Creating one memorable character in a film is hard work for any actor, so it's pretty damn impressive when they are able to create two! The dramatic use of actors playing more than one character is not only a bold and powerful technique, it can often add a whole other dimension to a film. Done well, it's mightily impressive, but when it's bad, it's really bad.
The reasons behind the casting choice can differ: It can be an opportunity to capitalise on a performer's popularity — as a movie fan, it's pretty entertaining to see your favorite actor come to face to face with themselves. Sometimes, of course, the script simply demands that several characters look alike, but occasionally, using the same face for more than one part actually allows us to make connections that we wouldn't have otherwise.
There's no denying it can be an extremely effective technique. Here are fifteen examples of the famous doubling-up trick at its most memorable.
1. The Parent Trap (1961/1998)
Dual roles: Hayley Mills (1961) as teen twin sisters Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick; Lindsey Lohan (1998) as younger twins Annie James and Hallie Parker
Plot: After being separated at birth, the twins meet by chance and decide to swap places in a scheme to reunite their divorced parents.
Acting techniques: In the original version, Hayley Mills would say her lines to body double Susan Henning, who would later star in Elvis. In the remake, Lindsey Lohan wore a highly advanced earpiece which would play back the dialogue of the other sister.
Special effects: In 1961, the screenplay originally called for over-the-shoulder shots using a body double and double exposure for scenes where both twins are facing the camera. When he saw how seamless the processed shots were, Walt Disney ordered the script to include more shots using that technique. By 1998, the filmmakers were using state-of-the-art visual effects techniques, including motion control cameras and digital compositing.
2. Dead Ringer (1964)
Dual role: Bette Davis as wealthy widow Margaret DeLorca and her working class twin sister Edith Phillips
Plot: Edith compulsively murders her sister out of jealousy and steals her identity, only find that impersonating her is more complicated and risky than first thought.
Special effects: Instead of doing double exposure shots, the producers created a process that used mattes to mask over the face of Davis’ double, resulting in almost seamless interactions between her two characters.
3. Dead Ringers (1988)
Dual role: Jeremy Irons as identical twin gynaecologists, Elliot and Beverly Mantle
Plot: Eliot and Beverly take full advantage of the fact that nobody can tell them apart, until their relationship begins to crumble over a shared love interest.
Acting techniques: Initially, Irons had two separate dressing rooms for each character, both with their own wardrobe, but he soon realized that “the whole point of the story is you should sometimes be confused as to which is which.” From that point onwards, he used a single dressing room and mixed the wardrobes together, finding an “internal way” to play each character differently. Irons cites the Alexander technique as the reason he was able to give the characters “different energy points”, weighting one brother on the balls of his feet and the other on his heels. He developed different postures and voice modulations for each as well.
Special effects: All shots of the twins together were accomplished through one of the first uses of computer-controlled moving-matte photography.
4. Back To The Future Part II (1989)
Triple(!) role: Michael J. Fox as time traveller Marty McFly, his son Marty, Jr. and his daughter Marlene
Plot: After visiting 2015, Marty McFly must repeat his visit to 1955 to prevent disastrous changes to 1985... without interfering with his first trip.
Special effects: Computer-controlled camera work, called VistaGlide, allowed all three characters to match up and interact seamlessly in the same scene, through impressive split-screen photography. A moving boundary was used between the sections of the split-screen, making it the first film to accomplish interaction between the same actor on the screen as more than one character.
5. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
Dual role: Mike Myers as British spy Austin Powders and his nemesis (and later revealed long lost brother) Dr. Evil
Plot: Sixties secret agent Austin is brought out of cryofreeze to oppose his greatest enemy in the '90s, where his social attitudes are a bit out of place.
6. Bowfinger (1999)
Dual role: Eddie Murphy as hot action star Kit Ramsey and his lookalike Jiff
Plot: When a Z-grade movie producer Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) fails to get a major star for his bargain basement film, he decides to shoot the film secretly around him.
Acting techniques: It was Eddie Murphy's idea for Jiff Ramsey to wear braces and have his ears stick out; he insisted on not wearing prosthetics makeup when it came to filming his scenes as Jiff.
7. Adaptation (2002)
Dual role: Nicolas Cage as screenwriter twins Charlie and Donald Kaufman
Plot: Depressed Charlie becomes desperate as he tries and fails to adapt The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean for the screen.
Acting techniques: Cage has said that for the part of Charlie, he ignored all of his acting instincts and played it exactly as director Spike Jonze asked him to. His brother, Marc Coppola, often "stood-in" for the other twin during filming.
8. The Island (2005)
Dual roles: Ewan McGregor as Scottish automotive designer Tom Lincoln and his clone Lincoln Six Echo; Scarlett Johansson as supermodel Sarah Jorden and her clone Jordan Two Delta
Plot: Lincoln and Jordan are two of thousands of people staying at a facility waiting to go to a paradise island outside the domes that protect them against a contaminated environment — but it's all a lie. They are actually clones, generated to provide replacement organs and parts to their owners, and they must escape.
9. The Prestige (2006)
Dual role: Christian Bale as stage magicians Albert and Frederick Borden
Plot: Albert and Frederick assume one identity they call 'Albert' to protect the simple secret to their trick "The Transported Man." They engage in competition with fellow magician Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) to create the ultimate stage illusion.
Acting techniques: As it’s only revealed in the final moments that Alfred Borden is in fact twins Alfred and Frederick Borden, you have to rewatch the movie to appreciate the subtle differences in Bale’s performance as each brother. They particularly differ in their interactions with their wife (Rebecca Hall) and mistress (Scarlett Johansson) — with one brother loving one and the other brother loving the other.
10. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Dual role: Bill Bailey as twin policemen, both called Sergeant Turner
Plot: Exceptional London cop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is involuntarily transferred to a quaint English village and paired with a witless new partner. While on the beat, Nicholas suspects a sinister conspiracy is afoot with the residents.
Acting techniques: Although only a small role, Bailey uses books to symbolize the personality differences between the twins. One of them reads Complicity by Iain Banks, while the other reads The State Of The Art by Iain M. Banks. Iain Banks is only one author, but the "M" shows that the books are science-fiction rather than normal fiction.
11. Alice In Wonderland (2010)
Dual role: Matt Lucas as classic fantasy characters, Tweedledee and Tweedledum
Plot: Nineteen-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to the magical world from her childhood adventure, where she reunites with her old friends and learns of her true destiny: to end the Red Queen's reign of terror.
Special effects: Lucas and his double, Ethan Cohn, wore oversized pear-shaped motion capture suits and walked on stilts. They would do a scene and then switch places and do the scene again. The rather bizarre final product was a combination of CGI and live-action, consisting of both of Lucas' facial performances composited onto fully animated bodies.
12. The Social Network (2010)
Dual role: Armie Hammer as Harvard upperclass twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss
Plot: Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) creates the social networking site that would become known as Facebook, but is later sued by two brothers who claimed he stole their idea, and the co-founder who was later squeezed out of the business.
Acting techniques: Prior to filming, Hammer and his body double Josh Pence spent 10 months at director David Fincher’s ‘twin boot camp.’ As well as learning everything about the Winklevosses, the actors also studied each other’s body movements to better sell the illusion and build a brotherly rapport. Hammer also studied Jeremy Irons' performance in Dead Ringers to get an idea of how to play twin brothers.
Special effects: The illusion was achieved used traditional split-screen work and more sophisticated techniques that involved pasting a computer generated model of Hammer’s face onto Pence’s body. One of the twins is played strictly by Pence from the neck down.
13. Enemy (2013)
Dual role: Jake Gyllenhaal as college history professor Adam Bell and his actor doppelgänger Anthony Claire
Plot: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.
Acting techniques: Gyllenhaal made choices early on about the characters so that he could separate one from the other; he made it his mission to fall in love with both of them to ensure that there wouldn't be any judgment from either side. He believed that the two characters were different parts of one persona. In some scenes, cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc would stand in as the other character to make it appear as if Gyllenhaal were looking right into his doppelgänger’s eyes.
Special effects: The production utilized the Mo-Sys system, a special motion control device that was created to recreate specific camera motions multiple times. Doing this made it possible to film a scene with Gyllenhaal playing one character and then re-film the scene with him playing the other.
14. Legend (2015)
Dual role: Tom Hardy as ‘50s criminal Reggie Kray and his psychopathic twin brother Ronnie
Plot: The film tells the story of the identical twin gangsters, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organised crime empire in the East End of London during the '60s.
Acting techniques: Hardy met with.the Krays' former hit-man Freddie Foreman to help him with his portrayal of the gangsters. He would record both the brothers’ dialogue in the morning, and his Mad Max stunt double, Jacob Tomuri would mime it while Hardy spoke as the other brother. Then they would switch positions and record the scene again. Both men wore earpieces to hear the side of the conversation that wasn’t being delivered live.
Special effects: When the camera needed to follow the characters, it would be motion-controlled, as in a computerized camera’s movement was programmed in advance, enabling its path to be repeated exactly. That made the process of adding doubles to the frame much smoother. In one scene, where the twins get into a physical fight, this mostly involved Hardy performing as each brother, but in some moments — like when the brothers slap each other in the face — the choreography was so complicated that Tomuri's body had to stay in the frame with a digital face replacement.
15. Friends (1995-2001)
Dual roles: Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay and her twin sister Ursula; David Schwimmer as Ross Geller and Rachel’s new love interest Russ
Plot: Classic sitcom following the lives of six 20-something friends living in Manhattan.
Acting techniques: Lisa Kudrow had already been guest-starring on Mad About You as Ursula Buffay for two years before Friends aired. They decided to make Phoebe a twin to create a crossover between the two shows.