20 Times High Schoolers on TV Were Played By Much Older Adults

Martha Sorren | Jan 23, 2020 TV
20 Times High Schoolers on TV Were Played By Much Older Adults
Image: The CW

The cast of Riverdale
The CW

Ever wondered why the high schoolers on TV look nothing like how we looked at that age? That's because they're often not actually teenagers. Our favorite teen shows are usually filled with actors in their 20s, and sometimes even in their 30s. According to Vice, the phenomenon is called "/Dawson's Casting," named for the show Dawson's Creek whose cast members were all much older than their high school characters. 

But it's not just Dawson's Creek that used this casting method. Many high schoolers on TV are played by much older adults. One popular teen show even cast a 24-year-old as a 14-year-old. Come on, now. They can't really expect us to buy that one.

There's actually a pretty simple reason for why shows tend to prefer to cast older actors in younger roles. According to Teen Vogue, there are fewer work restrictions on actors over 18. Marcia Ross, who cast the teen movies 10 Things I Hate About You and Cluelesstold the outlet that "actors under the age of 18 need to have guardians on set and work a limited set of hours because of schooling." 

TV production schedules move quickly, and if they can avoid having to pause for actors to go to class or have their guardian present, things get done faster. That's the long and short of it. Of course, if an actor who's just perfect for a role happens to be underage, the production will likely accommodate that. But if they feel that audiences won't notice too much that someone a decade older than a high schooler is playing a high schooler, why go through the headache of hiring an actual high school age actor?

Casting young roles with older actors is common in both movies and television, but these 20 cases of high schoolers played by adults are especially egregious. Some of these actors are nearly twice the age of their character!

  • Charisma Carpenter in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

    Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    Real age when the show premiered: 27

    Charisma Carpenter's character, Cordelia, was supposed to be a sophomore when we first met her, but the actor was already in her late 20s at the time. Although her character eventually grew to be of college age, Charisma was still much older than the role. By her last Buffy episode she was 29.

  • Kerr Smith in 'Dawson's Creek'

    Kerr Smith in Dawson's Creek
    John Russo/Sygma via Getty Images

    Real age when the show premiered: 26 

    The show that gave the adults-as-teenagers trope its name cast a 26-year-old to play Jack McPhee. Jack was a sophomore at the start of the show, which should have made his character around 15 -- over a decade younger than the actor.

  • Keiko Agena in 'Gilmore Girls'


    Real age when the show premiered: 27 

    Keiko Agena played Rory's best friend, Lane, on Gilmore Girls. Rory was 15 when the show started, which would have put Lane around the same age. But the actress who played her was already 27 when the show began. When it ended in 2007, with Lane around 22, Keiko was actually 34.

  • Milo Ventimiglia in 'Gilmore Girls'


    Real age during his first episode: 24

    High schooler Jess Mariano was portrayed by 24-year-old Milo Ventimiglia. If he always seemed wise beyond his years (and a little above everything in Stars Hollow), it may have been because he was just so much older than his character was actually supposed to be.

  • Tom Welling in 'Smallville'


    Real age when the show premiered: 24

    Tom Welling played 14-year-old freshman high schooler Clark Kent (aka Superman) when Smallville began. That meant that Tom was already a decade older than his character was supposed to be. The actor was 34 by the time the show ended.

  • Ben McKenzie in 'The O.C.'


    Real age when the show premiered: 25

    Although Ryan is a high schooler when we first meet him on The O.C., actor Ben McKenzie was already 25. Fortunately, the show did let its characters go on to attend college so they could kind of keep up with the actors' ages. Still, Ben was 29 when the series finished -- much older than his college-age character.

  • Adam Brody in 'The O.C.'


    Real age when the show premiered: 24

    Like his adopted brother, Ryan, Seth Cohen was a high schooler at the beginning of The O.C. However, Adam Brody had long ago left high school behind. He was already 24 when the show first premiered.

  • Kristen Bell in 'Veronica Mars'

    Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars
    Ron P. Jaffe/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

    Real age when the show premiered: 24

    Kristen Bell was seven years older than her character on Veronica Mars. The first three seasons of the show chronicled Veronica's high school years and her first year of college. By the time her character was in her university freshman year, Kristen was 27.

  • Jason Earles in 'Hannah Montana'


    Real age when the show premiered: 29

    The real mystery of Hannah Montana isn't how Miley managed to hide being a famous rock star for so long -- it's how her brother managed to pull off being a high school student. Miley's brother Jackson (on the show, not in real life) was almost 30 when the show started. Four seasons later, he finished out the series as a 34-year-old.

  • Taylor Kitsch in 'Friday Night Lights'

    Taylor Kitsch in Friday Night Lights
    Bill Records/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

    Real age when the show premiered: 25

    He may have been playing on a high school football team, but Tim Riggins actor Taylor Kitsch was years older than any real high schooler. He started the show out at 25, and he was 30 by the time it ended.

  • Cory Monteith in 'Glee'

    Cory Monteith in Glee
    FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

    Real age when the show premiered: 27

    Most of the Glee students were years older than their characters, but Cory Monteith especially. When the show premiered, he was 27. By the time his character Finn Hudson graduated high school, Cory was 30.

  • Shay Mitchell in 'Pretty Little Liars'


    Real age when the show premiered: 23

    None of the four main Pretty Little Liars characters were high school age, despite the show being set during that period of life. In fact, after years of filming, the show was forced to do a five-year time jump to advance the characters past college and into their early 20s. It was a move to make their ages better match up with the actors. 

    Shay Mitchell was 30 when the show ended.

  • Tammin Sursok in 'Pretty Little Liars'


    Real age when the show premiered: 27

    Jenna Marshall was played by an even older actress than the rest of the cast. Tammin Sursok started the series at 27 (even though she was playing a high schooler), and she was 34 when it wrapped up.

  • Ross Butler in '13 Reasons Why'


    Real age when the show premiered: 27

    Ross Butler was not only too old to play high schooler Zach in 13 Reasons Why, but he was also too old to play high schooler Reggie in Riverdale. But despite being a decade older than most teen students, Ross tackled both of those roles. He was later replaced on Riverdale so he could focus on his 13 Reasons Why character.

    However, Riverdale just swapped the 27-year-old Ross for a then 26-year-old Charles Melton.

  • Timothy Granaderos in '13 Reasons Why'


    Real age when the show premiered: 31

    Most of the actors on 13 Reasons Why are laughably older than their characters, but none more so than Timothy Granaderos who played Monty. He was 31 at the start of the series, nearly twice as old as Monty would have been.

  • Dacre Montgomery in 'Stranger Things'


    Real age when the show premiered: 23

    In real life, Dacre Montgomery was 23 when he joined Stranger Things as Billy. But his character is in high school, which makes the scene where the moms lust after him at the pool super creepy. 

  • Jimmy Tatro in 'American Vandal'


    Real age when the show premiered: 25

    High school screw up Dylan Maxwell on American Vandal was portrayed by actor Jimmy Tatro, who was years older than his character would have been. American Vandal is a Netflix show, which proved with 13 Reasons Why and later The Politician that they don't really care how old the actor is as long as they're good at performing the role.

  • Cole Sprouse in 'Riverdale'


    Real age when the show premiered: 25

    Jughead is supposed to be a high school sophomore when Riverdale starts, but actor Cole Sprouse had already graduated college when he took on the role. In its current season, Jughead is now a high school senior. Meanwhile, Cole is pushing 28.

  • Ashleigh Murray in 'Riverdale'


    Real age when the show premiered: 29

    Cole Sprouse's age difference to Jughead has nothing on Ashleigh Murray's age difference with her character, Josie. The high schooler was portrayed by an actress over a decade older than the character was supposed to be.

  • Ben Platt in 'The Politician'


    Real age when the show premiered: 26

    Netflix may have had a reason for casting 26-year-old Ben Platt as high schooler Payton Hobart. The show plans to jump ahead in time to follow Payton's rise from class president to a candidate for president of the United States -- so the actor behind the role needed to be able to also convincingly play a 35-year-old man.

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