Though technology has lessened the impact of movie scenes involving two incarnations of the same person, it's still fun and a little freaky to watch actors play off themselves, as they do in several of the films cited below: In 'Leaves of Grass,' out this Friday, Edward Norton plays a pair of very different identical twins, one an Ivy League professor, one a drug dealer. He's the latest in a long line of actors who have taken on dual sibling roles, often involving one "good" and one "bad" twin, though there are also alternative versions (shy twin, gregarious twin, nerdy twin, slick twin).
These dual roles give actors the chance to display dramatic or comedic range, and us the opportunity to get a double dose of a favorite star.
Though technology has lessened the impact of movie scenes involving two incarnations of the same person, it's still fun and a little freaky to watch actors play off themselves, as they do in several of the films cited below:
Pre-CGI split-screen technology is used very effectively in this highly acclaimed -- and very creepy -- thriller from David Cronenberg. The dark, disturbing film centers around twin gynecologists -- the confident Elliott and the more withdrawn Beverly -- played flawlessly by Jeremy Irons. The twins, who often trade identities while having affairs with unsuspecting women, ultimately become involved with a needy, drug-addicted actress (Geneviève Bujold), leading to their downfall.
Nicolas Cage in 'Adaptation' (2002)
In this wonderfully offbeat comedy from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, Cage plays a neurotic, socially inept screenwriter named, um, Charlie Kaufman, as well as his twin Donald, a boisterous, superficial womanizer who also decides to be a screenwriter. Unlike Charlie, who labors over his screenplay adaptation, Donald cheerfully cranks out a by-the-numbers commercial script with little fuss. Like a lot of movie twins, these polar opposites seem to represent the various aspects of one complete person (hmmm, who might that be?).
Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Man in the Iron Mask' (1998)
This ambitious adaptation of the Dumas novel received a critical drubbing upon release, no doubt fueled by a post-'Titanic' DiCaprio backlash. Though he may not be completely convincing as the bratty, sneering King Louis and his gentle, decent twin Philippe, who's been imprisoned wearing an iron mask to hide his identity, Leo gives it his all. And despite its flaws, the sometimes silly swashbuckler, featuring Jeremy Irons, Gérard Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne and John Malkovich -- all sporting different accents -- as the four musketeers, is pretty darn entertaining.
Eddie Murphy in 'Bowfinger' (1999)
Steve Martin stars as the titular wannabe film producer who can't afford to shoot a sci-fi thriller ('Chubby Rain') penned by his accountant in this very funny Hollywood satire. Bowfinger hires a motley crew to covertly shoot scenes around action star Kit Ramsey (Murphy), who is unaware he's being filmed and thus believes he's being stalked by real aliens. When the actor goes into hiding, Bowfinger hires Ramsey's upbeat, nerdy brother/lookalike Jiff as his double and errand runner. Though the word "twin" is not technically used, Murphy's too good as the paranoid Kit and sweetly clueless Jiff to not include here.
Lindsay Lohan in 'The Parent Trap' (1998)
Back when La Lohan was a young, fresh-faced kid, she charmingly played separated-at-birth twins, one from California, one London-raised, in this remake of the 1961 classic (which starred the equally good Hayley Mills). The twins, who meet by accident, hatch a scheme to get their divorced parents back together. There is much twin impersonation, complete with not-quite-right accents, a pretty impressive feat for the young Lohan. The movie's a reminder that she's always been a pretty good actress, a fact that's often been overshadowed by tabloid headlines.
Bette Davis in 'A Stolen Life' (1946)
A showcase for Davis' formidable talents, this romantic melodrama features her nuanced portrayals of sensitive, struggling artist Kate Bosworth (!) and her aggressive, amoral twin, Patricia. When the latter marries the love of Kate's life (Glenn Ford) and then dies in a drowning accident, Kate assumes her twin's identity. But first there's some well-done (for the time) twins-together imagery, including a scene in which one sister lights the other's cigarette. (Davis would again play twins in 1964 crime thriller 'Dead Ringer,' no relation to the above-mentioned Jeremy Irons film.)
Andy Garcia in 'Steal Big, Steal Little' (1995)
In this sprawling, convoluted comedy, Garcia plays do-gooder social activist Ruben Martinez, who wants to turn the land he's just inherited into a farming commune; as well as his cold, materialistic brother Robby, who tries to steal the property and sell it to developers. Fun twin stuff: when one impersonates the other, an unfaithful wife winds up having an affair with her own husband. There's also a cool scene in which both twins appear together reflected in several mirrors.
Matthew Modine in 'Equinox' (1992)
Alan Rudolph's eccentric, darkly comic movie stars Modine as separated-at-birth twins who live in the same city but have never met. Henry's a loner garage mechanic involved with a painfully shy woman (Lara Flynn Boyle); Freddy's a sadistic mobster who's married with twins. The brothers must reunite in order to inherit a $4 million legacy. Modine's great playing the wildly dissimilar personalities in this odd, often ambiguous film.
Jean-Claude Van Damme in 'Double Impact' (1991)
No actor/twin movie list would be complete without this double dose of Van Dammage, in which the Muscles from Brussels gamely plays twins separated shortly after birth when their parents were killed by a Hong Kong criminal cartel. Good-guy Californian Chad and harder-edged smuggler Alex -- both coincidentally martial arts experts -- get on each others' nerves, but team up to avenge their parents' murders. Along the way, their rivalry over the same woman leads to, yep, Van Damme vs. Van Damme fisticuffs.
Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin in 'Big Business' (1988)
In this zany comedy, Midler and Tomlin play two sets of twins, born in the same hospital and mismatched at birth, who grow up unaware that they each have a real twin also paired with a 'fake' twin (got that?). One Bette-Lily set grows up poor in West Virginia and the other is raised rich in New York. Forty years later, they all meet up in Manhattan over a matter involving a hostile business takeover and a lot of good-natured goofiness ensues.
More Twins: British comedian Matt Lucas as both Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland'; Chris Rock in 'Bad Company' (though one twin appears only in early scenes); and Sean Young in 'A Kiss Before Dying' (though there's not much difference between her twins aside from hair color).