The recent return to our screens of Orphan Black has given the world another chance to appreciate the amazing acting skills of Tatiana Maslany, who manages to juggle many different roles as various different clones of herself. It’s a task that’s won her a faithful fanbase, if not the acting awards she so richly deserves, but it should be noted that Maslany is merely taking a tried-and-tested trope of one actor being multiple roles in the same movie or TV show to new levels. Here are some of the high- (and low-) lights of those giants on whose shoulders she’s standing, all ready for you to check out on Netflix.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK: KING OF THE BEACH (1981)
The world knows Lou Ferrigno as the growling, mean green machine known as the Hulk, but in this fourth season episode of the Marvel series, he had an additional role: that of Carl Molino, a hearing-impared bodybuilder who dreams of better things. Reportedly modeled after Ferrigno’s own experiences, Molino’s fate doesn’t involve lots of green body paint, sadly.
KNIGHT RIDER: GOLIATH (1983)
Taking the classic “Mirror, Mirror” idea of evil twins having goatees to whole new levels, David Hasselhoff added the character of Garthe Knight to his repertoire with two second year episodes of the 1980s car-centric action series. You could tell Garthe from the regular Michael Knight character in two ways: Firstly, the amazing facial hair that he sported — part Fu Manchu mustache, part soul patch — and the fact that Garthe was so broad that it made you realize that Hasselhoff really had been holding back earlier. (In addition to “Goliath,” Garthe reappears in “Goliath Returns.”)
COMING TO AMERICA (1988)
A veritable feast of multiple role-juggling, Coming to America sees Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall each tackle a number of roles (Murphy plays Prince Akeem, barbershop owner Clarence and customer Saul, as well as soul singer Randy Watson, while Hall plays Semmi, Morris the barber, Reverend Brown and a character officially called “Extremely Ugly Girl”) with varying degrees of success. While Maslany doesn’t have anything to worry about, both Murphy and Hall can rest easy that Hasselhoff likely was watching, jealously wondering just how they did it.
JACK’S BACK (1988)
Decades before he’d become the quietly camp Red Reddington and Avengers villain Ultron, James Spader took on the dual roles of John and Rick Westford in this schlocky update of the Jack the Ripper mythos. John was the main suspect in the Ripper copycat killings, but he’s killed himself! Is his identical twin brother, who claims to have seen the killer in psychic visions, to blame? The answer may surprise you, but not as much as Spader’s performance. Even though he’s pretty much on autopilot throughout the whole thing, the movie still seems like a waste of his talents.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION — BROTHERS (1990)
The second Star Trek series did the “one actor in multiple roles” thing a number of times, but third season episode “Brothers” deserves a special shout out for giving Brent Spiner the chance to play not just his regular character Data and recurring evil robot brother Lore, but also Dr. Noonien Soong, the man responsible for creating both of them. Years later, an episode of Enterprise would allow him to add another member to the family, playing Singh’s ancestor, Arik Soong. If the franchise hadn’t rebooted in 2009 with an all-new cast, who knows how many characters he could have played by now?
LAST ACTION HERO (1993)
Arguably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest hour that isn’t a Terminator or Conan movie, the meta-textual Last Action Hero gave the actor a chance to play Jack Slater, an unstoppable action movie character come to life, and a version of himself who had played Slater in the fictional version of reality that the movie took place in. Confused yet? Don’t be; judging by the performance(s), Schwarzenegger didn’t really seem to see a considerable difference between the two characters when it came down to it.
JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001)
When Kevin Smith decided to create a tribute to his own work featuring characters from his different movies up to that point, he had to deal with the fact that he’d kept using the same actors in different roles — leading to Jason Lee showing up as both Brodie Bruce (from Mallrats) and Banky Edwards (from Chasing Amy; unsurprisingly, the two characters and performances were somewhat similar). That wasn’t all, though; Ben Affleck got to show up as Chasing Amy’s Holden McNeil, but also himself. It could be worse; he could’ve had to reprise Bartleby from Dogma.
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: WHISTLER’S MOTHER (2004) Even before Orphan Black, television offered actors the chance to really delve deep in multiple roles. Think of Tricia Helfer’s Six on Battlestar Galactica, for example (or, for that matter, half the cast on that damn show; if that was still on Netflix, assume it’d be on this list). Jeffrey Tambor, however, gave a masterclass on how to do it with George Bluth, Snr. and his brother Oscar on the short-lived Fox sitcom. Two very different men who shared a face, and a love for the same woman, and Tambor made you… well, equally disbelieving in both.
When Buffy Summers returned to television, it took two women to bring her back. This CW series — which only lasted a year — saw Sarah Michelle Gellar play Bridget Martin, a drug addict and former stripper who escapes her life by stealing that of her twin sister, Siobhan's… who, it turns out, has just committed suicide. (Except that she hasn’t, because complicated television plot reasons.) The show never quite came together, but you have to admire Gellar’s attempts at differentiating the two women, despite the melodrama involved.
THE DOUBLE (2011)
What if you found yourself replaced at work by someone that looked exactly like you — and who had, essentially, the same name? And what if that person then turned out to be better at being you than you were? Jesse Eisenberg is at the center of this entertaining Kafka-esque movie, playing Simon James and James Simon, who may or may not be the mirror image of each other… if only other people could notice. (Spoilers: You’ll come away from this movie having more respect for Eisenberg’s range than you did going in, if only because he shows that he’s not just playing Mark Zuckerberg all the time.)