Dual role (also known as double role, triple role and multiple role) refers to one actor playing two or more roles, which may be deliberately scripted in a play or film, or merely be a by-product of a low budget. In a theatrical production where more than one actor plays multiple characters, it is sometimes referred to as an "Ironman" cast. In film and television, a dual role is commonly used either for comic effect or to depict identical twins.
In theatre, the use of multiple roles may be budget-related, may be intended to give an accomplished actor more stage time or a greater challenge, or may be of thematic significance to the story. The combination of factors leading to such a decision may often remain unknown. For example, debate exists over the significance of William Shakespeare's use of dual roles, with a notable example being whether the characters of Cordelia and the Fool in King Lear were intended to be one and the same.
More recent examples include:
The Prisoner of Zenda, based on a book about a lookalike who assumes the identity of a king, includes a dual role that has been played by Lewis Stone (1922 version), Ronald Colman (1937 version), Stewart Granger (1952 version), and Peter Sellers (1979 version).
An early and unusual example of double casting was the 1925 silent film Lady of the Night, in which two women were portrayed by Norma Shearer to spotlight their very different social classes, and nobody took any notice of their identical appearance.
In The Wizard of Oz (1939), the actors who played the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow also played farmhands in scenes set in Kansas. Margaret Hamilton played both the roles of Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West, and Frank Morgan played multiple characters in addition to the title role of the Wizard.
In some low-budget films, actors have been cast in more than one role to save money. For example, in one of Peter Jackson's early films, Bad Taste, Jackson played two characters; in one scene, one of them tortures the other.
Multiple casting has been used for comic effect in film, with notable examples that include:
Particularly in comedies, multiple casting has often included the casting of an actor as multiple members of the same family. For example:
Prior to Bollywood, the first double role in Indian cinema was played by Ashok Kumar in his film Kismet in 1943. Tamil film actor M. N. Nambiar played eleven parts in the early 1950s film Digambara Samiyar, as a sage using nine disguises to defeat an evil lawyer.
Starting in the 1970s, having a living double in a Bollywood film became "almost a genre in itself," according to filmmaker Govind Nihalani. The first double role in Bollywood, played by Amitabh Bachchan, was in the film Bandhe Haath in 1973. Angoor (1982) featured two pairs of identical twins, played by Sanjeev Kumar and Deven Verma. Another Tamil actor, Kamal Hassan, had ten roles in the 2008 film Dasavathaaram (The Ten Avatars). Sivaji Ganesan played nine roles in the Tamil film Navarathiri. Priyanka Chopra played the roles of twelve eligible girls in the movie What's Your Raashee?, and Mehmood Ali portrayed three generations of the Kapoor family (Prithviraj, Raj, and Randhir) in the movie Humjoli.
In television, soap operas commonly use the technique to either portray twins (or even similar looking relatives), or to bring an actor back whose character has been killed. This technique is uncommon, although not unheard of, in primetime television. In Friends, Lisa Kudrow plays Phoebe and her twin sister Ursula. David Schwimmer played a character in heavy make-up named Russ, who was a parody of Ross (played by Schwimmer), both of whom appear on screen together.
In the 1967 Star Trek episode titled "Mirror, Mirror", as well as its sequels in episodes of three later Star Trek series (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Enterprise, and Star Trek: Discovery), several of the regular characters visited or switched places with morally-inverted counterparts from a parallel Mirror Universe, with the actors playing dual roles.