Movie Doubles : One Actor – Multiple Roles

A look at actors double-(and triple, and quadruple)-jobbing with multiple roles in the one movie

With Dominic Cooper blazing up the screen in a dual performance as batshit dictator-in-training Uday Hussein and his unfortunate doppelganger in The Devil’s Double (out today), we felt it was a good time to re-visit 10 of our favourite – we hasten to say best – instances of actors double-(and triple, and quadruple)-jobbing with multiple roles in the one movie:

*Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler, Big Business (1988):

Let’s see if I can get through this without my laptop screen exploding from the sheer flaming homosexuality generated by the pairing of Tomlin and Midler as two sets of mismatched identical twins where one ended up with a poor hick family and the other with blue-blood city types. It’s as camp as a knicker factory, but pleasures don’t come much guiltier…Damn, there goes my screen. It was worth it.

*Jeremy Irons, Dead Ringers (1988)

The Cork-pink-castle-dweller delivers probably his finest screen performance(s) as twin gynaecologists Beverly Mantle and Elliot Mantle in this classic David Cronenberg head-feck. The brothers share female patients, but then one starts to properly wig out when they fall for the same gal. Not one to watch before your next check-up, erm, down there, ladies. It does for gynaecologists what Marathon Man did for dentists and Glitter did for Mariah Carey-esque singers.

*Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh, Dead Again (1991)

Not many people seem to remember this one, but when Ken’n’Em arrived in Hollywood in the early 90s he directed them in this shlocky Hitchcock wannabe about an LA detective (Branagh) trying to help an amnesiac woman (Thompson) who claims to be the re-incarnation of a murdered actress from the 1940s. Spookily, modern day Ken looks like 1940s Em’s fella too. The then-loved-up pair played dual roles apiece as their modern and past life incarnations, as does Andy Garcia. Nifty little twist at the end.

*Lindsay Lohan, The Parent Trap (1998) and I Know Who Killed Me (2007)

A nice pair of bookends for phase 1 (will there be a phase 2?) of Linds-AA’s young career. Ah look at her, all adorable and freckly and British-accented as the scheming separated twins in the remake of the 60s Disney movie. Then contrast it with her dual roles as Aubrey Fleming and Dakota Moss in I Know Who Killed Me, a movie that didn’t so much mark a nadir in Lohan’s career as it did in modern civilisation itself. Worth it for the scene in which she has her electric leg charging in a wall socket though (I’m not making this up).

*Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

The legendary British actor plays no less than eight different members of the D’Ascoyne family – including a suffragette daughter – all of whom are killed off in a series of blackly entertaining ways such as a hot-air balloon crash and drinking poisoned port. How long before Eddie Murphy insists on a re-make?

*Eddie Murphy, The Nutty Professor (1996)

The motormouth comedian has made something of a career playing multiple roles – see Coming to America, Bowfinger, Vampire in Brooklyn, Norbit (erm, actually don’t see that one) – but arguably he did it best playing obese scientist Sherman Klump, five members of the Klump clan, and his own svelte lothario alter-ego Buddy Love. The dinner table scene, though crass and juvenile, can’t but make you laugh. Hercules! Hercules!

*Michael J Fox, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F Wilson in the Back to the Future Trilogy (1885 – 2015)

Knowing that Fox and his screen mum Thompson were the same age in real life – and Glover, Fox’s movie dad, was actually three years younger than his ‘son’ – only adds to the fun of seeing these young, talented 1980s stars playing different versions of themselves, past, present and future (same for Wilson who starred as bully Biff Tannen). Special mention should go to Fox, who, in Back to the Future Part II, played 1985 Marty, 1955 Marty, and the 2015 Marty, as well as Marty’s future son and daughter.

*Nicolas Cage, Adaptation (2002)

In what his perhaps Cage’s best screen performance, he takes on the dual role of a depressed, blocked screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman (only loosely based on the movie’s own screenwriter named, erm, Charlie Kaufman), and his fun identical twin Donald. Just when this movie – and reality – couldn’t get any stranger, Charlie Kaufman subsequently shared an Oscar nomination with his fictional brother Donald for Best Adapted Screenplay.

*Peter Sellers, Dr Strangelove (1964)

Sellers secured his place in movie history with what many regard as his signature performances in Stanley Kubrick’s pitch-black Cold War satire. The comic triple jobs as US President Merkin Muffley, as Captain Lionel Mandrake, and best of all, as the mysterious Dr Strangelove, a wheelchair-bound nuclear expert and one-time Nazi whose hand seems to have a National Socialist mind of its own.

*Kevin Kline, Dave (1993)

Is it just me or is this Ivan Reitman-directed romantic political comedy one of the most under-appreciated gems of the 90s? At any rate, Kline does a great job playing arrogant womanising US president Bill Mitchell and the titular lookalike who is asked to stand in when the real prez has a heart attack while attending to some, ahem, sticky business in the Oval Orifice…sorry, I mean office. That it has Sigourney Weaver as the First Lady and a young Laura Linney as Mitchell’s intern squeeze just sweetens the deal.

Words – Declan Cashin
THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE is now in cinemas