It must be lots of fun for an actor to play twins. Sure, there are technical challenges, and you don't get to play off another actor... but it's all you! If I had to list every performer who ever portrayed multiple characters in a movie or TV show, it would take hours. Nearly half the cast of The Brady Bunch played their own doubles at some point, and that's just for starters. Peter Sellers, Mike Myers, and Eddie Murphy made careers out of playing multiple roles. I've whittled my list down to the nine actors with the most interesting "twin" films.
- Olivia de Havilland. I just saw her 1946 feature The Dark Mirror last night, which more or less inspired this list. Though de Havilland is one of the last surviving actors from Hollywood's golden age, a lot of her work has been forgotten. It's a shame, as she was a great actress, even if this entertaining movie about twin sisters and an unsolved murder is not quite a classic.
- Bette Davis. If ever there was an actress born to play both nice and nasty roles, it's Bette Davis. And lo, she played twins in two films: A Stolen Life and Dead Ringer. I highly recommend the latter. It's a rich, pulpy movie shot mostly on location at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.
- Jeremy Irons. The English thespian starred as a demented pair of gynecologists in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (not a sequel to the Bette Davis film!). It was the last big movie to rely on old-fashioned split screen mattes for the twin illusion; just a year later, Back to the Future Part II revamped the technology with motion-controlled cameras and digital compositing.
- Boris Karloff. 1935's The Black Room was one of the first films to make use of this uniquely cinematic concept. (Stage actors can't believably portray two different people in the same scene.) This was also the year that Karloff became a legend in Frankenstein.
- John Lithgow. Brian De Palma's strange 1992 thriller Raising Cain stars Lithgow not only as a psychologist suffering from multiple personality disorder, but also as his own father! This is the only Hollywood picture ever shot in the Bay Area city of Mountain View, where I filmed much of my first feature Foreign Correspondents.
- Leonardo DiCaprio. Alexandre Dumas' famous novel The Man in the Iron Mask has been filmed multiple times through the years, and actors such as Louis Hayward, Richard Chamberlain, and Beau Bridges have all played the dual role of King Louis XIV and his imprisoned brother, Philippe of Gascony. But audiences didn't know what to make of the boyish Leo in this adaptation, released shortly after Titanic.
- Margot Kidder. Though she would go on to fame with Superman, the young Kidder starred in 1973's Sisters for Brian De Palma (the director clearly has a fondness for multiple personalities and actors in dual roles). Not only did she play her evil twin, the twist was that both sisters were originally conjoined!
- Nicolas Cage. The Oscar-winning cult fave Adaptation is a no-brainer for this list, with Cage memorably playing two curly-haired screenwriting brothers, one which screenwriter Charlie Kaufman sort of based on himself and the other concocted out of thin air.
- Edward Norton. Though his stoner comedy Leaves of Grass has not yet been released (it was pushed back at the last minute from earlier in 2010), Norton proves that, even in a field dominated by dumb action movies (Jackie Chan, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Jet Li have all played their own twins) and gimmicky if good sci fi (Sam Rockwell in Moon, Dominique Pinon in City of Lost Children), even highfalutin actors are willing to take the "identical twin" movie further into the 21st century.