age in hollywood

These Actresses Were Way Too Young to Play Movie Mothers

Photo: Maya Robinson and Photo by Warner Bros

Here’s how rough Hollywood can be on older women: In the new comedy Tammy, Susan Sarandon is cast as Melissa McCarthy’s grandmother, despite the fact that only 24 years separate them in age. This isn’t the first time an actress has seemed way too young to sire her screen kin (in one classic case, Anne Bancroft was only eight years older than her The Graduate screen-daughter Katharine Ross), and it’s not even the most egregious example in Tammy, where McCarthy also cast the 11-years-older Allison Janney as her mother. This sort of thing happens all the time to actresses — once they reach a certain age, it’s like they’re filed away in a folder simply marked “old” — and it’s a problem their male counterparts rarely have to contend with. To prove it, we’ve rounded up some recent examples of age-inappropriate casting, then imagined what would happen if some of these believability-busting pairings got a gender flip.

grandmother: Susan Sarandon (b. October 4, 1946)
mother: Allison Janney (b. November 19, 1959)
daughter: Melissa McCarthy (b. August 26, 1970)

Susan Sarandon is an incredibly well-preserved 67, as her recent viral selfie made abundantly clear. Even if you throw a white wig on her for a movie like Tammy, she’s still going to seem more like Melissa McCarthy’s mother than her grandma. (It only compounds the believability issues when Allison Janney somehow represents the generation between the two women.)

Male Equivalent: If the 34-year-old Jason Segel starred in a comedy … where his father was played by the 48-year-old Ben Stiller and his grandpa was played by the 57-year-old Tom Hanks.

Forrest Gump
mother: Sally Field (b. November 6, 1946)
son: Tom Hanks (b. July 9, 1956)

Sally Field ages several decades during Forrest Gump, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s barely ten years older than her screen-son Tom Hanks. Just a few years earlier, when they had starred in the 1988 movie Punchline, Hanks played a character who wanted to bed Field.

Male Equivalent: Let’s flip it, and cast Hanks as the father to someone ten years younger than him. That role could actually be filled by his co-star Robin Wright, who plays his same age in Forrest Gump but was really born in 1966, a full decade after Hanks.

Mean Girls
mother: Amy Poehler (b. September 16, 1971)
daughter: Rachel McAdams (b. November 17, 1978)

In Mean Girls, Amy Poehler’s “cool mom” wants nothing more than to be regarded as a peer to her daughter, and rightly so: Only seven scant years separate Poehler and Rachel McAdams in age. Though Poehler was playing the mother to a teenage girl in the film, Mean Girls was made five years before Poehler would even give birth to her first child.

Male Equivalent: If the 1968-born Owen Wilson, who has played love interest to McAdams twice, had been cast as her dad instead.

Little Miss Sunshine
mother: Toni Collette (b. November 1, 1972)
son: Paul Dano (b. June 19, 1984)
He played the silent 15-year-old son in Little Miss Sunshine, but when the movie came out in 2006, Paul Dano was actually 22 years old, and his screen-mom Toni Collette was only 33. Then again, Collette was still in her early 20s when she was cast as the mother of a 9-year-old in The Sixth Sense. Maybe there’s just something about her that screams “teen mom”?

Male Equivalent: For parity, they could remake Little Miss Sunshine today with 24-year-old Daniel Radcliffe as the son and 35-year-old Chris Pratt as his father.

The Fighter
mother: Melissa Leo (b. September 14, 1960)
son: Mark Wahlberg (b. June 5, 1971)

Do filmmakers realize how old Mark Wahlberg is? Certainly Michael Bay didn’t seem to when he cast Wahlberg and comedian T.J. Miller as high-school pals in the new Transformers movie, even though Miller is a noticeable ten years younger. But the ballsiest misapproximation of Wahlberg’s age came when David O. Russell approached Melissa Leo to play the actor’s mother in The Fighter, despite the fact that she’s only 11 years older than her screen-son. “I said, ‘Aren’t I too young to play [the] mother?’” recalled Leo, who nevertheless committed to the role. “If the actor believes it themselves,” she told NPR, “they can make you believe it.”

Male Equivalent: If they’d cast a male actor 11 years older than Wahlberg to play his dad, they could have drawn from a pool that includes Kenneth Branagh, Hugh Grant, and David Duchovny, all born in 1960. But would any of those three been able to make you believe it?

Star Trek
mother: Winona Ryder (b. October 29, 1971)
son: Zachary Quinto (b. June 2, 1977)

Winona Ryder may appear ageless, but it still stretches credulity when she’s onscreen next to Zachary Quinto as Spock and we’re meant to regard them as mother and son despite the fact that she’s just five years older than him. We could accept a lot of contrivances in J.J. Abrams’s fun Star Trek reboot, but that one pushed us a little too far.

Male Equivalent: Jared Leto (also born in 1971, the same year as Ryder) could have been cast as Spock’s dad, but would audiences ever buy someone like Leto as a paternal figure to Zach Quinto?

mother: Angelina Jolie (b. June 4, 1975)
son: Colin Farrell (b. May 31, 1976)

There are a lot of things that feel not-quite-right about Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Great epic — including Colin Farrell’s hideous blond wig, which looks like it came out of a Fred-from-Scooby-Doo costume kit at Party City — but foremost among them must be the casting of Angelina Jolie as Farrell’s mother. She’s only a year older than her screen-son; compare that to who Stone cast as Alexander’s father, the 16-years-older Val Kilmer.

Male Equivalent: If Colin Farrell’s father had been played by Bradley Cooper, born in 1975 — the same year as Jolie.

White Bird in a Blizzard
mother: Eva Green (b. July 5, 1980)
daughter: Shailene Woodley (b. November 15, 1991)

Eva Green has delivered delicious work in Casino Royale, The Dreamers, 300: Rise of an Empire, and Penny Dreadful, but that doesn’t mean she can play everything: In Gregg Araki’s upcoming White Bird in a Blizzard, this highly theatrical French actress attempts to convince the audience that she gave birth to naturalistic hippie ingenue Shailene Woodley, despite the fact that barely a decade separates them in age. Welcome to your 30s, Eva Green: You’ll now be offered roles where you play the housewife mom to a 17-year-old high-school senior. Thanks, Hollywood!

Male Equivalent: If Woodley’s Fault in Our Stars co-star Ansel Elgort (20) made a movie where the nine-years-older Dave Franco (29) played his dad.

These Actresses Were Way Too Young to Play Moms