Having one actor play two characters is a gamble – and as these movies show, it doesn’t always pay off.
When it comes to creating a critically or financially successful movie, filmmakers and actors alike will often employ a variety of different gimmicks to differentiate their particular work from the rest of the pack. And one somewhat common way of trying to make a movie more unique and appealing is to employ one actor to play more than one role in a particular film. But of course, this is a gag that can either work out very well or very poorly, depending on the actor and movie.
Some of the most iconic performances of all time are of an actor who is performing two roles in one movie, and some of the most cringe worthy performances are of an actor performing two roles in one project as well. Will Smith may be the latest and greatest actor to pull this move in his new film Gemini Man, but he’s hardly the first and won’t be the last. So here’s the 6 best times an actor pulled double duty, along with the 4 worst.
Best: Gene Wilder As Claude And Philippe
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the 1970 film Start the Revolution Without Me, you really don’t know what you’re missing. This period piece comedy is about two sets of twins. One is born into a family of French aristocrats and the other is born to peasants, but when no one can tell which pair belongs to who they hand off one from each set to each pair of parents. Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland play the switched at birth twins, and while both actors give spectacular and hilarious performances it’s pretty tough to get any better than Gene Wilder when it comes to comedy.
Worst: Tyler Perry As Daddy Charles And Madea
Obviously a big part of the gag with the character of Madea is that Tyler Perry is so clearly a man in drag, but honestly, it’s a one-trick pony laugh that has gotten old over the course of half a dozen movies.
The fact that the multi character performances are all supposed to be so bad they’re cringe is built into Diary of a Mad Black Woman and beyond, but if a bad performance was a part of Tyler Perry’s goal then he can rest easy knowing that his goal has been achieved. It’s an old trick that a lot of male comic performers love to pull, and it’s never very funny.
Best: Jack Nicholson As President Dale And Art Land
Jack Nicholson is indisputably one of the greatest film actors in history, so it comes as no surprise that when he took on the two roles of President James Dale and sleazy Las Vegas resident Art Land in the Tim Burton classic Mars Attacks! that he killed it in both roles. Watching Jack play the strait-laced president of the United States when Martians invade was definitely entertaining in its own right, but his turn as the repulsive and unappealing casino owner Art Land really brought some extra dimension and humor to this super stylized and silly alien invasion film.
Worst: Armie Hammer As The Winklevoss Twins
In all fairness to Armie Hammer, his performances as Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss weren’t actually bad acting performances by themselves. Where these characters and performances in The Social Network fell short was in the fact that Cameron and Tyler seem to be completely indistinguishable from one another. Yes, they’re twins, and yes, they’re being played by the same actor, but anyone who knows identical twins in real life knows that even if they’re doppelgangers they still seem like different people. The Winklevoss twins really needed to be tweaked enough so the audience could at least tell who was who.
Best: Mike Myers As Austin Powers And Dr. Evil
There seems to be a bit of a trend among successful comedians and comic film stars to take on more than one role in a film, and it unfortunately seems to work against the film instead of for it in most instances. However, that is definitely not the case when it comes to Mike Myers in Austin Powers.
His campy send up of the classic James Bond style spy character is hysterical, and his performance as the cat-stroking villain Dr. Evil is equally hilarious. The Austin Powers films were some of the most iconic comedy films of their era, and it’s easy to see why.
Best: Nicolas Cage As Castor Troy And Sean Archer
If there is one thing that needs to be respected about the classic John Woo action movie Face/Off, it’s the movie’s ability to lean in as far as possible to its own absurdity. The movie is about a famed terrorist and high ranking cop who surgically trade their faces, and by some miracle, the movie manages to be even crazier than its premise makes it sound. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage play the face swapping leads, and while both of them do a stand up job of switching characters it’s Nicolas Cage who has the slight edge over John Travolta’s performance.
Worst: Adam Sandler As Jack And Jill Sadelstein
The long running TV series Saturday Night Live seems to be a feeder show for some of the most successful comic film actors of all time, with Adam Sandler being one of many of those skit comedy show actors who went on to become a superstar. But one unfortunate thing that so many SNL alums don’t seem to realize is that a funny gag that can work long enough for a five minute long skit is not a gag that can be sustained over the course of an entire movie. It would have been great if someone had let Sandler know this before making Jack and Jill, though.
Best: Lindsay Lohan As Annie And Hallie
Playing two characters in one movie is a really tough gig for even the most seasoned of actors, which is why it’s even more insanely impressive that Lindsay Lohan managed to believably play a set of long lost twins when she was only a little kid herself in the remake of the classic film The Parent Trap.
Hayley Mills (the OG actress in the first iteration of The Parent Trap) deserves mad props too, but the fact that Lindsay convincingly played Annie and Hallie, an uptight English girl who comes face to face with her tomboyish American twin at summer camp, is quite an accomplishment.
Worst: Scarlett Johansson As Sarah Jordan/Jordan Two Delta
Not to be incredibly savage towards one of the most successful actresses in the entertainment industry world today, but Scarlett Johansson fails to play one character believably in this action flick, let alone two. The Island is an often and understandably forgotten Michael Bay film that focuses on a bunch of clones that have been created as organ donors for the rich people who have commissioned them, and Ewan McGregor along with Scarlett play two escapees just trying to survive. Ewan does a good enough job, but Scarlett just falls short.
Best: Peter Sellers As Dr. Strangelove/President Muffley/Captain Mandrake
Many actors have demonstrated their incredible range by playing multiple characters in the same movie, but anyone who has ever seen the Stanley Kubrick classic Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb will know that it’s pretty much impossible to beat Peter Sellers. Sellers actually plays three of the main characters in the movie, and although the costuming and styling department deserves a lot of credit for this too, Sellers is barely recognizable as the same person in each individual role. Peter clearly defines what it means to be a character actor, and this movie along with these performances were his magnum opus.