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8 Stars Who Played Way Younger Characters

You probably have no idea how old these actors actually were when they were playing teens.

Part of the magic of Hollywood comes from stars who don't seem to age. Case in point: Paul Rudd, star of Marvel's Ant-Man films, doesn't seem to have aged a day since he starred in Clueless in 1995. But actors who look younger than their actual age are a valuable resource for a reason beyond the industry's obsession with youth and beauty. There are a lot of rules around working with actors under 17, and if you can cast a 21-year-old who easily passes as younger, it saves everyone that headache. (It also removes the risk of an unfortunately timed growth spurt.) However, some projects go a little overboard, and that's how the cast of the high school-set classic Grease had an average age of 28. Some actors even become famous for the disconnect, like Stacey Dash and Henry Winkler, who were both 28 when they played 18-year-olds in Clueless and Happy Days, respectively. Read on for eight celebrities who played way younger characters in movies and TV—whether they did so believably or not is up to you.

READ THIS NEXT: 6 Stars Who Quit Major Movies.

Sophie McShera, Downton Abbey

Sophie McShera in 2019
lev radin/Shutterstock

Period films and series aren't always known for age accuracy in their casting. (See also: 35-year-old Emma Thompson as 19-year-old Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility.) However, most of the cast of Downton Abbey were near enough to their character's ages, save one: Sophie McShera, who played teen kitchen maid, Daisy. Daisy is supposed to have dropped out of school and joined the workforce, which would make her 15 or so in Season 1. McShera was 25 when cast, and because of her youthful appearance, some viewers have a theory that Daisy never aged either.

Ncuti Gatwa, Sex Education

Ncuti Gatwa in 2022
Fred Duval/Shutterstock

Every high school series has at least one actor who is far older than the teen character they play, be it Cole Sprouse (24) on Riverdale or the late Cory Monteith (27) on Glee. In Netflix's Sex Education, it's incoming Doctor Who star Ncuti Gatwa, who was 27 when he was cast as 15-year-old Eric Effiong. Going into what he's already announced will be his final season on the heartwarming dramedy, Gatwa is now 30 years old.

Nicola Coughlan, Derry Girls

Nicola Coughlan in 2019
Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

Some actors make a career out of playing characters much younger than their actual age. For example, Irish star Nicola Coughlan broke out in the '90s-set comedy Derry Girls as 16-year-old Clare Devlin just after turning 31. She's not stopped there either, becoming a household name as the youngest Featherington daughter, 18-year-old Penelope, in Bridgerton just two years later, at age 33.

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Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Carribbean

Orlando Bloom in 2003
Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

Older male heartthrobs paired with younger female actors is the norm in Hollywood, but sometimes those age gaps can lead audiences to believe that the co-stars are closer in age than they actually are. Orlando Bloom had that happen when he played 18-year-old Will Turner at age 26, opposite the actually-18-year-old Keira Knightley in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The public's inability to tell how old he is has followed the star since since. He reprised his Lord of the Rings role in the prequel trilogy The Hobbit, in which the 36-year-old actor played the son of 34-year-old Lee Pace's character.

Bianca Lawson, Pretty Little Liars

Bianca Lawson in 2013

Some performers start acting as teenagers, when they were playing characters of their same age. But while the actors themselves get older, their roles (in the words of Matthew McConaughey's Dazed and Confused character) stay the same age. Bianca Lawson is a perfect example of this. The Pretty Little Liars star broke out on Saved by the Bell: The New Class at 14, playing a 14-year-old. At 18, she played a 16-year-old on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. By the time she was cast as Maya in PLL, the 31-year-old was still playing 16. On American Horror Story the following year, her character was 15, while Lawson herself was 32;

Nicholas Brendon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Nicholas Brendon in 2001
J. P. Aussenard/WireImage

While most of the rest of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast were acceptably within a five-year range of their characters, that wasn't true for everyone. If Xander's facial hair didn't make it obvious, the actor who played him, Nicholas Brendon, was nowhere close to 16. Brendon was 25 when cast in the role and 26 for most of the show's first season.

Parminder Nagra, Bend It Like Beckham

Parminder Nagra in 2004
FeatureFlash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

Thankfully, not every actor who played a teen as an adult has been cursed to be relegated to high school shows. Parminder Nagra, for example, broke big at age 27 as 15-year-old Jess Bhamra in the hit film Bend It Like Beckham in 2002. But from there, she's played adults, including Ellen Nadeer in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and her latest starring role, as the titular DI Ray on the PBS crime drama.

Almost Every Young Actor, Game of Thrones

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in 2011
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

HBO's Game of Thrones had an age problem before it began casting: Many characters, from Daenerys to Jon Snow, are between the ages of 8 and 14 in the novels. The show mitigated that the best they could by aging up everyone whose prepubescent state wasn't a central plot point. (Everyone but Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon, basically.) But even then, the production cast older actors to ensure no one realized how young they were all supposed to be. 25-year-old Emilia Clarke played 15-year-old Dany. Kit Harington, Richard Madden, and Alfie Allen were all 22, playing 16-year-olds Jon, Robb, and Theon, respectively. Rose Leslie was 31, playing 19-year-old Ygritte, and Natalie Dormer was 30 playing 17-year-old Margaery.

Ani Bundel
Ani Bundel is an entertainment writer covering everything from celebrities to movies to peak TV. Read more
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