Walt Disney Pictures
Teen TV shows are an entertainment staple. They provide the juiciest drama, the most ridiculous storylines, and some of our fave teen television characters. But, anyone who has ever watched a teen TV show knows the confusion over how these supposed high schoolers look so mature and beautiful when everyone you knew looked like they just left the womb. Simple answer: barely any teen television characters are actually played by teens. While they're often close enough in age to be passable, plenty of your fave TV teens are actually full-on adults in disguise. Y'all know how many 30-year-olds have played 16-year-olds over the years?! ALOT.
Roles as teens on TV are perfect for the eternally baby-faced. Think about it — these adults have lived all the experiences that make playing a teen easy without currently going through any of the actual drama teens deal with. Sure, it makes your fave shows feel a little bit less authentic. But how else did you think every teen on TV looks like a runway model instead of a pimply, hormonal kid?! Still, we're a little shocked by how old some of the actors playing teens actually are!
Ryan's introduction on The O.C. centers fully on his "wrong side of the tracks" upbringing and tendency to punch people in the face. Teen boys can be a little rough around the edges. Luckily, Benjamin McKenzie, who played Ryan, had already outgrown his wild teen phase long before. By the time he was playing 16-year-old Ryan, McKenzie was 24 and well into his adult years. He was almost a decade removed from any teenage shenanigans! McKenzie was the oldest of the "teenage" cast, but many of the other The O.C. stars were playing younger than they really were. Fun fact: Mischa Barton was the only cast member that was actually a teen when the show began!
Is there a more iconic teen TV character than Fonzie? He was the coolest guy on TV, got all the girls, and basically made leather jackets a thing. The Fonz may have been a high school dropout, but when he was introduced he was still in his teen years. So, it's a bit shocking that Henry Winkler was 29 when he began playing him! Looking back Fonzie is a bit older looking, but we never would have guessed the actor was pushing 30. Winkler is still on the acting scene, and despite being in his 70s, he's still as spry as ever. I guess he's always acted younger than he actually is!
Strong-jawed Clark is a high school freshman when the series begins, making him only 14 years old. If you find that a little unbelievable (what 14-year-old is that hunky?!) that you'll be happy to know that Tom Welling was nowhere near that young when he began playing the part. He was already 24 by the time he was playing a frosh getting hazed and discovering his supernatural powers. Welling's tender, fresh face kept him looking young throughout the series — even if that chiseled jawline seemed a little too defined for a teen!
When Teddy was introduced on 90210, he was another in a long line of pretty, preppy, and posh 16-year-olds on the series. The only thing that made him a bit different: he was played by a 30-year-old! Trevor Donovan was a month shy of his 31st birthday when his first episode of 90210 aired. He was playing half his age convincingly, which is our biggest hint that Donovan still gets carded at bars. His boyish good-looks were presumably very important in helping him beat out more age appropriate actors for the role!
When Stefan is turned into a vampire he's a mere 17-years-old. Since vampirism halts your age that makes Stefan eternally 17. So, actor Paul Wesley was tasked with playing a permanent teenager when he was already 27 in real-life! Luckily, he has the type of face that's perfect for brooding but also deceivingly youthful. By the time the series ended, Wesley was in his 30s and still playing an immortal teen. One of the hazards of playing an adolescent vampire for years on end. If we're being honest, by that point we were all ignoring the fact that he looked nothing like a teenager anymore!
Finn is the teen dream on Glee. He's a jock with a smile to die for, is naive but caring, and has a surprisingly beautiful voice. He's also 16-years-old despite his portrayer being almost a decade older! Cory Monteith was 27 when he began playing Hudson and, luckily, his boyish demeanor lent nicely to portraying a teen. He played the role into his 30s while still remaining youthful enough to keep playing a teenager. Unfortunately, Monteith's death at 31 ended his run as Finn and led to the character also being laid to rest at the tender age of 19. Cory was so convincing as a confused teenager figuring out the world but, sadly, he couldn't figure it out in real life.
Andrea (pronounced "auhn-drey-ah," don't get it twisted) always seemed like the "mom" of the group on Beverly Hills 90210. Now we know why! The character was played by Gabrielle Carteris, who was 29 when she was cast as a high school student! The interesting thing is that Carteris has admitted she lied about her age to get on the show. She simply said she was "over 21" — glossing over the fact that she was pushing 30 — in order to get cast as one of the '90s brainiest teen television characters. The truth was leaked eventually, but the show was on the air long enough that she wasn't in danger of losing her job!
This is one of the most extreme examples of an older actress playing a teen! Meredith Monroe was just shy of her 30th birthday when she was cast to play 15-year-old Andie. While Andie was always stressed about grades and boys, in real life Monroe was a full-fledged adult and even got married during her second year on the show! The diminutive blonde convincingly portrayed a teen for years despite being twice the age of the character she was playing. We would have never even known she was that old if we hadn't seen her birth date (in 1969!) for ourselves!
Ross Butler is having a moment playing hot teen television characters. He played 15-year-old Reggie on Riverdale when he was 27 years old. He ended up leaving that series after snagging a role on 13 Reasons Why as, you guessed it, a teenager. Butler just has the perfect face for playing a TV teen! He looks young enough to be believable while clearly being old enough to swoon over. Because let's be real, if the many hot teens on TV were played by age-appropriate actors, we'd need to re-evaluate some of our crushes!
Cordelia is our favorite kind of TV character. She starts off as the prototypical mean girl but evolves into so much more as the series progresses. She even finds a home on the spin-off Angel where she flexes her sass and desire to do good. While she may have seemed like a perfect teen queen bee on Buffy, the actress who played her was well out of her teen years when the show began! Charisma Carpenter was 27 years old when she began playing Cordy, who was at that time only 15! Carpenter is seemingly ageless, though — she still looks like teen Cordelia!
Plenty of actors on Pretty Little Liars are adults playing teen television characters. Maya is one of the notable ones because she's played by Bianca Lawson, who has been a teen on television for decades. She. does. not. age. We really don't know what fountain of youth she's drinking from, but we want to find it. Lawson was 30 years old when she began playing 17-year-old Maya on PLL. She's been on everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Teen Wolf playing some of our fave teen television characters no matter what her age!
See, we said there were plenty of older actors playing teens on PLL! Out of all the main "Liars," though, Spencer is the one who was played by the oldest actress. Troian Bellisario was already 24 when she began playing the 16-year-old Spencer. When the series ends, Spencer is just turning the age her portrayer was when the series began. Having a bit of an older actress play the part worked out pretty perfectly, though. Spencer is the "mom" of the group — the responsible, school-oriented one who always brings reason to things. She exudes maturity all thanks to the older actress who plays her!
When Arden Cho joined Teen Wolf as Kira, she became part of one of the hottest teen casts on TV. Except she wasn't a teen when she joined it! Cho was already 30 years old when she was playing 18-year-old Kira. It wasn't her first rodeo as a teen TV character either! She guest-starred on PLL, joining a long line of adults-playing-teens on the Freeform show. Cho has moved past playing teen television characters for now, but she has a youthful face that leaves the door open for her to return to TV high school someday!
Lane was the best friend Rory (Alexis Bledel) ever had after meeting in kindergarten and forming a lifelong friendship. In real life, though, the two weren't quite so close in age. While Bledel was actually in her teen years (19, but it still counts) when she started playing Rory, her on-screen BFF was much older. Keiko Agena was already 27 when she started playing a 15-year-old! She was so good at playing a rebellious teen because she'd already had her full phase of rebellion. In her time since being one of TV's teens, Agena has stuck to more adult-oriented roles, like on the Hulu series The First.
You're going to find this hard to believe but Riggins — the football player who looks like he was carved out of stone — is supposed to be 15 when Friday Night Lights begins. This is one of the most obvious examples of teen television characters played by older actors. Taylor Kitsch was 25 when he got the role of Riggins, a full decade older than the character he was playing. Riggins was always swoon-worthy but completely unbelievable as a high school student! Luckily, as the cast grew older, his character aged up and began lining up more with Kitsch's clear adult features!
While the show was mainly about Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus), it was hard to miss that she had an older brother named Jackson. Miley's older brother was 16, but the actor who played him was as old as the Stewart siblings' ages combined! Miley was 13 when the series began, and if you add up the ages you get 29 which is exactly how old Jason Earles was when he started playing the teenage Stewart! He played the role well into his 30s while still looking like a young boy. Earles has the kind of babyface that's perfect for playing teen television characters!
The leader of Josie and the Pussycats is much older than the teenager she plays. In fact, when Riverdale premiered in 2017, Ashleigh Murray was 29 years old! While most of the actors on the show were twenty-somethings (except KJ Apa, who was 19 when he began playing Archie Andrews), Ashleigh's the oldest of the main crew. Second goes to Charles Melton, the new Reggie, who is just three years Ashleigh's junior!
PEN15 is all about Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle's middle school years in the mid-'90s. The goal is to describe "middle school as it really happened" for the two girls as they put their experiences as pre-teen girls to film. Oh, and did we mention the 31-year-old women play themselves on the show?! Yup, both Anna and Maya play the fictionalized 13-year-old versions of themselves and are actually convincing! With some rough haircuts, braces, and juvenile styles, the two transform themselves into their former selves. Though, it's a bit easy to spot that they're a little out of place since every other actor on the show are actually middle-schoolers! But the fact that they play it straight, never explaining why they look just a wee bit too old to be there, is one of the best parts of the show!