Gumdrop Lane

Just Dual It: Exploring Actors in Dual Roles

One of the best things a television show or film can do is get one actor to play multiple roles. It’s cost-effective, time-efficient and wonderful for both the actor and the audience. The actor gets to stretch their acting muscles and explore new facets to the world they inhabit. The audience gets more bang for their buck: they are lucky enough to see their favorite actor in duplicate or triplicate interacting with themselves and they  get to see their favorite character doing things they normally wouldn’t do.  There are so many fantastic examples of this, but here are a few of my personal favorites.

Everybody loves a twin – be it evil or simply drug-addled. On Arrested Development, George Sr. was revealed to have a twin brother, Oscar.

George Sr. was no angel, so Oscar can’t be considered a classic “evil twin”. However, Oscar is the true father of Buster Bluth, meaning he slept with his brother’s wife. So that’s pretty evil. Then again, George Sr. escaped from prison and didn’t step forward when they arrested Oscar, thinking it was him. These brothers are truly a case of being just bad guys in general. But they both have their charms. Jeffrey Tambor really brings it to the table in his dual role, with only a wig to serve as his disguise.

Next up is an actor who was able to show his fantastic range through playing a dual role. Who can forget Steve Urkel? Not me! And who can forget Stefan Urquelle? Some people! But not me.

In a memorable episode of Family Matters, Steve Urkel invents “Cool Juice”. Yes, a juice to make one cool. He becomes Stefan Urquelle, a suave and smooth man with good posture. Jaleel White probably was sick of playing a nerd and wanted to show he could be cool. And he did. He eventually turns back into Steve but at a later time takes “Boss Sauce”. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a sauce to make one boss. Laura even accepts a proposal from Stefan but, of course, realizes that Steve is who Stefan should really be. He should be his true self: a suspender-wearing, pants-hitching, Laura-obsessed-but-not-Laura-winning nerd. The point is that Jaleel does a great job of portraying both geek and chic.

Then we have almost identical cousins with which to contend. A perfect example of this is Murder, She Wrote.

Angela Lansbury shot for the stars with this one. She played Jessica Fletcher and her own cousin, Emma. Emma is a far cry from Jessica, as she is a glamorous British stage actress. They become involved when Emma fakes her own death, prompting Jessica to journey to England. Emma reveals she is alive but needs Jessica help, as someone is actually trying to murder her. And since there are no private investigators in the UK who could possibly match the skill and wits of an American mystery writer, Jessica readily agrees. Angela Lansbury shines, adding some much needed glitz and pizazz to Murder, She Wrote in this dazzling dual role.

When tackling the dual role beast, it is not unusual to play a member of one’s own family. What is unusual is playing a member of one’s own family who is the opposite sex! Welcome to the party, Michael J. Fox as he tackles the role of Marty and Marlene McFly.

In Back to the Future II, Michael J. Fox tackles playing the opposite gender with aplomb. He’s attractive both as a man and a lady. He’s able to explore new attitudes and expressions and does a bang-up job. Not only does he have to portray a female, but a female of the future. I applaud Michael for his daring and stellar execution of such a risky dual role.

And now, a classic and enduring example, The Parent Trap. We will be dealing with the superior Lindsay Lohan version, not the Hayley Mills.

Lindsay does here what none of are other dual rolers have done so far – sustain a whole movie acting against themselves. Lindsay accomplished quite a feat in playing twin sisters for the length of a feature film. This means she had to act against nobody in each scene and then go back and do the same scene, once again performing against nobody. She does a fantastic job portraying an American and  a Brit. She hits all the right notes and makes you believe two actresses are going head to head, when it’s really just one amazing Lindsay.

To conclude our investigation, there is a case of a character appearing in disguise and doing such a great job that none of the characters on the show even realize it’s her! This is of course Catherine from Twin Peaks.

Piper Laurie knocks it out of the park as she portrays both a woman and a man. The kicker is that it’s an Asian man, whereas she is a white lady. Nobody in town realizes it’s her because of her masterful disguise of putty-like facial prosthetics and accessories, as well as the deepening of her voice and her change of accent. It is so clearly not a ridiculous disguise in every way, shape and form. Not at all. This is my favorite dual role. Congratulations, Piper. You have playedYou deserve it.

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  • Rhea Isaacs

    “Superior Lindsay Lohan version”……

    Each to their own, I suppose! I grew up on the amazing Hayley Mills version, and it’s a million times better just for her awesome closet of clothes.

    • Laura Kadner

      I do enjoy the Hayley Mills, other than the puffity bangs/fluffy hair combo she has before she cuts her hair and all those sequels to The Parent Trap I never saw. But it’s always nice to see classic Lindsay. Also, I just love the whole Lindsay version cast.

  • Becca Robson

    Where’s Chris Lilley and Summer High Heights? :)

  • Mark Whitener

    Samantha/Serena on Bewitched was one of my favorites,.

  • Julia Hays

    These are some great examples, however I feel like their could be a flip side about dual roles gone wrong. Several Eddie Murphy films come to mind…

    • Laura Kadner

      Oh, I know! There’s just so many horrible cases to address…perhaps that’s up next.

  • Jill Mader

    There could definitely be a flip side to this, and I think the worst dual role ever is about to appear – I saw a trailer for an Adam Sandler movie where he’s going to play two roles, and it looked atrocious.

  • Shereen Hussain

    Wow, I’ve watched the Back to the Future trilogy a countless number of times, with II being my favourite. I can’t believe that I never realised, until I read it now, that Michael J. Fox was Marlene McFly!!!

  • Jessie Daniels

    Great list, but I just can’t take this seriously without Phoebe and Ursula from Friends.

    • Laura Kadner

      I know, I know! The case of Phoebe/Ursula sort of spanned two shows if you consider Ursula originally appeared on Mad About You. But I was bored by the half episode I once watched of Mad About You so I left it out….

  • Brianne Archer

    I figured you must be joking when you said you prefer the re-make of The Parent Trap. Hayley Mills is beyond amazing.

    What about the new ABC Family show “The Lying Game.” I don’t think we’ve identified a bad twin yet.

  • Billy Hicks

    Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills is the original; and ONLY Parent Trap! I loves me some Lindsay- but sorry!!

    And Lest we forget Hayley’s reprising role in Parent Trap: Hawaiian Honeymoon – le sigh

  • Mary Carole Maroney Dolce

    Hayley Mills all the way! Heck, I even named my oldest Hayley and spelled it with the extra Y simply because that was how Hayley Mills spells her name. Granted, I didn’t name her Hayley for Ms. Mills but the spelling was all because of her! The original Parent Trap was one of my ALL TIME favorite movies ever as a kid…okay fine, it still is! But yes, I do agree that the Lohan vesion has an exceptional cast!

  • Lauranell Grisham Sheflin

    One can’t forget the wonderful Max Baer Jr.’s dual roles as Jethro and his twin sister Jethrine!

  • Almie Rose

    “Next up is an actor who was able to show his fantastic range through playing a dual role. Who can forget Steve Urkel? Not me! And who can forget Stefan Urquelle? Some people! But not me.”


  • Almie Rose

    Oh my sweet lord at a glance I thought the main photo was Anna Karina…

  • Almie Rose


    • Laura Kadner

      I knooooooow BUT I wanted to focus on the far more hilarious white-lady-hiding-in-the-putty-body-of-an-Asian-man dual role. Also there’re are so many dual rolers I couldn’t tackle them all in one article. Perhaps there will be another so I can address the’ concerns over my Lohan Parent Trap preference and include some more greats I had to leave out.

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