We’ve all heard the adage that "age is just a number." Tell that to a young actor nervously facing the prospect of filming a heavy-duty on-screen make-out session with a co-star 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years older. While these actors are no doubt lovely people (most of them, anyway), film viewers are left with the image of a fresh-faced young person acting out a steamy love scene with someone old enough to be a parent, or, in some cases a grandparent.
Sometimes these age gaps can be troubling for actors, for a variety of reasons. For example, in 2013 Variety reported that Kristen Stewart — who was then 23 — was attached to star in a film when Will Smith (then 45) was cast in the lead, set to play her love interest. Stewart reportedly then dropped out due to her "feeling that the age difference between the two would be too large a gap."
While that onscreen pairing never occurred, many more have, with even wider age gaps than that. Read on to find out more about young actors who had to kiss considerably older costars.
Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s onscreen romance wasn’t ‘believable’
Sean Connery had an impressive run as a leading man, from his star-making debut as James Bond in 1962 through several more decades. In fact, it was Connery’s final film of the 1990s, Entrapment, that left moviegoers taken aback by the love scenes between the 68-year-old Scotsman (playing a slightly younger 60) and his Welsh co-star, Catherine Zeta-Jones, just 29 at the time. That four-decade age difference between star and starlet did not go unnoticed. As the Deseret News pointed out in its review, Zeta-Jones’ character’s "romantic pursuit of this guy who could be her grandfather is never believable," although the reviewer did concede that, "ironically, the romantic plot is perhaps the least unlikely aspect of Entrapment."
Speaking to the press while promoting Entrapment at the Cannes Film Festival (via BBC News), Connery rakishly joked that kissing Zeta-Jones was "a tough job, but somebody had to do it." For her part, Zeta-Jones rated her co-star’s kissing abilities as "11-and-a-half out of 10."
Zeta-Jones also dismissed criticism of the vast age difference between her and Connery. "If a partnership works onscreen, it does," she said. "He’s Sean Connery, what can you say?"
Something’s Gotta Give had multiple May-December trysts
In the 2003 comedy Something’s Gotta Give, Jack Nicholson plays music exec Harry Sanborn, pushing 70 yet still insistent on dating women under 30 — or as critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review, he was basically playing himself. In the film, Harry is dating Marin (Amanda Peet, 35 years Nicholson’s junior), but surprises himself when he becomes intrigued by Marin’s mom, played by the far more age-appropriate Diane Keaton.
The relationship between Harry and Marin, however, isn’t the only May-December romance in the film. Keaton’s character, a playwright named Erica, becomes the object of affection for a young doctor played by Keanu Reeves, who is 18 years younger than the Annie Hall Oscar winner.
In an interview about the film for MovieHole, Reeves described kissing Keaton as "nerve-wracking." He added, "Kissing someone is pretty intimate, actually, very intimate and your heart always kind of skips a beat before you do that, but with my character, it was OK." Interestingly enough, after the movie came out reports emerged that Reeves and Keaton also dated in real life.
Gandhi making out with an Olsen twin? NBD
The Wackness is a movie as odd as its title, a twisted coming-of-age tale about a teenage marijuana dealer (Josh Peck) trying to earn money for his college tuition. He’s got issues, which are being treated by an eccentric psychiatrist (Sir Ben Kingsley) who happily accepts payment in weed. One scene in the 2008 film features the Oscar-winning Gandhi star enthusiastically making out with a young woman he meets randomly, played by Mary-Kate Olsen of Full House fame.
In an interview with People, Kingsley insisted that his co-star was "completely in charge" while shooting that scene. Olsen shared even more info with People, revealing that they shot the scene at "three o’clock in the morning and so everyone was a bit delirious anyhow." Her 42-years-older co-star, she gushed, "was so professional about it and made me feel so comfortable. He said, ‘Anything you don’t feel comfortable about, let me know. You lead me.’"
Speaking with Access, Kingsley was asked whether he thought that the sequence, in which a 63-year-old dude makes out with an Olsen twin, would generate controversy. "I’m sure it will," he admitted.
The age gap between these Last Tango in Paris stars was the least of this film’s issues
Older actors paired romantically on screen with younger actresses had become such a Hollywood trope that audiences were hardly shocked by the quarter-century age difference between co-stars Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in 1972’s Last Tango in Paris, who were 48 and 19 respectively. What did shock audiences, however, was a particularly notorious scene dreamed up by Brando, involving non-consensual sex and a stick of butter.
Decades later, Schneider opened up about how the role — and that scene specifically — had left her traumatized long after the cameras stopped rolling. "That scene wasn’t in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea," she told the Daily Mail, revealing she was only told about it that day. Although the rape was only simulated, she admitted she "was crying real tears" throughout filming. "I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by [director Bernardo Bertolucci]."
While there was speculation at the time that she and Brando had actual sex in the film, she shot down those rumors. "Not at all," she said. "There was no attraction between us. For me, he was more like a father figure and I a daughter." To this day, the film continues to make lists of the most awkward and inappropriate sex scenes of all time.
A three decade age gap didn’t stop Olivia Wilde from smooching Liam Neeson
Director Paul Haggis’ 2014 drama Third Person tells the story of three interrelated relationships, one of which involves famed author Michael (Liam Neeson) and his far younger lover, a young writer named Anna (Olivia Wilde). The film did not win over critics; IndieWire described it as "an inept and bungled disaster of a movie," while The Wrap wrote it off as an "intricately constructed but unaffecting bore."
Neeson was born in 1952, while Wilde took her first breath in 1984, with the three-decade gap in their ages intrinsic to the plot of the film. Wilde not only kisses her co-star, she strips naked for him in a scene in which she drops her robe while standing outside his hotel room. Wilde discussed her nude scene with David Letterman during an appearance on The Late Show, explaining the scene also required her to run down a flight of stairs.
"Not only did I have to do it again and again and again, but this was a scene in which I was running down stairs naked, which no one should ever do on camera," she joked. "There’s things that no one should see. The body does things that it’s not supposed to… and it’s jiggling. Moving."
Did Woody Allen’s underage mistress mimic real life?
Critically acclaimed in its time, one aspect of Woody Allen’s 1979 opus Manhattan has not aged well: the affair between Allen’s middle-aged protagonist and his 17-year-old mistress (Mariel Hemingway, who was actually just 16 at the time it was filmed). In 2018, The New York Times took a retrospective look at the film, noting, "No characters in the movie seem very troubled by the ethics of the affair, nor did many critics at the time." In a 2010 interview with The New Cinema (via Vanity Fair), Hemingway revealed that she "had never kissed anybody" and the prospect of kissing Allen in the film "terrified me. I was worried about it for weeks." In the end, she added, "I didn’t have to do much… he attacked me like I was a linebacker." Making matters even more seedy, Hemingway alleged that Allen attempted to seduce her a few years later.
Four decades later, however, that onscreen age gap became more disturbing when it was revealed that Allen once had a real-life teenage girlfriend for real: Babi Christina Engelhardt, who told The Hollywood Reporter that she was 16 when she entered into a secret "eight-year affair" with Allen, who was 41 when it began.
In fact, Manhattan wasn’t the only of his films to feature Allen playing a character involved with a far younger woman. In his 1992 film Husbands and Wives, Allen’s character becomes obsessed with his 20-year-old student, played by Juliette Lewis — who is nearly 40 years younger than Allen.
Emma Stone got to make out with her mom’s crush
Not only has Woody Allen demonstrated a penchant for casting vastly younger actresses as the love interests for the characters he plays in the movies he directs, that also holds true when it comes to characters in his films that are not played by him. That was the case in the Allen-directed Magic in the Moonlight, in which Colin Firth portrays a stage magician who falls in love with a supposed psychic, played by Emma Stone.
Firth is nearly 30 years older than his co-star, who, as it happened, was also a huge fan of some of his earlier movies. "I’ve seen Love Actually about 18 times. I’ve seen Bridget Jones too many times now," Stone, then 25, told the Daily Beast in an interview in which she and Firth were promoting the film.
"But I’ve seen many of Colin’s movies. Although my mother absolutely does love Colin, I will say that," Stone added, prompting Firth to quip, "You’re not the only person whose mother loves me."
Kissing Nick Nolte didn’t sound fun for Julia Roberts
Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts co-starred in the 1994 romantic comedy I Love Trouble. Nolte, then in his mid-50s, was still landing leading-man roles opposite far younger actresses. That was the case with Roberts, who was still in her 20s when she was cast opposite Nolte.
The movie’s title proved to be an apt one, as the actors’ 26-year age gap was the least of their differences. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the duo’s steamy love scenes were complicated by the fact that Roberts and Nolte hated each other’s guts. The co-stars’ "less-than-sparkling chemistry" was explained by on-set sources claiming they clashed, including rumors that "tempers flared early on, peppered with a few Roberts tantrums along the way." In fact, sources claimed that the actors "played more to stand-ins than to each other."
Unfortunately, up-close kissing scenes couldn’t be faked with stand-ins, meaning the pair had to rely on their world-class acting skills to pretend they didn’t loathe each other. Roberts summed it up when she told The New York Times that while Nolte could be "charming and nice, he’s also completely disgusting." Nolte returned the insult (via News.com.au), saying, "It’s not nice to call someone ‘disgusting.’ But she’s not a nice person," he snarked, adding, "Everyone knows that."
Literal movie magic made Humphrey Bogart believable as Audrey Hepburn’s beau
A screen classic from director Billy WIlder, the 1954 rom-com Sabrina centers around a love triangle between the titular Sabrina (played by a 24-year-old Audrey Hepburn) and two men, played by William Holden and Humphrey Bogart. Bogart, noted author Edward Z. Epstein in his book Audrey and Bill: A Romantic Biography of Audrey Hepburn and William Holden, was 54 at the time, a full 30 years older than his onscreen love interest. As Epstein wrote, the film’s "makeup and hair departments labored mightily to produce a believable leading man for a leading lady young enough to be his daughter."
Bogart, Epstein explained, was feeling insecure about his age, and "was painfully aware of his own physical shortcomings" during the production. It didn’t help matters that Holden — whom Bogart dismissed as a "matinee idol" — had his hair dyed blonde, while Bogart now required a toupee to manufacture the illusion of hair. Some people working on the film, in fact, remarked that Hepburn "looked like she could be his granddaughter."
To create the suspension of disbelief required to make audiences believe Hepburn could be attracted to the far-older actor’s creased visage, filming Bogart reportedly required "lighting and camera angles… as carefully contrived as a Swiss watch movement."
Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn’s on-screen romance led to fears of ‘moralistic disgust’
Gary Cooper was in the waning days of his tenure as a Hollywood leading man when he co-starred with Audrey Hepburn in romantic comedy Love in the Afternoon, about the relationship that develops between a long-in-the-tooth playboy and a young woman in her 20s. Helmed by Sabrina director Billy Wilder, the film once again paired Hepburn with a significantly older onscreen love interest, given that Cooper was 28 years older than Hepburn.
According to Cinephilia & Beyond, the substantial age difference between the stars led to a bit of hand-wringing from the studio. In order to try to avoid "general moralistic disgust," Wilder attempted to "delicately handle the matter" onscreen by keeping the scenes between the characters as chaste as possible, letting audiences fill in the blanks in their minds. So worrisome was the age gap, Cinephilia & Beyond reminds, Cooper’s line — "I can’t even get to first base with her" — was said to be dubbed in after the fact so audiences could rest assured that Hepburn’s character hadn’t been deflowered. Meanwhile, the film’s U.S. version concludes with narration informing that the stars’ characters had gotten married to avoid speculation they were living in sin.
Maggie Gyllenhaal thinks her age gap with Jeff Bridges made Crazy Heart more real
Jeff Bridges deservedly won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as broken-down, alcoholic country singer Otis "Bad" Blake in the 2009 drama Crazy Heart. At the core of the film is his tentative romance with a young reporter assigned to interview him, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is 28 years younger than Bridges.
While the age gap between the actors is wide and noticeable, Gyllenhaal contended that the characters’ ages was one of many differences they shared, and was reflective of the unusual bond formed between the fictional protagonists.
"Often I think people are attracted to other people who are not always only good for them," she told Under the Radar. "I’ve been attracted to people who were terrible for me in all sorts of ways, and worked through it sometimes and not worked through it other times. And I think that’s really human and really real, and I think that’s part of why the movie’s so good, because they are unlikely lovers."
Aiden Gillen’s Game of Thrones kiss with Sophie Turner got a surprising reaction
In HBO’s Game of Thrones, Petyr Baelish — a.k.a. Littlefinger, played by Aidan Gillen — had spent his life in love with Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley). When she was murdered during Westeros’ deadliest wedding reception, he eventually transferred his romantic desires to Lady Catelyn’s eldest daughter, Sansa (Sophie Turner) — although he ultimately married her off to psychotic sadist Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), resulting in a downright horrific wedding night.
The 28-year-age difference between Turner and Gillen clearly wasn’t a factor with some fans. In an Entertainment Weekly interview with Turner, she admitted she didn’t understand why some of the show’s viewers had been hoping for a Sansa-Littlefinger romance after a scene in which he kisses her. "That was really weird, actually," she said of fans voicing their opinions online that the characters should hook up. "When the kiss happened, my Twitter exploded with ‘Eww! that’s disgusting!’ And like the next day I got a ton of tweets going, ‘Ohhhh, they should be together.’"
While Turner didn’t comment on what it was like to kiss an actor significantly older than herself, she did point out that her co-star "has a daughter who’s like a year younger than me."
Charlie Tahan had a good laugh about his Ozark romance
Viewers of the Netflix thriller Ozark likely didn’t see it coming when Wyatt Langmore (Charlie Tahan) and Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) wound up hitting the sack together, considering Darlene is old enough to be his grandmother (Emery was born in 1952, Tahan in 1998, a difference of 46 years). According to Ozark showrunner Chris Mundy, the idea to have Darlene and Wyatt hook up was first introduced by one of the show’s writers, but "everybody just dismissed it immediately." As he recalled on the Post Play Ozark podcast (via Express), Mundy said, "I was like ‘remember that thing you said’ and everybody just looked at me like I was losing my mind." Ultimately, Mundy admitted that twist in the storyline was his "favorite thing of the season."
Netflix viewers weren’t the only ones shocked by the sexy plot twist. "When I first called Charlie Tahan who plays Wyatt to tell him like ‘Just wanna let you know what your storyline for the season’s gonna be,’ he laughed for a solid three minutes straight," Mundy revealed. "Which is a really long time over the phone, it was awesome."
Harold and Maude’s May-December romance was challenging for audiences
When discussing young actors kissing older co-stars, it’s impossible to ignore the 1971 comedy Harold and Maude. In the film, babyfaced Bud Cort plays the titular Harold, a young man who has a bizarre obsession with death and attends funerals of people he doesn’t know. It’s at one of these that he meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), an eccentric 79-year-old with a passion for life, and they become romantically involved. When Cort was cast, reported The Guardian, he was just 20. His co-star was 75, an age difference of a whopping 55 years.
The film proved to be a critical and commercial flop, even though it would go on to become a cult favorite. "You couldn’t drag people in," producer Charles Mulvehill told Peter Biskind in his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, noted The Guardian. "The idea of a 20-year-old boy with an 80-year-old woman just made people want to vomit. If you asked people what it was about, ultimately it became a boy who was f**king his grandmother."
Still, Cort and Gordon wound up bonding, and remained good friends until her death in 1985; he described their relationship to The Guardian as "one of the most important friendships I’ve ever had. She was a great woman."