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Actors You Didn't Realize Played The Same Character

November 11, 2020 65 votes 15 voters15 items

List RulesVote up the coolest examples of two actors playing the same person.

Studying actors who played the same role offers the opportunity to see how approaches vary, and to compare very different takes on the same character. You can study what the individual stars bring, or how they find their own angles to come at the part. In some cases, one actor might do something brilliant, while the other is weak. Other times, you get lucky and see two really unique, effective takes. 

The reasons for the "same character different actor" phenomenon are varied. It can be because the same source material was adapted for the screen more than once. Another reason is that occasionally actors play a real person in separate films. A few cases on this list are even kind of bizarre coincidences. In almost every instance, though, one of the performances is better-known than the other. 

Whatever the reason, we suspect you either don't know or don't remember that these famous folks played the same character onscreen. Vote up the connections you think are coolest.

  • 1

    Bruce Willis And Frank Sinatra ('Die Hard' / 'The Detective')

    Die Hard is the movie that turned Bruce Willis from a TV actor into a hall-of-fame action hero. He plays John McClane, an NYC cop in Los Angeles, trying to rescue his wife from a team of terrorists that has taken over a high-rise office building. The film is based on the 1979 Roderick Thorpe novel Nothing Lasts Forever. Some of the details have been changed, such as the hero's name, as well as the family member he's trying to save. On the page, cop Joe Leland attempts to rescue his daughter.

    Altering those details makes it difficult to recognize Die Hard's direct connection to another film. Nothing Lasts Forever is a sequel to Thorpe's book The Detective, which was turned into a 1968 movie of the same name starring Frank Sinatra as Leland. He investigates the slaying of a gay man and exposes a major cover-up in the process. 

    This means that, even though the name was changed for Die Hard, Willis is essentially playing the same New York cop that Sinatra played in The Detective. The earlier film just shows what Leland/McClane was up to before that fateful trip to the West Coast.

    Cool actor connection?
  • 2

    Matt Damon And John Malkovich ('The Talented Mr. Ripley' / 'Ripley's Game')

    In 1999, Matt Damon gave one of his definitive performances as Tom Ripley, the psychopathic lead character of The Talented Mr. Ripley. The movie was based on Patricia Highsmith's novel, which was the first of four to feature the character. Actor Alain Delon previously played Ripley in Purple Noon, a 1960 French/Italian picture loosely inspired by the same book. Those castings make sense when considered together. Damon was a young, handsome actor, just like Delon was at the time his film came out.

    Tom Ripley was not done appearing onscreen, however. A more unlikely actor, John Malkovich, portrayed him in Ripley's Game, a 2002 movie based on the third installment of Highsmith's series. Audiences accustomed to Damon's performance may not have been aware that Malkovich was playing the same guy, just years later in life. That's especially true given that Ripley's Game was an independent film that didn't score a wide release, whereas The Talented Mr. Ripley was a hit from a major studio.

    Cool actor connection?
  • 3

    Tobey Maguire And Paul Rudd ('The Great Gatsby' / 'The Great Gatsby' TV Movie)

    In Baz Lurhmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the title character. It is Tobey Maguire's Nick Carraway, though, who is the overall protagonist of the story. He's a writer who becomes fascinated by the grandiose lifestyle of mysterious and enigmatic millionaire Jay Gatsby, only to become somewhat disenchanted in the end. Maguire got some of the best reviews of his career for his work.

    Thirteen years before that 2013 film, there was a BBC-produced television movie of The Great Gatsby. In this version, which aired on the A&E network in America, Nick Carraway was portrayed by none other than Paul Rudd. If the casting seems a little unlikely now, keep in mind that Rudd was not yet the comedy superstar we know him as today. He was an up-and-coming actor known primarily for Clueless (inspired by Jane Austen's Emma) and another Baz Luhrmann/Leonardo DiCaprio production, Romeo + Juliet.

    Cool actor connection?
  • 4

    Samuel L. Jackson And Mos Def ('Jackie Brown' / 'Life of Crime')

    Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown is based on Elmore Leonard's crime novel Rum Punch. Samuel L. Jackson plays Ordell Robbie, a gun runner and all-around sleazy guy. He gets the title character, played by Pam Grier, into a pinch when she's nabbed by the ATF while smuggling cash for him. Any time Jackson and Tarantino work together, it yields gold, and Jackie Brown provided the actor with one of his signature roles. He was required to go "big," and he delivered.

    Sixteen years later, actor/rapper Yasiin Bey (better known as Mos Def) played Ordell Robbie in Life of Crime. This movie is an adaptation of another Leonard book, The Switch, that takes place before Rum Punch but features characters who would reappear in that later novel. Bey received good reviews for his work. Andrew O'Hehir of Salon wrote that he "draws your attention whenever he’s on-screen, and also captures Ordell with considerable subtlety, as a guy who’s both irresistible and untrustworthy." Nevertheless, few people saw his performance, as Life of Crime fizzled at the box office, earning just $1.1 million domestically.

    Incidentally, in Life of Crime, John Hawkes plays Louis Gara, the character Robert De Niro portrayed in Jackie Brown, while Isla Fisher takes over for Bridget Fonda in the role of surfer chick Melanie.

    Cool actor connection?