Casting is everything in movies and TV shows. There can be a brilliant film/show and a great actor, but sometimes the two just don’t jive. That’s sometimes why casting changes are made after production has started.
There’s always pressure to cast the perfect person, but it intensifies when you’ve got a child star playing a young version of a famous actor. Not only do casting directors have to make sure the kid is right for the part, they have to make sure that they’re a convincing version of the adult. And there are a number of occasions where the child actor couldn’t have been a better pick for the part.
Scroll through the gallery to see 15 child stars who were the perfect choice to play younger versions of famous actors.
Elle Fanning/Dakota Fanning – I Am Sam
Dakota Fanning was a child star herself when she was cast as Lucy Diamond Dawson in I Am Sam. In fact, she was just seven years old, but she already had a string of credits to her name. When the 2001 film required an even younger actress to play Lucy in the beginning, they didn’t have to look very far. They cast Elle Fanning, who was just a wee three years old. Given their shared genetic gene pool, Elle mastered the tricky part and looked like the spitting image of Dakota.
Nell Williams/Lena Headey – Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones had to deal with a few different casting changes throughout the seasons, but we’re sure the showrunners felt pressured when it came to choosing the perfect young Cersei Lannister. Lena Headey has embodied the part and served up an intriguing combination of being diabolic, tormented, confident and torn. Nell Williams had big shoes to fill when she was cast to play the young Lannister in a flashback scene from season five, but the then-15-year-old mastered it. Her flowing blonde hair and air of entitlement made her a dead ringer for Lena.
Mila Kunis/Angelina Jolie – Gia
Have you ever stopped to consider the similarities between Mila Kunis and Angelina Jolie? They both have light skin, dark hair and gleaming eyes. It’s something that casting directors obviously picked up on when they chose Mila to play the younger version of Angelina’s character Gia Carrangi in the 1998 drama Gia. A 15-year-old Mila looked like a proper baby Ang/Gia and she rivaled the intensity Angelina brought to the role.
Gabby Hoffmann/Demi Moore – Now and Then
Now and Then is a classic coming of age movie from 1995 that required perfect casting because it had multiple characters being shown at different ages. Had Demi Moore’s daughters been a bit older, they likely would have been considered to play the younger version of her character Samantha Albertson. Instead, 13-year-old Gabby Hoffmann ended up securing the part. You might not immediately see the similarities now, but viewers did back then. And both of them gave solid performances where we definitely did believe they were the same person.
AnnaSophia Robb/Sarah Jessica Parker – Sex and the City/The Carrie Diaries
This one is special because the character in question, Carrie Bradshaw, is from two different shows. Despite this, it might have been the most pressured role to get right. Sarah Jessica Parker is iconic for her Sex and the City role. So, AnnaSophia Robb had a lot of expectations to deal with when playing the teenage version of the character on The Carrie Diaries. The show might not have been anywhere as iconic as SATC, but AnnaSophia did a commendable job of making us believe we were watching the younger version of SJP’s character.
Hero Beauregard Fiennes-Tiffin/Ralph Fiennes – Harry Potter
Did you know this one, Harry Potter fans? Young Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort was actually played by Hero Beauregard Fiennes-Tiffin. We all know Ralph Fiennes played the older character, but you might not have realized the two were uncle and nephew. Relations aside, Hero managed to convey an eerie, creepy, complex character without a snake-like nose or extreme makeover. And the actor did it all at just 11 years old in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Christina Ricci/Rosie O’Donnell – Now and Then
How could we not have another pairing from Now and Then? The choice to cast 15-year-old Christina Ricci as the younger version of Rosie O’Donnell’s character Dr. Roberta Martin was an interesting one that actually worked very well. The audience could see the beginnings of something in the younger version that made sense for the woman she was to become. It was the true clincher and went beyond the simple fact they both had dark brown hair.
Jamie Lynn Spears/Britney Spears – Crossroads
Even if you’re a diehard Britney Spears fan, you will admit that Crossroads wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy material, even with Shonda Rhimes writing it. The movie might have been mostly panned by critics, but one place it did excel was choosing to cast Jamie Lynn Spears as the younger version of Britney’s character Lucille “Lucy” Wagner. People can say it’s obvious, but when it fits, it fits. It was also a smart career move because it was a high profile acting debut for Jamie Lynn. Her performance was solid in its own right and it led her to Nickelodeon roles, including her own show just two years later.
River Phoenix/Harrison Ford – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Some might want to compare Shia LaBeouf and Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones, but *spoiler alert* he played Henry Jones III/Mutt Williams, Jones’s son. Some might also compare Harrison to Sean Patrick Flanery from the lesser known 1992 TV show The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles where he actually played a young Indy. But, it’s the late River Phoenix we’re talking about. River played a teenage Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and his acting chops were clear in the role. He also matched the swagger that Harrison brought to the part.
Elle Fanning/Cate Blanchett – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Elle Fanning makes it onto the list again as one of the younger versions of Cate Blanchett’s character Daisy in 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The role was also played by Madisen Beaty. Everyone on board did a great job, but it was Elle that wowed. With her ginger hair and wide-eyed curiosity, she was so much like Cate, it was almost uncanny.
Dakota Fanning/Reese Witherspoon – Sweet Home Alabama
Dakota Fanning has countless parts to her name as a child actor alone. Did you know one of them was playing the younger version of Melanie Smooter in 2001’s Sweet Home Alabama? Everyone will know Reese Witherspoon flawlessly played the adult version of the character, but Dakota continued the winning streak by embodying a convincing mini Melanie thanks to her pale blonde hair and acting chops.
Thora Birch/Melanie Griffith – Now and Then
Here’s another Now and Then casting choice that deserves its own spot on the list. The movie would have been nothing if the casting wasn’t perfection. At 13, Thora Birch had the fair skin and blonde hair that made her a convincing younger version of Melanie Griffith’s character Tina “Teeny” Tercell. Thora played a real complex teenager with insecurities, dreams and a love of glamour that were perfectly in line with the how her adult character was going to be.
Makenzie Vega/Jessica Alba – Sin City
Most superhero/fantasy movies have a flashback. Sin City was no different. The 2005 film showcased a younger version of Jessica Alba’s character Nancy Callahan. The part was filled by 11 year old Makenzie Vega (Alexa PenaVega’s little sis!). With her thick straight bangs and face shape, she was a well-chosen child star. She also managed to get into the spirit of the neo-noir film and sussed out what the character would become.
Saoirse Ronan/Vanessa Redgrave – Atonement
The 2007 film Atonement is known as Saoirse Ronan’s breakout role. She was just 13 years old when she starred in the movie — and earned herself an Oscar nomination. She played the youngest version of Brionny Tallis. The role was also played by Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave. Having to fill the shoes of Vanessa is an intimidating prospect for any actor, no matter how experienced, but Saoirse killed it, hence the nomination. She could convey so much emotion with her eyes alone, just like Vanessa.
Alice Richmond/Tina Fey – 30 Rock
Did you watch the flashback scenes in 30 Rock and wonder how they managed to get such a perfect character to play a young Liz Lemon, Tina Fey’s character? The similarities go beyond good acting. There’s also genetics involved because Alice Richmond is Tina’s daughter. Alice was just 7-year-old when she played Liz in a flashback wedding scene during the sixth season. People still remember it demonstrating it was a great casting choice.