Stop Making Young Actors Old And Old Actors Young

They look ridiculous.

This was a bad scene. This was, in my humblest of opinions, the worst scene in all the Harry Potter movies. It was so laughably bad that the theater erupted with scornful, mocking, incredulous laughter when I saw it in theaters lo these many years ago.

It’s an embarrassing moment only rivaled by Warner Bros.’ greed in splitting the final book into two movies, and then The Hobbit into three. Never was a studio more greedy that Warner Bros. Entertainment when it comes to beloved works of fiction adapted for the screen.

But they are far from alone when it comes to the folly that is aging and de-aging via make-up and/or CGI. Some have had greater success with this process, and usually it’s because its use is limited. I didn’t love young Tony Stark, but they did a pretty good job making him look like Robert Downey Jr. when he was young, and they limited it to a very tiny parcel of Captain America: Civil War.

Other films have made much worse attempts. The de-aging of Robert De Niro in The Irishman was pure hubris, a folly that made the film almost unwatchable. I turned it off after the scene where Frank (De Niro) beats up a shopkeeper for shoving his daughter. Mind you, he’s supposed to be a pretty young guy in this scene. Other mobsters call him “kid” and act like he’s this up-and-coming guy, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

But young guys don’t beat up shopkeepers like this:

De Niro is in his 70s and he looks like it when he walks and when he daintily kicks the shopkeeper—whose fear feels forced at best. Frank looks like an old man and he’s not supposed to and it just doesn’t work.

This was the scene that broke the camel's back for me. It was embarrassing to watch. We turned it off and never came back.

This isn’t a knock on old people at all. But you can’t make De Niro look like a a guy in his late 30s no matter how much CGI and makeup you slather on. I’m still not sure how The Irishman got such rave reviews. Sure, Martin Scorsese is one of the greats and this was his magnum opus or something. I couldn’t finish it.

The question I keep coming back to: Why not just cast different actors when they have to play an old man and a young man in the same movie or TV show?

For instance, take Prometheus, the weird prequel to the Alien movies directed by Ridley Scott. In that film we have Guy Pearce playing Peter Weyland, the billionaire founder of Weyland Corp. Early on in the film he is young and handsome—he looks just like Guy Pearce!—but later on he is old and withered. And yet, because of the arrogance of filmmakers and their make-up and visual effects teams, he is still played by Pearce. What happens is an Uncanny Valley effect that would make you laugh if your skin wasn’t crawling.

Why not just cast someone else as 400-year-old Weyland? Seriously, this dude looks like Palpatine without the hood. Audiences will be okay with two actors playing the same role. We didn’t de-age Mel Gibson to play young William Wallace, after all.


I come to this thought—a thought I’ve had many times before—after writing a bit about the new Netflix superhero drama Jupiter’s Legacy. I noticed this fake aging nonsense right away when I watched the trailer.

You take Josh Duhamel, who is just 48 years old (only 8 years older than your humble narrator!) and stick a fake white beard and a white wig on him and some makeup to make his skin seem old and weathered and you get . . . a fake-looking old dude. It doesn’t look right. It looks cheap. And really, no matter the budget of all these movies and shows, it always looks fake and cheap. (Suffice to say, I was not a fan of Benjamin Button).

Okay, so you don’t want to cast two Sheldon Sampsons for Jupiter’s Legacy? Fine, that’s fine. But making Duhamel look like the comic book character is probably not going to happen because you just can’t make a 48-year-old dude who already looks younger than his age and is in great shape look like an old white-beard.

Sure, on the surface the resemblance is there. But honestly they should have just gotten the guy who played King Triton from The Little Mermaid to play the Utopian instead. Or made old Sampson look less fake old even if it veered from the comics.

Are there examples of makeup and visual effects done so well that they create a plausible “old” character out of a younger actor or vice versa? It happens, I’m sure. Rarely.

I’m biased because I’m an unrepetant Gary Oldman fan, but I do think they did a pretty bang-up job with his Dracula makeup. He managed to pull off both this look:

And this:

Francis Ford Coppola got so much right with this movie, and then there was the casting of Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves—two actors who I very much enjoy in the proper roles and who were just so damn bad in Bram Stoker’s Dracula that it’s almost fun just to watch them fail this hard. Oldman, of course, is sublime.

I’m sure there are other examples. If you, dearest droogies, have some please shout them out in the comments. I’m interested in both types—aging/de-aging gone horribly awry, or those rare occasions when it actually worked out.

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