One of the great wonders of acting is an actor or actress’s ability to play nearly any role they're cast for. It might sound trite, but not everyone can do it. Some can't play older characters, while some don't come off as convincing younger. But there is a whole slew of roles out there that call for some “range” to be shown.
Even in a business that prides itself on youth, where even some actresses are considered old when they're not yet 35, Hollywood still doesn't mind casting some older actors to play much younger characters than their years. It’s a strange dichotomy and, clearly, casting directors go on a case by case basis. But it is still pretty funny when actresses like Anne Hathaway feel as if they’re washed up and still in her thirties, while other actresses – like some on this list – get cast as high school girls and are several years removed from college-age, let alone high school.
Here is a list that features both. Check out these eight actresses who were too young for their roles and eight who were too old.
16 Too Young – Camren Bicondova (Gotham)
Growing up on the mean streets of Gotham City would be too much for just about any kid to bare. Imagine having to do it without a whole lot of parental guidance, much less your own. Selina Kyle had to endure the horrors of Gotham long before she got wrapped up in the saga of Bruce Wayne and his journey to save Gotham from evil.
At 15 years old, Camren Bicondova was tapped to play a 13-year-old version of the villainous vixen, Catwoman on Gotham. While this version of the feline fatale is slightly more altruistic than the sexy cat burglar that confounds the Dark Knight as an adult, here Selina still isn't doing herself any favors, and falling in league with the likes of Penguin and Tabitha Galvan isn't helping her chances at a normal life and the series continues, Camren will surely be donning her own version of the Catwoman’s alluring full bodice soon enough.
There's not much hope for a girl growing up on the streets, and Bicondova had done a masterful job at playing the role, even if her character’s life is one she should never have to experience.
15 Too Old – Madeline Zima (Californication)
In an instance where being older helped the role not be as creepy in real life as it was on the show was Madeline Zima on Californication. When your lead male character happens to get down with a young fan who then not only punched him in the face for funzies, but also revealed she's the 16-year-old daughter of his ex’s new man, you know you're in for a whole lot debauchery in every sense of the word.
Zima was quick to show that little Grace Sheffield from The Nanny is now all grown up and she is and should be taken seriously as a beautiful actress.
Interestingly enough, is that in real life, Zima is 27 years younger than the series star, David Duchovny. So, no matter how you slice it, the scene is a pretty salacious one to begin with. Thankfully, the producers knew the kind of show they had on their hands here and decided to cast younger as per the script. But too much younger to keep even the Showtime censors happy.
14 Too Young – Natalia Dyer (I Believe In Unicorns)
It's always fantastic to see new blood trickle into Hollywood. Especially when the beautiful young actress is also a talented one, such is the case with all of the Stranger Things kids, including Natalia Dyer, aka Nancy Wheeler.
Now that fans of Stranger Things have seen Dyer’s acting chops, perhaps they should check her out when she was 16 in the road saga, I Believe In Unicorns. When it premiered at the 2014 SXSW Festival, it became an instant critical darling. Some of those critics have stated that Dyer gives one of the most honest and emotional portrayals of a teenager in a relationship ever on film.
Unicorns give a staunch look at teenagers in a way that hasn’t been since Kids, nearly 20 years ago, that is in no small part thanks to Natalia’s portrayal of Davina, as we see the trials and tribulations of young teenage love, that we’ve all experienced ourselves.
13 Too Old – Charisma Carpenter (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
As if high school wasn't already a strange and unusual place to begin with, how about casting someone well beyond her teenage years to play Cordelia Chase on the mega-popular Joss Whedon creation, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Whedon created the character to be a Valley Girl to denounce the Valley Girl interpretation of the original film, which unless you've been living under a rock all these years, Whedon was not a fan of what Hollywood did to his script.
As Chase, Charisma Carpenter began her role as a foil for the Scooby gang, before finally realizing that they were protecting her from all the batcrap crazy things going on around her and wound up helping them on their adventures. Carpenter, however, was old enough to have a whole family of her own by the time she was cast. Carpenter was 27 at the time.
12 Too Young – Linda Blair (Born Innocent)
Linda Blair shocked audiences of all ages in 1972 as a 12-year-old girl possessed in The Exorcist. As Regan McNeil, Blair’s portrayal was so gruesome and terrifying, it is still the measuring stick for tiny terrifying teens in horror movies. The Exorcist is still over 40 years later, on plenty of “best of” lists, thanks in no small part to Linda Blair.
But, perhaps even more blood curdling, is her role in the TV film Born Innocent. While she’s scary in The Exorcist, in Born Innocent, Blair plays Chris Parker, a 14-year-old runaway. While both characters are fictional, Parker could have existed in the real world, and that’s what makes this role even more terrifying.
In 1974, the film was an NBC TV movie, and there’s a whole lot of bad for today’s standards that got past the censors 43 years ago, including the film’s most controversial and chilling scene; Chris being assaulted by two of her reform school classmates.
11 Too Old – Emilia Clarke (Game Of Thrones)
Seemingly never before in the history of TV or film has such a dearth of die-hard followers been willing to strap up and ride into battle for someone. It is the Breaker of Chains herself, the Queen Of The Seven Kingdoms, and the other 83 names she goes by, Daenerys Targaryen, the apparent heir to Hollywood royalty and one of the breakout stars of Game Of Thrones, Miss Emilia Clarke.
While she has been captivating audiences for the past seven years and is now (unbeknownst to her) romancing her nephew, that whole scenario gets a little gross when you consider the real age of the character per the books is barely a teenager when the series begins.
Rather than cast closer to the character’s age, HBO did the smart thing and cast Clarke, who was 25 at the time, rather than have Jason Momoa’s Khal Drogo ravage some poor kid that would have ended up on the 'Too Young' side of this list.
10 Too Young – Drew Barrymore (Far From Home)
Nowadays, Drew Barrymore keeps a low-profile and embraces her spot in the Hollywood royalty family tree. As most fans know, this was not always the case and the actress was on a pretty dark path, that even included her being addicted to cigarettes and drugs at nine years old.
When she was in between her wild child/flower child/Hollywood royal phases, she was also cast in some torrid roles. Some forgettable, some memorable, but casting agents seemed hellbent on casting her as some sort of teenage vixen or object of illicit affection for a creepazoid.
Case in point - Far From Home. Playing 14-year-old Joleen, Drew becomes the apple of a dangerous killer’s eye. Critics panned the film, mostly for exploiting the 14-year-old Barrymore as a sexual object at the time. Which if you've ever seen the poster of the movie (she's practically in the middle of being assaulted), it is obvious that was going to be the film's subject matter.
9 Too Old – Sarah Hyland (Modern Family)
It’s hard to believe that Modern Family started almost ten years ago! The oldest of the Dunphy children, Haley was a 16-year-old high school sophomore at the time. Played by cherub-faced beauty, Sarah Hyland, it was a believable stretch, even if Hyland was already college age when the series started.
Haley was the typical teenage socialite hot girl that we see on comedies, one that is a complete and utter ditz who is seemingly heartless, but both her brains and compassion shine through in moments that really count the most.
As Haley grew up before our eyes and experienced a lot of teenage milestones, Hyland basically got to relive her teen years, which scripts be damned must have been a cool experience to get a little bit of a do-over.
8 Too Young – Dominique Swain (Lolita)
One of the most controversial novels of last century was adapted into a feature not once, but twice! The Vladimir Nabokov novel, Lolita detailed the forbidden tryst or lust between a 12-year-old girl and her stepfather, who gave her the titular nickname. The story first was adapted by the auteur film director, Stanley Kubrick, in of his earlier films before he became film students’ chosen God Of Filmmaking.
The second film directed by Hollywood high-class smut-peddler, Adrian Lynne (9 1/2 Weeks, Indecent Proposal) is where our discussion begins with the casting of Dominique Swain as Dolores Haze. The update came out in 1997, when Swain was still underage at 17, which made her 16 during filming.
Swain’s provocative scenes in the film, up to and including getting soaked in the rain, and grinding against much older costar Jeremy Irons’ lap helped give the tawdry film some memorable scenes.
7 Too Old – Lea Michele (Glee)
In the long-standing tradition of casting older actresses to portray younger high school students, Lea Michele was cast as perfectionist-control freak singer Rachel Berry on Fox’s musical comedy, Glee. Seldom before had a musical comedy found success on the small screen, but Glee had something for everyone.
Leah Michele landed the role of the series’ main female lead, perfectionist Rachel Berry. Beginning the series at 23, when most people are graduating college and/or seeking their first job, Michele was playing seemingly a younger version of herself; as both she and Berry were aspiring Broadway actresses who experienced a lot of the travails of what theater geeks in High School experience.
Michele is another girl who was cast as a younger girl to be sure, but here, her own experience helped informed the role and turned Michele into a bit of a role model during the series’ run, as someone who could find herself in a group of friends.
6 Too Young – Ryan Simpkins (Gardens Of The Night)
A pretty horrific situation - imagine being abducted from your family at a young age and then convinced by her captors that her family doesn’t want her anymore. Years later, she’s simply dumped on the side of the road with another victim to fend for themselves. Welcome to the haunting world of the Gillian Jacobs (Community) project, Gardens Of The Night.
While Jacobs plays Leslie Whitehead after she was freed, a very young Ryan Simpkins plays Leslie when she was abducted. She and another boy, Donnie, are forced into a dark life of prostitution and pornography. Leslie and Donnie cope by using stories from The Jungle Book, as their captors repeatedly find ways to convince Leslie her folks don't want her anymore, even though they actually never stopped looking.
Can you ever truly go home again and try to have a normal life and enduring such horror? No matter what age you are, these events should never happen to anyone. Being tortured for nearly a decade clearly leads to aftereffects that a person might never recover from.
5 Too Old – Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls)
Hollywood is a strange place sometimes, well actually most times. It's a place where some actresses who are barely into their thirties or just past 25 and are told they're too old to play a love interest for their much older co-star (re: Olivia Wilde/Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf Of Wall Street).
Conversely, it's a place where a lot of those same actresses can be cast as teenagers, perhaps that's Tinseltown’s version of “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” Rachel McAdams, who has been a Hollywood sweetheart at any age, experience this paradigm when she was cast as Regina George in Mean Girls.
As head of “the Plastics,” McAdams flexed her acting chops to be a catty heel who harasses Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron. McAdams was 26 at the time, which makes four years older than a senior in college and much older than a senior in high school to be playing one.
4 Too Young – Liv Tyler (Silent Fall)
Steven Tyler gave his baby girl, model Liv Tyler a big break when she was cast in the Aerosmith video for “Crazy.” From there, roles in movies like Stealing Beauty, Empire Records, and of course Armageddon helped cement her status as a 90’s-It Girl. But before Liv Tyler became a household name, she took part in the film, Silent Fall.
At 16 years old during filming, Tyler starred as Sylvie Warden, a teenage orphan looking after her younger brother who has autism. The boy supposedly witnessed a gruesome terrible crime, leading both Sylvie and Dr. Jake Rainer (Richard Dreyfuss, playing a different shrink than his Dr. Marvin from Groundhog Day) to try and “unlock the boy’s mind,” and find out what happened.
Besides the wild concept of a teen being granted parental rights for their brother, what happens and what has happened to Sylvie is astonishing and explains her actions completely. It's Tyler’s first feature film and surely was a sign of things to come.
3 Too Old – Alison Lohman (White Oleander/Flicka )
Alison Lohman has such a youthful face, even today at 37 years old. Obviously, when youth is exalted, she is very lucky to still look like a fresh-faced debutant even after taking a break from the business to raise her two children. While she has taken more adult roles since she came back, she could still play a lot younger if need be.
Lohman hasn’t done anything too salacious on this list, as a matter of fact, her role in Flicka is about as family-drama wholesome as you could get. She plays a 16-year-old girl who wants to run her father’s farm. The film found an audience on DVD and Lohman was a full ten years older than her role of Katy McLaughlin, so if she seemed wise beyond her years at certain points in the film, it's because she was.
She also was older than her 15-year-old character by eight years in the adaptation of White Oleander. But considering all of the experiences that happen to her, thanks mostly in part to her mother's manipulations, might have been a bit much for a younger person to bare.
2 Too Young – Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver)
As one of the perennial queens of these kinds of lists, if you've never seen Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, let alone Robert De Niro’s turn as Travis Bickle, you should go do so after reading this list. Foster at 14 absolutely killed it as Iris, a young prostitute who befriends Bickle. While her older sister, Connie served as her body double for any racy scenes, she too was only 19 during filming.
As Iris, Foster’s character is Bickle’s tether to the real world. As his grip on sanity continues to lessen, his intent to save Iris from the dark path she's on is pure. Even as Iris tries to thank him the only way she knows how, he maintains his distance and leaves her a letter urging her to flee the life and leaves money for her to do it.
Foster’s performance is heralded and puts her on the Mt. Rushmore of memorable roles that the actress was too young for (Natalie Portman, Chloe Grace-Moretz, and Linda Blair being the other three). It was also a sign of things to come as she would become one of the greatest actresses of her or any generation.
1 Too Old – Barbra Streisand (Yentl)
Even if Barbra Streisand isn't your cup of tea, everyone respects her work and the inroads she has paved for Jewish performers and women of all ages and religions. So, leave it to Babs herself to not give a rat’s you-know-what about how old she was when she adapted her passion project, Yentl.
Based on the play, Yentl, The Yeshiva Boy is the story of a young girl who chops all of her hair off to continue her studies of the Hebrew Talmud. The film adaptation came out in 1983 when Streisand was 41 years old! Talk about older actresses being cast as high school students - the character is 17 years old in the film.
While the role here is certainly nowhere near as illicit or horrific as some of the other roles on this list, playing a teenager at an age where in real life you'd be old enough to have several teens of your own makes Streisand the queen of this list.