Remember when you watched movies in high school and thought, “Wow, how can I possibly look so perfect and mature?” and then realized the actor playing a teen was well into their 20s? Yeah, that happens a lot and it does wonders for your developing self-image.
Sarcasm aside, there are some very impressive and shocking cases of actors playing characters that are younger than their actual age. At best, it’s a testament to their skill and ability to sell a character. At worst, they might just have a baby face and forever cursed to getting carded at bars. Here are 10 actors who played characters way younger than their real age.
10 Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Sheldon Cooper was such a breakout character on The Big Bang Theory that he got a spinoff! But even Jim Parsons doesn’t have enough of a baby face to play young Sheldon. But that would be kind of hilarious.
Parsons gets placed at the top of the list because there’s a point in everyone’s life where we just stop aging for a bit, usually between the mid-30s to early 40s. Sheldon was born on February 26, 1980, making him 39 and a few months as of this article’s publication. Parsons is currently 46. So there’s a 7 year age gap between character and actor. But we can do better than 7 years.
9 Cole Sprouse, Riverdale
Who remembers The Suite Life of Zack and Cody? Most of us had a crush on one of the Sprouse twins, no use denying it, but neither really did much acting after The Suite Life On Deck ended. You know, because education is important.
Cole Sprouse has been part of the Riverdale cast since 2017, cast a Jughead Jones. And carrying on with the time tested tradition of young adults playing high schoolers, Sprouse is currently 26 playing a sophomore. So Jughead’s around 15 or 16. That’s a 10 year age gap in a time where people’s faces and bodies can really change. But let’s be real, if you’re over the age of 21, everyone within a 5-year buffer ends up looking like they’re the same age.
8 Rachel McAdams, Mean Girls
Delivering some of the most iconic one-liners is Rachel McAdams as Regina George. Release in 2004, Mean Girls has since gained a massive cult following and a Broadway musical actually developed by Tina Fey.
This is another case of a mid-20s actor playing a teenager. So...who did it better? Cole of Rachel? Well, extra points to Rachel for acting alongside a cast of mostly 17 and 18-year-olds and really not looking much older than them. The only exception to the main cast is Daniel Franzese, who was around 25 at the time of playing Damien Leigh.
7 Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean
Darling Orlando Bloom. It’s a toss-up on whether his most notable role has been Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movie franchise or Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean. Eh, we’ve heard it both ways. But we’re going to focus on that breakout movie based off of a classic Disney attraction.
In Pirates of the Caribbean, Will Turner struggles with his own coming of age, balancing the life he was raised into, colonialism and being honest and all that stuff, and the one he was born into. He ends up singing to the tune of “Yo Ho!” but did you know Will Turner is supposed to be 18? At the time of filming, Bloom was around 26, making an 8 year age gap between actor and character. He’s lucky he has that baby face. On the opposite comparison, Legolas currently has 2,889 years on Bloom. Elves, right?
6 Winona Ryder, Girl, Interrupted
Probably best known now as Joyce Byers in Netflix’s Stranger Things, Winona Ryder rose to fame in the late 1980s to the early 2000s. Girl, Interrupted came out in 1999, with a January 2000 release in the United States, and was an adaptation of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir of the same name.
Ryder portrays Kaysen in the film, documenting her stay at Claymoore psychiatric hospital after experiencing a major nervous breakdown. At the time, Ryder was 27 playing an 18-year-old Kaysen, making for a 9-year difference. She beat Bloom by a year.
5 Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility
Based on the classic Jane Austen novel, Emma Thompson not only starred in the 1995 Sense and Sensibility, but also wrote the screenplay. Heck yeah, Emma Thompson! Despite setbacks and creative changes to update traits of the story for modern audiences, the film was met with overwhelming critical and financial success. In fact, it’s still considered one of the best adaptations of an Austen novel to date.
Emma Thompson portrayed Elinor Dashwood, the eldest of the Dashwood sisters at 19. At the time, Thompson was 35, making a 16 year age difference. And she absolutely killed it. She won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
4 Jason Earles, Hannah Montana
Ok, to be fair, Jason has a really young face. We all remember Jason Earles as Miley’s goofball older brother, Jackson Stewart. He was constantly at odds with Rico Suave, his much younger employer. Impressive, considering Jackson is supposed to be 16 at the start of the show. Rico’s a business owner in middle school. Let’s be real, that’s the most unrealistic thing about this show.
Earles gets a win for playing so much younger and convincingly at that. At the time, Earles was 29 playing 16, and was in his mid-thirties when the show ended.
3 Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
Who else didn’t realize Daenerys is 13? Ok, people who read the books did. But dang, did she accomplish a lot. You know, before going crazy and burning everything to the ground. That’s another issue all tied up with why Game of Thrones fans are angry at the final season, so we’re just gonna talk about Emilia Clarke and how awesome she is.
Daenerys was aged up in the TV show to the ripe age of 15. At the start of her adventure, Emilia Clarke was 25, having a decade on Daenerys. Considering everything that happened in season 1, yeah, that would’ve been a no-no for any actors who were still minors. And Clarke killed it through the entirety of the Game of Thrones run, to the point where Time magazine listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for 2019.
2 Jeff Bridges, Tron: Legacy
When the call for another Tron arose, Jeff Bridges answered the call. Tron: Legacy came out in 2010, 28 years after the original Tron. Reprising his role as Kevin Flynn, the story starts when his son, Sam, discovers that Kevin’s been trapped in the Tron video game for the past 20 years.
While Kevin is aged up appropriately, Bridges had another character to play: Clu. Short for Codified Likeness Utility, Clu was developed by Flynn to create a “perfect system” within the Grid. Like most good intentions, this backfired tremendously. But Clu is portrayed as a 33-year-old Kevin Flynn. Bridges was 61 at the time of filming. That’s a 28-year difference. But it’s less impressive when you realize John Reardon portrayed the character physically and then was done over with CGI to look more like Bridges.
1 Shirley Henderson, Harry Potter
You may not know her name, but you definitely know her voice and the hilarious clapback at Ron about having a book thrown through her. Moaning Myrtle was a huge plot point in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She was crucial to finding the entrance to the Chamber, being the girl who died via Basilisk the first time it opened.
But actress Shirley Henderson was 37 at the time of playing Myrtle. While Myrtle’s age isn’t really specified, she has to be between the ages of 11 and 17 given that she was a student. That’s at minimum a 20-year difference. Henderson reprised the role three years later in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and yet again, hadn’t aged a day.