Being an actor is tough enough, so we're told, but having to play more than one part in the same film – oh the humanity!
These are the guys who totally nailed the parts. (And yes, we did notice they're all guys – if there's a lack of great roles for women in Hollywood there's an even greater lack of great multiple roles.)
We've excluded times where it's one character in disguise, multiple-personality characters and roles where an actor plays the same character many times (sorry Hugo Weaving in The Matrix).
This list also excludes instances where an actor has played only two parts, because where's the challenge in that?
Here are our favourite multi-role masterworks.
1. Michael J Fox in Back to the Future 2
As: Marty McFly, Marty McFly, Jr. and Marlene McFly
BTTF2 was groundbreaking because of tech developed by ILM which allowed several actors to play multiple versions of themselves on screen at the same time without compromising camera movement (Thomas F Wilson as old Biff, young Biff and Griff, Elizabeth Shue as young Jennifer and old Jennifer). Fox took the cake, though, as young Marty, old Marty, Marty's Son and Marty's daughter. Who is disarmingly attractive, as it goes.
2. Eddie Murphy in Coming to America
As: Prince Akeem, Clarence, Randy and Saul
Eddie Murphy became the king of playing multiple roles in the same film (see below) before it got tired and irritating. This was the first time he attempted it. As the lead he's Prince Akeem, royalty from the fictional country Zamunda, venturing to the States to find himself a strong independent woman to be his bride.
He also pops up as the singer in the band 'Sexual Chocolate', the owner of a barbershop and one of the barbershop customers. There's currently a sequel in the works. Presumably Murphy will play Akeem, his bride, their 17 kids and their dog. (Not really). (But maybe really.)
3. Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor
As: Professor Sherman Klump, Buddy Love, Lance Perkins, Cletus 'Papa' Klump, Anna Pearl 'Mama' Jensen Klump, Ida Mae 'Granny' Jensen, and Ernie Klump, Sr.
Possibly the pinnacle of the multi-Murphy movie genre, The Nutty Professor was in fact a remake of a Jerry Lewis movie where he also plays various different roles (though not as many as Murphy).
It's a Jekyll-and-Hyde story where nice but overweight professor Sherman Klump invents a radical weight-loss treatment which turns him into his lithe but awful alter-ego Buddy Love. Murphy also plays most of the Klump family in this, as well as the sequel. The Nutty Professor was well liked, but indirectly resulted in Norbit, which was several Eddie Murphys too far.
4. Mike Myers in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
As: Austin Powers, Dr. Evil and Fat Bastard
No stranger to playing dress-up, Myers opted to play Secret Agent Austin, Super Villain Doctor Evil and Scottish henchman Fat Bastard in the second part of his spy-spoof.
It has references up the wazoo, killed it at the box office and was even nominated for an Oscar for best make up. Prime Myers when he could do no wrong – before the final instalment where it all got a bit old – making Myers three times as quotable all for the same film.
5. Michael Palin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail
As: Sir Galahad the Pure, Swallow-Savvy Guard #1, Dennis , Witch-Hunting Villager #2, Narrator, Singing Camelot Knight #5, French Knight, Right Head of Three-Headed Knight, Leader of the Knights who say Ni, King of Swamp Castle, Guest at Swamp Castle, Monk (Maynard's Assistant)
It's massively unfair to pick out a single Python as more worthy of praise than the others, since in all their films each of them plays a whole raft of characters including women, peasants, leaders, monsters and knights (some of whom say "Ni"). We've picked Palin for no better reason than he has more parts than the other main Pythons in Grail. But Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, we salute you too.
6. Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets
As: Ethelred D'Ascoyne, Lord Ascoyne D'Ascoyne, Reverend Lord Henry D'Ascoyne, General Lord Rufus D'Ascoyne, Admiral Lord Horatio D'Ascoyne, Young Ascoyne D'Ascoyne, Young Henry D'Ascoyne, Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne, The Seventh Duke (in a flashback)
A tour de force of multi-role playing, Sir Alec Guinness plays nine different characters in this black Ealing comedy about the son of an aristocratic woman disowned for marrying outside her class. The young man is played by Dennis Price – his plan is to murder the eight successors to the Dukedom and fortune – all of which are played by Guinness.
At one point Guinness even appeared as seven difficult characters on screen at once (which they achieved by masking the lens and re-exposing the film several times). A perpetual lingerer at the top of "best British movies" lists.
7. Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
As Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove
It was Columbia pictures that actually stipulated Sellers play multiple roles in Stanley Kubrick's cold war satire – Sellers had to play four roles or the movie wouldn't be financed. The movie came off the back of Sellers playing multi-parts in The Mouse That Roared, and one character in disguise for Kubrick's Lolita.
The director agreed, though in the end Sellers only took three of the parts written for him. As Group Captain Lionel Mandrake he plays a Brit officer channelling Terry Thomas, his POTUS Merkin Muffley is a mild, cold-suffering Mid-westerner but it's former Nazi mad scientist Strangelove that he's best remembered for. Sellers got paid more than half the film's entire budget for his efforts.
You Might Also Like