1. Jason Earles (29-34 on Hannah Montana; 37 in Kickin’ It)
Plenty of grown-ass adults make a living playing teenagers, but few have done it for quite as long as Jason Earles. The now 37-year-old Earles started playing a nerdy teen in 2004 on CBS’ sitcom Still Standing, when he was already 27. He went on to play similarly nerdy, hyperactive teens in everything from American Pie Presents: Band Camp to Disney Channel’s Phil Of The Future, though he really made his teenaged, Disneyfied name playing Jackson Stewart, 16-year-old brother to Miley “Cyrus” Stewart on Hannah Montana. Earles was 29 at the time he was cast in 2006, and played the character until 2011, when the show finally went off the air. And while Earles now plays a full-blown adult, Sensei ‘Rudy’ Leo Howard, on another Disney show, Kickin’ It, it’s hard to say he’s all that great at playing grown-up, even though he’s rapidly approaching middle age. Like most barely capable adult characters on the Disney Channel, Earles’ Howard is hammy and idiotic, an oversized kid (barely, in Earles’ diminutive case) who’s easily bested by his teenage pals. [ME]

2. Bianca Lawson (31-33 on Pretty Little Liars; 35 in Teen Wolf)
It’s become commonplace to point out Bianca Lawson’s age relative to her youthful appearance. When she popped up on Pretty Little Liars in 2010 as Emily’s first girlfriend, Maya, the character was a junior in high school while Lawson was 31. As this inventory proves, adult actors play teenagers all the time, but what made Lawson’s appearance more startling is that she looked even younger on Pretty Little Liars than when she had played Buffy Summers’ Slayer alternate, Kendra—in 1997. It’s also surprising that Lawson had been so quiet in between Buffy and Pretty Little Liars, as her wry Kendra was a quick fan favorite, but if you check her IMDB you’ll see a smattering of teen roles that she played throughout her 20s. Lawson’s still struggling to find an adult breakout role, but she at least has the teen drama genre on lock. In 2012, MTV’s Teen Wolf finally let her graduate to guidance counselor, where she could shake her head sagely at the teenagers she had been playing just a couple years prior. [CF]


3. Taylor Kitsch (25-30 on Friday Night Lights; 31 in John Carter, Battleship, Savages)
Taylor Kitsch was 25 when he suited up as the world weary and demon-riddled Dillon Panther all-star Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights, and defied convention by becoming simultaneous heartthrob and dynamically, subtly engaging. In what could easily have been a generic, pinup role, over the course of five seasons, Riggins’ quiet acceptance of his small-town curse was at turns comic, tragic, heartbreaking, and stoically heroic. Kitsch wisely underplayed Riggins, carefully avoiding any emo brooding, and climactic scenes rolled out naturally, with Kitsch favoring a haunted, hangover squint in lieu of yells and high drama. The double whammy failures of bloated would-be blockbusters John Carter and Battleship left Kitsch looking lost and confused, and he strained as the violent live wire in Savages. Receiving career-best reviews for his recent turn as closeted, gay rights activist Bruce Niles in HBO’s The Normal Heart, Kitsch will hopefully return to the quieter roles that won him a fan base in the first place, and not the action-packed ones that aren’t necessarily doing him any favors. Forever Rigs. [DF]

4. Kayla Ewell (24-28 in The Vampire Diaries)
Kayla Ewell’s first notable role was as a guest star on Freaks And Geeks, playing a new friend of the Geeks, Maureen Sampson. It was a great bit of casting for one of the series’ best plotlines, as Ewell’s gangly charm and huge smile made it easy to understand both why the Geeks would become infatuated with her, and her motives for hanging out with them despite being able to do “better” in the McKinley High social structure. So it made sense for Ewell to keep playing teenagers—a year on The Bold And The Beautiful; a stint as Veronica Mars’ high school rival—despite getting further and further from being one herself. So why mess with success? In 2009, she showed up as another high schooler on The Vampire Diaries, sophomore Vicki Donovan. She didn’t have as much awkward charm and had a bit more of an adult edge, but for the self-destructive Vicki, it worked. That character’s tragic arc was the first indication that The Vampire Diaries would be far better than it appeared, and so the show has continued to bring Vicki back as an un-aging ghost. Earlier this year, Kayla Ewell, more than a decade removed from her teenage debut on Freaks And Geeks, played the ghost teen Vicki Donovan for the final time, having taken 13 real years to age a single one on-screen. [RK]

5. Seth Green (24 in Can’t Hardly Wait; 25-40 on Family Guy)
Seth Green successfully transcended his status as an adorable ginger child star, most notably in 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait, where at 24 he played Kenny “Special K” Fisher, a convincing caricature of a teenager whose perceived swagger (and sex appeal) didn’t jibe with reality. More teen roles followed in the schlock horror flick Idle Hands and as Dr. Evil’s conflicted son, Scott Evil, in the Austin Powers series. But then a funny thing happened: Green moved heavily into voiceover work, taking on roles that had a decidedly “suspended adolescence” vibe. Most notably, he spent 15 plus years voicing Family Guy’s awkward, pimply teenage son Chris Griffin and Phineas And Ferb’s clean-cut Monty Monogram. You could even argue that Green never actually successfully made the leap to adult film roles; using his acting gifts to voice teenagers became more lucrative. [AZ]

6. Leighton Meester (21-26 on Gossip Girl; 25 in The Oranges)
At 21, Leighton Meester fulfilled the dream of many a YA-novel-reading girl by being cast as Blair Waldorf in the TV adaptation of Gossip Girl. And she embodied both Blair’s snobbish and sensitive sides perfectly, deftly playing the high school power-bitch fueled by insecurity and a manic drive to overachieve. Blair eventually attended college, and Meester was also able to graduate—to adult roles, such as Nina in The Oranges. Sadly, she wasn’t as adept at playing the mid-twentysomething having an affair with her married and much older neighbor (Hugh Laurie at 52), often coming across unintentionally unaware. She did, however, impress another adult accustomed to teen roles and is now engaged to The Oranges co-star Adam Brody, who was 25 when he started playing Seth Cohen on The O.C. [BJ]


7. Katie Holmes (20-24 on Dawson’s Creek; 27 in Batman Begins)
Dawson’s Creek was the quintessential teen show of the WB era, and twentysomething Katie Holmes became its quintessential teenager, as her earnest, anxious, verbose Joey Potter upstaged both the title character and future Oscar nominee Michelle Williams to become the center of the show. Holmes got rave reviews for her first post-Creek role, still playing younger as Pieces Of April’s early-20s protagonist, and it seemed like a star was being born. But in her first major role playing a grown-up, 2005’s Batman Begins, the then-27-year-old actress (fresh off playing a teenager in First Daughter), failed to project the seriousness and adulthood the role required. As a result, it felt like Nolan’s gritty, realistic crime drama was being intercut with scenes from Joey Potter: Teen District Attorney, and Holmes wound up being replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal in future installments. [MV]

8. Zachery Ty Bryan (19-25 in various movies and TV shows)
Zachery Ty Bryan is best known for his role as Brad, the oldest kid in the Taylor family on Home Improvement. From 1991 until 1999, Bryan pretty much played his own age, as his on-screen character aged from tween-aged troublemaker to an older teenager sweating the SATs. But his teenage roles didn’t end with that show; Bryan, holding on to his youthful face and generally strapping look, kept showing up to high school. He was a student on Boston Public in 2000, a classmate of Buffy’s little sister, Dawn, on Buffy The Vampire Slayer in 2002, and a Neptune High ’09er for a couple episodes of Veronica Mars in 2005 (though he did get a slight change of scenery playing a college frat boy on ER in 2001). Fans of all three shows might have noticed the stasis of this guy who never managed to graduate. But taken individually, his performances are convincing, with the right mixture of cockiness and cluelessness. In fact, Bryan’s vague familiarity may have become an easy shorthand: If viewers didn’t specifically remember that they saw him play a 17-year-old boy three years ago, they might well think of him as a guy they knew from back in the day. After playing another teenage-ish part in The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift at age 25, Bryan finally more or less graduated into adult roles. It’s hard to say how he fared, because he only booked a few TV guest spots, and hasn’t appeared on-screen in the past five years—apparently concentrating instead on producing. But there’s still time for someone to cast him in a bunch of movies about high school reunions. [JH]