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15 Teenage Characters Who Were Played by Adult Actors in a Very Convincing Way

Sometimes, the characters we see played on screen and the actors and actresses who bring them to life could not be more different. For example, between character and performer, the age difference is something very flexible — it is not uncommon to see adults acting as teenagers or teenagers playing adults in convincing roles. They make it clear that, when it comes to talent and dedication, age is just a number that does not hinder a prodigious performance.

With that in mind, Bright Side would like to share with you a list of 15 actors and actresses from movies and TV series who brought much younger characters to the big and small screen.

1. Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker

The story of Peter Parker, the young photographer who becomes a superhero after being bitten by a radioactive spider, is familiar to many of us. In fact, it is so popular that it has been adapted to the big screen several times over the years. Among those adaptations is Sam Raimi’s famous Spider-Man trilogy, where Tobey Maguire was in charge of playing the teenage hero. Maguire, born in 1975, was 26 years old when he played the famous arachnid character for the first time, so the age gap between him and his character, a high school student, was at least 8 years.

2. Rachel McAdams as Allie Hamilton

In 2004, Canadian actress Rachel McAdams gave life to one of her most iconic characters: the rebellious and romantic Allie Hamilton in The Notebook. The film, based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel with the same name, tells the story of a love forbidden by class rules in 1940s America. While Allie’s character is 15 years old at the beginning of the novel, onscreen she is 17. However, the biggest difference was in real life: McAdams was 24 at the time filming began.

3. Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly

The Back to the Future trilogy of science fiction films is another case where the teenage lead character is played by a 20-something. Michael J. Fox was 24 when he first brought the intrepid 17-year-old time traveler, Marty McFly, to life. Fox was 28 when the final installment was released in 1990. However, the age difference between character and actor was by no means an impediment to the film’s critical and box-office success. In fact, the first installment is considered the tenth best science fiction film in American cinema.

4. Florence Pugh as Amy March

The 2019 adaptation of the novel Little Women features a talented array of actors and actresses. At the time, Florence Pugh had less industry experience than some of her colleagues, but that didn’t stop her from being nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Amy March, the youngest of the March sisters. Amy’s character oscillates between the ages of 12 and 19 throughout the film and in both stages, she is played by Florence Pugh, who was 22 at the time.

5. Cory Monteith as Finn Hudson

We jump to the small screen to introduce another high school kid played by an adult. Finn Hudson is a popular and talented 16-year-old soccer player who joins his high school’s quirky choir group, Glee, and finds himself torn between his passion for singing and fear of rejection from his popular peers. Cory Monteith, who was 27 when the series’ pilot premiered, was in charge of giving voice and face to this charismatic and complex character between 2009 and 2013. In his last appearance on the show, Finn’s character was 19 years old, while, in real life, Monteith was already 31.

6. Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen

Based on the successful fantasy book series by George R. R. Martin, the controversial series Game of Thrones premiered in April 2011 and ended in 2018. Among the cast members is Emilia Clarke, who brought to life the beautiful and complex Daenerys Targaryen. In the novel, Daenerys is only 13 years old when she first appears, but in the series, her initial age is around 17. Despite this change, there was still a considerable age difference between Daenerys and Clarke, who was 24 when she first played the role.

7. Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso

The Karate Kid is an ’80s movie that has transcended the decades. Starring Ralph Macchio as Danny LaRusso, the film is a combination of life lessons and karate that ends up offering a nostalgic experience where we see Danny’s character grow up. However, Macchio didn’t need to grow up as much as his character. The actor was already 21 when he was cast for the role, and by the time the trilogy of films ended, he was already 27 years old.

8. Rachel McAdams as Regina George

The same year she had her role in The Notebook, McAdams brought the mischievous teen queen bee Regina George to life in Mean Girls. Since the story takes place in the junior year of the American high school system, Regina’s character must be between the ages of 16 and 17. Although she does an exceptionally convincing job, the truth is that McAdams had already left that stage of her life behind almost a decade before that: she was 25 when she played the character.

9. Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones

Cole Sprouse went from being the witty and sweet twin in Zack and Cody to playing the sarcastic and eccentric Jughead Jones, the main character and narrator of Riverdale, a series on The CW based on the Archie comics. Like many on this list, Sprouse was already in his 20s when he began playing Jones, and there was a nearly 10-year age difference between the character and the actor — Jughead was around 16, Sprouse was already 24.

10. Jessica Barden as Alyssa

In 2018, the British series The End of the F***ing World, an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, was distributed internationally. Jessica Barden played the role of rebellious, non-conformist 17-year-old Alyssa in this dark comedy. Her biting performance and the cynicism of her character are so realistic that they could easily be attributed to a typical unhappy teenager, yet when Barden played the role, she was already far from a teenager: she was 25 years old.

11. Robert Downey Jr. as a young Tony Stark

Downey Jr. was already 43 years old when he played the role of the eccentric millionaire genius in the first installment of the Iron Man trilogy in 2008. During the following years, the actor played the same role in several films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One of those films was Captain America: Civil War, released in 2016. While his participation stands out for several aspects, it has to be highlighted the fact that it was Downey himself who acted as the young version of Tony Stark. By that time, the actor was already 51 years old, but his appearance was changed by means of a special effects application that used montages from his younger years.

12. Alexa Demie as Maddy Pérez

The U.S. remake of the Israeli series Euphoria premiered in 2019. It immediately hooked us with, among other things, its controversial story, cinematography, music, and acting performances. One of the performances to note is that of Alexa Demie, who at 27 was cast to play Maddy Perez, an impulsive and energetic 17-year-old.

13. Stockard Channing as Rizzo

The 1978 film, Grease, is a production in which the age difference between actors and characters was common. Among several cast members and their respective roles, there were considerable age differences that became so noticeable in some characters that several critics complained about the casting. Stockard Channing, for example, was the oldest actress among those cast as a high school student: she was already 33 years old when she played Rizzo, the leader of the Pink Ladies who, in the film, was 17 years old.

14. Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides

In September 2021, the movie Dune, the first of 2 film installments based on the 1965 novel, was released. The responsibility of bringing to life the main character named Paul Artreides fell on the shoulders of French-American actor Timothée Chalamet, who was 23 years old when filming began. Although the original plot of Dune is extensive and spans several years, at the beginning of the story, Artreides is 15 years old, which means that there is an initial difference of 8 years between the actor and the character.

15. Aimee Lou Wood as Aimee Gibbs

The first season of the series Sex Education premiered via Netflix in January 2019. Overall, the show has been very pleasing for its fresh subject matter and openness to diverse teenage experiences. Of course, much of the charisma of the series falls on the charming cast members, including actress Aimee Lou Wood. Despite being 23 at the time of the audition, Wood was chosen to play the sweet and popular 17-year-old.

Do you think age makes a difference when it comes to playing a role? Let us know in the comments.

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