So you're in the middle of a brand new episode of your favorite show. You're already lost in the plot and totally swooning over your character crush when suddenly, you spot a guest star that looks insanely familiar. Where did you see them before? Was it on another series? Or maybe in a movie?
Well, to answer your question, it was most likely on that same TV show because, on several occasions, producers have recycled actors for multiple roles on their projects. We've seen instances where one role was played by multiple people, but it's even more fascinating when actors get to take on as many as four or more additional characters on the same series. And by the way, we're not talking about actors who played their own twins or doppelgängers from parallel universes. We mean actors who got recast as completely different people.
In most cases, viewers don't even notice this because the actors were either unrecognizable or because they played forgettable minor roles. Still, these actors definitely deserve their props for pulling off multiple roles on the same TV show.
Queen Latifah was one of the many memorable guest stars on this classic sitcom, but she appeared as more than one character. On season one's "Working It Out," fans got to see her play Hilary's overbearing boss, Marissa Redman. Then she returned on season two to portray Will's goofy love interest Dee-Dee on "She Ain't Heavy." During the episode, Will initially rejects Dee-Dee because of her weight and opts for a thinner girl. Not many people caught on to this, but the actress who played that girl also played multiple roles on the show.
We all remember her as Will's gorgeous, no-nonsense girlfriend, Lisa Wilkes. She was introduced during season five during the episode "Will's Misery." But that wasn't the first time we saw Nia Long appear on the show. On season two's "She Ain't Heavy," she played Claudia Prescott, a girl who Will decided to ask to the dance instead of Dee-Dee. Claudia, while gorgeous on the outside, was rather shallow and mean. On the other hand, Lisa turned out to be one of the most lovable characters on the show. Nia's surely versatile!
Part of what made Martin's sitcom so entertaining was his ability to don different costumes and play multiple characters throughout the show. They included the snotty-nosed Roscoe, the pimp Jerome, White Bob, Ol' Otis, Dragon Fly Jones, Mama Payne, King Beef, Elroy, and the sassy fan-favorite, Sheneneh Jenkins. In a 2017 interview with Steve Harvey, Martin revealed that he actually misses playing all of these characters, then proceeded to to a spot-on impression of Jerome. If a reboot does end up happening, we can expect to see a bunch of these alternate personas make a comeback.
He's best known for his role as Vulcan Ambassador Sarek, who was introduced in the season two episode "Journey to Babel." But before he played Spock's father, he appeared as Romulan Commander on season one's "Balance of Terror." If you want to count the entire franchise, the actor also took on a third role as Klingon Captain in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As a result he made history, becoming the first actor to play a Romulan, a Vulcan, and a Klingon in Star Trek.
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Fans remember Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data. He was a highly intelligent, Soong-type android who had superhuman abilities and was resistant to harmful conditions. But Brent also played Data's evil brother, Lore, who was introduced in the episode "Datalore." In addition to playing siblings, though, he also played Data's creator, Dr. Noonien Soong. His work earned him a nomination for the Viewers for Quality Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Drama Series.
Jennifer is best known for playing Chelsea, Charlie's ex-fiancé on Two and a Half Men. She came pretty close to getting him off the market for good because he'd really fallen for her. But before came to the series as Chelsea, she played three other roles. On the pilot, she was Suzanne, the lady who ran into Jake and Charlie at the supermarket. Then on season two's "Last Chance to See Those Tattoos," she played one of Charlie's ex-girlfriends, Tina. And finally, during the episode "Our Leather Gear Is in the Guest Room," she played Charlie's one night stand, Nina.
Former The Wonder Years star Andy Berman was a producer and writer for Psych. But he also made a few guest appearances as two different characters. On season one's "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, He Loves Me, Oops He's Dead," he played a minor character who was speed-dating. Then on season six's "Autopsy Turvy," he returns as an AfroThai waiter with a heavy accent. We're guessing most fans didn't even notice the inconsistency, since the episodes are so far apart.
Before she joined the series as Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak on season five, she had a completely different role. During the episode, "Ridicule" from season three, she played Amelia Chase, a young woman accused of raping a male stripper. In 2003, however, she landed a more permanent role on the series by replacing Alexandra Cabo, the same ADA who prosecuted her former character, Amelia, on season three. Diane made her return on the season five episode, "Serendipity."
Donald Glover plays the lead character, Earnest "Earn" Marks in the FX series. Earn is smart but impulsive and he struggles with poverty often. However, Donald's second character, Teddy Perkins, was played in whiteface and he appeared on the episode "Teddy Perkins." Teddy is Benny Hope's creepy brother and many believe that his appearance and the storyline surrounding Benny are a nod to pop icon Michael Jackson and the popular film, Get Out.
In 1991, Sharon first appeared on the episode "Mushrooms" from season one. She played Denise Winters, the mother of two shooting victims. But when she returned to join the cast on season four, she was introduced as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren. Her character succeeded Captain Don Cragen after he transferred to the Anti-Corruption Task Force. Sharon remained on the show as Anita for over seven years.
The actor appeared on two episodes of the series as two different characters. He first popped up on "The Monogamists," where he played a friend of Carrie's friend, Stanford. Although he tried to flirt with Carrie, he was a total turn-off with his shark-tooth necklaces and self-centered personality. But when Justin returned on "Shortcomings," his character fared much better with Carrie. He played a writer and her love interest, Vaughn Wysel.
As he recalled being approached to do the second role, he joked: "They said, 'Well, we have to figure out a way to make you look different.' So we were like, 'Let's just shave my head and have short hair.' So, that was me diving into the role."
The Grammy-award-winning actress and singer guest-starred in the horror drama as two different characters. At first, she appeared as "Cut-wife" Joan Clayton in 2015. She played the role on season two and was nominated for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series. When she returned in the following year, she played Dr. Florence Seward, a therapist who also happens to be a descendant of Joan Clayton. She appeared in just one episode as Joan and in seven episodes as Dr. Seward.
Fans recognize him as Marcy's scheming husband, Jefferson D'Arcy. But before he became a series regular on season five, he played another character named Norman Jablonsky on season four. The episode chronicled what would happen if Al were never born, and Norman turns out to be Peggy's husband. Additionally, Ted also took on a third character on season seven's "Peggy and the Pirates." On the episode, as Peggy shares her pirate fantasy, Ted portrays her savior, Prince Paco.
The Arrested Development actor is currently known for playing George Bluth and his twin brother, Oscar. But years before this show even began, Jefferey had already mastered the art of playing completely different characters on a series. On Three's Company, he played three characters. At first, he was Winston Cromwell III, a rich businessman who wanted to marry Cindy on "Father of the Bride." Then he was a psychiatrist named Dr. Tom Miller on "Two Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest." And finally, on season seven, he played Dr. Phil Greene on "Jack Goes to the Dentist."
Everyone remembers Gypsy, the sarcastic mechanic with no filter from Gilmore Girls. For most fans, it wasn't too surprising to see her reprise her role for the reboot. However, Rose Abdoo took on a second role and was barely recognizable. She also played Emily's jolly maid, Berta (who, surprisingly, stayed hired for over a year).
At her first table read for the series revival, Rose read eight different roles. But when she got to Berta's lines, it was an instant winner and everyone agreed that she should also play Berta. She said: "No one ever said to me, ‘Rose, please don’t tell anyone,’ but I felt that I didn't want anyone to know. My husband explained to me what an Easter egg is and I thought, 'Wouldn’t that be fun if there was something for the fans?'."
Well, technically three, if you count the pilot. At first, Alex Borstein was chosen to play Lorelai's BFF, Sookie. But because of her MADtv contract, she couldn't continue filming any more episodes. So instead, Melissa McCarthy got cast to replace Alex. On the bright side, Alex returned to guest star as two different characters on the show. First, she played the rude harpist Drella during season one. Then she appeared as Emily Gilmore's personal stylist, Miss Celine, on seasons three, five, and eight. She's completely unrecognizable in these completely different roles!
He first appeared on season two of the sci-fi drama as Lieutenant Brian Tillman, who was having an affair with detective B.J. Morrow. Then, on season nine, he was recast as Shadow Man on the episode "Trust No 1." The actor also appeared on The X-Files film as another character, FBI Special Agent Darius Michaud, in 1998.
This wasn't the only time the actor took on multiple roles in the same series, though. On LOST, he played both John Locke and The Man in Black.
Okay so technically, actors playing their own clones or siblings isn't quite the same as playing unrelated characters, but this one ought to count as an exception. On the show, Emmy-award winning actress Tatiana Maslany plays Sarah Manning, who learns that she has several clones throughout North America and Europe. They're all involved in an illegal human cloning experiment and they include Elizabeth Childs, Alison Hendrix, Helena, Cosima Niehaus, Tony Sawicki, Rachel Duncanare, and more. Their personalities are so vastly different that it's hard to view them all as "sister" clones. Honestly, Tatiana's work on this show is just phenomenal.
Amanda was featured as Clay Evans's late wife, Sara Evans, whom he had hallucinations about frequently. But a while after Sara's death (and after Clay moved on with Quinn), Amanda returned to play Katie Ryan, Clay's prospective client who could pass for Sara's twin. After facing rejection because of the uncanny resemblance, Katie begins to stalk him. She even goes as far as dying her hair and trying to impersonate Clay's late wife in order to win him over. But when that doesn't work out, she winds up shooting both Clay and Quinn before skipping town.
On the show's first season, Kevin James played Ray's coworker and friend, Kevin Daniels. After appearing on the series, Kevin got his own spin-off sitcom, The King of Queens, which aired in 1998. The series focused on him and Carrie as a working-class couple, who also lived with Carrie's dad, Arthur. In the same year, Kevin returned to Ray's show and guest-starred as his friend, Doug Heffernan, a delivery guy from Queens. To return the favor, Ray Romano also appeared as Raymond Barone on four episodes of King of Queens.
It's easy to see why fans might have missed the continuity error with this example. In 2004, Garret Dillahunt first appeared during season one as the assassin Jack McCall, also known as Crooked Nose" or "Broken Nose Jack." He appeared during six episodes that year. But on season two, he reappeared as chief geologist Francis Wolcott, an impulsive and sexually violent man who murdered sex workers. He played that character for ten episodes.
In the beginning, Sheryl played a small role as Laura Palmer, a high school student whose death led to a bunch of uncovered mysteries in the small town. She only appeared on a few episodes to film flashback moments from before her death, but she was brought back again as Laura's cousin, Maddy Ferguson. Unlike Laura, who led a double life, Maddy was super friendly and easygoing. But as she continued to appear on the show, she started to look more and more like Laura. Eventually, her character got murdered by the same person who killed her cousin.
I Love Lucy is known for recycling actors for several roles throughout the show, but comedian Frank Nelson was by far among the most memorable guest stars. Most fans know him as Freddie Fillmore, the game show host who appeared on "The Quiz Show," "Lucy Gets Ricky On The Radio," and "Ricky's Hawaiian Vacation." Others may also recognize him as Betty Ramsey's husband, Ralph Ramsey during the show's last season. But his other roles included Henry the Waiter, Sergeant Nelson, Dickie Davis, the Customs Officer, and the Conductor.
Phil is known for his hilarious role as Kramer's lawyer (and the Johnnie Cochran parody), Jackie Chiles. But the well-dressed lawyer wasn't Phil's only role on Seinfeld. Before he joined as a series regular from seasons seven through nine, he guest-starred on the season five episode "The Non-Fat Yogurt." He was the guy who briefly appeared as David Dinkins's aide, Phillip Trout.
Michael first appeared on the sitcom in 1991 as the random Phone Guy George spotted on season two's "The Chinese Restaurant." Then, on "The Puffy Shirt" from season five, he played a photographer at a hand modeling company. Both roles were pretty minor, so chances are he could've returned for a dozen more small roles and most fans still wouldn't take notice. The actor also took on two different characters on the series Highway to Heaven, where he played Larry and the projectionist.
The actor and vocalist first played a photographer at Phase Two of the Pines of Mar Gables on season three's "The Pen." During the same season, he returned as the owner of the Mercedes that George spits on on "The Parking Garage." Then, on season eight, he got recast for a third (!) time as Malcolm on the episode, "The Summer of George." Tucker also played multiple roles on Reasonable Doubts (Michaels and Briggs) and Millennium (Steven Kiley and Ellsworth Beedle).
Harry is often recognized as the stern Colonel Sherman T. Potter, who replaced Colonel Henry Blake. He first appeared on season two and remained on the cast until the end of the series. But Harry had another role on the show before he started as Sherman Potter. On the season three premiere, "The General Flipped at Dawn," he played a visiting General that threatened to court-martial Hawkeye. It seems like the producers were so impressed with his performance that they decided to bring him back as a main character.
Samantha is widely known for portraying Sam and Dean's mom, Mary Winchester. She appeared on the pilot and on several other episodes. But she also played the role of Eve, also known as the "Mother of All." After being released from Purgatory on "Like a Virgin," Eve created the Khan Worm, which can literally enter a person's body and control their actions. The role was portrayed by two actresses, but Samantha made her appearance as Eve on the episode titled, "Mommy Dearest."
On season two's "Croatoan," the actress first played a wife and mom named Beverly Tanner, who got infected with a demonic virus. Then, on season eight, she played Mary Lew, who got possessed by the specter of Vance Collins and was compelled to kill her own husband for something he did in high school. Finally, on season 14, she went on to play Mrs. Helen Kline on "Gods and Monsters." She was the mother of Kelly Kline, who was the mother of Lucifer's child.
Okay, we promise, this is the last example from Supernatural. During season three's "Jus in Bello," Kurt Evans was introduced as agent Calvin Reidy. He had partnered with agent Victor Henriksen at the Green River County Detention Center and question Dean, but by season three, he got killed by a demon. On season 11, however, the actor played Marnie's husband on "Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire," where his wife got possessed by the demon Crowley. He hadn't been on the show for nearly a decade, so it's understandable that viewers would miss this one.
Dean-Charles Chapman was perfectly cast as Tommen Baratheon, the younger brother of King Joffrey on Game of Thrones. If you squint, Dean-Charles is the spitting image of Joffrey’s portrayer, Jack Gleeson. King Tommen was killed off the show after the Great Sept of Baelor when he died by suicide when jumping out of a window in the Red Keep, but that's not the first time Dean-Charles has died on this famously bloody HBO series. Before he played Tommen, Dean-Charles appeared on season three as Martyn Lannister, a squire in the Lannister army who is strangled by Lord Rickard Karstark.
Doctor Who is filled with wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, so some dual casting snafus are both expected and embraced by its audience. Karen Gillan, now of Avengers fame, was once best known for her role as Amy Pond, the eleventh Doctor's trusty companion. Before she traveled through time and space with Matt Smith, she appeared on an earlier episode "The Fires of Pompeii" as a soothsayer during David Tennant's run as the chameleonic leading man. The Who team gave Amy an affinity for Romans while on the show, but otherwise never mentioned her earlier appearance.
"The Fires of Pompeii" gave Doctor Who not just one, but two future leading characters. Peter Capaldi, who would go on to replace Matt Smith as the titular Doctor in 2013, appeared in the Tennant-era episode as Caecilius, a sculptor in possession of the TARDIS. Peter also appeared as John Frobisher in the Doctor Who companion series Torchwood: Children of Earth before taking on the franchise's leading role, but the Doctor Who writers retconned this to claim that the Doctor had taken Caecillus's face for noble reasons and that Frobisher was a long-lost Caecilius descendant.
Even Vulture noticed that Seth Meyers would be appearing on the fourth season of Mindy Kaling's star-vehicle The Mindy Project as a different character than his original guest appearance on season one. His role as Matt the Bookstore Guy on the series' second episode was just too good to be forgotten, which is to be expected when you put America's Sweetheart Seth Meyers into every woman's hot guy in a bookstore fantasy. His season four return saw Seth camoing as himself, the Late Night with Seth Meyers talk show host, Seth Meyers.
Sean Gunn is unforgettable as Kirk Gleason, Stars Hollow's jack of all trades on Gilmore Girls. Before he was an aspiring filmmaker (or grocery store bagger, egg hunt planner, Hay There! salesman, or proud cat owner), Sean appeared as a DSL installer during the second episode of the first season named Mick and a Swan Man on episode three. Sean told Entertainment Weekly that showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino just kept asking Sean back to the show, then eventually created the character Kirk, who would become a big part of the Gilmore Girls family.
Kali Rocha's original role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Cecily, a girl named Cecily from Spike's human past, was so small, the casting team probably didn't think viewers would recognize her when she reappeared as Halfrek the vengeance demon. They underestimated the power of Buffy fans, who not only noticed that they had seen Kali before, but theorized that Cecily must have become the demon Halfrek. Joss Whedon tried to write that connection into the canon, but because Halfrek had already announced her age, she couldn't have been human when Spike and Cecily met. They later cleaned this up in a one-shot comic, Spike: Old Times.
Law and Order and its sister shows are such blatant re-casters that there's an entire website dedicated to guest star Repeat Offenders. The original series, which ended after a decade in 2010, had 456 episodes, each with a fleet of guest-starring roles, making an appearance on the long-running police procedural something of a rite of passage for aspiring actors and actresses. Christine Baranski, who you may know from The Good Wife and Mamma Mia! franchises, was one of those repeat offenders during the show's early days. She starred as a member of the Masucci family way back on season one and a defense attorney on season four.
The casting team at Two and a Half Men must have really loved Judy Greer. She first appeared on the show during its fourth season as Myra Melnick, a woman who dates Charlie Sheen's character for two episodes despite already having a fiancé. She later returned as Bridget Schmidt, Walden's ex-girlfriend, during Ashton Kutcher's tenure as the series' leading man. During her four seasons as Bridget, Judy also appeared as Danny, a lesbian with a strong resemblance to Bridget who catches Walden's eye.
Showrunner Tina Fey makes two guest appearances on her Netflix comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, first as a terrible lawyer during the series' first season and later as a drunk Uber customer during the second season. Sure, that Uber customer could have ostensibly been Tina's terrible lawyer from season one, but we all know it was just a lovely opportunity to have comedic genius Tina briefly appear on the show for all of her devoted fans.
Speaking of Tina Fey, the comedy showrunner originally envisioned 30 Rock's Jenna Maroney as Jenna DeCarlo, a very different type of leading lady played by Tina's close friend Rachel Dratch. When executives insisted on recasting the role, Tina finessed Rachel onto the show's first season by casting her in a cornucopia of minor roles without even trying to gloss over the repetition. Sadly, Rachel was dropped from the series after its first season. The former SNL star also appeared in a guest spot on Tina's Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. You've gotta love strong female friendships!