Actors who have played two roles in one movie include some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Nicolas Cage, Eddie Murphy, and Cate Blanchett are just three examples of major stars who have portrayed identical twins, doppelgangers, or doubles onscreen. Actors love to do this kind of thing, because it offers a real challenge, especially if the story requires them to act opposite themselves.
The effect has been around for a long time. Technology allowed it as far back as the '20s, but the camera had to remain static. Modern tech allows for camera movement, which opens up greater opportunities for what can be done. Actors can move around or even physically interact with themselves. Of course, the performances are what truly sell the illusion. When you have someone who fundamentally understands what to do with the scenario, magic can happen.
Below is a selection of the best performances in double-role movies. The rules are simple: The actors can only have played two characters, both of whom are vital to the plot, and they have to deliver high-quality work. Your vote will determine which one rises to the top.
- 1104 VOTESPhoto: Buena Vista Pictures
Christian Bale holds a unique place on this list, in that you don't know he's playing two characters in The Prestige until near the end. The whole movie is about a magician named Alfred Borden who gets into a game of perpetual one-upmanship with another magician, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman). Much of their rivalry revolves around a trick called "The Transported Man" that, as its name suggests, allows Borden to be magically - and impossibly - moved from one side of the stage to the other instantaneously.
The film's twist finale reveals that Borden has accomplished this by having his twin brother Freddy assist him; the two switch back and forth between being Alfred, and being Alfred's (heavily disguised) assistant, Bernard Fallon. The Prestige dives into the concept of misdirection in magic. It's how magicians distract the audience, allowing them to miss little details that would otherwise reveal how the trick works. Bale (and writer/director Christopher Nolan) engages in some misdirection of his own in the film, giving first-time viewers a genuine shock at the end.Double the fun?
- 2131 VOTESPhoto: Sony Pictures Classics
Sam Rockwell stars in Moon as Sam Bell, a lonely astronaut in space who is mining gas for a company back on Earth. After a mishap in his lunar vehicle, he returns to the space station and is surprised to discover someone else there: a clone of himself. Although technically the same person, one Sam is a little older than the other. Their perspectives are often varied as a result. Nevertheless, the two work together once they realize the company is up to something suspicious.
Because there are virtually no other actors in Moon, Rockwell has to act opposite himself. He's so good that the trick proves seamless, and the story pulls you in. Just as impressively, he ensures we can always distinguish Sam I from Sam II from personality alone.Double the fun?
- 365 VOTESPhoto: Columbia Pictures
Nicolas Cage plays twins in Spike Jonze's Adaptation - one real, the other fictional. If that sounds loopy, welcome to a movie that makes you enjoy the act of having your head spin. One of the twins is Charlie Kaufman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He's been hired to adapt Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief, but a bad case of writer's block is preventing him from doing the job. Cage is also Charlie's brother Donald, who has lots of ideas on how to adapt the book, none of which his more artistically minded sibling likes.
Adaptation is both the meta result of creative struggle - having been written by Kaufman about his own attempts to adapt The Orchid Thief - and a film that explicitly details the creative struggle. Charlie is all about sophistication in storytelling, whereas Donald likes action scenes and special effects. Cage inhabits both sides fully, making the twins' battle of art-versus-commerce endlessly pleasurable to watch play out.Double the fun?
- Photo: Universal Pictures
The Dark Mirror uses the idea of twins in a most intriguing way. Thomas Mitchell stars as Lt. Stevenson, a cop looking into the slaying of a doctor. Witnesses saw the doc's girlfriend Terry (Olivia de Havilland) at the scene of the crime. But she's got an identical twin named Ruth (also de Havilland), who could just as easily be the guilty party. Stevenson has to determine which of the sisters might be responsible for committing the act.
Obviously, the film is a guessing game in which you don't know who's guilty or, sometimes, which sister is which. De Havilland plays Terry and Ruth in such a way that you genuinely aren't sure who the culprit is. There's a mysteriousness to her performances that fuels the plot and makes it tick like clockwork.Double the fun?