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Underage Casting

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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 is far too young for the character that they're portraying. For example, a 22-year-old actor is playing a character who's said to have a doctorate degree; unless they were some kind of teenage prodigy, they would be in their late 20s at the absolute youngest, and if they're experienced and respected in their field, mid-30s.

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This happens most frequently to characters who are doctors, lawyers or some other profession that requires several years of graduate/professional school, though this trope can be justified if the character is said to have skipped grades to get where they are.

This can coincide with Playing Gertrude if the character has a teenage or adult child. However, it can also result from that trope if the actor 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). Thanks to Hollywood double standards against middle-aged actresses, younger women tend to be cast in older roles more often than men.

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 logically fill the character's role themselves.

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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.


Examples:

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    Film 
  • In Annihilation (2018), main character Lena is introduced as a PhD of Biology teaching a class about cancer. It would likely take at least ten years to complete the Undergraduate and Graduate program to earn her Doctorate. Considering Natalie Portman was in her mid-30s at the time of filming, this wouldn't normally be a problem. However, her backstory ALSO includes another six years of being a grunt in the military prior to starting college. If everything went ideally for her where she started college immediately after being discharged and then spent the next ten years in school and graduated on time, she should just be getting into her professional career as a freshly minted Biologist PhD. However, all of the story beats imply that she's been a professional in this field for a little while.
  • 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 Rachel Dawes had 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. However, this can be interpreted as Woo-jin being so obsessed with revenge that he doesn't move on, stuck in his youth, and looks younger than he should be.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
  • 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 moll, and she was by his side for at least a few years. 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 specialty 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 not just raw intelligence but rigorous demonstrations of mental and emotional maturity. One depiction tried to explain away her getting to where she is with the excuse that she slept with her professor for good grades. "Extra credit" may explain one professor, but not the entire psychiatry program.
    • 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.
  • James Bond:
    • The World Is Not Enough was much mocked for having its main Bond Girl, Dr. 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 No Time to Die, Lyutsifer Safin reveals that he was the assassin sent to kill Madeline Swan and her mother when she was a child, meaning he was an adult and a trained killer 20+ years ago, so he should be at least in his mid-40's in the present day. Safin's actor Rami Malek was 38 during filming, only four years older than Dr. Swan's actress Léa Seydoux, and thanks to his naturally boyish features, he doesn't even look that old.
  • In Willow, in a rare reversal of the common practice of adults being cast as teenagers, 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 originally going 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 was 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.
    • In a similar note for Jones, Space Cowboys begins with a prologue where Jones' character is a pilot and budding astronaut in his twenties in 1958, meaning he's pushing 70 in the present-day setting of the film. Jones was not yet a teenager in 1958; as other movies like Men In Black, the film uses Jones being Younger Than He Looks to fit him in at an older age bracket, since at age 54, Jones would still be in a reasonable enough age to be an astronaut.
  • The Karate Kid Part III: Based on flashbacks in season 3 of Cobra Kai, Terry Silver is meant to be a Vietnam War veteran about the same age as John Kreese. Thomas Ian Griffith was 25 at the time of filming, and four months younger than Ralph Macchio, who is playing an 18 year old Daniel LaRusso. This would extend to season 4 of Cobra Kai when Griffith reprised his role as Silver, though there his silver hair combined with Macchio's still relatively youthful looking face means Silver does look closer in age to Kreese (75 year old Martin Kove) than to Daniel (59 year old Macchio). To cap things off, Nick Marini, who played young Terry Silver in the Vietnam flashbacks in season 3, was older at the time of recording that than Griffith was during the filming of The Karate Kid III
  • In Ladies of the Chorus, Adele Jergens (then-31) was eight years and a half older than Marilyn Monroe (then-22), and played the mother of Marilyn's character.
  • 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 Jailbait Taboo 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 next to Tommy Wiseau in his late forties. 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 role was originally meant for Anne Hathaway, who was the slightly more believable age of twenty-eight.
  • In Harakiri, Tatsuya Nakadai 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 (2011), yet several lines imply she's the same age as Hal Jordan (played by 35-years-old Ryan Reynolds) and Hector Hammond (39-years-old Peter Sarsgaard), the latter of whom was a professor.
  • In Saving Private Ryan, Harrison Young plays a character in his 70s who had served in D-Day. Young was 14 when the actual invasion occurred.
  • In House of Gucci, 35 year old Lady Gaga and 37 year old Adam Driver played a 47 year old Patrizia Reggiani and 46 year old Maurizio Gucci, respectively.
  • The Truman Show: Christof is the producer of the eponymous show, watching over Truman since he was born 30 years earlier. However, he's played by Ed Harris, who was only in his late 40s at the time. This is because Dennis Hopper, who was in his 60s at the time, had originally been cast as Christof before being replaced by Harris during production.
  • This became a bit of a problem in the X-Men Film Series. For some inexplicable reason, each of the post-reboot movies involve a ten-year Time Skip from the previous one. It wasn't so bad going from X-Men: First Class to Days of Future Past; ten years passed and the returning characters were roughly the same age as their actors. Fair enough. But in X-Men: Apocalypse, another ten years pass and the characters start getting older than their actors without a drop of age makeup in sight. Xavier, Magneto, and Moira MacTaggart should be pushing 50 while their actors were in their 30's during filming. Havok and Beast should be at least 40, yet their actors were in their mid-20s, and Havok and Cyclops' mother doesn't look nearly old enough for her eldest son to be middle-agednote . In fact, some have pointed out that Dark Phoenix, which takes place in the 90's, should have featured the older actors from the original trilogy, since the first X-Men came out in 2000.
  • A debatable example happens in Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Tim's father Harry is played by Ryan Reynolds, who is only 19 years older than Justice Smith, meaning Harry would have been quite a young dad.
  • In Boyz n the Hood, Laurence Fishburne plays the father of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character, even though the actors are only 7 years apart. This was soundly mocked in the parody film Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, where it's a Running Joke that Tray's father is somehow younger than his teenage son.
  • Apt Pupil: Ian McKellen was surprised to be asked to play 75-year-old Kurt Dussander, since he was only 57 at the time of filming.
  • The Last Duel: Jacques le Gris and Jean de Carrouges were both reportedly in their mid-to-late fifties in 1386, when the trial and duel took place, while Adam Driver was 36/37 years old and Matt Damon was 49/50 years old during filming. It particularly sticks out due to Marguerite's line about how her fate will not be decided by God but "by which old man tires first"; while Damon's make-up and hair helped make him look much older, Driver looked his actual age.
  • Wayne's World 2: Del Preston is a retired roadie that worked with many classic rock groups, including The Doors and The Rolling Stones, in the 1970s. In real life, Ralph Brown, who plays Preston, was only 36 at the time and was still a teenager when Doors frontman Jim Morrison died in 1971.
  • Black Widow (2021) introduces Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh. The opening scene with child versions of Yelena and title character Natasha posing as the daughters of a couple of Deep Cover Agents is set in 1995, the year before Pugh was born.
  • The Irish Short Film Dandelion has the mother character played by the 23-year-old Rebecca Rose Flynn (who is significantly Older than They Look). She's the mother of a four-year-old, and her husband is played by an actor ten years her senior. While being a young mother is certainly possible, the script indicates that the character is meant to be older, and the daughter isn't the result of a Teen Pregnancy.
  • Eiffel has Romain Duris, then-46, as the 55-57 year old Gustave Eiffel. Also, Real Life Adrienne Bourgès was around 18 in 1858 when she met Eiffel, which would make her 47-49 in 1887-1889. She was played by 24 year old Emma Mackey in the latter years in the film.
  • Battle of Britain: Defied. 36-year-old Michael Caine thought he was too young to play a squadron commander, feeling that a squadron commander should have a certain paternal gravitas. He was rather bluntly told by several veterans that he was about a decade older than most of the squadron commanders in the actual battle.
  • In H.M. Pulham, Esq., Hedy Lamarr plays Robert Young's girlfriend from his first job out of college more than twenty years previously, who he then attempts to rekindle the affair with in the present. Robert Young was only 34 when he played the role, but Hedy Lamarr was 27. Basically, their attempt to make her look twenty years older than her younger self consisted of putting her hair up and adding a faint grey streak to it.
  • Basic Instinct: According to the screenplay, Gus is 64 and talks about a murder case he remembered from 1955, which is about 35 years before the setting of the film. Gus is played by actor George Dzunda, who was only 46 during filming. This makes him and his partner Nick essentially the same age, instead of having an Old Cop, Young Cop dynamic.

    Live Action Television 
  • Moon Lovers: Averted when Ha-jin first arrives in the past, since the characters are roughly the same age as their actors, but played straight later. Ha-jin spends at least twenty years in the past, but virtually no one visibly ages during that time. Reaches ridiculous levels in the epilogue, which takes place several years after Ha-jin's death but shows Baek-ah and Wang So looking exactly the same as they did over twenty years earlier.
  • 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.
  • This was inevitable in Home Movie: The Princess Bride with how much Colorblind Casting is in this production; most instances are actors' clearly too-young children either Fake Shemping or playing characters that are adults in the original, with no attempt to make them look older. Like everything else, it's Played for Laughs.
    • During Tom Lennon's turn as Humperdinck, his son Oliver, eleven years old at the time of shooting, plays Count Rugen for the early search for Buttercup.
    • For Patton Oswalt's turn as Vizzini during the Battle of Wits, his daughter Alice, eleven years old at the time of shooting, plays Buttercup.
    • At 50, Sarah Silverman is the youngest of the actors to play the Grandfather. She wears a silver wig, graying bushy mustache and eyebrows, and a suit, and puts on something like an exaggerated East Coast or Philly accent ("Yes, you're very smaht."). Never mind that unless some people were having kids very young, fifty is pretty young to have an eleven-year-old grandchild, and makeup aside, she doesn't look fifty, anyway.
  • 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.
    • There's a deleted scene from the pilot that shows her as an instructor to a classroom full of prospective agents. This was presumably cut in part because baby-faced Gillian Anderson looks years younger than the half dozen students in the shot. She teaches in season 2, as well, though by this point she's grown into the role and the dissonance is not as noticeable.
  • 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 PhDs 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 McClanahan 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.
  • 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.
  • The Nanny: Although C.C. Babcock's exact age was never mentioned onscreen (one episode suggested that she was in her 40s), it's still implied that she's at least several years older than Fran Fine, even though in real life, Lauren Lane (C.C.) is 4 years younger than Fran Drescher (Fran).
  • In Episodes, then 28-Year-Old Mircea Monroe portraying the very much aged (possibly 40s or 50s) actress Morning Randolph, who was said to have plastic surgeries to stay young.
  • Ultraman Gaia has one episode mention that it’s Georgie’s 20th Birthday. Maria Theresa Gow was only 16 during production of the show.
  • In Family Matters, Darius McCrary (Eddie) was 13 in the first season and playing a high school freshman. And even though Eddie was the eldest of the Winslow children, McCrary is actually a month younger than his "little" sister Laura's actress Kellie Shanygne Williams. The reason he got away with it is because McCrary was a very tall boy, already as tall as his onscreen father Carl in the first season. By the time the show ended with Eddie as an adult, he was 6'3 and towered over the other Winslows.
  • The Haunting of Bly Manor strangely casts the 26-year-old Alex Essoe as Charlotte, mother of Miles and Flora (who are twelve and eight respectively). Married to a man twenty years older than her, and having an affair with his similar in age brother, she comes across as wildly too young for the character; acting with a wise, motherly presence that suggests she's meant to be in her late thirties. Contrast with Victoria Pedretti, who's the same age, playing a character who was only recently about to get married.
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    Music 
  • 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.

    Pro Wrestling 


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