The Young vs. The Old – The Best Performances by Actors Playing the Same Character at Different Ages

Men In Black 3 Poster2012 will see not one but three younger actors play characters already portrayed by older stars. Next week marks the return of the Men in Black with Josh Brolin playing a young “K”, normally played by Tommy Lee Jones. Later in the year, Joseph Gordon Levitt will play a young Bruce Willis in Looper and Martin Freeman will play a young “Bilbo Baggins”, played in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Ian Holm, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

So with Brolin’s portrayal of “K” already stealing the show for many in Men in Black 3, we take a look at our favourite characters portrayed over the ages by two different star actors. Let us know in the comments who your favourites are.

Rachel McAdams / Gena Rowlands as Allie Calhoun (The Notebook)

written by Amanda Keats

rachel mcadams the notebookThe Notebook is a story loved by romance fans the world over for its dual romantic storyline. On the one hand, there is the young and passionate Allie, raised in a wealthy family and expected to marry the right kind of man and live the proper kind of life. So when she meets the more ‘rustic’ Noah Calhoun (played in the film by Ryan Gosling), their romance is frowned upon by her elitist family. Rachel McAdams captures the fiery, conflicted young Allie with fun and drama, making the passionate romance with Noah all the more intoxicating. The age-old conflict of whether or not to follow your heart or head is done with sensitivity and evident inner turmoil.

In parallel, Gena Rowlands‘s older Allie is a much more subtle and restrained performance. With Allie having developed Alzheimers, Rowlands’ portrayal of her is a heartbreaking and poignant one. She doesn’t over-act the confusion she feels and this, in turn, makes her moments of utter terror when she has no grasp of what’s happening all the more horrifying to watch.

It is the combination of the two performances and the parallels between the younger and older version of Allie that so beautifully brings Nicholas Sparks’s Allie Calhoun to the big screen.

River Phoenix / Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

Written by Ria Amber Tesia

River Phoenix Indiana JonesThe Indiana Jones series is one of the world’s biggest franchises and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of my favourite films of all time. When the main protagonist is already well established and beloved to millions, film-makers have to tread carefully to treat that particular character with respect. Thankfully, the film doesn’t disappoint. Of course having an acclaimed writer in the form of the fabulous Jeffrey Boam (The Lost Boys & The Witches) write these characters no doubt helped. In the second most popular instalment of the four part series, we get a glimpse of a beloved character’s younger life, where a fresh-faced River Phoenix plays a brooding young Indiana Jones.

Phoenix’s take on the young Indy is breathtaking, striking that fine balance between self-effacing and dynamically brash. Harrison Ford as the Indy we have come to know and love is pitch-perfect too. Cutting a fine figure as well as impeccable comic timing, Ford makes Indy oh so watchable and the audience cannot help but root for him when he gets into numerous scrapes. The flashes of patriotism and flagrant reverence bordering on precarious passion for antiquity as seen in Phoenix’s performance are character traits nicely followed up by Ford. Both actors give Indy’s character a certain gravitas, and a special hat tip (or should that be fedora?) to River Phoenix for his brilliant portrayal of Indy. With rumours that a fifth instalment is in the pipeline, I hope the powers that be put the wheels in motion soon (come on George Lucas, you know you want to).

Robert De Niro / Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone (The Godfather)

Written by Michael Nazarewycz

marlon brando the godfatherMarlon Brando was the embodiment of his craft; the actor’s actor. He was Stanley Kowalski. He was Terry Malloy. He was The Wild One. And when his physique and his career weren’t what they used to be, he showed he still had a little magic left in him with his portrayal of mob patriarch Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972). It would become not only his last hurrah, but his signature role.

Coppola followed up with The Godfather: Part II (1974), a film that would give us the history of Vito Corleone – as told in flashback – before he became Don. It was an immigrant’s tale like no other, about a character like no other. And to properly play a part of such magnitude would require an actor with not just the skill to bring to life the youthful embodiment of a fictional icon, but also the gravitas to fill the screen the way Brando filled the screen just two years earlier.

That actor was Robert De Niro.

It’s easy to look back and say, “Of course De Niro was the perfect choice. He was Travis Bickle. He was Jake La Motta. He was Martin Scorsese’s go-to lead.” But those roles came AFTER De Niro played Corleone. And his only key work with Scorsese to that point was as Johnny Boy in Mean Streets (1973). With only a handful of films under his belt, De Niro appeared onscreen at the dawn of his to-be-storied career and owned Vito Corleone, just as Marlon Brando appeared onscreen at the twilight of his already-storied career and owned Vito Corleone.

Ewan McGregor / Albert Finney as Ed Bloom (Big Fish)

Written by Hillary Butler

Ewan McGregor Big FishAlbert finney big fishBig Fish is a 2003 film from the forever overflowing imagination of Tim Burton. And never before has Burton’s vision been so bright and cheery! Sure, it has some of the typical Burton features, like Helena Bonham Carter for instance, but it also has bright, beautiful daffodils, a lack of gothic detail, and no one with scissors for hands. At the centre of this Oscar nominated masterpiece are two amazing actors playing the same incredible man, Ed Bloom. In his older form, Ed is played by Albert Finney and the younger by Ewan McGregor.

Big Fish tells the story of a dying man, trying to convince his son (Billy Crudup) that the stories he’s been telling all these years are actually true and not just myths, even if they are larger than life. While Finney and McGregor may not share too many physical attributes, emotionally they each portray Ed’s enthusiasm for life and the adventures he has lived. The life carried in McGregor’s eyes when he meets the love of his life, is carried over in Finney’s as he speaks to this woman as his wife (another actor pairing of Alison Lohman/Jessica Lange). Young Ed’s thirst for life is just as exuberant as the Ed Senior’s ambition to share his experiences with his son. In this way, the transition between McGregor and Finney is seamless, and the film truly lives up to its tagline: an adventure as big as life itself.

Wil Wheaton / Richard Dreyfuss as Gordie Lachance (Stand By Me)

Written by Steve Willingham

Wil Wheaton Stand By MeRichard Dreyfuss Stand By MeThere are few films that inspire those nostalgic feelings of childhood as much as Stand By Me. Whether you’re a child of the ’60s, reminiscing on those halcyon summer days full of adventure, or a child of the ’80s captivated by this magical tale of fun, friendship and dead bodies, Stand By Me really has something for everyone. Not least of which is fantastic performances from both Richard Dreyfuss and Wil Wheaton as Gordie Lachance, narrator and leech baiter.

Wheaton delivers a performance rarely bettered as he treks cross-country with his friends. While Dreyfuss,as a grown up Gordie, manages to capture those elements of the young boy we’ve grown familiar with, combined with the bitter-sweet realisations of adulthood. Based on one of the novellas contained in Stephen King’s Different Seasons, it’s a vision of childhood rarely seen before or since. Indeed Gordie’s tale had such an impact on director Rob Reiner that he named his production company after the cursedly idyllic town in which the story takes place, Castle Rock. As the film draws to a close we leave the young Gordie and drift back to the present again, and as we hear Dreyfuss reveal the fate of the four childhood friends, it’s hard not to feel a sense of loss almost as keen as Gordie himself.

About Amanda Keats

Amanda is a film buff with tastes ranging from Japanese horror to classic comedies. Favourite films include Monty Python's Life of Brian, Top Secret and Battle Royale and when she isn't watching films (or talking about them non-stop) she likes to debate whether book to film conversions are ever any good. (Answer: yes, sometimes they are!) A recovering vegetarian, Amanda is also fluent in Spanish and yet still follows subtitles during Spanish films.