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!
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.