Ten Screen Parents Who Were Barely Older Than Their Kids

Photo: 20th Century Fox
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Twenty-seven-year-old Olivia Wilde is still firmly in her Hollywood ingenue phase, so it’s a sly little joke to cast her as a mother in Andrew Niccol’s In Time — and a mom to 30-year-old Justin Timberlake, at that. The movie justifies the casting decision via a sci-fi premise that envisions a future where no one physically ages beyond 25, but plenty of other movies and TV shows haven’t even bothered to explain why they’ve cast actors who were way, way too young to have given birth to their screen kids. Here are ten examples of fictional parents and their offspring who were cast with actors so close in age, it would put Gilmore Girls and Teen Mom to shame.

Amy Poehler and Rachel McAdams Poehler’s Mean Girls mom is desperate to be BFFs with her daughter, but she didn’t have to go to such great lengths to appear so young: Poehler’s only eight years older than McAdams. By those screen standards, McAdams could practically play mom to her screen rival Lindsay Lohan, who’s seven years younger (though Lohan seems determined to close the gap through hard living).
Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross The frisson in The Graduate is supposed to come from the fact that young college grad Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) becomes entwined with temptress cougar Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), then falls for her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). In real life, though, Bancroft was only six years older than Hoffman, and nine years older than Ross. Even Hoffman’s own screen dad, William Daniels, was a mere ten years older than Hoffman. Things really were a bit kooky in the sixties.
Melissa Leo and Mark Wahlberg Leo initially resisted her Oscar-winning role in The Fighter, since she felt she was too young at age 49 to play mother to then-38 Mark Wahlberg. In fact, when you factor in the ages of the giant family Leo’s got in the movie, her Alice Ward must have given birth to Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and several ornery daughters before she ever left her teens. Busy busy!
Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur Getty’s Sophia Petrillo was full of stories, but one she never told was how she managed to give birth to Bea Arthur, an actress who was actually one year older than her screen mother. Is that how they did it back in Sicily?
Gretchen Mol and Michael Pitt The most confusing thing in Martin Scorsese’s Emmy-winning pilot for Boardwalk Empire? Sussing out the exact nature of the relationship between Mol and Pitt, who are separated by a mere eight years in real life. The show has tried to explain things away by positing that Mol’s character gave birth at age 13, but even so, it’s some unlikely casting.
Michelle Williams/Heath Ledger and Kate Mara Jake Gyllenhaal gets mustaches to help him mark the passing of decades in Brokeback Mountain, but Ledger isn’t so lucky: He’s got minimal makeup and has to rely on his performance alone to communicate how much he’s aged. It’s a testament to Ledger’s skill that he pulls it off, but even still, there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance to the final scenes when Ledger’s acting opposite a screen daughter who’s only four years younger than him. (The movie doesn’t even allow Mara to share screen time with Williams, lest the illusion completely fall apart.)
Jesse Royce Landis and Cary Grant There’s something ageless about Cary Grant’s film persona, but that must have been cold comfort to poor Jesse Royce Landis, who was asked to play his mother in North By Northwest despite the fact that she was only eight years older. Well, at least it explains why they were so close.
Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell As Oliver Stone’s conquering hero Alexander aged from the kid who played Eric on Gossip Girl to Colin Farrell, one thing remained the same: Angelina Jolie. Since Jolie was apparently unwilling to succumb to old-age makeup (or maybe Stone thought that Farrell’s blond fright wig would twink-ify him more than it ultimately did?), we were treated to the spectacle of an adult Alexander circled by a mother who was only one year older than him in real life.
Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. Fishburne and Gooding Jr. weren’t as different as the movie would have you believe, since Fishburne was a mere seven years older than his screen son. In fact, the odd casting choice would later come in for parody with Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, where Marlon Wayans had a dad who was so much younger than him that he was barely out of puberty.
Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey Lansbury and Harvey have one of the most fearsome mother-son relationships ever committed to film, but things get even creepier when you realize that the two actors were so close in age that Lansbury’s character must have given birth at age 3. Frank Sinatra had suggested Lucille Ball for the role, and while it’s hard to imagine anyone supplanting Lansbury, at least it would have been a bit more logical, since Ball was fourteen years older.
Ten Screen Parents Who Were Barely Older Than Their Kids