A dual role (also known as a double role) refers to one actor playing two roles in a single production. Dual roles (or a larger number of roles for an actor) may be deliberately written into a script, or may instead be a choice made during production, often due to a low budget. In film and television, dual roles are often used for comic effect, or to depict identical twins. In a theatrical production where more than one actor plays multiple characters, it is sometimes referred to as an "Ironman" cast.
In theatre, the use of multiple roles may be budget-related, may be intended to give an accomplished actor more stage time or a greater challenge, or may be of thematic significance to the story. The combination of factors leading to such a decision may often remain unknown. For example, debate exists over the significance of William Shakespeare's use of dual roles, with a notable example being whether the characters of Cordelia and the Fool in King Lear were intended to be one and the same.
More recent examples include:
- In stage productions of Peter Pan, it is a tradition for Mr. Darling and Captain Hook to be played by the same actor, a tradition often continued in film adaptations with the actors playing dual roles.
- In the works of absurdists such as Tom Stoppard, characters played by the same actor are often of thematic significance.
- In Tony Kushner's Angels in America, a cast of eight actors are each assigned multiple roles for reasons that may include encouraging the audience to consider the elasticity of gender and sexual identities.
- In the musical Hamilton, four actors/actresses are cast in dual roles, each a major supporting character, with a change of roles between the first and second acts. The actors who play John Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, and Hercules Mulligan/James Madison wear identical white costumes in the opening song, "Alexander Hamilton", and were given lines with intentional double meanings that would fit either of their dual roles. The actress who plays Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds is also double cast.
The Prisoner of Zenda, based on a book about a lookalike who assumes the identity of a king, includes a dual role that has been played by Lewis Stone (1922 version), Ronald Colman (1937 version), Stewart Granger (1952 version), and Peter Sellers (1979 version).
An early and unusual example of double casting was the 1925 silent film Lady of the Night, in which two women were portrayed by Norma Shearer to spotlight their very different social classes, and nobody took any notice of their identical appearance.
In The Wizard of Oz (1939), the actors who played the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow also played farmhands in scenes set in Kansas. Margaret Hamilton played both the roles of Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West, and Frank Morgan played multiple characters in addition to the title role of the Wizard.
In some low-budget films, actors have been cast in more than one role to save money. For example, in one of Peter Jackson's early films, Bad Taste, Jackson played two characters; in one scene, one of them tortures the other.
Multiple casting has been used for comic effect in film, with notable examples that include:
- Peter Sellers in movies such as Dr. Strangelove (1964) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1979)
- Mike Myers in the Austin Powers film series (1997–2002)
- Buster Keaton in his 1921 film The Playhouse, playing nearly every part
Particularly in comedies, multiple casting has often included the casting of an actor as multiple members of the same family. For example:
- In the Back to the Future franchise, actor Michael J. Fox played Marty McFly and McFly's son and daughter, including an appearance as all three characters at the same time in a dinner scene, while Thomas F. Wilson played Biff Tannen, his grandson Griff Tannen, and his great-grandfather Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen.
- Alec Guinness played all eight members of one family in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).
- Eddie Murphy played the title character and almost every member of his family in The Nutty Professor (1996) and its sequel (2000).
India and Bollywood
Prior to Bollywood, the first double role in Indian cinema was played by Ashok Kumar in his film Kismet in 1943. Later on several veterans like Dev Anand played double role in film Hum Dono 1961, Dharmendra in Izzat (1968),Yakeen(1969), Rajesh Khanna in film Sachha Jhutha (1970). Tamil film actor M. N. Nambiar played eleven parts in the early 1950s film Digambara Samiyar, as a sage using nine disguises to defeat an evil lawyer.
Telugu actor N.T.Rama Rao portrayed multiple characters in many of his films which also includes Mythlogical films from the 60s, He's known for playing Karna , Duryodhana and krishna in the famous film Daana veera soora karna, And his performance as identical twins in the film Ramudu Bheemudu(1964).
Starting in the 1970s, having a living double in a Bollywood film became "almost a genre in itself," according to filmmaker Govind Nihalani. The first double role in Bollywood, played by Amitabh Bachchan, was in the film Bandhe Haath in 1973. Angoor (1982) featured two pairs of identical twins, played by Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma.
Kamal Hassan had ten roles in the 2008 film Dasavathaaram (The Ten Avatars). Sivaji Ganesan played nine roles in the Tamil film Navarathiri. Priyanka Chopra played the roles of twelve eligible girls in the movie What's Your Raashee?, and Mehmood Ali portrayed three generations of the Kapoor family (Prithviraj, Raj, and Randhir) in the movie Humjoli
In television, soap operas have commonly used the technique to either portray twins (or even similar looking relatives), or to bring an actor back whose character has been killed. In primetime television, since at least the 1960s, dual roles have been the basis or a key element in several comedies and dramas:
- From 1963 to 1966, The Patty Duke Show featured Patty Duke in the dual role of teenaged "identical cousins" Cathy and Patty Lane, living in the same home. William Schallert played identical twin brothers, the fathers of the two cousins.
- The Vampire Diaries franchise, which first aired in 2009, features Nina Dobrev playing four roles (doppelgangers Elena Gilbert, Katerina Petrova, Tatia, and their progenitor Amara) and Paul Wesley playing three roles (doppelgangers Stefan Salvatore, Tom Avery, and their progenitor Silas).
- The teen drama The Lying Game (2011–2013) and the Disney Channel comedy Liv and Maddie (2013–2017) both featured a lead actress playing twins (Alexandra Chando and Dove Cameron, respectively).
- In 2017, for the third season of the black comedy–crime drama anthology series Fargo, Ewan McGregor was cast in a double role as the identical twin brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy.
- The Gifted, which first aired in 2017 and ended in 2019, features actress Skyler Samuels playing a triple role as the identical triplets Esme, Sophie, and Phoebe Frost.
Dual casting has also been used as a stunt or gimmick in episodes of ongoing shows, often to create a one-time or recurring "evil twin" character as a counterpart for one or more of the lead characters:
- In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie both featured their lead character in recurring dual roles. Elizabeth Montgomery played Samantha and her wicked cousin Serena, while Barbara Eden played Jeannie, her evil fraternal twin (Jeannie II), and their mother. In both cases, the blonde character's evil counterpart was a brunette.
- In the 1967 Star Trek episode titled "Mirror, Mirror", as well as its sequels in episodes of three later Star Trek series (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Enterprise, and Star Trek: Discovery), several of the regular characters visited or switched places with morally inverted counterparts from a parallel Mirror Universe, with the actors playing dual roles.
- In the 1990s sitcom Friends, series leads Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer each had a dual role as a recurring or guest character. Kudrow, who played Phoebe Buffay, also played Phoebe's twin sister Ursula. Schwimmer, credited as "Snaro", played a guest role as the nemesis of his character Ross Geller in an episode titled "The One with Russ".
- Miranda, Lin-Manuel; McCarter, Jeremy (2016). Hamilton: The Revolution. Grand Central Publishing. pp. 17 n.9. ISBN 978-1-4555-6753-9.
- Gulazāra; Nihalani, Govind; Chatterjee, Saibal, eds. (2003). Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema. Popular Prakashan. p. 213. ISBN 978-81-7991-066-5.
- "23 Years Later, Friends' Russ vs. 'Snaro' Mystery Is Solved". Comedy Central. UK. 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-08-05.