Bydefinition, actors should be able to take on different roles and bring different characters to life with ease. Usually, that happens over the course of many TV series or movies. But when one actor plays multiple characters on the same TV show, it is an amazing feat. It’s not only impressive that an actor is able to create two complete characters in one story. With a simple look, turn of phrase or mannerism, these seven actors (and actresses) make it easy to differentiate between the characters they play. Here are some of our favorite TV actors to have played multiple roles on the same show.
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Tom Cavanagh on The Flash
Thanks to alternate earths, timelines and all manner of weirdness, nearly everyone on the main cast of The Flash has played different versions of their original characters. Tom Cavanagh is a step above his co-stars and not just because he has played the most versions of the same character. Throughout three seasons of The Flash, Cavanagh has played three (and four if you want to be picky) versions of the same character, Harrison Wells.
While nearly everyone else on the main cast of The Flash have years and years of comic book material to base their characters off of, Harrison Wells is an original creation. He might have originally been revealed to Eobard Thawne, a very famous comic book character, but for the most part Cavanagh and The Flash have been forging new (and exciting) material. Cavanagh has put a superb amount of energy and life into each Wells he has played. He has been able to differentiate between them all while still keeping that kernel of what makes a Harrison Wells, a Harrison Wells.
Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black
To anyone familiar with Orphan Black there is no way that Tatiana Maslany could not be included on this list. There is a reason that fans have wanted Maslany to desperately win an Emmy for her work playing multiple clones of the same woman and there is a reason why she finally did win. While Tom Cavanagh is able to keep a kernel of the same person inside all of his characters, Maslany completely transforms in Orphan Black.
The make-up and costuming department shouldn’t be completely ignored on Orphan Black but Maslany expertly makes each and every one of the clones she plays into her (and one case his) own person. They all might share the same face but almost none of them share the exact same characteristics. The moments where Maslany particularly shines and amazes is when she has to play one clone impersonating another on Orphan Black. She never gets lost in the character. When Helena is pretending to be Sarah, it feels like Helena trying to be Sarah, not just Sarah — and that is nothing short of amazing.
Nina Dobrev on The Vampire Diaries
I’ll be the first to admit that for the first couple episodes of The Vampire Diaries, and even the first full season, Nina Dobrev as Elena Gilbert was painfully boring. The second that Katherine showed up in present-day as Elena’s vampire doppelganger, my opinion changed. Katherine was not only a wildly different character but she was so outrageous and nearly sociopathic that it made Elena look more interesting by comparison.
While it would be easy to look at Elena and Katherine as a cliched madonna-and-whore situation, Dobrev never made things that easy. She managed to not only create two wildly different characters in the same story but imbue both Elena and Katherine with surprising new depths. Neither Elena or Katherine were exactly what they initially seemed on The Vampire Diaries and that is due to Dobrev’s excellent juggling of both characters.
Yael Grobglas on Jane the Virgin
Season 2 of Jane the Virgin had already done wonders to transform mean girl and quasi-villain Petra into a fully rounded character. At the tail end of season 2, the self-aware telenova introduced a standard soap opera twist. Petra had a secret twin sister, Anezka. In lesser hands, the polar opposite of confident and brash Petra — the demure and bashful Anezka — would have been ridiculous. Yael Grobglas managed to take a cheesy twist like Anezka and create a fully rounded character.
Things got even more impressive when Anezka ended up impersonating Petra in the end of season 2 and beginning of season 3. As it obvious from the previous entries on this list, this kind of acting challenge is standard for this type of situation. Grobglas, though, expertly moved from Petra’s demanding tone of voice to Anezka’s shy and stuttering mumbling often with seconds of each other. With Anezka and Petra, Grobglas managed to do something incredibly impressive for any actress. She took a villainous character and made them lovable and human.
Lana Parrilla on Once Upon a Time
This might be considered a bit of a cheat. For the majority of Once Upon a Time, the Evil Queen and Regina were not two separate characters but rather the same character in two different very time periods. No one really considers Mr. Gold and Rumple to be two individual characters after all. At the end of season 5, that all changed as Regina and the Evil Queen were separated into two separate entities.
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It was always interesting when Once Upon a Time would flashback from present-day redeemed Regina to the villainous Evil Queen. It was an expert way of showing Parrilla’s skills as an actress and the growth Regina had experienced throughout the seasons. It is another thing altogether when Lana Parrilla has to play against herself in season 6. Parrilla is at the same time one of the worst and unrepentant villains of Once Upon a Time and its most interesting hero. It’s rare that an actress can make a scene so utterly interesting when really she is the one playing both sides of a conversation.
Dylan O’Brien on Teen Wolf
Before Teen Wolf season 3 it was hard to look at Dylan O’Brien’s portrayal of lovable comic relief Stiles and think the audience could ever be scared of him. When Stiles was possessed by the nogitsune in season 3 that all changed. Dylan O’Brien might look like he is 100 pounds soaking wet but the nogitsune completely transformed Stiles and made him the most terrifying villain Teen Wolf has ever had and probably will ever have on the show.
There is not much interplay between Stiles and Void Stiles. Unlike almost every other character gathered here, the two characters really share nothing in common but a face and O’Brien never really had to blend Stiles and the nogitsune. The amazing feat was that in just a few short episodes O’Brien was able to convince the audience that lovable and harmless-looking Stiles could be ungodly horrifying when possessed by an evil trickster spirit.
Misha Collins on Supernatural
Lucifer has been played by quite a few actors on Supernatural. Misha Collins might not be everyone’s or even most fans’ favorite portrayal of the former lord of Hell. Misha Collins‘ version of Lucifer in season 11 was impressive, though, for how it took everything fans loved about Castiel’s original character and twisted it beyond recognition.
There are many ways you could describe Castiel, but chatty certainly isn’t one of them. In his portrayal of Lucifer, though, Misha Collins presented a very different face than Supernatural fans were used to and not just because it was often soaked with blood. The Misha version of Lucifer was relatively short-lived but it managed to make the audience feel both disturbed and amazed by his level of acting finesse. Lucifer is the almost polar opposite of Castiel which makes it all the more impressive that Collins was able to convincingly play both characters.
So who are some of your favorite actors to play multiple characters on the same show? Is your favorite gathered here? Did we miss any major ones? Which of these performances is the most impressive? Have you ever forgotten that the same actor is playing two different roles on a show?
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(Images courtesy of The CW, MTV, BBC America and ABC)
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Derek is a Philadelphia based writer and unabashed TV and comic book junkie. The time he doesn’t spend over analyzing all things nerdy he is working on his resume to be the liaison to the Justice League.