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Two Roles, One Star: A Brief History of Double Performances

on November 18, 2015, 3:00pm

Thomas F. Wilson

Back to the Future Part II (1989)


Boy, oh boy, did Back to the Future Part II let Thomas F. Wilson have fun or what? In addition to letting Wilson reprise 1955 Biff (the original and best Biff, if we’re being honest), it also let him don old age makeup to play a Donald Trump-ified version of Middle-Aged Biff and then don even more old age makeup to play Grandpa Biff — quite possibly, in my opinion, the most evil of all Biffs.

And then there’s Griff Tannen, a descendant of Biff’s who shows while the apple may not fall far from the tree, it will, for some reason, begin wearing a muffin tin on its head. Doubling up on roles is typically a way for actors to show their range, but Wilson’s not trying to wow the Academy here. If anything, he’s having a riot giving this run-of-the-mill bully his own supervillain origin story.

Fun fact: Michael J. Fox also plays two roles: Marty McFly and his future daughter, Marlene. That’s pretty heavy.

Best Performance? Nothing beats Classic Biff. The scene where he steals a kid’s basketball and throws it on a nearby roof is bullying at its most hilarious.

–Randall Colburn


Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson

Dead Again (1991)

dead again Two Roles, One Star: A Brief History of Double Performances

Dead Again is an under-appreciated Hitchcockian thriller that focuses on reincarnation, second chances, and love, sweet love. Director Kenneth Branagh was hot off the success of his Henry V film adaptation and decided to scale back considerably for his follow-up set in LA. He plays two roles: a famous German composer (Roman) in the flashback sequences and a down-on-his-luck detective (Mike) in the modern setting. There is a twist, and it’s a fun one.

Joining him in his dual roles is Emma Thompson as a pianist (Margaret) in the flashbacks and a woman with amnesia (Amanda) in the present. While the movie is a take on reincarnation, all is not what it appears to be. The British Branagh goes German and American while the just-as-British Thompson takes on American as well. The results of their attempted accents are mixed, but the chemistry between the two, no matter the era, is undeniable (they were married at the time).

Best Performance? Branagh’s Mike has a wonky American accent, but is the more effective of the two roles. Thompson has a lot more to work with as Amanda than the long-suffering wife to Roman, Margaret. Basically, color wins and black-and-white loses.

–Justin Gerber


Kevin Kline

Dave (1993)

dave kevin kline Two Roles, One Star: A Brief History of Double Performances

Ivan Reitman’s Dave is a cutesy, idealistic sort of political farce (Kevin Kline, while pretending to be the American President, drags in Charles Grodin to cut the budget a little. Ha). But Kline, ever the charmer, sold the hell out of this 1993 dramedy about a blue-collar schmo stuck in what’s basically the hardest job in the entire U.S. of A.

Kline played Dave Kovic, a temp agency runner in DC who moonlights as a body double for a lame, amorous president, Bill Mitchell. As Mitchell, Kline yucked it up as a lame duck politician more interested in having affairs and showing up at car dealerships than actually legislating. But when Mitchell has a stroke, Kovic becomes a long-term alternative, faking president.

To everybody’s surprise, Kovic does a really nice job and actually makes a difference while meeting up with glorified cameos like Oliver Stone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Paul Simon. It’s the ultimate outsider dream (co-opted by dumb-dumb political hopefuls everywhere): sometimes, it’s the outsider than can get things done. Kline actually seemed to be a likable leader of the people here.

Best Performance? Sure, you’re supposed to like Dave and his Capra-esque presidential goodness, but come on. As cowboy prez Bill Mitchell, Kevin Kline gets to be a yahoo that rides a pig like an elected jackass! It is way more fun to abuse power, right?

–Blake Goble


Eddie Murphy

Bowfinger (1999)

eddie murphy bowfinger Two Roles, One Star: A Brief History of Double Performances

Bowfinger was the last movie I saw with my friends before heading out to college.

Nostalgia aside, how about the hype surrounding this movie? It appeared to be another step towards the “adult” comedies of Eddie Murphy’s youth while maintaining his knack for playing multiple roles. Bowfinger wasn’t the hit either he or co-star/writer Steve Martin hoped it would be, but it isn’t without its merits. Murphy’s portrayal of Jiff, look-alike of a movie star also played by Murphy, is all nerd without becoming stereotype. Watch his audition and try not to laugh. It’s impossible.

What gets in the way of Bowfinger is a weak stab at Scientology through the film’s MindHead cult and a plot that wears thin before the halfway point. Perhaps if Jiff received more screen time we would have received a different kind of movie and, more importantly, a funnier one.

Best Performance Jiff all the way. Murphy’s Kit Ramsey isn’t much fun, despite the actor’s portrayal of the paranoid, brainwashed character.

–Justin Gerber


Nicolas Cage

Adaptation (2002)

nicolas cage1 e1447792730155 Two Roles, One Star: A Brief History of Double Performances

Nicolas Cage masterfully delineated each side of a person’s brain through his two-part performance as scribe brothers, Charlie and Donald Kaufman.

On one side, you have respected head-gamer script whiz Charlie Kaufman. His hair’s thinning, his inner monologue is desperately tangential, and he’s in a rut over how to cope with the impossible task of writing a screenplay based on a book about, well, orchid flowers. He is panic, he is logic, he is human worry and the day-to-day struggle of just being. By default, Charlie’s kind of a left brainer, completely aware of himself, rationalizing fears.

On the right side, somewhat, is Donald. Dopey, pot-bellied Donald Kaufman. He’s going to be a screenwriter, too, guys! He promises. Actually, he’s kind of falling into writing, but what a spec script he’s got in his arms: It’s got chases on horseback, twists, and could be stupid lucrative to a studio looking to produce a low-budget (low-brow) thriller. He’s just kind of in a constant state of play — sweetly naïve, coasting, but loveably cheerful.

Cage embraced and embodied (with a small arsenal of prosthetics and wigs) the brothers Kaufman, creating two highly insightful performances that represented two sides of thinking, on well, everything. The Kaufmans aren’t just two diametrically opposed writer brothers; they show us how to balance fantasy and reality in the everyday.

Best Performance? Yeah, yeah, everybody loves Donald. Everybody always loves a party-boy brother, a well-intentioned oaf, but he’s frankly the less complicated half of the brothers Kaufman. Cage’s Charlie Kaufman, dribbled in sweat and creative, existential angst got Cage his incredibly well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

–Blake Goble