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Hollywood stars who played way out of their age range

How old is Hamlet? It’s been the subject of immense scholarly debate. At one point in the play, he suggests he is 30. But scholars have noted his speech and actions seem to suggest a much younger character. But one thing most Shakespeare experts agree on, however, is that he isn’t 81. But that hasn’t stopped the great Sir Ian McKellen taking on the role in a new age-blind production, tackling a role he first played 50 years ago. But there is a longstanding tradition of actors performing in roles vastly different to their own age. Here are just a few…

Dustin Hoffman opposite Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)

Hoffman's childish antics

A 14-year-old Laurence Fishburne in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Dustin Hoffman is known for his mercurial ability to completely possess the role he’s playing, whether it’s pretending to be a female actor in Tootsie or an autistic character in Rain Man. But two of his early roles required him to age down, then up and then down again. In 1967’s The Graduate, his first starring role, he played the 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock, although he was nearly 30 at the time. The woman who seduces him, Mrs. Robinson, is supposed to be much older than Benjamin, but Anne Bancroft, who played the role, was just six years older than Hoffman and only eight years older than Katherine Ross who played her daughter. A couple of years later, Dustin starred in Little Big Man, playing the character Jack Crabb, who ages from a teenager to a 121-year-old man.

Fledgeling Fishburne

Though three years is not a major leap in age, compared to some of the other performances on this list, the difference between a 14 year-old and a 17 year-old is pretty acute. But this didn’t seem to bother young Laurence Fishburne who was barely a teenager when he auditioned to play Mr Clean in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam war epic Apocalypse Now. He lied about his age to obtain the role but, as filming took so long, he actually was 17 by the time the production was completed.

Von Sydow's senior service

The amazing Max Von Sydow, who died recently, was one of those actors that you can’t really imagine ever being young. A fact that led to problems in his career. He’d starred in a number of Ingmar Bergman classics, such as The Seventh Seal, when, in 1973, he was picked to play the priest Father Lankester Merrin in The Exorcist. The actor was just 44 at the time, but thanks to an award-winning make-up job, he looked like the very elderly, frail cleric. But the prosthetics were slightly too good. It’s reported that Von Sydow had difficulty finding work in Hollywood after the success of the film as producers thought he was just too ancient.

Dash's age-defying

Entertainment history is littered with stories of much older actors playing kids or teenagers. Hannah Montana's teenage brother, Jackson, was played by the 29-year-old Jason Earles. Thomas Brodie-Sangster was actually 14 when he played the much younger Simon in Nanny McPhee. But one of the most remarkable portrayals involves the comedy classic Clueless, director Amy Heckerling’s 1995 reimagining of Jane Austen’s Emma. Dionne, close friends with the main character Cher, was meant to be a 17-year-old high schooler. But she was played by actress Stacey Dash who was nearly thirty at the time. She even continued the role for another five years on the TV version of the film.

Greasy non-teens

In Dennis Potter’s classic television play Blue Remembered Hills, a group of seven-year-olds are played by fully grown adult actors. Potter was praised for his daring and innovation. But no one ever gives Grease the same credit, even though many people in that film are playing roles far younger than their actual age. The sweet innocent Sandy, who is 17, was played by 30 year-old Olivia Newton-John. Her co-star John Travolta was a slightly more respectable 24 when filming took place. Stockard Channing who played fellow high-schooler Rizzo, was actually 33 when the film was made while her boyfriend Kenickie, played by Jeff Conaway was 28.

Why are the wrong sound effects used in films?

A clip from The Film Programme.

Jennifer’s juvenalia

One actor who is making a career out of playing characters of wildly different ages to the one she actually is appears to be Jennifer Lawrence. She seems to revel in this age uncertainty. In The Hunger Games, she was 20 when she portrayed a 16 year-old, but in her very next film Silver Linings Playbook, she was 21 but playing a widow in her mid to late thirties (winning the Academy Award in the process). In Winter’s Bone she played a much younger character, but then in American Hustle and Joy, she played people at least 10 years older than her or beyond. But, as she has won another Academy Award in the meantime, she’s obviously doing something right.

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games (2012)

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