14 Great Movie Moments Featuring Actors In Multiple Roles

By  · Published on November 15th, 2012

by David Christopher Bell

It’s got to be difficult enough to simply stand there in front of all those people and equipment and play costume make-believe. So that must go double the moment you’re asked to interact with anything that isn’t there, such as a big CGI dinosaur or any given Andy Serkis role.

Worse than that, there are also times when actors have to play both sides of a conversation. Not only do they have to pretend to interact with an imaginary role – but also play that imaginary role interacting right back at them.

It sounds complicated, so here are some of the best instances.

14. Arnold Schwarzenegger Tells Himself Off in Last Action Hero

It’s always comforting to find out that a particular actor happens to be self-aware. This was such a moment for Schwarzenegger, as the entire film is pretty much one big parody of his films. And who better to direct such a parody than action king John McTiernan, who has brought us such films as The Hunt For Red October, Predator, and Die Hard.

The scene in question involves actor Arnold Schwarzenegger meeting the brought-to-life fictional hero he portrays in the films. Once face-to-face, this character has only one thing to say to him, “Look, I don’t really like you… alright? You brought me nothing but pain.” It’s both funny and a little sad when you think about it for a few seconds too long.

13. The many, many Deep Roys in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

When it came to duplicating actor Deep Roy to play the 165 different Oompa Loompas in the Tim Burton adaptation, these guys did not mess around. You’d think the easy answer here is to CGI the shit out of it, and while that did happen quite a bit, Burton only wanted it as a last resort. That meant hours spent using small-scale sets, trick photography, and motion control cameras.

According to visual effects supervisor Nick Davis, they had to do roughly 3,000 motion control takes in order to get everything they needed. Holy hell. That’s 3,000 takes of Deep Roy dancing and singing in various positions, pretending to interact with himself.

12. Tom Lincoln meets Six Echo in The Island

It’s always really adorable when Michael Bay tries to put some kind of message in his films. It’s not that he’s terrible, but rather very commercial. Because of that it’s kind of hard not to giggle when his dark message of a Dystopian future is littered with ads for soda and cars, you know? Anyway – it’s good action, and a fun film overall.

In it, Ewan McGregor plays a naive clone who escapes with an equally naive Scarlett Johansson to find their human doppelgangers. When McGregor finally comes face-to-face with himself he is rather disappointed to learn that he is, in fact, a top-shelf wiener with a Scottish accent. What makes this all so fun is that for the role of Evil Tom Lincoln, McGregor is just using his actual, god-given accent.

11. The Michael Keaton Clones in Multiplicity

Ah, the 90s. It was a special time when comedies didn’t have to make any sense and Andie MacDowell was the romantic female lead in every single one. Seriously, her film before this one involved an angel-turned-matchmaker played by John Travolta. They really didn’t give a shit back then.

In this film, Michael Keaton plays a construction worker who, for some goddamn reason, is chosen by a mad scientist to clone multiple times without any sense of consequence. This dude just… invents cloning… and uses it one a construction worker he meets ONCE. That’s as much sense as the film needs to make, which is why it is so awesome.

We really need to bring this kind of shit back.

10. Borden/Fallon in The Prestige

Oh hey… right – spoilers. Damn it, it’s probably already ruined just by… reading… sorry. It turns out that Bale’s character Borden actually has an identical twin whose identity has been hidden through heavy makeup. The idea is that they constantly switch roles in order to throw people off.

This is pretty unique, because not only does Christian Bale play two versions of himself throughout the film, but also we don’t even realize it until the end. When you go back and re-watch the film, suddenly it all becomes clear. Suddenly, when Bale’s character tells Angier that he honestly doesn’t remember which knot he tied the day of his wife’s death… it actually means something. When his wife asks him if he loves him and he replies, “Not today.” Holy shit…

9. Francois Dillinger in Youth In Revolt

“Old, contemptuous of authority, and irresistible to women.”

Michael Cera is like salt water taffy; you either love it or can’t stand it, but either way you can’t deny how awkward it is. This is what made him perfect for Youth In Revolt, a film that follows an uncomfortable young man who feels the need to create an alternate personality to handle any and all emotional conflicts in his life. The result is Cera acting across a mustached version of himself, Dillinger, who takes all the risks that he wouldn’t.

It makes for a great film, watching two people interact and conflict with each other while knowing that they are actually just two sides to a personality. The best part has to be when Cera’s mild-mannered side is offered hallucinogenic mushrooms, and opts to only eat a few. Unfortunately, in walks Francois Dillinger who, never breaking eye contact, imbibes mouthfuls before delivering a deadpan, “Have fun.”

8. Dr. Evil vs. Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery

After his multiple roles in So I Married An Axe Murderer, it only made sense that Mike Myers step up his game. The result was three films that, despite each one featuring one more Myers character than the last one, seemed to incrementally decline in original humor.

Whatever your feelings on the sequels are, there’s no denying how funny the first one was, and how fun it was to watch Mike Myers battle against himself. Dr. Evil is no doubt one of the more iconic comedic characters of the past few decades.

And hey – if you are a fan you might be happy to learn that they are still figuring out how to pull off a fourth film. Personally though, it would be nice to see Myers try has hand at something that doesn’t require a bunch of shit on his face and a Scottish accent for once.

Read on!

7. The Inventor’s Six Clones in The City Of Lost Children

Dominique Pinon is clearly director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s go-to guy, and it’s not hard to see why. The dude is just interesting to look at, and can pretty much fill any role you need him to fill – be it your average coffee shop patron who is just looking for a little love or a paraplegic space mechanic alien-fighter, he can be dreadfully normal or awesomely weird. In this case, bunch of clones.

It’s funny… with all the clones, floating brains, children stealing, steampunk Borg people, all that crazy shit. With all that, the only lingering thought I never fail to walk away with is the question as to how in the world Ron Perlman ended up in this movie. Isn’t he from New York? The hell, Ron? I mean, I’m not complaining – and it totally was a good call on your end, but how did this happen? He doesn’t even speak French.

6. Sam 1 and Sam 2 in Moon

I was pretty much sold on this film the moment I learned it was directed by the son of the Thin White Duke, so it was especially delightful when the film also turned out to be really goddamned good.

With a five million dollar budget and a cast that you can almost count with one hand – the film is the best kind of sci-fi there is: minimal. After all, the best way to preserve the wonder of outer space is to savor it, not flaunt it. Most importantly of course, the story has to come first. Because of this, Moon does a great job at bringing back all the things that made old school sci-fi so fantastic, down to the costumes.

Roughly 80 percent of this thing is Sam Rockwell talking to himself – and by “himself” I mean an actual clone of himself. Considering the fact that they only shot the thing in 33 days, there was very little room to have fun with the role. The remedy was apparently in rehearsals, Rockwell would practice with a friend and director Duncan Jones would take note of any ad-libs and add them into the shooting script.

5. The Kaufman Brothers in Adaptation

There are many who consider this to be the best (and arguably the only) instance of Nicolas Cage acting. It’s kind of hard to tell considering how batshit insane the movie is. Adaptation is literally one of a kind, a film that only a screenwriter can truly appreciate; it lampoons all the tropes and structures that come with the craft. On top of that, the film appears to be sentient of its own existence.

Cage clearly knew he was onto something when he signed on, as he took a substantial pay cut to play the role. That said – he also wore a fat suit, which means that this film was > money, but < being fat. Fair enough.

4. “Cousins” in Coffee And Cigarettes

Coffee And Cigarettes is by far the coolest movie ever made, and by “cool,” I mean hip, stylish – like those people who would stand in the High School parking lot before class. You want to be friends with this film, because doing so makes you a cooler person.

The film was shot over 17 years and features some of the strangest match ups ever – my personal favorite probably being Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. The segment “Cousins” stands out as the only conversation that is between one actor playing two roles – Cate Blanchett as both herself, and a fictional cousin named Shelly.

The entire conversation, like most in the film, is delightfully awkward and even a bit unflattering. Blanchett made sure to pay close attention when it came to creating subtle differences between her and her cousin in terms of height, voice, and even breast size. In an interview between her and Jim Jarmusch, the director even revealed that many people didn’t even realize they were looking at the same person. Even Life Aquatic co-star Bill Murray thought there were two actresses.

3. Patricia and Kate in A Stolen Life

Double Bette Davis. Awesome.

This film showcases one of the many perks of having a twin: if one of you dies, then the other can just fill in. It really is like having an understudy for life, isn’t it? And if your dead twin had a shittier life than you then whatever – just dump them and move on. There’s no downside here.

Watching Davis act out a scene with herself and knowing that this film was made in the 40s is pretty damn amazing. There are times where you simply cannot see the seams. In fact – the moment when Davis lights and hands a match over to her double is, for lack of a better word, flawless.

2. Everyone in Back To The Future Part II

While we’re on the subject of flawless, anyone see this Back To The Future film? It’s got that kid from Family Ties in it and I have to say – it’s a pretty neat flick. Kind of raised me, actually.

The second film goes out of its way to flaunt an ability to double up actors in a single shot as they play older and younger versions of themselves. This was especially groundbreaking for any moving shots, which implemented a never before used motion control camera called VistaGlide.

Watching the actors interact with each other, it’s especially fun to find the points of transition. Biff will walk behind a window and suddenly become a double; Marty will grab and hold onto himself – keeping his arms just out of frame. It’s very sneaky, and is yet another reason to watch this film as many times as humanly possible.

1. Buster Keaton’s Dream in The Playhouse

Not a difficult choice. The first six minutes of this film involves roughly 20 different characters, all dancing and talking and playing music together, and all of them exclusively played by Buster Keaton.

At one point he even performs a dance number as nine different people on stage – a feat accomplished by cameraman Elgin Lessley building a special shutter made out of nine strips of metal that could be moved up and down, exposing different parts of the frame. He would then do a take, rewind the film, change the exposure, and do another take at the exact same speed. Keep in mind that this was the 20s, and they were cranking that shit.

No matter what angle… acting, dancing, creative, technical, it’s a pretty freaking amazing act of filmmaking. Hell, it’s almost enough to ignore the incredibly cringe-inducing use of blackface (but not quite).

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