-universe example happens in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "T.R.A.C.K.S": Coulson and Simmons are under cover as a father/daughter couple. Simmons, who is in her mid twenties, remarks that Coulson (in his late forties) is much too young to have a daughter her age.
- Played with on the drama Famous in Love as Rainer is told that, as 20, he's legally forbidden from doing a stunt. However, he says he's really 23 as his mom, Nina, insisted on having him be younger when he started out in the business.
- Nina gets this in a bad way as she had been sleeping with Jordan, Rainer's best friend, for years, ever since his star-making role on a TV show. Jordan tells the truth to his girlfriend, Tangey who then blackmails Nina by revealing Jordan was actually only sixteen at the time and lied about his age. Meaning Nina slept with an underage man which will get her arrested unless she makes Tangey a star.
- The fictional Prime Minister Michael Callow in the first episode of Black Mirror was played by Rory Kinnear, 33 at the time. Not as improbable as some other examples, but the youngest British Prime Minister in the last century was 44 when he assumed office.
- The Nanny: C.C. Babcock is meant to be several years older than Fran Fine, but Lauren Lane, who plays C.C., is actually four years younger than Fran Drescher.
- Strong Medicine's Dr. Lu Delgado is a full-fledged physician even though her actress Rosa Blasi was only 27 when the show premiered. At that age, she'd still be in her residency, not practicing on her own.
- Part of the Tragic Backstory of Strike Back's Colonel Alexander Coltrane is an especially traumatic mission in the Balkans in 1992. He explicitly stated that he was a lieutenant, but at that time, his portrayer, Jamie Bamber, would have been only 19 and couldn't possibly have been ranked that high.
- AOA: A good chunk of the dance unit members in the "Short Hair" MV (police woman, car mechanic, air stewardess), but it's all in good fun.