Hamlet's mother will not be played by a woman who could have gone to high school with the actor playing Hamlet. At least not without rather a lot of aging makeup!
Due to Double Standards concerning age and perceived attractiveness, adult male characters are usually played by actors of about the character's age, but female characters of middle age and older are often played by actresses noticeably younger than the character should be. This becomes jarring when a character's mother, or a woman otherwise stated to be of of an older generation, is played by someone only slightly older—or, in some cases, younger—than him.
Named for Hamlet's mother Gertrude, who tends to be played by improbably young actresses. That this is often used to support a Freudian interpretation of the text has Unfortunate Implications: apparently there can only be sexual tension between the characters if they both appear young and pretty. This is most prominently and ridiculously pronounced in Laurence Olivier's film version of Hamlet, which featured Eileen Herlie in the role of Gertrude despite the fact that she was eleven years younger than Olivier himself. (Note that this trope does not apply if the the actress is convincingly made to appear her character's age.)
Male examples occur too, but tend to be less jarring, perhaps because men are, for obvious biological reasons, generally perceived as aging more gradually and gracefully than women.
A related effect tends to crop up in animated portrayals of middle-aged women. If a female character has a Hot Mom, expect them both to look about the same age.
Closely related to Hollywood Homely. This is one way to invert Dawson Casting. Often overlaps with Hollywood Old, since it's usually impossible for a Hollywood Old character to have a teenage or adult child without their (lack of) age difference becoming a Playing Gertrude. However, when both actors are middle-aged or older, it's easy to have a Playing Gertrude without either character being Hollywood Old. Contrast Age Lift, where the role is changed to make the actor's age appropriate for the role.
- Tekken Movie 2010: Asuka's Revenge is, as the name suggests, a rewrite of the 2010 live-action Tekken movie with Asuka as the main character. The author even provides a "cast list" with characters that were in the actual movie being played by the same actors and the author providing casting for anyone who wasn't. His choice of actress to play Michelle Chang is actually three years younger than the one playing her adopted daughter Julia (canonically nearly 20 years Michelle's junior). Overlaps with Dawson Casting as both actresses are closer to Michelle's age than to Julia's.
- The two best-known films of Hamlet: Franco Zeffirelli's version had Glenn Close, who is only nine years older than Mel Gibson, as Gertrude. In Laurence Olivier's version, Eileen Herlie (pictured above) was eleven years younger than Olivier.
- In North by Northwest, Jessie Royce Landis played Cary Grant's mother. Landis was actually ten months younger than Grant.
- The Graduate combined this trope with Dawson Casting: 30-year-old Dustin Hoffman played the titular recent college graduate, with 36-year-old Anne Bancroft as his middle-aged lover. Her daughter is played by 27-year-old Katharine Ross.
- Alexander: The title character's actor (Colin Farrell) was born in 1976. Angelina Jolie, who played his mother Olympias, was born in 1975, making her a year older than him. Freud could have a field day. I swear.
- It should be noted that significant parts of Olympias' character development is actually seen in flashbacks from when Alexander was much younger, which means this casting makes some sort of sense.
- The original version of The Manchurian Candidate. Angela Lansbury is almost exactly two years older than Laurence Harvey. Nowadays this often comes as a shock to people seeing the film for the first time, because of Lansbury's fame from Murder, She Wrote and how little she seems to have aged in between the two.
- The remake did not replicate this circumstance: a respectable eighteen years separate Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep.
- Another Lansbury example: when she played Elvis's mother in Blue Hawaii, she was only 9 years older than him.
- In Brian De Palma's Scarface, Miriam Colon, who played Tony Montana's mother, was only four years older than Al Pacino.
- Male example: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade introduces Indy's father - played by Sean Connery, who is only 12 years older than Harrison Ford. Although there's a good chance Indy is supposed to be younger than Ford, and as has been lampshaded frequently, it's Sean Connery we're dealing with.
- In Family Business Connery plays Dustin Hoffman's father. Connery is only seven years older than Hoffman.
- A related example: In Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite, it is implied that Allen's character cannot have a relationship with Mira Sorvino's Linda Ash because he is too old for her. Although there's some validity to this idea (Allen is 32 years older than Sorvino), it completely overlooks the fact that Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Allen's wife in the movie, is 31 years younger than him.
- Of course, since this is Woody Allen we're talking about, that may be part of the joke.
- In The World According to Garp, Robin Williams (30) plays T.S. Garp and Glenn Close (35) plays his mother, Jenny Fields.
- In The Passion of the Christ, 42-year-young Maia Morgenstern was Mary to 36-year-old Jim Caviezel's Jesus. Possibly justified in that a) she also appeared in scenes of Jesus' childhood, b) some Catholics believe that since Mary was sinless she did not age normally, and c) young (though not child) brides were common at the time, nudging the numbers marginally closer to plausibility.
- Some works of art (such as the Pieta) feature a Mary that looks younger than her son, reasoning that since God has been around forever Mary would be younger than Him.
- Oddly, this is often done by inverting this trope. Jesus died in his thirties, but is often portrayed as a middle-aged father figure. The beard that covers half his face in most pictures has a lot to do with it, but he often has prominent lines on his face as well.
- Some works of art (such as the Pieta) feature a Mary that looks younger than her son, reasoning that since God has been around forever Mary would be younger than Him.
- Back to The Future, Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover are the parents of Michael J. Fox - who is 9 days younger than her and 3 years older than him. But due to Time Travel the McFly couple are teenagers for most of the film.
- In Frequency, Elizabeth Mitchell plays James Caviezel's mother. She's 18 months younger than he is. Like the Back to The Future example, though, she's mostly seen in the parts set in 1969.
- In the 2007 Beowulf movie, Angelina Jolie plays Grendel's mother. Grendel is played by Crispin Glover, who is older than she is. Although, you know, her character is Really Seven Hundred Years Old, and his character isn't human, so...
- Winona Ryder (age 37) playing Spock's mother in the 2009 Star Trek movie. Spock is played by Zachary Quinto, who's only five and a half years younger than her in real life.
- Funnily enough, the reason a younger actress was hired was a scene detailing Spock's birth that was cut from the film (though it did appear in one of the trailers).
- Despite having much longer life spans, it's implied at a few points throughout the series(es) that Vulcans reach physical and intellectual maturity faster than humans. It's not exactly clear how old Spock is, but given his extremely gifted intellect (even by Vulcan standards) it's entirely possible he's around the same age as the other cadets.
- This trope was played straight and averted with Spock's original parents too, though with the places switched. In Star Trek: The Original Series, Mark Lenard was only about six years older than Leonard Nimoy while a healthy twenty-one years separated Spock and his mother.
- Amy Poehler as Rachel McAdams' mom in Mean Girls. Namely a 26 year old Rachel (playing a high school junior) and a 33 year old Amy playing her mom.
- In Mrs. Miniver, the title character was played by Greer Garson, who was just 11 years older than the actor who played her son (Richard Ney). In real life, they got married after falling in love on the set.
- In the film version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Martha, who is in her fifties, played by 34-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. Her casting surprised many people, but she proved to be very convincing.
- Boyz N the Hood featured 30-year-old Laurence Fishburne playing the father of 23-year-old Cuba Gooding Jr.
- As roundly parodied in Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood where Trey's father is barely out of elementary school while Trey is noticeably an adult.
- The movie Sara Dane drifts into Playing Gertrude territory at the end of the film, while becoming Hollywood Old at least one hour earlier. The movie spans most of the title character's adult life, but nothing is done to make the actress look older as the decades go by. In the final scenes, the children she gave birth to in the middle of the movie are older then her.
- Peter O'Toole playing Henry in The Lion in Winter — he was 36 or so, the king was about 50. Katharine Hepburn, 25 years O'Toole's senior, played Eleanor, 11 years Henry's
- Jennifer Coolidge, who plays Stifler's Mom in the American Pie movies, is only thirteen years older than Sean William Scott.
- Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings may be the most extreme example yet: H.B. Warner, playing Jesus, was about twenty-four years older than (and, indeed, almost twice the age of) the actress playing Mary. Possibly justified, for the reasons listed with The Passion of the Christ above.
- The film Unfaithful featured a then-37-year-old Diane Lane as a housewife having an affair with a younger man (her infuriated husband is shocked to see how young the guy is and later blasts her for throwing their life away "for a fucking kid!") The "younger" man was played by the then-36 year old Oliver Martinez.
- In the 2002 ITV production of Dr. Zhivago, Lara Antipova was played by Keira Knightley, then a mere 16 years of age. In the initial scenes, she matches the age she's supposed to play, but by the end of the production she's supposed to be around 25, with a four-year-old child. Admittedly, Knightley has always had a rather mature look (who would have believed that she was just 17 in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film???) but here it does seem to be pushing the limits of plausibility.
- In The Fighter, Melissa Leo (born 1960) plays the mother of Mark Wahlberg (born 1971) and Christian Bale (1974) - Wahlberg is playing a character who starts out a decade younger than he is, but Bale's character is meant to be older than he is. To be fair, Christian Bale is a Crazy Awesome actor.
- In The Namesake, Tabu (37 when the movie came out) plays Gogol's mother from age 20 to age 60. In fact, she is only 7 years older than the Kal Penn, who plays her son.
- In Blow, Johnny Depp's (that is, George Jung's) father is played by Ray Liotta, who's only eight years older than him, and his mother is played by Rachel Griffiths, who's five years younger than him.
- In the film version of The Dead Zone, Jackie Burroughs played Christopher Walken's mother though she was only four years older than him. He looked so much younger than he was and she looked old enough that it's actually completely believable.
- In Bye Bye Birdie, Maureen Stapleton played Dick Van Dyke's mother despite being only six months older than him in real life.
- In The Godfather, Marlon Brando (age 47) was father of Al Pacino and James Caan (both 32, but Caan is supposed to be the older brother), John Cazale (37), and the only one who had a fitting age, Talia Shire (26). Averted with Pacino himself by the third movie (both Sofia Coppola and Franc D'Ambrosio were at least 20 years younger than him).
- In Watchmen, Malin Akerman is the daughter of Carla Gugino (7 years older) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (12 years older). Then again, both have parts in Flash Backs as younger versions of the characters.
- In In Time, which features a society where people stop aging at 25, Olivia Wilde (Will's mom) is 2 years younger than Justin Timberlake (Will).
- In Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Musetta Vander, who plays Sindel, is four years younger than Talisa Soto, who plays Sindel's daughter Kitana. This is justified based on the back-story of the Mortal Kombat games on which the movie is based: Edenians, Sindel's and Kitana's native race, age at a far slower rate than Earthlings; Kitana is stated to be 10,000 years old despite physically appearing to be in her late 20's at most, and Sindel's canonically a Hot Mom despite her exact age never being given in-universe.
- Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the 2018 sequel to Mamma Mia!: Meryl Streep returned to reprise her role from the first movie, while Cher played her mother. Cher is three years older than Meryl Streep.
Live Action TV
- Reno Wilson is only 7 years younger than Cleo King, who plays his grandmother on Mike and Molly!
- Sabrina Le Beauf, who played eldest sister Sondra on The Cosby Show, was only 10 years younger than Phylicia Rashad, who played Clair, her mother. Supposedly, Le Beauf almost didn't get the role because of this, but in the end it apparently didn't matter.
- A storyline on All My Children in the early 90's featured a "scandalous" affair between single mom Dixie and college-age Brian. Matt Borlenghi, who played Brian, was actually older than Cady McClain, who played Dixie.
- Kevin Tighe and Swoosie Kurtz play Locke's parents on Lost. They were both born in 1944. Terry O'Quinn, who plays Locke, was born in 1952. Locke's mother was supposed to be sixteen when she had him, but his father is said to have been roughly twice her age at the time.
- Of course, casting for Lost in general is weird with regards to aging because the cast age faster than their characters, but also have to play said characters in flashbacks to when they were younger (which is why Walt's had very little screen time since S1). That said, Anthony Cooper's age is pushing it—he'd be eighty as of "The Brig"—unless the "twice her age" reference was an exaggeration, which it probably was.
- In the British sitcom On the Buses, this trope was first averted in season 1, the character of Stan Butler's mother was played by Cicely Courtneidge who was 22 years older than the actor Reg Varney who played Stan Butler, but in seasons 2-7, the trope was played straight when they brought in a new actress(Doris Hare) to play the mother. She was only 10 years older than Reg Varney.
- In Supernatural, 43-year-old Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays 31-year-old Jensen Ackles' father. He was also unconvincingly aged-up, leading viewers to think of John Winchester as a teenage daddy until his actual age was given.
- Samantha Smith, who plays the boys' mother, is (as of 2009), only 40.
- This trope only applied to Samantha in "What Is and What Should Never Be," where Dean wished that Mary never died. Before that, she only played Mary Winchester in flashbacks to a time when Mary's sons were 4 and 0 years old, respectively.
- Samantha Smith, who plays the boys' mother, is (as of 2009), only 40.
- Played with in Frasier. Frasier's agent Bebe (played by then 49 year old Harriet Samson Harris) is shown to have a son that's at least 40. However, the preceding conversation was about Bebe praising her plastic surgeon in order to convince Frasier to get some work done so he'd be ready for TV. Seeing the older son (and realizing Bebe is probably older than he ever imagined) is what convinced him to go see the plastic surgeon.
- "Ancient, but artificially young thanks to plastic surgery" is also the basis of many Karen jokes on Will and Grace.
- John Mahoney is supposed to be Kelsey Grammer's father, even though he is only 15 years older than him and eight years younger than Martin Crane is supposed to be.
- On The Nanny, Ann Morgan Guilbert, who plays Grandma Yetta, is just five years older than her onscreen daughter, Renee Taylor, who plays Sylvia Fine. Additionally, C.C. Babcock is meant to be several years older than Fran Fine, but Lauren Lane, who plays C.C., is actually four years younger than Fran Drescher.
- The Vampire Diaries TV show has Aunt Jenna, who's supposed to be in her late twenties, but is played by an actress who is only a year older than the actors who play her teenage niece and nephew.
- David Anders, who plays John Gilbert, Elena's biological father is only 8 years older than her. His character was supposed to be young for a man with a 17 year old daughter, but not that young.
- On 8 Simple Rules, Kaley Cuoco, who played Bridget Hennessey, was six years younger than her on-screen little sister Kerry, played by Amy Davidson. Justified because Kaley is taller, and hey, shorter is younger, right?
- On Six Feet Under, Frances Conroy, who plays Ruth, is less than 12 years older than Peter Krause, who plays her son, Nate.
- When Eastenders began, 29-year old Gillian Taylforth played 34-year old Kathy Beale, the mother of 14-year old Ian, played by then 16-year old Adam Woodyatt. When casting for the character of Kathy, Gillian convinced the show's producers she could "look older" - and won the part.
- On V-2009, Anna (Morena Baccarin) is the mother of Lisa (Laura Vandervoort). In real life, Baccarin is only five years older than Vandervoort. Worth noting however that they are alien reptiles, and that their human appearances are artificial.
- On Neighbours, Shane Connor (b.1959) and Carla Bonner (b.1973) played father and daughter. Again, Dawson Casting is at work here too - Bonner's character was born in 1979.
- On Tyler Perry's House of Payne, the character of Janine is played by Demetria McKinney who was born in 1981. Janine's son, Malik is played by Doc Shaw who was born in 1992.
- In addition, Allen Payne (C.J.) was born in 1968. Cassi Davis (Aunt Ella) was born in 1964, while Lavan Davis (Uncle Curtis) was born in 1966.
- On Allo Allo Rose Hill, born in 1914, played the mother of Carmen Silvera, born in 1922. Their advanced ages made this less obvious than most.
- On Mystery Science Theater 3000, Pearl Forrester was played by Mary Jo Pehl, who was two years younger than the actor who played her son Clayton, Trace Beaulieu.
- They at least tried to give her a frumpy late middle aged house wife appearance in season seven but at the beginning of season eight, when she took over fully for her departed son, her look was updated to make her look more her actual age.
- On The X-Files, Rebecca Toolan plays Mulder's mother. In reality, she is only two years older than Mulder, and only a year older than the actor who plays him.
- Gretchen Moll playing Michael Pitt's mother in Boardwalk Empire. Moll is only 9 years older than Pitt. This is a combination of Pitt playing a 22 year-old and Moll's character having had a son at a very young age. Her surprising youth, in spite of being a grandmother, is a part of her character.
- Desperate Housewives was accused of this when it cast Mike Farrell as John Slattery's father. Though in fact the two are just barely far apart enough in age for this to be reasonable; it's just that Farrell looks very good for his age.
- In Good Times, John Amos was only 34 when the show began, making him only 8 years older than his "son" Jimmie Walker(J.J.) and 19 years younger than his "wife" Esther Rolle (Florida)
- Whitman Mayo was only 40 when he was cast as Grady Wilson on Sanford and Son.
- Tony Goldwyn played Vincent D'Onofrio's older brother on Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Goldwyn is a year younger than D'Onofrio.
- Kath and Kim has an interesting version of this. Kath is supposed to be in her 50s, though her actress is about a decade younger. Her daughter Kim is supposed to be in her mid-to-late 20s, but is played by an actress who is pushing 50.
- In The Wire Chris Bauer plays James Ransone's father despite being just under thirteen years older.
- In 30 Rock, Jan Hooks plays Jenna's mother despite being only eleven years older than Jane Krawkowski.
- This trope was lampshaded and parodied in other instances.In season three,Tracy reveals having a son who looks far too old and is later discovered to be a con artist who is two years older.Tracy still refers to Him as his son "who is two years older than Me". In another,Liz pretends to Be Kenneth's mother despite only a three year difference in actors.She even points it out though the man being lied to says He could believe it.
- Justified in Angel wherein Vincent Kartheiser plays David Boreanaz's son despite being only ten years younger.This is due to 1) a plotline in which Connor is taken to a hell dimension and ages nearly twenty years in a few weeks, 2) Boreanaz playing a vampire who is over two hundred years old and 3) Kartheiser playing a character a few years younger than Himself
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Pegasus", Terry O'Quinn plays Commander Riker's former first commanding officer, Admiral (formerly Captain) Erik Pressman. Pressman is, presumably, at least 15–20 years older than Riker, but Terry O'Quinn is barely a month older than Jonathan Frakes.
- In Lost Girl, Inga Cadranel (Bo's mother), is four years younger than Anna Silk (Bo). Justified in that the two characters are ageless succubi.
- In Once Upon a Time, Josh Dallas (born 1981) as Prince Charming and Ginnifer Goodwin (born 1978) as Snow White play the parents of Jennifer Morrison (born 1979) as Emma. Justified in that a magic curse kept the parents frozen in time and not aging, while their daughter was not affected and thus aged normally.
- In Touched By an Angel, there's an episode where Rafael plays a student teacher and a student gets a crush on him. The actress playing the student, Senta Moses, is 10 1/2 months older than Alexis Cruz, who plays Rafael.
- Beyond the Trope Namer Gertrude, some productions of Hamlet do this with Claudius as well. Most notably, in the 1980 BBC version, 40-year-old Patrick Stewart played Claudius to 42-year-old Derek Jacobi's Hamlet. This is considerably easier to justify than with Gertrude, as it is theoretically possible for Claudius to not be much older than Hamlet, (or have been born even after Hamlet), but let's face it: it's not likely.
- Justified in any production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe. The mother and aunts of the male lead are supposed to all look noticeably younger than him, and one of the jokes is the need for him to explain to people (such as his intended bride) why teenage girls are seen hugging and kissing him. (There is a good reason for the apparent age difference.)
- King Lear is as often as not played by a younger man due to the intense physical nature of the role in most productions. Whether this trope comes into play or not differs depending on the quality of the given Lear's age makeup (most major productions are pretty well done), and of course Your Mileage May Vary for all.
- In the musical of Spring Awakening all of the adult female roles (including several teenage characters' mothers) are played by one woman. In the original production, the understudy for this role was 30-year-old Frances Mercanti-Anthony. This makes her a bit young for her motherly roles to begin with, but combined with Dawson Casting of a few of her "children" (such as 20-year-old Lea Michele as the daughter of one of her characters) the age gap was even smaller.
- Pretty much inevitable in high school and college theater, since all the actors will be about the same age.
- In Mark Schultz's Letters from War, the woman playing the soldier's mother looks like she's only as old as he is.
- Even though it is entirely possible that Hamlet's mother could have been married at thirteen or fifteen, she wouldn't have been a mother at that age. Given the horribly awful diet of the time compared to the modern one (even in the richest families), girls usually didn't get their period until much later than in the modern day, and probably couldn't get pregnant for the first time until they were 17 or older.