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Playing multiple roles must be twice the fun

Ben Affleck did it. So did Eddie Murphy and Charlie Chaplin. Heck, Alec Guinness did it eight times, including once as a woman.

Ben Affleck did it. So did Eddie Murphy and Charlie Chaplin. Heck, Alec Guinness did it eight times, including once as a woman.

This weekend in Jack and Jill, Adam Sandler adds his name to the list of actors who have played multiple roles in the same film.

“In Jack and Jill I play me,” says Sandler, “and I play my twin sister. The man version of me is doing OK; he has a family out in L.A. The twin-sister version of me lives out in the Bronx and comes out to L.A. for Thanksgiving and then refuses to leave.”

The idea of playing more than one role in a movie dates back to the Mary Pickford 1918 weepy Stella Maris.

In it she plays the wealthy title character and the uneducated orphan Unity Blake. The studio balked at her insistence on playing both roles, but Pickford insisted.

As Stella she was photographed like a glamorous movie star, but as Unity she wore unflattering makeup and was shot from her right, less photogenic, side. Scenes where the two characters shared the screen were achieved through double exposure.

Since then everyone from Mel Brooks (he was President Skroob and Yogurt in Spaceballs), to David Carradine (remember him in Circle of Iron as The Blind Man, Monkeyman, Death, and Changsha?) to Peter Sellers (who played as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) have taken on multi-roles.

Perhaps because of their sketch comedy backgrounds, Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers often take on various roles in their films, but Alec Guinness, the actor best known in North America as Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, must hold the record for character changes in one feature-length movie. In Kind Hearts and Coronets he plays no less than eight characters. In an acting tour de force he’s easily recognizable in each part, but doesn’t repeat himself from character to character. Instead he carefully constructs each, from the happy-go-lucky young photographer to the window-smashing suffragette Lady Agatha.

Rivaling Guinness’s achievement is Buster Keaton who played every part — including a stagehand, a dance troupe, a full band and every member in the audience — in the 1921 short film The Play House.

To top it off he also took credit for every crew job including editor, director, writer and cameraman.

 
 
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