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Actors Who Played Multiple Roles On The Same TV Show

Chances are that when you think about your favorite television show, you think about its outstanding performances. Whether you're a fan of Bryan Cranston's defining work on Breaking Bad, Jon Hamm's layered performance on Mad Men, or Julia Louis-Dreyfus' bitingly funny turn in Veep, we're guessing you know that the actors make the show. Playing one part perfectly is certainly an astonishing feat on its own, but some actors have actually played two or more roles on a single series.

Sometimes, an actor plays two or more roles on the same show on purpose; other times, it's a complete casting accident. Either way, it definitely makes for a unique viewing experience. From long-running crime dramas to beloved British science-fiction to dry American comedies, here are some of the best instances of actors pulling double duty on the same television show, whether it's intentional or by crazy coincidence. 

Light spoilers for some of these shows to follow!

Karen Gillan and Peter Capaldi, Doctor Who

Fans of Doctor Who, which has been running in various iterations on BBC since 1963, all have their favorite Doctor among the thirteen actors who have played the immortal, time-traveling Gallifreyan alien. As the main resident of the TARDIS, a phone booth that can jump throughout space and time, the Doctor's recasting is always explained by his or her regenesis into a new, human-like body. Additionally, the Doctor always gets a real human companion who joins him or her throughout his epic journey.

Over the course of its run, Doctor Who has always featured a bevy of young British stars on the verge of their breakout, including future stars like Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan, but two of its one-off guest stars were especially notable — they ended up playing a companion and the Doctor himself years later. In the 2008 episode "The Fires of Pompeii," which features David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor (and The Office's Catherine Tate as his companion Donna), Karen Gillan and Peter Capaldi both appear in small roles. Later, they'd both get major promotions. In 2010, Gillan went on to play Amy Pond, companion to Matt Smith's (The Crown) Eleventh Doctor, and Capaldi took over as the Twelfth Doctor from Smith in 2014. 

Doctor Who has always served as a "who's who" of British actors, but this coincidence is especially funny for eagle-eyed fans who may have spotted these future series leads in "The Fires of Pompeii."

Diane Neal, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

As the most popular spin-off of power producer Dick Wolf's original Law & Order series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which focuses on a sex crimes unit in Manhattan as well as the detectives and lawyers who bring these heinous criminals to justice, was an immediate hit upon its premiere in 1999. Though the original series experienced plenty of cast turnover, replacing its two lead actors multiple times, Special Victims Unit is fairly unique in that Mariska Hargitay, who originated the leading role of Detective Olivia Benson, has remained on the show throughout its long and storied run. Plenty of other roles have been recast, however, including that of the New York Assistant District Attorney responsible for prosecuting all the offenders that Detective Benson scoops up. One such sterling prosecutor appeared in a very different role years before her turn as ADA.

Diane Neal, who played Senior ADA Casey Novak for four seasons (and who appeared in later seasons in recurring and guest roles), might be one of SVU's most beloved and memorable ADAs, but even the most loyal SVU fans may not know that Neal appeared on the show as a suspect years before joining the squad. Two years before she took on the role of Casey Novak, Neal played lawyer Amelia Chase in the 2001 episode "Ridicule." In an unlikely turn, she is ultimately convicted of sexually assaulting a man with a group of her girlfriends. Neal's first SVU appearance is small, but it's a pretty funny Easter egg for diehard fans to spot — especially considering all the years she spent on the other side of the witness booth!

Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development

Framed as "the story of a wealthy family that lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together," Fox's critically beloved but under-watched comedy Arrested Development has become a cult classic since its premiere in 2003, thanks in large part to its clever writing and outstanding cast. Anchored by Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, the son keeping everyone together, the once-wealthy Bluth family is made up of some seriously weird characters, but only one actor got the chance to play two parts thanks to a shaggy, unkempt wig.

As the series opens, the Bluth patriarch, George Bluth (played by Jeffrey Tambor), is arrested for fraudulent real estate dealings, landing him in prison for pretty much the remainder of the show. In a clever twist, the show's creative team found a way to keep Tambor on the screen more often. According to Tambor himself, he was being fitted for a wig meant for a flashback sequence when showrunner Mitch Hurwitz came up with a new idea, and Oscar Bluth, George's twin brother, was born. Oscar began his run on Arrested Development in the second season, frequently dropping hints that he, not George, fathered Buster Bluth (Tony Hale). 

This fortuitous casting allowed Tambor to show off his considerable comedic chops in two different roles, and for that we are eternally grateful to that wig.

Donald Glover, Atlanta

Donald Glover has shown off his incredible range throughout his career. He's made you laugh on Community and scored hit after hit as his musical alter-ego Childish Gambino, but one of his most daring appearances was as a one-off character on his own show, Atlanta. Normally, the show focuses on Glover himself as Earnest "Earn" Marks, a smart but down-on-his-luck guy trying to balance his personal life and his cousin's burgeoning rap career. After an auspicious start, Atlanta entered its second season ready to take some risks, one of which yielded "Teddy Perkins."

In "Teddy Perkins," Earn's friend Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) visits the titular Perkins' creepy, mysterious mansion to buy a piano from the Michael Jackson-esque recluse, only to discover Teddy and his nonverbal, physically impaired brother Benny (Derrick Haywood). The two have a pretty disturbing relationship, to say the least. As Darius delves deeper into the world of Teddy Perkins, who sports bright white makeup and speaks in an unnerving voice, he makes even more unsettling discoveries. Although he isn't credited in the role, if audiences watch closely, they can clearly see that the man behind the makeup, wig, and false teeth is Glover himself. Haywood confirmed to Vulture that not only did the Atlanta creator play Teddy Perkins, but he went so far as to stay in character for the entire shoot, adding yet another layer of craziness and authenticity to a role that would later become legendary.

James Marsden, Dead to Me

Netflix's acclaimed dark comedy Dead to Me, led by Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, is full of crazy twists and turns – an astonishing amount of which concern James Marsden, who plays not one, but two integral roles within the series. As the series opens, Jen (Applegate) attends a support group as she mourns the loss of her husband. She immediately connects with a fellow mourner, Judy (Cardellini), who says that she recently lost her fiancé Steve. As it turns out, Steve, played by Marsden, is very much alive, and though Jen is initially furious at Judy's deception, the two go on to form a strange, co-dependent bond.

As Judy tries to leave Steve behind once and for all and move on with her life, she's haunted by her ex-fiancé, which all comes to a head when Steve confronts Jen late one night at her home. Forced into a corner, Jen shoots and kills Steve, which is made all the more complicated when Steve's twin brother Ben (who is, of course, also played by Marsden) appears, looking for his missing sibling. Apparently, after being killed off during the first season, Marsden reached out to creator and showrunner Liz Feldman and asked if Steve could possibly survive his head injury. That didn't happen, but she and her casting directors still found an incredibly clever way to keep Marsden involved.

Paul Rudd, Living with Yourself

It would probably be pretty difficult to find anyone who doesn't love Paul Rudd. The man has charmed audiences for decades in cheeky indies, massive blockbusters and romantic comedies alike, so featuring two Paul Rudds for the price of one feels like a no-brainer. In 2019, Netflix did just that with its original series Living With Yourself, which features Rudd in both of the leading roles, though the parts themselves are drastically different.

At the beginning of Living With Yourself, Rudd plays one role as Miles Elliott, a simple man leading an ordinary life alongside his wife in a leafy suburban neighborhood. Despite small cracks in the foundation of his Stepford life, like the fact that he and his wife are trying to have a baby and not seeing any results, Miles feels like he's happy enough, until a friend tells him about a "spa" that will change his life forever. At the end of his spa visit, Miles wakes up buried in a forest, and after escaping his predicament, he makes his way home only to find a happier, better clone of himself has completely taken his place. Throughout the series' first season, Miles and his clone must hide their secret and battle it out over who gets to be Miles permanently, showing off Rudd's beloved comedic skills as he plays both roles with humor, depth, and a razor-sharp wit.

Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black

Some shows rely on a performer's talent and versatility to play several different parts at once, and there is no better contemporary example of that gambit than Orphan Black, a Canadian series about a makeshift "family" of clones who discover their shared existence. At the outset of the series, Tatiana Maslany plays Sarah Manning, a British con artist who witnesses the suicide of someone who looks eerily familiar. Sarah ultimately steals the dead woman's identity and masquerades for a while as Detective Beth Childs. From there, Sarah discovers there are many more women who look just like her, and that all of them are part of a massive — and deeply unethical — cloning project.

In an astounding performance that spans five seasons, Maslany mastered multiple accents and created entirely different personas, tics, and mannerisms for over a dozen clones, making each individual character feel extraordinarily lived-in and real. She even manages to play one clone pretending to be another on several occasions — and sells it! It's a performance for the ages that has to be seen to be believed. For years, critics crowned Maslany as the most capable and exciting actress on television, and eventually the Academy listened; Maslany was rewarded for her considerable — and presumably taxing — effort with an Emmy Award in 2016.

Tobias Menzies, Outlander

Not many actors get to play both a good guy and a villain on the same show, but on Outlander, veteran British actor Tobias Menzies gets to pull some seriously intense double duty. The popular Starz series — based on Diana Gabaldon's hit book series of the same name — tells the story of Claire Randall (Caitrona Balfe), a nurse who ends up traveling through time from World War II to colonial Scotland where she falls in love with Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a Highland warrior who sweeps her off her feet. Besides the fact that the two are literally from different worlds, there's another issue: Claire's husband, Frank, is still in her timeline waiting for her to return.

As Claire and Jamie battle the odds to stay together, she also must try and mend her marriage to the well-meaning Frank, who even goes so far as to raise her child with Jamie when she reappears, pregnant, in their shared timeline. When Frank dies in a car accident during Outlander's third season, it's not Menzies' only shocking death of the series. In the same season, Menzies' other character, the villainous Black Jack Randall (one of Frank's sadistic ancestors), dies after battling Jamie. 

When it comes to Outlander, poor Menzies couldn't catch a break with either of his characters.

Dean-Charles Chapman, Game of Thrones

Plenty of actors have died on Game of Thrones, but Dean-Charles Chapman has the distinction of dying twice. Chapman played two separate members of the high-born Lannister family, both of whom met violent ends, albeit in very different ways. Originally, Chapman appeared on the show as Martyn Lannister during the third season, a young squire who dies at the hands of a grieving Rickard Karstark (John Stahl) during the War of the Five Kings. Martyn is a small role that season, though his death sets in motion a series of events that will eventually lead to the notorious Red Wedding.

Fortunately for Chapman, a short time later he reappears in a pretty prominent way, playing King Tommen Lannister, the last surviving child of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Unfortunately, Tommen, a sweet child not quite ready to rule, meets a disastrous end as well, and jumps out of the top of a tall tower after Cersei blows up the Sept of Baelor killing Tommen's beloved queen (Natalie Dormer). Game of Thrones has given audiences some of the most unforgettable television deaths in recent memory, and Chapman definitely made his contributions.

D'Arcy Carden, The Good Place

Michael Schur's inventive, heartfelt afterlife comedy The Good Place is home to many unforgettable characters, but D'Arcy Carden's all-knowing neighborhood assistant, Janet, stands out from the pack. Introduced as a non-human entity designed to help residents of the (ultimately fake) Good Place enjoy their eternal paradise, Janet ends up helping four humans and the demon Michael (Ted Danson) — the "Soul Squad" — escape damnation and the real Bad Place. Along the way, Janet ultimately reveals that she contains multitudes — like, literally.

Throughout the series, Carden not only plays the classic Janet we meet at the beginning, but also Janets from the Bad Place (Bad Janet), as well as "Jeanette" (a scantily-clad Janet present during Michael's mid-life crisis in season two). Most astonishingly, in the season three episode "Janet," Carden plays every other main character after inviting the human members of Soul Squad into the boundless void she calls home. Carden puts on an acting master class in this episode, mimicking each of her co-stars to perfection. The gifted performer, who has also appeared on shows like Broad City and Barry, was a relative newcomer before The Good Place, but thanks to Janet, she's now an Emmy nominee and a comedic force on the rise.

Sheryl Lee, Twin Peaks

After David Lynch's classic series Twin Peaks premiered in 1990, audiences only had one question: "Who killed Laura Palmer?" As the series opens in a small, sleepy Washington town, beauty queen Laura Palmer's body washes up on the shore wrapped in plastic, leaving Twin Peaks devastated. Before long, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) appears to get to the bottom of this seemingly straightforward mystery, but as Twin Peaks fans know by now, Cooper ends up dealing with a whole host of creepy, supernatural occurrences he never expected.

At first, it seemed as if Sheryl Lee's only role as Laura Palmer would be as a dead body on a beach or in flashbacks, but ultimately, Lynch, who loved Lee's performance, figured out a way to keep her on the show. Later in the series, Laura's identical twin cousin, Madeline "Maddy" Ferguson, also played by Lee, arrives in Twin Peaks, giving Lee a chance to live again and stay in Lynch's demented, fantastical town for a little while longer. Talk about uncanny doubling.

Justin Theroux, Sex and the City

Justin Theroux has risen to greater fame throughout the past decade or so thanks to shows like The Leftovers and a high-profile relationship with Jennifer Aniston, but once upon a time, he was busy playing two totally different guys on HBO's groundbreaking comedy Sex and the City.

Theroux first appears in season 1's "The Monogamists" as Jared, an arrogant, annoying New Yorker recently named one of the city's "coolest people under 30." Needless to say, Mr. Cool Guy Jared immediately gets under Carrie Bradshaw's (Sarah Jessica Parker) skin. Later on, Theroux resurfaces as Vaughn Wysel, one of Carrie's boyfriends in season two's "Shortcomings," though their relationship hits a major obstacle pretty quickly. When asked about this quick turnaround years later, Theroux noted that, like Law & Order, Sex and the City was a popular booking for New York-based actors, and when producers asked him to return — with a different haircut — he agreed right away, giving him two chances to visit Carrie's sexy, soapy world.