Body Doubles in Movies: Everything You Need To Know

Body Doubles in Movies: Everything You Need To Know

While movie stars get all the praise, their body doubles in movies are equally as important. In action movies, famous Hollywood stars jump out of exploding buildings to catch a helicopter ride while famous actors and actresses strip down to nothing for hot scenes that steam up the screen. Then there are those times Hollywood stars dazzle audiences with perfect dance moves. In most cases, it’s not the iconic celebrity but their body double risking their life, getting busy between the sheets, or tearing up the dance floor. 

The purpose of a body double is to take the actor’s place in a scene when the stunts are too extreme or nudity is an issue. Most directors use the classic trick of filming the body at an angle that hides or obscures the face. With the advancement of technology, post-production allows directors to superimpose the actor’s face onto the body double, making it appear as though the actor performed in the scene.

While the body double’s face doesn’t usually appear on camera, they often share similarities and have comparable body types and facial features. But there is a lot more that goes into being a body double than just wearing a wig or jumping off a bridge as you will discover below.

Body Doubles in Movies: Everything You Need To Know

What Does a Body Double Do?

body doubles in movies

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The body double essentially has all the same responsibilities as the actor. They must know the lines, body movements, and the actor’s timing. In a lot of ways, they have the more demanding job. 

Physical appearance isn’t the only reason a body double lands the role. Other times it has less to do with resembling an actor and more with specific skills that possess. Films often hire body doubles to dance or play a musical instrument in place of the actor. Body double can also perform physical feats, such as playing a sport, driving a vehicle, or taking part in a fight scene. 

Body doubles often specialize in a particular body part. Hand doubles usually play the role of the star’s hands and arms in a scene the actor cannot attend. The director inserts these shots into the scene to make them appear as if the real actor was actually part of the scene. Actors are usually busy shooting other scenes so a second crew is able to shoot with the hand double, which is a more time-effective method of shooting.

Types of Body Doubles

stunt doubles concept

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In addition to a hand double, there are several specific jobs for body doubles in Hollywood. 

Stunt Double

Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves have a reputation for performing their own stunts and rarely use stunt doubles. But they are a different breed, with most actors preferring to use a body double. Stunt doubles stand in for actors during dangerous scenes, such as jumping out of a burning building, riding a motorcycle over a gorge, or getting into a wild fistfight.

An actor’s age, physical condition, or contract can prevent them from performing a risky stunt, so this is when the stunt double steps up. Many body doubles specialize in general stunt work and often work with the same actors on multiple movies during their careers. 

Dance Double

Aside from stunt doubles, dance doubles are the most in-demand body doubles. Dance-themed movies feature complex and choreographed moves that require years of training. In the psychological thriller Black Swan, actress Natalie Portman portrays Nina Sayers, who lands the starring role in the New York City Ballet company’s production of Swan Lake.

Portman had no formal dance training so a dance double from the American Ballet, Sarah Lane, stepped in for Portman and performed most of the dance moves in the hit movie. 

Fake Shemp

A fake Shemp is a body double that stands in for an actor refusing to reprise a role or who is unable to act due to an illness. In most cases, a fake Shemp replaces a deceased actor who couldn’t complete filming their scenes.

In 1955, the sudden death of Shemp Howard forced The Three Stooges to use a body double for his remaining scenes. The director shot the scenes from behind to obscure the face and the term fake Shemp was born.

Other famous examples of fake shemps include Paul Walker’s brothers portraying him in Furious 7 and a body double standing in for Oliver Reed on Gladiator after he passed away during filming. 

Stand-In 

Stand-ins are similar to body doubles, but their work happens before filming. Their primary purpose is to allow the director and crew to set up shots, lighting, and angles. They often have a similar height and size to the actor they are standing in for. 

Same Actor Playing Two Characters

Technology allows actors to play multiple characters in one scene. Examples of actors playing against themselves include Jean Claude Van Damme in Double Impact, Will Smith in Gemini Man, Tom Hardy in Legend, and Nicolas Cage in Adaptation. During these shoots the body double stands in for the actor, allowing them to play both roles. 

Famous Actors and Their Body Doubles

Hollywood actors and their body doubles are often vital to each other’s careers, with some of the most well-known listed below.   

1. Chris Hemsworth and Bobby Holland Hanton

Chris Hemsworth and Bobby Holland Hanton

TODAY/YouTube

Bobby Holland Hanton has worked as Chris Hemsworth’s body double for years. Hanton admits the most challenging role to body double is Hemsworth as Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It takes a lot of work for Hanton to look like Hemsworth as he has to put on a lot of muscle for the Marvel movies. Hanton works out twice a day to keep up with Hemsworth’s physique. 

2. Paul Walker and John Brotherton and Caleb and Cody Walker

Paul Walker and John Brotherton and Caleb and Cody Walker

Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock, Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock, Joe Seer/Shutterstock

Paul Walker’s sudden death on November 30, 2013, shocked Hollywood. Walker was in the middle of filming Furious 7 and still had several remaining scenes to shoot. The film employed the fake Shemp method using actor John Brotherton and Walker’s real-life brothers Caleb and Cody. With advanced special effects, Brotherton, Caleb, and Cody served as body doubles to complete Walker’s scenes, with the movie hitting theatres in 2015 and becoming a massive success. 

3. Julia Roberts and Shelley Michelle

Julia Roberts and Shelley Michelle

Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock and Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock

Julia Roberts became a household name with her starring role in the critically acclaimed Pretty Woman. Famously, fitness model Shelley Michelle acted as Roberts’s body double for the iconic movie poster and in scenes considered too risque for Roberts to perform. 

4. Dwayne Johnson and Tanoai Reed

Dwayne Johnson and Tanoai Reed

Inside Edition/YouTube

Dwayne Johnson is a unique movie star known for his enormous size and big muscles. Finding Johnson a body double under most circumstances would be tough. Luckily, Johnson’s cousin, Tanoai Reed, is the perfect size and height to work as Johnson’s body double in movies such as Furious 7, Hercules, and The Other Guys. Reed has been Johnson’s body double for nearly 20 years. 

5. Reese Witherspoon and Marilee Lessley

Reese Witherspoon and Marilee Lessley

Entertainment Tonight/YouTube

In 2018, Reese Witherspoon introduced the world to her body double, Marilee Lessley. Like many stars and their body doubles, Witherspoon and Lesley have worked together for years. Witherspoon met Lessley while filming Legally Blonde 2. Lessley has since worked on five films with Witherspoon and as her double in Big Little Lies. 

6. Jennifer Lawrence and Isabella Boylston

Jennifer Lawrence and Isabella Boylston

Jaguar PS/Shutterstock and Only Natural Diamonds/YouTube

In the spy thriller Red Sparrow, Jennifer Lawrence portrays a former ballet dancer turned spy. The film features Lawrence in an elaborate ballet dance number. The director realized the performance would be too complex for Lawrence or any actor for that matter. So a dance double, Isabella Boylston, was hired to perform the phenomenal dance routine seen in the movie.

7. Emilia Clarke and Rosie Mac

Emilia Clarke and Rosie Mac

BAKOUNINE/Shutterstock and Rosie Mac/YouTube

It’s almost impossible to tell Emilia Clarke and her Game of Thrones body double Rosie Mac apart. Clarke famously appeared in several nude scenes early in the series without using a body double. Mac appeared several times in the show later on going through the same hair and makeup process to look like Clarke. 

8. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brett Baker

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brett Baker

DFree/Shutterstock and Joe Seer/Shutterstock

Being Leonardo DiCaprio is challenging, especially for his body double, Brett Baker. DiCaprio became a household name with his memorable performance in the film Titanic, with Baker portraying the character of Jack Dawson in several scenes of the famous movie. 

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