As more and more children, or young people, get better theater training and more opportunities to showcase their talents, this category will slowly dwindle away. But, lucky for us, we’ve had long history of grown adults playing young teenagers for TV and movies. While some of these actors can easily pass for younger people, some of them look really weird in their roles, and that makes us, the audience, feel weird. Watching a grown man with back pain and advanced male pattern baldness flirt with a young girl on camera feels just about as wrong as it should.
But it’s all about image. Filmmakers want these stars to appear mature on camera because that’s how teenagers view themselves, and that’s how older audiences can relate to them. There are times when the casting is hilariously bad, but there are also, in this list, freaks of nature, humans with weird, genetic dispositions that allow them to stay ageless for years on end. We were, at one point in our lives, younger than them, but as we aged over the years, they stayed the same. Call them whatever you like, but these are the ageless wonders. Here are 16 grown adults who played children on-screen.
16. Charisma Carpenter – Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Charisma Carpenter, who played teen cheerleader Cordelia Chase in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was actually 27 in the first season. Now she certainly looked mature, in the best possible way that phrase could mean, but I never really thought too much about it. Anyways, ever since Cordelia wore that cat suit on Halloween, that’s really all I’ve been able to think about, and cats have been my favorite animals. Actually, scratch that. I don’t like the way that sounds.
15. Benjamin McKenzie – The O.C.
The rough-edged, fish-out-of-water character of Ryan Atwood in the popular TV series The O.C., was a mature teenager in the show. All the young girls loved him, and teen guys wanted to be like him. But he was misleading us the entire time. He wasn’t a teenager, he was actually 25 years old, renting cars, buying life insurance and doing all the other cool things a 25-year old does. What a sham.
14. Sissy Spacek – Carrie
When Sissy Spacek was killing all of her classmates and teachers in the amazing 1976 film Carrie, it was supposedly the actions of a 16-year-old who had been pushed too far, but Spacek was really 25 during filming. Maybe the strategy worked out though. When Chloë Grace Moretz, a brilliant actress in her own right, played the same character in 2013 when she was the proper age of 16, it wasn’t as good. Now you may say that the age of the actresses is irrelevant here, but you can’t talk to me like that.
13. Shannon Elizabeth – American Pie
Shannon Elizabeth bore it all in the 1999 film American Pie, and perhaps you thought to yourself, “why don’t high school girls look like that here?” Well, the truth is, high school girls don’t look that anywhere, unless they’ve failed everything because Elizabeth was already 25-years old when she played the sexy exchange student Nadia. In fact, I don’t think one single actor from American Pie was actually a teen though, so she wasn’t out of place.
12. Rachel McAdams – Mean Girls
Rachel McAdams was 25-years old during the filming of the movie Mean Girls, in which she played teenager Regina George. I don’t know, but I have no issues with this one. I’m all for doing whatever it takes to get Rachel McAdams in a movie. Despite being 9 years older than the character she was playing, it works for the movie. It gives high school girls a mature role model, high school boys a major crush (or love at first site) and grown men, well, also a crush.
11. Jon Heder – Napoleon Dynamite
When Jon Heder threw on his sweet “Vote for Pedro” shirt in 2004 for the movie Napoleon Dynamite, the star was 26 years of age. Now, when you see Heder, you might realize that he hasn’t matured and think, “wow, he hasn’t changed a bit over the last 12 years.” Well, that’s because he has not. He was a grown man then, and he’s a grown man now. Unfortunately, puberty is really our only real chance to change the way we look, and many people miss the boat.
10. Stacey Dash – Clueless
When the 2000 cult classic Clueless was being filmed, supporting actress Stacey Dash (right), who played Cher’s teenager friend Dionne, was actually 29 years old. Today, at age 49, Dash still looks incredible, easily passing for someone who is 20 years younger. Despite her personal and liberal drinking of the fountain of youth, it appears, in researching this article, that Dash has also been drinking crazy juice. Well, you win some, and you lose some, right?
9. Corey Monteith – Glee
Corey Monteith played the high school student Finn Hudson, on Glee, into his 30s. Even with his boyish good looks, Monteith never looked really like a high school kid to me. For one, he was 6’4, carried a briefcase and was talking about retirement when all his other cast members were still developing, both physically and mentally. Sure, much of that is based off of what I think I heard on the subway, but seriously, were there no actual teenagers that could sing with or without auto-tune available?
8. Alison Brie – Community
When fans of the popular TV show Community, learned that Alison Brie, who played the fresh-from-high-school character of Annie, was not really a teenager, they were up in arms. No, no they weren’t. Alison Brie looks like what angels who have been raised by unicorns grow up to become. She could be 63, but if she looked like she does, she can play anything, anywhere. Alison Brie is so delicious that they literally named a type of cheese after her. Right, she was 26. So was Donald Glover.
7. Alan Ruck – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
In the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the reserved, and actually quite annoying, 17-year old Cameron Frye was played by Alan Ruck. Ruck must have really had to do research for the role, getting to know some real life teenagers, learning how they act, because he was already 29-years-old at the time, and probably already had a house and a mortgage, student debt and regrets. Such is the life of an adult. Why are we all so eager to grow up?
6. Gabrielle Carteris, Luke Perry & Ian Zering – Beverly Hills, 90210
The casting director for Beverly Hills, 90210 was a special bird. Whoever they were, they must have hated real teenagers because almost no one in the cast was close to the right age of the characters they played. The real winners? Gabrielle Carteris, playing 16-year old Andrea Zuckerman when she was 29. Luke Perry, playing teen Dylan McKay when he 26 (but has basically looked 36 years old his entire life). And finally, Ian Zering, playing 16-year old Steve Sanders when he was already 26 years old.
5. Henry Winkler – Happy Days
Henry Winkler (best known as The Fonz) was 29-years-old when he was on Happy Days, and truthfully, he looked every day of those 29 years. To be honest, I might have even questioned it if he was playing a 29-year old. Did fans of the show not question why this high schooler was fully gray by grade 11? I never really watched the show, so I can’t speak to the validity of that statement, but c’mon, The Fonz looks like he smells of Scotch and cured meats and he’s supposed to be a teenager. Older audiences would apparently believe anything it seems.
4. Olivia Newton-John & Stockard Channing – Grease
When Grease hit screens everywhere in 1978, the high school musical and its stars became overnight sensations with teenagers everywhere. They had people they could look up to and emulate. With a little sleuthing, however, I discovered that the beautiful Olivia Newton-John was actually 29 -years-old in 1978. She was already famous though, so it didn’t matter. But Rizzo, Sandy’s friend, played by Stockard Channing, was 34 years old, and a hard 34 at that. Looking back, I don’t know how anyone was fooled. Channing was looking pretty advanced. She had a smoker’s cough that was at least 16-years old.
3. Jennifer Grey – Dirty Dancing
When the popular film Dirty Dancing, was released in 1987, the star Jennifer Grey, was 27-years-old, 10 years older than the famous character of “Baby.” She was even older than Patrick Swayze’s character, Johnny Castle. She really did look 17 though. I bought it completely. I guess, when you think about it, when they say, “nobody puts Baby in a corner,” they were right, they don’t. They might however, put a full grown woman in a corner.
2. Jason Earles – Hannah Montana
Playing the miniature older brother of Hannah Montana, Jackson Stewart, the small fry Jason Earles was playing a 16-year old kid as a 29-year-old man. Now I’m not a genius, but that’s about a 13-year difference between fiction and reality by my math. His petite stature and boyish charm probably helped him continue playing a teenager into his 30s, but no matter how you slice it, this one is pretty weird. He dates several girls in the show, many of whom are more than 10 years younger than him.
1. Bianca Lawson – Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Buffy The Vampire Slayer & Pretty Little Liars
Bianca Lawson has basically been a teenager for two decades (could she be a vampire?). That is just crazy! In 1993, Lawson got a role in Saved by the Bell: The New Class, then, 6 years later, she nabbed a role of a teenager in Dawson’s Creek, then 10 years after that, she was cast as a teen in Pretty Little Liars, a role that lasted 3 years. Now at 37 years of age (wow!), she has been moved into the young adult roles, but, to be quite honest, she could definitely still pass for a teen. No questions asked.