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Actors You Didn't Realize Played The Same Character

November 11, 2020 1.0k votes 191 voters 39.8k views15 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.

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  • 1

    Johnny Depp And Bill Murray ('Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' / 'Where the Buffalo Roam')

    Johnny Depp seemed born to play gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Aside from the fact that the two were friends in real life, Depp's ability to embody quirky, larger-than-life characters made him a natural for someone so idiosyncratic. Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on Thompson's beloved book, gave him that opportunity, and Depp delivered a full-bodied, suitably outrageous performance that captured its subject's ability to create mayhem wherever he went.

    Before Depp, another famous name played Thompson. The 1980 film Where the Buffalo Roam cast Bill Murray as the Rolling Stone writer. While Depp may have done a better job playing the exaggerated way Thompson portrayed himself on the page, Murray did a better job playing the actual man. The movie is about Thompson's rise to prominence during the 1970s and therefore has a sense of realism in its storytelling. Fear and Loathing, on the other hand, is intentionally structured to replicate the drug trip Thompson and his "lawyer" were on during their visit to Nevada.

    Neither movie was a blockbuster, although Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has amassed a cult audience over the years.

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  • 2

    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.

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  • 3

    Ray Liotta And Steve Martin ('Goodfellas' / 'My Blue Heaven')

    Released in September 1990, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas is considered to be the definitive gangster movie, equaled only by Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill, a guy who grows up idolizing the mob and eventually works his way up the ranks. After getting inextricably entangled in all manner of crimes, Hill turns into an FBI informant, ratting out his cohorts and going into the witness protection program. Goodfellas is based on Wiseguy, author Nicholas Pileggi's biography of Hill. 

    One month before that picture's release, in August 1990, another movie based on Wiseguy hit theaters, and it could not have been more different in tone. My Blue Heaven is a goofy comedy that stars Steve Martin as Vincent "Vinnie" Antonelli, a former mobster who enters the witness protection program after - you guessed it - ratting out his cohorts. Whereas Liotta's character is a dangerous, substance-addicted guy, Martin's is a mischievous troublemaker.

    How did we end up with two radically different versions of Hill's tale? The answer is simple. My Blue Heaven was written by Nora Ephron, the late comedy writer who just happened to be married to Pileggi.

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  • 4

    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.

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