Smells Like Mid-Twenties Spirit

Two weeks ago, I confessed my love for The Vampire Diaries, but not without acknowledging the sheer ridiculousness of the plot points and characters. One of the ridiculous aspects that I pointed out was the unbelievable attractiveness of every character that inhabits the world of Mystic Falls. I later ruminated on why these characters were so gorgeous, and I realized that a huge contributing factor was the age of the actors. The majority of the characters on The Vampire Diaries begin the series as juniors in high school (or have obtained immortality at roughly the same age, and will forever appear as teenagers). However, the actors portraying these characters began the show while they were in their early to mid twenties – well beyond the awkward phase that many experience in high school. These “teenagers” are, in reality, adults with a clear sense of style and not so much of a hint of a hormone imbalance.

I began to realize just how many TV shows and movies cast adults in the roles of teenagers and just how damaging this can be to a teenager’s self esteem. If shows marketed toward teenagers exclusively feature adult actors, what sort of message are these shows sending? They could be presenting an ideal world to these teenagers, one in which the protagonists (read: the characters through which the audience lives vicariously) are self-assured and somewhat glamorous.

Frankly, I haven’t done enough research on the subject to think that this casting trend is particularly harmful for its target audience. I believe that the use of these older actors does not tamper with the underlying messages of the shows or remove the humanity from the stories. But many of the age differences between these actors and their characters are too shocking and entertaining not to point out. It is worth noting that the ages of the actors on this list pertain to how old they were when they were cast or began filming, and the ages of the characters are how old they are at the start of the movie or TV series. So, without further ado…


Paul Wesley as Stefan Salvatore

  1. Paul Wesley (27) as Stefan Salvatore (17) in “The Vampire Diaries” – Let’s kick this off with a familiar face. While Stefan begins the series as a 162 year old immortal, he was turned into a vampire at age seventeen. Wesley is one of the more unbelievable adult-as-a-teenager actors. I never believed him to be a teenager, but it hardly steals from the enjoyment of the show since Stefan is meant to be more of an “old, gentle soul” anyway.
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    Emily Kinney as Beth Greene

    Emily Kinney (26) as Beth Greene (16) in “The Walking Dead” – This one is probably most believable out of any on this list. Kinney has an incredibly youthful face and even more of a youthful energy. It certainly helped that she didn’t get much screen time prior to season four of the show. Since her departure from “Dead,” she has gone on to much more mature roles on “Masters of Sex” and “The Knick.”


    John Travolta as Danny Zuko

  3. John Travolta (24) as Danny Zuko (18) in “Grease” – While this may not be the biggest divergence between actor and character in this film – Stockard Channing was thirty-one while playing eighteen year old Rizzo – let’s all remember what Travolta looked like in “Grease.” If I passed him in the halls of Rydell High, I would’ve definitely suspected that he had failed a few grades. To be fair, it’s plausible that’s exactly what happened to a dumbbell like Zuko.


    Bob Morley as Bellamy Blake

  4. Bob Morley (28) as Bellamy Blake (under 18) in “The 100” – Another offender from The CW. In a show where the premise revolves around age – one hundred juveniles are sent to the surface of the Earth to determine whether or not it is habitable – many of the actors are well above the cutoff age of eighteen. It’s an interesting casting choice for something so central to the plot and the theme of the show.


    Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite

  5. Jon Heder (27) as Napoleon Dynamite (18 or under) in Napoleon Dynamite – There’s a little wiggle room with this one. Napoleon’s age is said to be sixteen in the movie synopsis, but no age is explicitly discussed on screen. Since much of the movie takes place in Napoleon’s high school, it’s safe to say that he’s eighteen or younger. While I don’t believe “Napoleon Dynamite” was meant to be a faithful recreation of high school, it is a little absurd to see Heder tower over his costars and answer them in his signature deep voice.


    Anna Kendrick as Beca Mitchell

  6. Anna Kendrick (27) as Beca Mitchell (18) in “Pitch Perfect” – Is this less of a taboo since Kendrick was playing a college freshman rather than a high schooler? Either way, there’s nearly a ten year age gap between actor and character.


    Bianca Lawson in one of her fairly recent roles in “Pretty Little Liars”

  7. Bianca Lawson in Literally Every Role She’s Had – Lawson is the champion of adult actors who play teenagers. This list wouldn’t be complete without her. She has played teens on “Saved by the Bell”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Teen Wolf”, and “American Horror Story.” She’s been playing high schoolers for well over twenty years, and every time I see her on the screen, it doesn’t stretch my imagination too much. Either this girl has sold her soul, or she won the genetic lottery.


Are there any other adult actors that you have spotted masquerading as teens? Add to the list by leaving us a comment below. And take the next portrayal you see of a teenager in a show or movie with a grain of salt. They may be played by someone who is so far removed from their teenage years that they can’t even remember what the teenage experience is truly like.

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