However, most of these “adolescents” are often played by actors who have long since left their own teen years behind and look nothing like “normal” teens. And this poses serious issues.
Here’s why we need to start casting teenagers in teenage roles…
Why Teens Aren't Being Hired For Teen Roles
There are of course difficulties in hiring younger actors, including supervision and child labour laws etc. But a huge number of these complications are eliminated once someone turns 18. So, having actors play teenage roles when they themselves are well into their twenties is often more to do with an aesthetic than a practicality. This is usually down to how “attractive” an actor looks as opposed to how they suit the role. Casting older actors who have long outgrown their teen looks in turn leaves us, the viewer, thinking that that is how teens “should” look.
Case in point: Ross Butler. Butler has been showing up in a slew of teen dramas and movies. From Riverdale, to 13 Reasons Why and even To All The Boys I Loved Before. Butler turned 30 in May. Is he good looking? Yes. Do you see any teenage books who look like him IRL? No, sadly.
Mainsteam Media Can Be Worse Than Social Media
We’ve often spoken about the detrimental effects attached to the influx of filtered images on social media and expressed our concerns of the dangers this poses. But Instagram and Snapchat are far from our first encounters with overtly glamourised representations. Almost a year ago I wrote a piece on Missy.ie about how social media has distorted the image of beauty. This remains true, but mainstream media, such as movies and TV shows, also have a huge responsibility and an influence that starts at an even younger than social media.
Previously these unrealistic portrayals were highlighted by makeovers bringing the main character from the “loser” to the most popular girl in the school; achieved through the loss of braces and glasses, a new wardrobe and magically longer hair!
The vast majority of teen series released now depict less obvious transformations and there are fewer predictable plots. But the issue remains; we are being asked to accept these twenty-something actors as the gold-standard of what teens should look like.
TV Teenagers Vs Reality
It is not just a case that characters are not played by actors of the same age. In some cases the teenagers are played by people who have long since escaped that embarrassing adolescent stage that they are supposed to be representing.
We refer teen years as that awkward time. But maybe our teen years wouldn’t be embarrassing if we normalised what teenagers looked like in the media and saw some real teens on screens.
Teenagers are meant to be awkward! Not just because we fit into a certain age bracket but because we are people who do not have hair and make-up artists on standby to save us from the plot twist of a pimple! We are people who do not have a script to follow to ensure we always say or do the right thing. We are people who do not have a creative solution that solves our problems at the end of every forty minutes!
Considering how many coming of age films and series – an ironically titled genre when most of the cast have been and gone said age – are intended to portray the “struggles” of being a teenager. Of course, I cannot speak for all of us, but I doubt I am alone when I say that personally I have been involved in more bad skin days than I have love triangles!
Pretty Little Lie About Age
Take Pretty Little Liars for example. Maya St. Germain was meant to be sixteen years old, but she was portrayed by Bianca Lawson who was 31 at the time of filming. Similarly, her regular co-star Troian Bellisario was eight years older than her character Spencer!
Another notable example is Rachel McAdams from the beloved film Mean Girls who was 26 when she played Queen Bee teenager Regina George. And her on-screen mother was a biological miracle; she was portrayed by Amy Poehler who is only seven years older than McAdams! It’s not a case of “She doesn’t even go here!”, it’s a case of “she hasn’t even gone to school for years!”
These aren’t isolated examples either. This has been the case going back years, but it needs to change going forward.
Casting Teenagers In Teenage Roles should be the norm
When Highschool The Musical: The Musical debuted on Disney+ it was notable to see actual teenagers playing the roles of teens. Compare it to the likes of Glee, Gossip Girl, Riverdale, Pretty Little Liars and so many more teen dramas the difference is astonishing.
Did actual teens playing the roles take away from the show? No. It just made it more realistic and viewers don’t come away with a complex about how Hollywood thinks they should look.
We might not have realised it at the time and we are possibly still not fully aware of it now, but on a subconscious level we grew up watching teenagers who always had perfectly neat hair and a revolving door of new and fashionable clothes. We graduated from pre-teen coming-of-age dramas directly onto a social media platforms. Our strive for certain body types and critiques of certain lifestyles reflect how deeply ingrained within us this phenomenon is.
We can and we should continue to address the unrealistic social media perceptions, but it is about time that we also hold the more traditional media sources accountable too. We need to see more teens on screen.
Do you think casting teenagers in teenage roles should be done more?