20 Stars Who Played 2 Different Characters on the Same Series

Damarys Ocaña Perez | Nov 19, 2019 TV
20 Stars Who Played 2 Different Characters on the Same Series
Image: Joseph Del Valle/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Will Smith and Nia Long in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Joseph Del Valle/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Ever watch a show and do a double take on a familiar face -- like, wait a minute, isn't that the actress who played the high society psycho last season, and now she's back permanently, as an assistant district attorney? 

Um, OK. Guess we'll go with it. 

In a world where there are thousands and thousands of actors, it's actually not uncommon to see the same face pop up twice (or more!) on the same show. Maybe it's because that actor who had a small guest spot in season one was so good that he was cast in a permanent role. Maybe he was just the first person who answered the call when a showrunner was trying to fill a role or replace a star. Whatever the case, as viewers, we rarely complain, either because it's been a while since we saw the person, or because we were already hoping to see more of that actor, and the show somehow read our minds.

Sometimes, of course, having a star double-dip as a different character is part of the show's long-term plan all along. Plenty of shows -- especially those with a fantastical or sci-fi elements -- feature storylines that call for stars to play evil twins, doppelgangers from alternate universes, or characters who look exactly like their ancestors. Sometimes, an entire show is based on the premise that some people have four or five versions of themselves running around having entire unrelated lives all over the world.

And well, we love it. 

Actors playing different roles on a show, that's the kind of stuff that keeps us coming back to a show. It's fun to watch actors stretch their talents and deliver something exciting and even thought-provoking -- and really earn that fat paycheck while doing so. Can't imagine the work involved in memorizing lines, making sure to keep one character's way of talking and moving consistent throughout the season (let alone two) and getting up before dawn to sit in a makeup chair for hours. But often, the results are worth it. 

Here are 20 stars who took on at least two roles on a show. 

  • Queen Latifah - 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'

    1

    Queen Latifah pulled double duty on the modern TV classic The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with one-off performances as Hilary's annoying boss, Marissa Redman, in season one's "Working it Out," and as Will's love interest in season two's "She Ain't Heavy." Though the sweet and playful Dee-Dee was perfect for Will, he rejected her in favor of a thinner girl.

  • Anna Torv - 'Fringe'

    2

    The J.J. Abrams cult favorite sci-fi series starred Anna Torv (Mindhunter) as the haunted FBI agent Olivia Dunham who investigates unexplained supernatural -- or fringe -- events. That's how she meets her doppelganger (nicknamed Fauxlivia by fans), an FBI agent in a parallel world who eventually tries to take her identity, her job, and her man. 

    Don't trust the B!

  • Tatiana Maslany - 'Orphan Black'

    3

    The Emmy-winning actress has done mesmerizing work playing several characters on the thrilling BBC America drama Orphan Black. Tatiana Maslany plays a woman who witnesses the demise of someone who looks exactly like her, and then finds out there are several clones of her living throughout the world. That's when her acting prowess comes in, switching between characters, accents, and personalities effortlessly.

  • Donald Glover - 'Atlanta'

    4

    The Michael Jackson overtones were huge when Atlanta's star, Donald Glover, donned whiteface to play Teddy Perkins, the supposed brother of a reclusive musician, in season two's critically acclaimed episode of the same name. It was quite a break from Donald's role as Earn, the FX show's struggling rap artist protagonist. 

  • Lisa Kudrow - 'Friends'

    5
    lisa kudrow phoebe ursula buffay
    NBC

    Nobody ever said that twice as much Lisa Kudrow is too much. On Friends, she not only rocked the role of the wonderfully ditsy Phoebe Buffay, but that of her scheming twin sister, Ursula, with whom she had epic sibling rivalry. It was later revealed that Ursula worked in the adult film industry, starring in such gems as Buffay the Vampire Layer, and Lawrence of La Labia. Worst of all, she was using Phoebe's name as her handle. 

  • Patti LuPone - 'Penny Dreadful'

    6

    Award-winning actress and singer Patti LuPone played two formidable women on Penny Dreadful, one the ancestor of the other. In season two episode three, she played Joan Clayton, a witch cast out of a coven for refusing to embrace evil. The next season, the theater legend starred for seven episodes as Joan's descendant, Dr. Florence Seward, the stern but gifted psychologist and hypnotist who helps Vanessa Ives, Joan's mentee from centuries past.   

  • Nina Dobrev - 'The Vampire Diaries'

    7

    Nina Dobrev said it best in an emotional Instagram post in 2015 as The Vampire Diaries was preparing for its final seasons. "I was a human, a vampire, a doppelganger, a crazy immortal, a doppelganger pretending to be human, a human pretending to be a doppelganger. I got kidnapped, killed, resurrected, tortured, cursed, body-snatched, was dead and undead." That's partly because the actress played not just Elena Gilbert, but her 19th century doppelganger, Katherine Pierce.

  • Paul Wesley - 'Vampire Diaries'

    8

    Nope, Nina Dobrev isn't the only one who played more than one role on The Vampire Diaries. Paul Wesley played the nearly 200-year-old vampire Stefan Salvatore. He also played 19th century Silas, and two more doppelgangers, Ambrose and Tom Avery.

  • Nia Long - 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'

    9
    Will Smith and Nia Long in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
    NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

    For 15 episodes starting in season five of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Nia Long played Will's smart and pretty girlfriend, Lisa Wilkes, who changed him from a serial dater to a more mature potenial husband -- who then disappears from the show after their two canceled weddings. But she got her start on the show in a single episode of season two, playing Claudia, whom Will takes to the school dance.

  • S. Epatha Merkerson - 'Law & Order'

    10
    epatha merkerson law and order
    Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

    She's played Anita Van Buren, the capable homicide lieutenant with the witty one-liners for 17 years on Law & Order -- almost the entire run of the show, which debuted in 1991. Die-hard fans of the perennially-playing-on-some-channel favorite will know that Merkerson guest-starred in the first season as the mom of kids caught in the crossfire of a drug deal gone bad. 

  • Garret Dillahunt - 'Deadwood'

    11

    On the profoundly disturbing HBO show Deadwood, Garret Dillahunt played two equally stomach-turning characters. He played the assassin Jack McCall during six episodes of season one, and then returned for season two as the utterly repulsive chief geologist Francis Wolcott, who is just vile beyond words.

  • Alex Borstein - 'Gilmore Girls'

    12

    She's the Emmy-winning co-star of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel nowadays, but Alex Borstein got her start with the show's creators playing two characters on their first hit: Gilmore Girls. Borstein played the foul-mouthed hotel harpist Drella in the first season, then she returned as Emily Gilmore's batty personal stylist, Miss Celine, in a recurring role in later seasons.  

  • Samantha Smith - 'Supernatural'

    13

    Actress Samantha Smith has played Mary Winchester, Dean and Sam's mom, since the long-running show started in 2005 -- and it's been quite a ride. The character has died, been resurrected, forced to another world, died again ... the works, basically. But Smith also played another character: Eve, aka The Mother of All, in the episode "Mommy Dearest." That's one hardworking actress.

  • Ali Larter - 'Heroes'

    14
    ali larter heroes
    Justin Lubin/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images; Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

    Ali Larter's main character, Niki Sanders, was a devoted mom to a special little boy. She did whatever she had to in order to keep him safe, including some naughty things on a webcam. Niki overcame her evil alter ego, Jessica, to perish heroically, saving someone. But Larter also played Tracy Strauss, a character with the ability to freeze who went down an evil path before seeking redemption. 

  • Miley Cyrus - 'Hannah Montana'

    15

    Everyone knows that Miley Cyrus played Miley Stewart, a regular girl by day who turned into pop star Hanna Montana by night. But for one episode, Cyrus also played Luanne, her "twin" cousin and doppelganger from Tennessee, daughter of her dad's twin brother, Bobby Ray. Anyway, Luanne pretends to be nice but is actually super evil, and plots to out Miley as Hannah at a party. 

    She fails! 

  • Billy Ray Cyrus - 'Hanna Montana'

    16
    billy ray cyrus miley cyrus hannah montana
    Eric McCandless/Disney Channel via Getty Images

    Miley-Hannah's dad, Robby Ray Stewart, had an identical twin brother named Bobby Ray, father to Miley's evil cousin, Luanne. Bobby Ray, played by Billy Ray Cyrus, makes a brief appearance on the episode "Torn Between Two Hannahs." He wears typical cowboy clothes, boots and hat, and speaks with a thick Tennessee accent. It was Robby Ray's sole appearance on the show.

  • Jeannette McCurdy - 'iCarly'

    17

    Young actors playing twins is actually fairly common in kids shows, and iCarly was no different. Jeannette McCurdy played Carly's tomboyish, risk-taking best friend, Sam Puckett. Naturally, Sam had a twin sister, Melanie. And naturally, they are complete opposites! Melanie is a straight-A student who attends a posh boarding school, and is sweet, classy, and girly. 

    They were not buds. 

  • Michelle Forbes - 'Star Trek: The Next Generation

    18

    That must have been fun. Michelle Forbes played two aliens in Star Trek: The Next Generation. She is best known as Ensign Ro Laren, Captain Jean Luc Picard's Bajoran protégé who eventually joins a band of rebels. However, just five months before taking on that role, she'd played a guest role as Dara, a rather uptight Kaelon who disapproved of her scientist father's straying from Kaelon tradition.

  • Diane Neal - 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'

    19

    Diane Neal played the surprisingly hard-nosed Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak who was was persistent enough to rack up a 71 percent conviction rate. But ADA Novak was not the first role that Neal took on on Law & Order: SVU. On season three, she was on the other side of the law, playing Amelia Chase, who had her way (illegally) with a male dancer at a party and staged the auto-erotic suicide of one of her accomplices.  

  • Jennifer Taylor

    20
    jennifer taylor two and a half men
    CBS

    Jennifer Taylor played three characters on Two and a Half Men, and they were a series of hot girls that Charlie Sheen's character, Charlie Harper, drooled over. Taylor's main role was as Chelsea Melini, whom he actually fell in love with and asked to marry him. But she also played the hot chick that bumped into him at the supermarket in season one, and the hot chick he had a one night stand with later on. 

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