Age is Just a Number

Kevthewriter looks at actors who play older or younger than their real ages.

In Sneaky Pete, Margo Martindale and Giovanni Ribisi play Mother and…

*someone whispers into my ear*

My bad!

In Sneaky Pete, Giovanni Ribisi plays a con man that pretends to be Margo Martindale’s long lost son…

*someone whispers into my ear*

Oh, he’s not pretending to be her son? Then what is he pretending to be? Her nephew? A cousin of hers? Is he a golddigger that’s marrying a woman a couple decades older than him to get her riches and Margo is playing the rich lady?

*someone whispers into my ear*

He’s pretending to be her GRANDSON?!

Well, maybe the guy who plays her real grandson is much younger than he is?

No…no he isn’t.

If you can tell by the picture here, if you were told either Giovanni Ribisi or Ethan Embry were related to Margo Martindale, I’m guessing Grandma and Grandson wouldn’t be the first thing that came to mind.

But this kind of casting is unfortunately very common.

I was watching Captain Fantastic the other day and I enjoyed it for the most part but it was rather distracting to see Ann Dowd married to Frank Langella, whose clearly about 20 years older than her.

Granted, it’s POSSIBLE that the character is around Ann Dowd’s real age but there’s no reason for such a big age gap between the grandparents. If they had hired a woman around Frank’s age to play his wife, the movie would otherwise be exactly the same.

And it doesn’t just stop there.

We have Susan Sarandon playing Melissa McCarthy’s grandmother…

(And no, the white wig doesn’t make her look any more believable)

There’s Angelina Jolie trying to pass off as Colin Farrell’s mother…

Jennifer Hudson trying to pass off as the mother of a teenager…

And there are a million more examples of this. Hell, I remember seeing a movie once where Queen Latifah told Dakota Fanning she was her MOTHER’S nanny, even though she’s obviously only old enough to be her mother!

But why does Hollywood continue to cast people that are obviously too young for the roles instead of casting people who physically look right for the role?

Well, as you could tell, all of these examples have been of women and, as we all know, it’s been well known that actresses over 40 have a hard time getting roles. Kathleen Turner said that, as soon as she turned 40, she started getting offers to play Grandmothers. In the documentary That Gal…Who Was in That Thing, one of the actresses said that she’s been offered to play roles for characters 20 years older than her.

There’s definitely a big problem with how women are treated in Hollywood and we really should try better.

That all being said, is it always a problem when an actor/actress plays someone whose older or younger than them?


It honestly depends on the role and the actor. If an actor or actress looks much older or younger than their actual age, then they should play a role made for someone older than them, seeing as they’d be more believable as someone older than them anyway.

Look at Phylicia Rashad. She was 36 when she played Claire Huxtable in The Cosby Show.

However, Phylicia looked about 10 years older than that. In real life, she was 11 years younger than Bill Cosby but their age difference wasn’t noticeable because she looked like she was around Cosby’s age, even if she actually wasn’t.

Another example would be one of my favorite movies, The Graduate. Anne Bancroft was in her mid-30’s when she played Mrs. Robinson but you wouldn’t know it from the way she looked because she looked like a fortysomething housewife.

The same is true for actors playing younger.

Everyone and their mother has made fun of actors in their 20’s and 30’s playing teenagers but sometimes it works.

Problem is, sometimes casting directors will cast people in their 20’s (or even 30’s) as teenagers even if they don’t look anywhere close to being in their teens. Just look at Stockard Channing in Grease, who was in her mid 30’s and looked it.

In the same film, there was John Travolta, who was supposed to be playing a “teenager” but was in his mid-20’s and he looked like he was in his mid-20’s, if not older.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean all people in their 20’s can’t pass off as teenagers. Jonah Hill was the same age John Travolta in Grease when he was in Superbad but he actually looked like a teenager.

Or look at the original Carrie! While most of the cast didn’t really pass off as teenagers, Sissy Spacek was almost 30 and did look like a teenage girl.

But, you might say, if it depends on the actors looks, because some people just look older, than why can’t an actor play an older character despite looking younger than the character? I mean, if people in real life sometimes look older or younger than they really are, why can’t the same thing be true for fictional characters?

And, honestly, there’s no reason they can’t. But, in my opinion, if an actor is going to play a character much younger or older than them despite the fact that they look their actual age, there should be a reason for it. In my opinion, there should be a reason that the character looks younger or older than their actual age in the world of the movie itself. They shouldn’t just be played by someone whose obviously much younger or older than the character for no reason. I mean, even just an offhand comment like “you look so much younger” would be okay with me. Why? Well personally, to me, it just seems distracting and out of place. Plus it just makes me wonder why they couldn’t have hired someone older.


Posted on July 16, 2017, in Movies, TV. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. One very mundane, workaday why the film and television industry often casts older actors as teenagers is that child labor laws put limits on hours of work for performers under 18 years of age, which can be a problem if you’re trying to make a movie on a tight schedule or film an episode per week for series television.


  2. A couple of other reasons for older actors playing teenagers: if you read the WTTH entries for Heather Graham and Melanie Griffith, the former’s parents were very strict in keeping their daughter away from mature roles while the latter’s allowed their daughter to do full-on nudity. There are probably more responsible Hollywood parents than we realize with all the horror stories out there. Also, I wonder if some producers/directors/executives/networks might think that audiences will be uncomfortable watching a 13-year old actor playing a 13-year old character having certain kinds of experiences? Like, it’s easier if it’s a 16-year old playing a 13-year old just discovering sexuality or something, ’cause the actor looks like he/she has already gone through this in real life, whereas a child actor playing their age might be experiencing something for the first time ever. And of course there’s the nudity/sex…I mean, it’s weird to watch a 27-year old playing a 17-year old be sexual on-screen, but it just feels WRONG for an actual 17-year old to do that.


    • That’s one reason, among many, the Carrie remake didn’t work. The book and both movies had a teen character lying in a shower naked getting tampons throwing at her but, because Chloe is underaged, they had to work around that by having her wrap a towel around herself at a situation she probably wouldn’t have time to nor would even consider because, you know, she’d probably be focusing more on her bullies taunting her and throwing tampons at her. Though this could’ve just been solved by having an 18-19 year old play the role because I’m pretty sure that would be legal to film.


  3. I didn’t know that Susan Sarandon was only 24 years older than Melissa McCarthy; I was amused by her character in “Tammy”. Yeah, I’ve always been aware of the age deal in TV (20 somethings playing teenagers) and films, and always have found it funny. Like jestak2 & Rock stated, there are practical reasons for the casting, though I do realize that some of the casting matchups can appear to be far out.


    • …and only 9 years older than Eric Roberts who played her son in King of the Gypsies. The casting in Tammy was meant to be ironic, though. No one actually believes Sarandon could be McCarthy’s grandmother. She was in on the joke.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sarandon’s played the mother of people of a wide variety of age ranges from Eric Roberts (9 years younger than her) to Kiernan Shipka (53 YEARS YOUNGER than her). It probably has to do with the fact that she plays Moms a lot


        • Sean Connery (1930) played the father of Dustin Hoffman (1937) and Harrison Ford (1942) in total seriousness. Which is interesting since Connery is the go-to name most actresses cite when complaining about ageism in Hollywood. Most stars of his stature would be too vain to ever accept such a role.


      • I didn’t love “Tammy”, but I thought the scenes with McCarthy & Sarandon were a blast. I really thought McCarthy was a lot younger than Sarandon than she actually is.


        • I didn’t think that about McCarthy. My guess is Sarandon took this role to expand her repertoire and get people to stop blathering about how she’s always playing younger. You know, she’s usually older -sometimes much older- than the guy playing her boyfriend/husband/lover. Been that way since Bull Durham. And only a few times has the script actually necessitated it (White Palace, Earthly Possessions, Alfie).


        • Uh huh, that’s really been the book on Sarandon for a long time for sure; maybe I thought the way I did because McCarthy hasn’t been front and center for a long time (I know she had that scene in the first “Charlie’s Angels” film, but wouldn’t have thought she was already pushing 30 by then).


  4. The only really decent bit of white casting-as-much-younger that I’ve seen was Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Catch Me If You Can’, where it was essential to have someone who could flexibly be different ages simultaneously.

    (I’m specifying white because often black skin clearly looks better for longer without, errrr, “help”. See Jamie Foxx, who’s 49, and was talking about aspects of this on the most recent series of ‘The Graham Norton Show’. And let’s be honest, “help” doesn’t actually help – it looks absurd.)

    I’m guessing it’s going to happen less these days due to the higher precision of digital media making discrepancies too overt. As a contrast, when did anyone see a modern poster for a film where any actor over 30 looked within 10 years of their genuine age, rather than having almost every wrinkle airbrushed away?

    The casting of huge age gaps between alleged couples, on the other hand, is plain ridiculous. Maggie Gyllenhaal was a high profile example of someone being turned down for being too old when anyone with half a brain would consider her, if anything, too young.
    It’s pure old-fashioned sexism rather than ageism, though, because it never occurs the other way round. No excuse for it whatseover.

    I still don’t understand why Jolie agreed to play Farrell’s mother, unless she was desperate to work with Oliver Stone.


    • Examples from the Golden Age are more extreme. Broken Arrow, filmed in 1949 and released in 1950, paired Jimmy Stewart (age 41) with Debra Paget (15, yes FIFTEEN).

      Sophia Loren played girlfriend to Cary Grant and Clark Gable. 30 and 33 years older than her respectively.

      European cinema was even more liberal. In 1978’s Stay as You Are, Nastassja Kinski has sex scenes with Marcello Mastroianni. She was 17 and he was 53 when the movie came out.


      • How about this one—French actress Virginie Ledoyen (The Beach) had her first onscreen kiss with that very same Marcello Mastroianni. She was 15, he was 67.

        And of course when Bogart and Bacall were first paired up, he was in his mid forties and she was 18 or 19.


      • Exactly. It’s embedded in film, and has been forever. About time it stopped.


        • Almost as creepy, if not moreso, is that Warren Beatty has sex (yes, sex) with Lily Collins in Rules Don’t Apply and has a kid with her. Now, if Howard Hughes was actually having flings with girls 50+ years younger than him, I could’ve turned a blind eye, but he actually died before he was the age Beatty was when he played him (as he was 70 when he died and Beatty was 78-79 when he played him) and, when this happened, it took place in 1958, meaning Hughes would’ve been 53 when that happened so there’s really no excuse for Beatty filming himself having sex with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter


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