Adult Actors Playing Teenagers: The 10 Most Egregious Examples from Hollywood

Hollywood is obsessed with TV shows and movies where teenagers take center stage. Only, those teenagers are very rarely actual teenagers.

For most of film and television history, anyone who’s wanted to feature a character under the age of 18 in a production has faced an obvious problem. Kids and teens have labor laws protecting them and mandating restricted hours and education requirements that make scheduling a bit of a nightmare. With pre-pubescent children, generally, creators just have to roll with the challenges and hire a child actor who’s around the general age of the character. When you’re casting a teenage character though? It’s way, way easier to have a young adult play the role.

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The practice of getting a 20-something to portray a high schooler is so widespread that the actual exceptions to the rule tend to stick out even further: Think about how young the kids on “Skins” look compared to their ostensible peers in HBO’s similar “Euphoria.” And for the most part, it works fine: The fickle realities of puberty ensure that teens can vary wildly in terms of how mature they look, and it’s not the most extreme stretch to see a 21-year-old playing a high school senior. Casting this way also opens up creative avenues that would be, at best, complicated to portray with actors who perfectly match the youthful protagonists’ ages: It’s far less gross to see a sex scene on “Euphoria” when it is between the very obviously adult Sydney Sweeney and Jacob Elordi, for example.

Still, film occasionally pushes the limits of what the audience is expected to believe a teenager looks like. These cases generally see actors in their later 20s take on teen roles that their more mature looks don’t exactly match, but occasionally you get an extreme example where someone well past the 30-year-old benchmark is tasked with playing someone who has yet to be eligible for a driver’s license. That’s on top of some cases where actors will play the same character at vastly different ages across a single film, a gambit that doesn’t always work. For example, while the three leads of “Challengers” are decently convincing both as 18-year-olds in the film’s past timeline and as early 30s professionals in the film’s present, it can still be jarring to see Zendaya and Josh O’Connor seemingly not age a single day across many time jumps.

With “Challengers” in theaters, IndieWire is taking a look at the adults whose age really showed in their roles. Read on for the 10 most egregious cases of adults playing teens.

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