Earlier today Gleeks ’round the world white knuckled their Broadway playbills when it was announced that at the end of the coming season, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, and Cory Monteith will be graduating from McKinley High School and leaving the show. On one hand, it will be sad to see three of the series’ most iconic characters depart — and at the same time, to boot. On the other, we agree with Glee creator Ryan Murphy, who recently said that he didn’t want the show to be populated with characters that “were in high school for eight years.” High school dramas have always had their fair share of actors in their 20s — and many of them were already at that age when they first landed their gigs. After the jump, we’ll look at some of television’s oldest high school students. Be sure to add anyone who we’ve missed in the comments.
James Van Der Beek as Dawson Leery on Dawson’s Creek
When this series about a group of high schoolers in the fictional small town of Capeside, Massachusetts, first launched back in 1998, its titular star was a 21-year-old actor playing a 15-year-old film geek. This might not have seemed so egregious if not for his insane facial hair. As the Beek told People that year, “For Dawson’s Creek, I have to shave a lot. I shave twice every day.” Even the show’s creator, Kevin Williamson, had to admit that there was a slight disconnect: “James is very much Dawson a couple of years down the line.”
Ben McKenzie as Ryan Atwood on The O.C.
In a more extreme case of Dawson’s-style casting, Ben McKenzie — a 26-year-old man who had already completed four years of college at the University of Virginia — returned to his sophomore year of high school to play the brooding Ryan Atwood, a troubled teenage rebel from Chino. “[The producers] have really put a lot of faith in me,” he told TV Guide at the time, “because you can look down my bio and, after about three seconds, you’ll realize I haven’t done anything. So for these guys to say, ‘Listen, why don’t we cast this guy in the lead of a new show?’ is a tremendous leap of faith on their part, and very appreciated.” Today, McKenzie is portraying Ben Sherman on Southland, a role that in our opinion, is much more age appropriate.
Gabrielle Carteris as Andrea Zuckerman on Beverly Hills, 90210
Do you remember where you were when you first discovered how old Andrea Zuckerman was in real life? We’re pretty sure we read about it in an issue of Teen during a sleepover. Carteris was a 29-year-old playing a 16-year old character, which might explain why the “Chief” always seemed like such an old soul compared to the rest of the West Beverly gang. She originally lied to producers about her age, but by the time that they found out the truth, the show had been on the air long enough that they didn’t care.
Trevor Donovan as Teddy Montgomery on 90210
Which brings us to the 90210 reboot. If you’ve felt guilty for drooling over Trevor Donovan, who played the recently-outed Teddy Montgomery on the show for the past two seasons, don’t worry about it. He’s turning 33 this fall, and six years older than the actor who portrays Ryan Matthews, an English teacher/lacrosse coach at West Beverly High School.
Scott Porter as Jason Street on Friday Night Lights
When Friday Night Lights debuted in 2006, the star quarterback of the Dillon High School Panthers was a senior named Jason Street. In real life, Scott Porter had just turned 27. “It’s fun being able to play a little younger than I am,” he once told ESPN. “I’ll hold on to that as long as I can.” In related news, he’s still mad at himself for thinking he was too old to try out for Glee.
Cory Monteith as Finn Hudson on Glee
Unlike the casts of many high school dramas, Glee actually does a pretty decent job of matching its characters with actors who are about the same age. The glaring exception? Monteith, who turned 27 before the show’s premiere episode back in 2009. That actually puts him closer in age to Matthew Morrison (who plays his teacher, Mr. Schue) than many of the New Directions, which might be part of the reason why show creator Murphy decided that he’ll be graduating from McKinley High next year.
Jessica Szohr as Vanessa Abrams on Gossip Girl
OK, so at 26, she’s not exactly an old lady, but Szohr is the oldest member of the Gossip Girl gang. She was 22 when she first took on the role of Vanessa, Dan’s childhood pal and a junior in high school, back in 2007; originally, she was only meant to be a guest star, but according to Yahoo!, she “so clicked with viewers that producers eventually added her to series regular status.” Szohr will not be returning for the show’s fifth season this fall.
Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars on Veronica Mars
While she definitely didn’t look like it at the time, Kristen Bell was 24 when she took on the titular role of Veronica Mars back in 2004. “I have always played about ten years younger than I am, which is a major blessing just even in real life,” she told Parade last year. “My family’s very petite, and I have a young-looking face and good genes, I guess. I’m thankful to my parents. That being said, there were certain things that I was going through in my own life in my late 20s that I was putting on hold in my acting. So it’s great to be playing closer to my age. I know that I still look a lot younger, but I’m thankful to sort of be out of teenage-ville.”
Jared Leto as Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Jared Leto was 23 years old when he took on the role of dreamy slacker, Jordan Catalano — his character always gave off that left-back-a-few-grades vibe. But what makes this one interesting to us is the 8-year age gap between Leto and Claire Danes, who played his on-screen love interest, Angela Chase. That, and the fact that this means that the 30 Seconds to Mars frontman is pushing 40 today.
Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase on Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Did you have any idea that Charisma Carpenter was 27 when Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired back in 1997? That makes her older than every other series regular at that time, outside of Anthony Stewart Head. The actress (a former San Diego Charger cheerleader) had tried out for the titular role, but instead won the part of Cordelia Chase — a spoiled, stuck-up cheerleader who, like Buffy, is only a sophomore at Sunnydale High.