20 actors who played multiple roles on the same show
Playing multiple characters at once
No, you're not seeing double. It's just that sometimes multiple characters on the same TV show will be played by the same actor. Sometimes this is done for story reasons (some shows are even built around it), but other times it's for the sake of expediency or just a total accident. Though not an exhaustive list, here's our roundup of 20 actors who have pulled double (or triple, or quadruple) duty on a single show.
Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True
Earlier this month, HBO announced that Mark Ruffalo will be playing identical twins in the upcoming limited series I Know This Much Is True, based on the novel of the same name by Derek Cianfrance. As if the two roles weren't enough by itself, the show will also be jumping around in time to various points in the brothers' lives.
Paul Rudd, Living With Yourself
Paul Rudd was double-billed on the recent Netflix show he produced, starring as both Miles Elliot and Miles Elliot's clone.
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Tobias Menzies, Outlander
Perhaps the eeriest element of Outlander's time travel is the strong familial resemblance between Frank Randall, the 20th-century husband of Claire (Catriona Balfe), and his ancestor Black Jack Randall, the terror of 18th-century Scotland.
Nina Dobrev, The Vampire Diaries
Originally, it was something of a mystery why the Salvatore vampire brothers were so attracted to young orphan Elena Gilbert. Eventually it became clear that Elena was a doppelganger of Katherine Pierce, the vampire who originally turned Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder). As a result, for multiple seasons Dobrev was playing both the primary hero and main villain of the show.
In time it was revealed that both Elena and Katherine are themselves doppelgangers of Amara, the original immortal woman. Dobrev played another doppelganger of that same line, Tatia, in the spin-off series The Originals.
James Franco, The Deuce
The title of The Deuce, David Simon's HBO show about the Golden Age of Porn, has multiple meanings. On the most basic level, it recalls an old nickname for 42nd Street in Times Square (a major hub of that era) but also refers to star James Franco pulling double duty as twin brothers: bartender Vincent Martino and gambler Frankie Martino.
D'Arcy Carden, The Good Place
D'Arcy Carden started The Good Place as Janet, an indispensable guide to the show's wacky afterlife. But just as the Good Place has its opposite in the Bad Place, so too does Janet have an evil equivalent: Bad Janet, who loves texting and hates being helpful. But things got even crazier later on in the show, when everyone became Janet.
Jaleel White, Family Matters
As Steve Urkel, Jaleel White embodied the archetypal nerd — complete with huge glasses, annoying voice, and unrequited crush. But eventually Steve used his nerdy smarts to invent technology capable of transforming himself into a more suave alter ego: Stefan Urquelle.
Garret Dillahunt, Deadwood
It's a testament to Garret Dillahunt's abilities as a character actor that he managed to play two completely different characters over the course of Deadwood's run, without any real connection between them. In season 1 he was Jack McCall, the killer of Wild Bill Hickok. But the actor returned in season 2 as Francis Wolcott, chief geologist for the Hearst mining operation with a penchant for murdering prostitutes.
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
As John Locke, Terry O'Quinn was one of the defining characters on Lost — certainly one of the first Oceanic Flight 815 survivors to embrace the mystical qualities of the Island. But in the final seasons, Locke's form was stolen by the Man in Black, who used it to taunt the other survivors as he made his final plans.
Funny enough, this wasn't even O'Quinn's first time doing double-time on a show. He also played multiple characters over the course of The X-Files, though they were much less prominent.
Ali Larter, Heroes
Even in season 1 of Heroes it felt like Ali Larter was portraying two different characters, because loving mom Niki Saunders could only access her super-strength when her alternate personality "Jessica" was in control. But Niki's death at the end of season 2 didn't stop Larter from starring in season 3. This time she was playing Tracy Strauss, a separated-at-birth identical sibling of Niki's with the power to manipulate ice and cold.
Donald Glover, Atlanta
As the creator, star, and showrunner of Atlanta, Donald Glover's presence is all over the critically-acclaimed FX dramedy, usually in the form of protagonist Earn. But he went a step further in season 2, putting on whiteface to portray the ethereal Teddy Perkins character who almost succeeds in killing Lakeith Stanfield's Darius.
Peter Capaldi, Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi is a lifelong Doctor Who fan, so it's easy to imagine him leaping at the chance to play Roman official Caecilius in "The Fires of Pompeii" episode during the run of David Tennant's Tenth Doctor. Who could've predicted that a few years later Capaldi would return to the show, this time to play the Twelfth Doctor?
Funnily enough, "The Fires of Pompeii" also featured a minor role by Karen Gillan, who would also return to the show (though sooner than Capaldi) to portray the Doctor's companion Amy Pond.
Patton Oswalt, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
A classic concept in Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. comics is the "Life Model Decoy," robots that could stand in for VIPs like Nick Fury. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. replicated the effect in a very organic way in the form of the three Koenig brothers, all played by Patton Oswalt. Eric Koenig was the first, and helped play an instrumental role in saving Phil Coulson and his team from the HYDRA coup in the back half of season 1. But after Eric was killed by a HYDRA sleeper, Oswalt returned in the roles of his identical brothers Sam and Billy, who carried on their late brother's upbeat attitude, video game obsession, and steadfast guarding of secret spy bases.
In the most recent season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., star Clark Gregg also got to try playing multiple characters. In the wake of Coulson's death, Gregg returned to the show as Sarge, a mysterious man from another dimension with strange ties to Coulson.
Yael Grobglas, Jane the Virgin
As if playing devious schemer Petra Solano wasn't enough, Yael Grobglas started pulling double duty once Petra's long-lost twin sister Anezka Archuletta showed up.
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld
Jeffrey Wright is the face of Westworld, at least in season 1. Whenever Bernard takes his glasses off because he can't understand the data he's getting from one of the hosts, it's a representation of every viewer trying to decipher the complex plot mechanics. Eventually we learned his face was even more important than that: Bernard himself is a host, made in the image of Westworld co-founder Arnold, who appeared in some crucial flashbacks.
Jerry Orbach, Law & Order
Jerry Orbach's first appearance on Law & Order came during the season 2 episode "The Wages of Love," where he played a defense attorney named Frank Lehrmann. Little could anyone have guessed that Orbach would return to the show a year later to begin his iconic run as Detective Lennie Briscoe.
Lisa Kudrow, Friends
Friends had a lot of guest stars, but it also wasn't afraid to give its core cast multiple characters to play. Lisa Kudrow played both Phoebe Buffay and Phoebe's twin sister Ursula Buffay, who first appeared on Mad About You.
This dynamic lasted longer than the one episode where David Schwimmer pulled double duty as Rachel's new boyfriend Russ.
Sheryl Lee, Twin Peaks
For most actors, playing a dead body would be the end of their time on a show. But the death of Laura Palmer in the first episode of Twin Peaks was just the beginning of Sheryl Lee's work on the franchise. Later in the first season, Laura's identical (albeit brunette) cousin Maddy Ferguson showed up to help with the investigation. Lee expanded on the role of Laura in the movie prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. In the 2017 revival Twin Peaks: The Return, Lee played Carrie Page, whose resemblance to Laura Palmer was a source of fascination to Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).
Martin Lawrence, Martin
Martin Lawrence's titular sitcom featured him in the starring role of Detroit radio DJ Martin Payne, but he also channeled his comedic talents into other characters like Sheneneh Jenkins, martial arts expert Dragonfly Jones, his own character's mother Mama Payne, and more. It certainly set the standard for comedic successors like The Kroll Show.