Seeing Double: 5 Doppelgangers on Film

Jamie Graham

Neurotic Jesse Eisenberg plays against dauntless Jesse Eisenberg in Richard Ayoade’s loose adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Double, out this week, while rumpled Jake Gyllenhaal acts opposite slick Jake Gyllenhaal in ominous thriller Enemy, released in May. It seems doppelgängers are all the rage right now – and that’s before you consider the captivating news that Tom Hardy is presently circling a new take on the life and crimes of the Kray twins.

But audiences seeing double is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the peculiar challenge of essaying two very different but interlocking personalities has attracted many great actors over the years, and Jean-Claude Van Damme has had a go too. (He’s actually had a go twice, which is nothing if not apt.) Below are our five favourite double acts, the actors serving performances so strong (or ludicrous) in films so powerful (or bonkers) they beat out twin-turns from the likes of Bette Davis, Matthew Modine, Andy Garcia, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Ed Norton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lindsay Lohan and Hayley Mills. Enjoy, and do not adjust your screens…

Jeremy Irons (Dead Ringers, 1988)

After William Hurt and Robert De Niro both turned down the role(s), Jeremy Irons gave the performance of his life as creepy gynaecologists Elliott and Beverly Mantle, identical twins who share everything – including their women – until Beverly decides he wants actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) all to himself. Made just a few years before CGI became de rigeur, Dead Ringers sees director David Cronenberg utilise undetectable split-screen techniques to place timid Beverly and confident Elliott in the same frame, and the Brit actor convinces also, his long, hollow face etched with despair as the brothers’ symbiotic relationship is torn asunder. Trivia fans should note that Irons kept track of which twin he was playing by adjusting his weight between the balls and heels of his feet.

Eddie Murphy (Bowfinger, 1999)

Eddie Murphy is Kit Ramsey, a Hollywood action hero who becomes the unwitting star of sci-fi thriller Chubby Rain when the titular Z-movie director (Steve Martin) covertly films him and places him at the centre of an alien invasion plot. It’s a genius concept, but Martin’s laugh-out-loud screenplay has another ace up its sleeve: Kit’s dim, socially inept brother Jefferson ‘Jiff’ Ramsey (Murphy again) is hired to play Kit’s stunt double. The Ramseys allow Murphy to bring his A-game game, with Kit’s membership of the Mind Head cult inviting satirical jibes at Scientology’s expense, and Jiff’s larger-than-life idiocy recalling the star’s teeth-cutting days on Saturday Night Live. Murphy obviously has a taste for split-personalities – Bowfinger is sandwiched by the actor playing an entire family of buffoons in the Nutty Professor movies.

Nic Cage (Adaptation, 2002)

A frizzy and frumpy Nic Cage fizzes off the screen as scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman, struggling to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book The Orchid Thief; his vortex of despair swirls all the faster when crass twin Don (Cage) scores success with a lowest-common-denominator blockbuster... Based on Kaufman’s own tussle to adapt The Orchid Thief into a movie, the screenwriter ‘did a Fellini’ and turned his creative block into a film unto itself – though Federico never went so far as to invent a twin and to give him a co-writing credit. Hilariously, both the Golden Globes and the Oscars nominated the non-existent Donald Kaufman for awards. But there was nothing bogus about Cage being up for an Academy Award too – his chalk-and-cheese twins represented a welcome return to nuanced character acting after playing a string of action heroes.

Jean-Claude Van Damme (Double Impact, 1991)

Jean-Claude Van Damme got in on the double act in this Kong Kong-set actioner, playing separated-at-birth twins who happen to both grow up into martial arts experts. Chad is the softer (in nature, at least) of the two, while Alex is rough ‘n’ ready – and a good job too when the boys reunite to take on the Triads. Released a year before Universal Soldier, at a time when the Muscles From Brussels had Sly, Arnie and Bruce looking over their bulging shoulders, Double Impact cost a cool $15m and boasts the selling point of JCVD kicking his own ass when the boys fall out over a girl. Five years later Van Damme was at it again, playing twins in the inferior Maximum Risk.

Armie Hammer (The Social Network, 2010)

Unable to find real-life siblings capable of playing the Winklevoss twins in his Facebook film, director David Fincher cast actor Armie Hammer and Ralph Lauren model Josh Pence, then digitally pasted Hammer’s face onto Pence’s body to create two peas in a pod. The effect is startling, and Hammer and Pence went to great lengths to assure they also matched from the neck down, spending 10 months in ‘twin boot camp’ to establish a rapport while also learning to mimic one another’s body language. Hammer is mesmerising as the Harvard-educated ‘Winklevi’, accusing Mark Zuckerberg of intellectual property theft. A support turn in Clint Eastwood’s Hoover biopic J. Edgar and the title role in $250m blockbuster The Lone Ranger duly followed.

Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jamie_graham9

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