Most of us are used to the idea of an actor getting a role and, you know, acting the part. We’ll accept a stunt double for scenes where the actor needs to jump out of a plane, fight a venomous snake, or kiss Ricky Gervais. But for the most part, if we’re watching Gary Busey, we want to see Gary Busey. (Wait, why do we want to see Gary Busey again?)
Anyway, as it turns out, despite how much we think we’re paying attention to the movie or or TV show that’s playing right in front of our dumb eyes, we’re not actually always watching who we think we’re watching. Even crazier, this kind of thing happens much more often than we realize. There have been plenty of times when actors were swapped out, and those of us in the audience never even noticed. Hold onto your hats everyone…this is about to blow your mind. Or, at the very least, mildly surprise you while you read this when you should be working.
Natalie Portman – Thor: The Dark World
The heated kiss between Thor and Jane Foster in Thor: The Dark World’s post-credits scene is one of the steamiest moments in all the Marvel movies, and with good reason: actor Chris Hemsworth isn’t making out with his costar Natalie Portman, but his real-life wife, Spanish actress and Fast & Furious star Elsa Pataky.
The scene, in which Thor forsakes his homeland, Asgard, to be with Jane full-time, wasn’t finished during regular filming; the kiss was shot later, well after principal photography had wrapped. "[Hemsworth] was working in Hong Kong and I couldn’t get there because I was working on my own film," Portman told the New York Daily News, "and so they put his wife in my wig and costume, that’s why it was so passionate."
And while many women would be upset to miss out on an opportunity to lock lips with Hemsworth, Portman doesn’t seem to be one of them—as she put it, "It was such a perfect solution, wasn’t it?" Besides, for the 5’3" Portman, kissing the Thor actor—who measures in at 6 feet, four inches—might be more trouble than it’s worth. While filming other kissing scenes in the Thor series, Portman said, "They usually had a ramp for me to walk up so I could land somewhere near his face."
Paul Walker – Furious 7
Furious 7 was maybe halfway through filming when series star Paul Walker tragically died in an automobile accident. The production shut down temporarily so that producers could consult with Walker’s family on what they’d like to do. As the star of the film, there was no way to move forward without him, and there simply wasn’t enough filmed already to try to cobble a movie together.
Walker’s family agreed that the movie should be finished and his two brothers volunteered as stand-ins, since both closely resembled the actor physically. With the help of the special effects crew at WETA who brought Gollum to life in Lord of the Rings and Caesar in Planet of the Apes, special effects turned Cody and Caleb Walker into Paul Walker for the remainder of the film. Furious 7 went on to be the biggest hit of the franchise and one of the biggest films of all time, grossing over $1.5 billion.
Brandon Lee – The Crow
The son of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee was set to take Hollywood by storm, mixing his family name with his own charm and talent. Sadly, on the set while filming his breakout role in The Crow, Lee was shot by a prop gun that had a dummy round left in the chamber. He died after six hours in surgery.
With only eight days left of filming to complete the movie, Lee’s mother and fiancé both encouraged director Alex Proyas to finish the film. To complete it, Lee’s friend and stunt double Chad Stahelski stood in for him while special effects were used to give him Lee’s face while another stunt double help finished out some of the action scenes. The result is a movie in which Lee’s role is perfect, and there’s no indication of the tragedy that befell him.
Harrison Ford – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
You might think that it’d be impossible to mistake someone else for the iconic Harrison Ford. After all, he’s one of the most recognizable actors on the planet, and he’s appeared in legendary roles in some of the most popular movies of all time. And yet, Steven Spielberg and his production team still pulled a fast one back in the 1980s that you probably never even noticed.
On the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Harrison Ford suffered a pretty severe back injury that sidelined him for several weeks of filming. Director Steven Spielberg, however, was prepared for any eventuality and simply swapped Ford for his longtime stunt double Vic Armstrong, who actually looked and moved so much like Ford that he managed to confuse Spielberg on-set more than once. A number of action scenes were filmed without Ford, including the epic fight between Indy and the massive Thugee cult member on the conveyor belt in the mine.
Jennifer Aniston – Friends
Friends was a massive success and Jennifer Aniston is arguably the biggest star it produced. Which makes it all the more unusual that it took years after the show was off the air for someone to finally notice one episode in particular in which Aniston inexplicably disappears.
In a random episode from the ninth season, a fan watching a Friends marathon happened to notice that in one scene when Aniston is standing next to Matt Leblanc, it’s not Aniston at all. Seems that Aniston’s stand-in was on set that day and, for whatever reason, her scene wasn’t cut or edited in such a way as to remove her from the shot. The presence of a stand-in isn’t such a crazy thing; after all, stand-ins are on set to replace actors when they’re not available. It’s just that they usually don’t end up in the final cut.
Oliver Reed – Gladiator
British actor Oliver Reed was just as famous for his hard-partying ways as he was for appearances in films like Oliver!, Women in Love, and Tommy, and when he died in 1999 after a night of heavy drinking, friends agreed that he "he probably went the way he would have wished." They’re most likely right—in a 1994 interview, Reed gave his own obituary, which began, "I died in a bar of a heart attack full of laughter." However, while Reed’s passing might’ve been ideal for the actor, it caused a major headache for the cast and crew of Gladiator, which he was filming before his demise.
According to Gladiator visual effects supervisor Rob Harvey, Reed’s death forced the Gladiator team to rewrite the film’s ending, and it still required quite a bit of visual trickery to pull together. Some of Reed’s performance was cobbled together from outtakes (one dedicated fan has identified places where director Ridley Scott and his editors used the same footage more than once). The rest of the time, especially during wide shots, a body double with Reed’s face digitally attached filled the void. "It’s a very weird thing to have to do," Harvey admitted, "particularly [in 1999], when the technology wasn’t really there at all." Still, it worked well enough—Reed was nominated for a BAFTA for his Gladiator performance in 2001, nearly two years after he passed away.
Bruce Lee – Game of Death
Enter the Dragon might be the most important martial arts film ever made, but the success of Hollywood’s first-ever kung-fu flick came with a steep, steep price. When superstar Bruce Lee was offered the role of Lee in Robert Clouse’s seminal 1973 action movie, he was in the middle of filming Game of Death, and if Lee hadn’t taken a break to make Enter the Dragon, the martial artist’s mysterious final project might’ve actually been completed.
As it is, however, Lee died of a brain edema on July 20, 1973, just a month before Enter the Dragon hit screens. That left Game of Death, of which Lee had already filmed about 40 minutes, in limbo. Five years later, Clouse decided to finish what Lee started. Reportedly, Lee was changing Game of Death’s script while filming Enter the Dragon, and the story—what there was of it, anyway—was in constant flux (in fact, the day that Lee died, he was meeting with former James Bond George Lazenby about a brand new part in Game of Death that Lee had created with Lazenby in mind). This left Clouse free to create a brand-new plot allowing the director to work around Lee’s absence by crafting a story that had room for Lee’s previously filmed scenes, shots from older Bruce Lee projects, and even footage from Lee’s real-life funeral.
In addition to archival film, Clouse also hired stand-ins to play Billy Lo, Lee’s character in the new version of Game of Death. In Clouse’s Game of Death, Lo both receives plastic surgery after a brutal fight and later fakes his own death and wears a disguise, making it easy for Clouse to replace Lee in with actors like Kim Tai-chung and Yuen Biao, Bruce Lee’s stunt double on Enter the Dragon. While the low-budget archival footage stands out amid Game of Death’s high production values, the stand-ins work reasonably well (aside from a few oddities, like a scene in which Kim Tai-chung looks in a mirror and sees a cardboard cut-out of Lee’s face staring back at him).
Michael Pitt – Hannibal
It’s hard to imagine anyone more villainous than Hannibal Lecter, but the cult favorite TV series Hannibal gave us just such a character. As the sadistic meat-packing tycoon Mason Verger, Boardwalk Empire star Michael Pitt spends the second half of the show’s second season tormenting Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal, Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham, and Katharine Isabelle, who plays Verger’s twin sister Margo. Pitt delivers an equal parts electric and terrifying performance as Verger, who showrunner Bryan Fuller called "The Joker to Hannibal’s Batman," until Verger finally falls under Hannibal’s spell and suffers a grisly fate near the end of the season.
But while Mason and Margo Verger return in Hannibal Season 3, Pitt decided to pass for unknown reasons. When Mason reappears, ready for revenge against everyone’s favorite cannibal, Joe Anderson appears in the role—even though Pitt and Anderson look nothing alike. Fortunately, in Pitt’s last appearance on the show, Hannibal drugs Mason and convinces the villain to cut off his own face and feed it to Will Graham’s pack of stray dogs. Anderson spends the entirety of Hannibal season 3 covered in some truly gnarly make-up, which, combined with Anderson’s convincingly consistent vocal performance, results in a seamless transition between the two actors.
Nicholas Brendon – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Nicholas Brendon appeared in all but one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and yet, surprisingly, he wasn’t the only person to play Xander Harris, Buffy’s geeky pal and perennial punching bag. Brendon’s twin brother, who uses the stage name Kelly Donovan, often took Brendon’s place when the actor wasn’t available or when Buffy’s supernatural shenanigans required more than one Xander on screen at once.
Donovan made his most memorable appearance on Buffy in the fifth season episode "The Replacement," in which a demon creates a second Xander who threatens to take over the original’s life. According to a post on Nicholas Brendon’s now-defunct website, Brendon did most of the heavy lifting in the episode—Donovan was supposed to be more of a stand-in, although he turned in such a convincing performance that Brendon, Donovan, and Brendon’s wife Tressa di Figlia couldn’t tell them apart. In the episode "Intervention," Donovan replaced Brendon entirely during some action scenes, as Brendon had pneumonia and couldn’t come to the set.
Crispin Glover – Back to the Future Part 2
This may be the ultimate actor switcheroo. So egregious was this swap that it resulted in not just a lawsuit against the producers, but new regulations from the Screen Actors Guild to prevent it from ever happening again. So what happened?
Crispin Glover refused to reprise his role as George McFly in the sequels to Back to the Future due to a dispute over his salary or ethical concerns about the moral of the movie, depending on which story you believe. Unable to come to an agreement with Glover, producers recast the role with Jeffrey Weissman. So far so good, right? They then covered Weissman in make-up and prosthetics that had been cast from Glover’s face in the first movie when they aged him for the scenes when he’s older. Weissman became a Crispin Glover doppelganger, basically trading on the actor’s appearance without actually using him. After Glover’s lawsuit, which he won, the Screen Actor’s Guild made it a rule that no actor’s likeness could be stolen in such a way again.
Gene Hackman – Superman II
It might be hard to imagine now, but in the ’70s, only one big-budget superhero franchise ruled the silver screen. With director Richard Donner at the helm and Christopher Reeve wearing the cape, the original Superman made $300 million at the worldwide box office—almost six times its budget—and established the template for almost every superhero film to follow.
After success like that, you’d expect Donner to return for the sequel. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. During filming, Donner argued with producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind about the film’s budget, and although Donner had already filmed roughly 75% of Superman II during production of the first film, he was replaced by A Hard Day’s Night’s Richard Lester. In order to secure a director’s credit, Lester reshot quite a bit of Donner’s footage, substantially changing Superman II’s story and tone in the process.
The way the Salkinds treated Donner didn’t sit well with the cast. Reportedly, Reeve was openly furious about Donner’s dismissal. Gene Hackman, who played Lex Luthor in both films, flat-out refused to show up to finish shooting Superman II. With Hackman absent, Lester and the Salkinds were forced to use body doubles and voice impersonators in order to bring Superman II to completion.
Josh Pence – The Social Network
In 2010, Armie Hammer made headlines (and picked up a couple of awards) for his portrayal of Olympic athletes, would-be entrepreneurs, and identical twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, but he couldn’t have done it alone. On the set, Tyler was actually played by Draft Day and Gangster Squad star Josh Pence. Later, Pence’s face was digitally replaced by Hammer’s by The Social Network’s special effects team.
In order to prepare for the dual roles, Hammer and Pence attended a "twin boot camp," where together they worked out each twin’s particular quirks and mannerisms, and while Pence’s career hasn’t taken off like Hammer’s, he’s become more positive about his Social Network experience over time. For his part, Hammer remains effusive about Pence’s performance, as have the real-life Winklevoss twins, who met their onscreen counterparts for a round of drinks around the time of the film’s premiere.
Josh Dallas – Thor: The Dark World
For such a small role, Marvel Studios sure had a lot of trouble casting Fandral the Dashing, the Warriors Three’s swashbuckling lothario. First, Chuck star Zachary Levi was set to play the goateed Asgardian, but had to drop out when NBC ordered more episodes of Chuck’s third season. Next, Marvel cast Queen of the Damned and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen star Stuart Townsend in the role, but Townsend departed shortly before filming due to mysterious "creative differences." Marvel finally found its Fandral in a then-unknown actor named Josh Dallas, who finally brought the classic character to the screen.
But the trouble didn’t stop there. Between Thor’s premiere and the start of filming on Thor: The Dark World, Dallas landed the plum role of Prince Charming on ABC’s fairytale drama Once Upon a Time. Because of Once Upon a Time’s rigorous shooting schedule, Dallas couldn’t join his fellow Warriors for their big screen return, and Marvel needed to recast the part. Their choice? Zachary Levi, of course, who was finally free to take the role after Chuck’s five-season run came to an end. Thanks to Fandral’s signature facial hair (and, honestly, his limited screen time), Levi effortlessly picked up right where Dallas left off, leaving audiences none the wiser.
Penelope Cruz – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Mónica Cruz has been an accomplished dancer and actress for years, and while she has featured roles in movies like Asterix at the Olympic Games, Last Hour, and Jerry Cotton, she’s probably most famous in America for her part in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides—in which she played her sister, Penélope.
Penélope took over from Keira Knightley as Pirates of the Caribbean’s female lead in Rob Marshall’s 2010 sequel, in which she played Angelica, Jack Sparrow’s love interest. However, while filming, Penélope learned that she was pregnant. In order to minimize the risk to Penélope’s unborn baby, Marshall hired Mónica (who, despite being three years younger, looks quite a bit like her older sister) to serve as a stand-in. In an interview with The Telegraph, Penélope said she spent over two months training for the movie’s tricky sword-fighting scenes, but admitted that, ultimately, they were just too dangerous for her to film alone. Thankfully, Penélope said, Mónica is "a dancer and very good with a sword because she’s done a film herself," and audiences didn’t notice the switch. Currently, neither Penélope nor Mónica are scheduled to return in Pirates of the Caribbean’s next installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales, but the Cruz family is a big part of the franchise: Javier Bardem, Penélope’s husband, will play the new film’s lead villain.
Shemp – The Three Stooges
Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges was contracted along with the other Stooges to produce eight films in 1956. Unfortunately, four films into the contract, Shemp Howard died of a heart attack at age 60. And in the 1950s, no one gave a damn if you died or not, your contract needed to be fulfilled. Thus was born the "Fake Shemp." Producer Jules White set about producing four brand new films, each starring Shemp, by cutting together footage from older Stooges films with new scenes featuring Joe Palma, an actor who had long filled supporting roles in Stooges films. They just filmed him from behind or with his face obscured.
The Cast of Evil Dead
The term "Fake Shemp" was actually coined by Evil Dead director Sam Raimi because he needed to use so many of them during production of his iconic horror film. As star Bruce Campbell recounted in his memoir If Chins Could Kill, because Evil Dead was so ultra low-budget, Raimi and the actors couldn’t always work on the same schedule. The result was that Raimi sometimes needed to film what he could when he could and with whom he could, which meant no fewer than 18 stand-ins were used during production. That’s pretty incredible, as the end result shows no sign that so many extra people were involved.
Lena Headey – Game of Thrones
Lena Headey plays Cersei Lannister, the ultimate villain on HBO’s Game of Thrones. So viewers watched with a bit of sadistic glee when the character was literally and figuratively dressed down to be paraded through the streets of King’s Landing in nothing but a short haircut and smears of filth.
The scene is intense and humiliating and drawn out so the audience can experience her awkward humiliation. The craziest part, however, is that we’re not even watching Headey in the scene. The entire walk is performed by a body double seamlessly merged with Headey’s facial expressions and body language to make one awkward, horrible walk to the Red Keep.