Casting actors that are older than their on-screen characters certainly isn’t something new. The tactic has been around for a long time, and it’s something that shows like Stranger Things, Gilmore Girls, and even Happy Days have in common.
While it seems like casting age-appropriate actors would be the best choice, directors often pick older actors for a few different reasons. Older actors are preferable when roles require a lot of stunts or other physical work. Older actors tend to have a better grasp on portraying nuances and are probably a lot more professional on set. It’s also worth noting that older actors won’t rapidly or unpredictably change as kids do when going through puberty, which can lead to continuity issues between takes.
However, the biggest reason is often due to restrictions that apply to minors. There are limitations to how many hours a teen can work during a single day, and in some places, there are restrictions on how many days a kid can work each week. Pair that with required schooling that takes up a chunk of their time, and you’re looking at a really drawn-out (and more expensive) filming schedule.
All that said, sometimes directors have made quite the leap when casting for teenage characters. I can forgive a 20-year-old actor playing an 18-year-old student. But these actors are much, much older than they’re supposed to be on-screen. What if I told you that some of them are ten and fifteen years older than their characters? One is more than 20 years older! That’s a pretty big stretch.
So, if you’ve ever wondered just how much older some of these actors are, check out these adult actors who played teens in popular movies and TV shows. The age differences might shock you!
Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man
When we first meet Peter Parker in 2002’s Spider-Man, he’s an awkward, nerdy outcast teenager who is hopelessly in love with Mary Jane. He gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider while on a high school field trip, so the character is clearly meant to be around 18 years old. But when Sam Raimi cast his live-action Spider-Man flick, he chose Tobey Maguire to fill the role. AT the time, Maguire was 26, close to 10 years older than the web-slinging superhero is supposed to be.
Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man
When Sony Pictures and Marvel Entertainment rebooted the Spider-Man franchise, they changed several things. But the one thing they kept the same in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man? Having an older actor portray the high school teen-turned-superhero. Instead of Tobey Maguire, they brought in Andrew Garfield to portray Peter Parker, the intelligent and awkward teen that attends Midtown Science High School and is crushing on Gwen Stacy. When he stepped into the role, Garfield was already 28 years old.
Henry Winkler on Happy Days
1974’s Happy Days is one of the most famous sitcoms in TV history, and Henry Winkler’s Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli is one of the most famous break-out characters ever. Clad in a leather jacket and riding his motorcycle, he was seen as the epitome of cool. He’s also the source of the phrase “jumping the shark,” based on the moment when his water-skiing character literally soars over a shark. In any case, this charismatic dude wasn’t a teenager when he starred in the role. Winkler was actually 29 years old when the show started. The other “kids” weren’t really teens, either.
Joseph Quinn on Stranger Things
Casting older actors to play young characters is still happening, as clearly evidenced by Netflix’s hit Stranger Things. Some of the actors here are closer in age to their characters, but rocker and D&D dungeon master Eddie Munson is played by an actor 10 years older. Joseph Quinn is 29 years old in real life. Eddie has admitted to being held back in school, but I can’t imagine he’s been held back that many times! He isn’t alone, though; all the other characters are played by actors who are at least a few years older in real life.
Gabrielle Carteris on Beverly Hills 90210
Who can argue that Beverly Hills 90210 changed the TV landscape by pioneering the modern epitome of the teen TV soap? And who didn’t love all those teens (and all their drama) living it up in the glamorous Beverly Hills? The show really pushed a lot of boundaries about what was talked about on TV and involved a variety of subjects that no one was tackling for teenagers. Which is cool, except it wasn’t exactly being tackled by teenagers. Instead, it was mostly adults! Gabrielle Carteris was the oldest of the bunch. She played high school junior Andrea Zuckerman, but she was really 29 years old!
Keiko Agena on Gilmore Girls
The age differences between actors and their characters on Gilmore Girls are kind of all over the place. Some of them are only a couple of years older, like 18-year-old Jared Padalecki playing Dean and 19-year-old Alexis Bledel playing a 16-year-old Rory. Even Lauren Graham, who portrayed mom Lorelai Gilmore, was only one year older than her character. But Keiko Agena definitely holds the record for age gap on the fan-favorite show. Although her character was Rory’s best friend Lane Kim, the actress was actually 27 years old when she began the role
Jason Earles on Hannah Montana
On Hannah Montana, Miley Stewart and her brother Jackson are supposed to be two years apart. Despite playing siblings who are close in age, the actors portraying Miley and her brother are much farther apart in real life. Actor Jason Earles was 29 years old when he started in the role of 15-year-old Jackson! In contrast, Miley Cyrus was 13 years old, the same as the character she portrayed. Here’s something fun to put it in perspective: remember when John Cena appeared on Hannah Montana? He and Earles are the same exact age.
Stockard Channing in Grease
Grease has always been one of my favorite movies, but their casting of high school students isn’t exactly believable! No one in the cast was actually a teenager when the movie was filmed. Most of the “high school students” were in their 20s during filming, including John Travolta (23 at the time) and Olivia Newton-John (who turned 29 while filming). But a few were even in their 30s! Stockard Channing takes the cake as the oldest of the bunch, who was 33 years old as she played the 18-year-old Betty Rizzo.
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s was one of Audrey Hepburn’s most memorable roles. She plays Holly Golightly, an eccentric young socialite trying to make it in New York City by cozying up to wealthy older gentlemen. But the character of Holly Golightly is only 19 years old, while actress Audrey Hepburn was 32 at the time. This choice kind of makes sense, as they needed an actress talented enough to convey that charm and poise, but also with selfishness and immaturity at times.
Bianca Lawson on Pretty Little Liars
I don’t know if actress Bianca Lawson has found the fountain of youth or just a really good makeup artist. She portrayed Maya St. Germain on Pretty Little Liars, the love interest of Emily Fields. Both characters are students at Rosewood High School. In real life, Lawson was 31 years old when she started playing the character! It seems even stranger when you learn that Alison DiLaurentis was played by Sasha Pieterse, who was only 13 years old at the time.
Alan Ruck in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller’s neurotic best friend Cameron is convinced to skip school for a day, and they take Cameron’s dad’s prized Ferrari out for a joy ride. Cameron, Ferris Bueller, and Sloane are all high school seniors in the film, but Mia Sara, who played Sloane, was the only actual teen. Actor Matthew Broderick was 24 while portraying Bueller, and his little sister was played by 26-year-old Jennifer Grey. Cameron was portrayed by Alan Ruck, though, who was 30 years old when the movie premiered in 1986.
Shirley Henderson in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 36
Moaning Myrtle was a Muggle-born witch attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. That is, until she was killed in 1943 by the Serpent of Slytherin and became a ghost haunting the girl’s bathroom. She was 14 when she died, and remains the same age as a ghost. Scottish actress Shirley Henderson might be magical in real life, though, because she was actually more than 20 years older than the character she portrayed. Yep, they cast a 36-year-old to play a Hogwarts student’s ghost.