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October 6, 2015

Some big actor-to-character age differences on TV

by Keith McDuffee, posted Feb 25th 2008 1:03PM
cast of 90210How good are you at spotting someone's true age? There's been a few times I've caught myself wondering how old that actor really is on TV, when they're playing someone my age and look ten years older. Do I really look that good? Then again, I've seen the opposite and thought, "damn, I am an old decrepit fart." In any case, I'll pull up IMDb and usually find myself in shock of how young/old the actor on-screen really is.

The whole actor-to-character age ratio thing got me curious, so I did a little research (with the help of some of the TV Squad team) and made a list of some of the more extreme and well-known (or, maybe to some, not-so-well-known) examples. By the way, we didn't include actors who played flashback scenes of their characters for short periods of time, as there are more of those than we have room for.

sophia petrilloActress: Estelle Getty
Character: Sophia Petrillo (The Golden Girls)
69 years old, playing 86 years old
17 year difference
And you thought I was only talking about people who played younger characters than themselves. What's even more interesting is how costar Betty White made this list going in the opposite direction. I admit I was a bit hesitant to add Getty to this list, since she was done up with a wig to make her look older than she really was. Still, she played Sophia for many years in that getup, so she's certainly applicable here.

andrea zuckermanActress: Gabrielle Carteris
Character: Andrea Zuckerman (Beverly Hills, 90210)
29 years old, playing 15 years old
14 year difference
When coming up with this list, Carteris was the first to come to mind. When 90210 premiered in the fall of 1990, the actress was 29 playing a high school student. But hell, she pulled it off.

the fonzActor: Henry Winkler
Character: Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli (Happy Days)
29 years old, playing 17 years old
12 year difference
Looking back to Happy Days now, it did seem like The Fonz was a little too comfortable with the Cunningham adults, didn't he? Maybe he lied about his age to his friends and he was actually held back 12 years in high school, just so he could look much cooler than anyone else. Heck, maybe he didn't even go to high school at all. I can think of a couple of guys who, when at 29, would have thought this was a plan of genius.

ian zieringActor: Ian Ziering
Character: Steve Sanders (Beverly Hills, 90210)
26 years old, playing 15 years old
11 year difference
I wonder if the casting director figured they should bring in another adult to this fictional high school show so Gabrielle Carteris's age wouldn't stick out so much. Was there anyone on this show who was the actual age they were playing?

keiko agenaActress: Keiko Agena
Character: Lane Kim (Gilmore Girls)
33 years old, playing 22 years old
11 year difference
This one's purely from research, as this was one show I never made time for. In looking at pictures of her against the other characters of the show, she certainly doesn't stick out as being older. Good for her.

radar o'ReillyActor: Gary Burghoff
Character: Radar O'Reilly (M*A*S*H)
32 years old, playing 18 years old
11 year difference (14 years by IMDb)
If you go by IMDb, Gary Burghoff was born in 1940. Wikipedia lists his birthdate as 1943. Which is it? I don't know. It doesn't really matter, because his actor/character age ratio rates up there in the top few of this list.

tony o'dellActor: Tony O'Dell
Character: Alan Pinkard (Head of the Class)
26 years old, playing about 16 years old
About a 10 year difference
This one I had to estimate, since O'Dell was supposed to be, I believe, a sophomore in high school. I gotta say, he looks an awful lot like someone I once knew in high school, so it works. He played the overly-yuppie honors student to perfection; so much so that I wanted to reach through the TV and punch him in the nose. Maybe others agree, since the poor guy's only got 57 MySpace friends.

david boreanazActor: David Boreanaz
Character: Angel/Angelus (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel)
35 years old, playing 26 years old
9 year difference
I'm not very good at suspending disbelief sometimes, and here's one example that was such a thorn in my side for years while watching two of my favorite shows. When Angel went off the air in 2004, David Boreanaz was 35 and still trying to pull off his eternally-young 26 year-old character. This was one reason I was so glad the series ended; if they explained to us why the character didn't look the same as in season one, I'd be happy.

Others with a 9 year difference:

Actor: Tom Welling
Character: Clark Kent (Smallville)
24 years old, playing 15 years old

Actor: Dan Frischman
Character: Arvid Engen (Head of the Class)
25 years old, playing about 16

Those with an 8 year difference:

Actor: Luke Perry
Character: Dylan McKay (Beverly Hills, 90210)
24 years old, playing 16 years old

Actor: Michael Rosenbaum
Character: Lex Luthor (Smallville)
29 years old, playing 21 years old

Actor: Benjamin McKenzie
Character: Ryan Atwood (The O.C.)
25 years old, playing 17 years old

Actor: Max Casella
Character: Vinnie Delpino (Doogie Howser, M.D.)
22 years old, playing 14 years old

Actress: Betty White
Character: Rose Nylund (The Golden Girls)
70 years old, playing 62

You could almost put this list together in order of how extreme the age difference seems, once you see the actual and virtual ages side-by-side. Luke Perry playing a 16 year-old at 24 seems minor to Max Casella playing a 14 year-old at 22, yet there's still an eight year difference there.

So, did I leave out any big ones? Let me know in the comments.

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Wow, really? Surely you can do better than that. Cheap shot. I'm nothing like my character on Head of The Class. Give me a little credit... just playin' a part.

August 15 2011 at 1:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Virginia Connor

Walter Koenig was another actor who appeared younger than his age when he played Ens. Pavel Chekov in the TV series, "Star Trek" (he was in his early 30's). I don't think the young man who played the 17 year old Chekov in the movie was much older.

September 26 2010 at 11:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Virginia Connor

You forgot David McCallum. I remember he played a teenager in "Violent Playground" (a British movie set in the '50's). I think he was about 28 then.No wonder he looked so young when he started playing Illya Kuryakin in the "MFU" and I think he still looks young at 77 as plays Ducky in "NCIS".

September 26 2010 at 1:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They do explain why Angel ages through out the season. They don't make a deal out of it, but there are passing comments about how having a soul has aged him.

April 10 2009 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Pretty much all of the cast of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were in their early 20s. I know that Jason David Frank (Green/White Ranger) was already married with a child I believe.

April 05 2009 at 1:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

well, Gabrielle Union was born in 1972 and she was 28 at the time she played a highschool senior in Bring it on. Not to mention her character on 7th heaven was 16 and she was like mid to late 20s in that also.

May 26 2008 at 9:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Although he was a high school dropout, Fonzie's age is never explicitly mentioned. In a later episode toward the end of the penultimate season it was implied that Fonzie was in his mid to late twenties (he mentioned something about being in third grade 17 years earlier). Given that the series supposedly encompassed the years 1956 - 1966 it would place his birth date at around 1939. By this logic he would have been just a year older than Richie!

However, the nature of their relationship suggests that he is at least 3 or 4 years older than Richie. The character has clearly done some living, more so than any 17-year-old could have (no matter how rebellious they are). There is also an episode in season 3 where Howard taunts Fonzie for not wanting to get involved with the kids because he is "too old". My best guess is that he is at least 20 at the start of the series and 30 at its climax. This of course begs the question of why a man in his 20s that hung around with high school kids and used a bathroom as his office was considered cool.

April 19 2008 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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