How 'Boyhood' & 5 Other Films & TV Shows Dealt With Aging Actors
If you haven't seen Richard Linklater's sublime and magnificent Boyhood yet, I promise I won't spoil it for you, but the gist of it is this: A boy grows up. Over the course of 12 years, Linklater worked with then-child actor Ellar Coltrane to chart the journey of a boy as he ages from 6 to 18, filming a few days each year and incorporating the things that were really going on in his life.
It's as fascinating to read about as it is to watch on screen. Watching Coltrane as Mason and Lorelei Linklater (the director's daughter) as his sister Samantha grow up in real time is mesmerizing. Linklater does nothing to hide the awkward years of acne and braces, and embraces his child stars' changing personal styles as, both on- and off-screen, Mason and Samantha develop into adults.
It was quite a brave undertaking, especially given the fact that Linklater couldn't count on exactly what his lead actor would be like or look like from year to year. Most films don't work with children long enough for their inevitable changes to be noticeable on-screen; puberty is a problem that long-running franchises featuring young actors regularly butt up against.
Since most of them can't accurately chart the growth of those actors, Boyhood-style, they have to find other ways to deal with it. For instance, Lost straight-up wrote out the character of Walt after the actor started looking too old, which interrupted the show's already convoluted timeline.
Here are just a few more examples of how long-running franchises dealt with the inevitable passage of time.
When a show hinges as much on the relationship between the adults and the kids as it does on Modern Family, the casting has got to be spot on. And, for the most part, it was— except when it came to Jaden and Ella Hiller, the twins who portrayed baby Lily in the first two seasons of the sitcom. As they grew up, they found they didn't really enjoy acting, so their parents pulled them from the show. They were replaced by Aubrey Anderson-Emmens, who has portrayed (the now slightly older) Lily ever since.
Two and A Half Men
When Angus T. Jones was first cast on Two and a Half Men, no one knew what a hit the show would be or what kind of person Jones would grow into. What no one could have anticipated was that Jones grew to hate the show. He became deeply religious, and urged viewers to stop watching, since the show dealt with "filth." He was downgraded from a "regular" to a "recurring" character, before being let go from the show entirely.
Game of Thrones
Showrunner D.B. Weiss has already publicly stated that the show will keep its young actors, even though they are aging on a different timeline from the characters they portray. "The fact that Isaac [Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran] is now almost as tall as me, it would make things more difficult if he were not hidden under blankets on a sledge," Weiss has commented.
When Soleil Moon Frye, who played Punky Brewster on the popular '80s show of the same name, hit puberty, it became difficult to hide — so, instead of hiding it, the show embraced it and did an episode about Punky buying her first bra.
Luckily, the Harry Potter films were shot close enough together that the characters could reasonably age at a similar pace to the actors who played them— the result is that, from year one to year seven, Harry, Ron, Hermione, et al. were actually the same ages as the actors who portrayed them, and the result is that, much like in Boyhood, the viewing audience was able to watch actors grow in real time.
Images: IFC Films/Universal Pictures; ABC; HBO; NBC; Warner Bros. Pictures