'Every Day' and 6 More Films With Multiple Actors Playing a Single Character

9:45 AM 2/23/2018

by Michael Waters

A brief history of characters who swap actors — intentionally or not.

Peter H. Stranks

When Every Day hits theaters Friday, it will be one of only a few movies to have taken an experimental film concept to the big screen.

Based on David Levithan’s novel of the same name, Every Day follows 16-year-old Rhiannon’s romance with "A," a person who wakes up in a new body every day. The film not only challenges notions of gender and sexuality, but it also features multiple actors who play a single character. In total, more than a dozen actors play A, including Justice Smith, Jacob Batalon, and Angourie Rice.

Though many films do hire separate actors to play characters at different life stages, or swap actors during reboots (a la James Bond), very few have seen several actors to portray a single character across a flat time period. In honor of the release of Every Day this Friday, here are a handful of films that have taken this unique approach.

  • 'That Obscure Object of Desire' (1977)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s final work, That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), cuts between a Frenchman’s violent love story with a Spanish woman named Conchita and a terrorist attack unfolding in France and Spain years later. Without explanation, two women — Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina — alternate as Conchita, a move that fascinated critics of the era. Later, Buñuel wrote that he made the choice to cast two actresses because of production woes: “In 1977, in Madrid, when I was in despair after a tempestuous argument with an actress who'd brought the shooting of That Obscure Object of Desire to a halt, the producer, Serge Silberman, decided to abandon the film altogether. The considerable financial loss was depressing us both until one evening, when we were drowning our sorrows in a bar, I suddenly had the idea (after two dry martinis) of using two actresses in the same role, a tactic that had never been tried before. Although I made the suggestion as a joke, Silberman loved it, and the film was saved.”

  • 'I'm Not There' (2007)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    With I’m Not There (2007), director Todd Haynes set out to make a film about Bob Dylan that bucked convention. Instead of a traditional biopic, he cast six different actors — including Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett — to star as characters that represented different sides of Dylan, inspired by his music, who together formed the sum total of his identity. “I can change during the course of a day. I wake and I’m one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else,” he says in the voiceover. 

  • 'Palindromes' (2004)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    In Todd Solondz’s 2004 film Palindromes, 13-year-old Aviva can’t escape the recent suicide of her cousin, Dawn Weiner, who is held up as a warning by her family. Throughout the film, which features three characters — Aviva, Bob and Otto — who have palindromes for names, eight different actors of numerous genders and races swap in and out of the role of Aviva.

  • 'Perspective' (2012)

    Courtesy of Nortario Films

    B.P Paquette’s experimental film Perspective unfolds over nine installments, each released annually at Cinéfest in September. The installments, which began in 2012 and are slated to end in 2020, center on the turbulent lives of a romantic couple and their best friend. Yet the actors frequently swap roles, sometimes in the middle of dialogue. “We’re not letting the audience identify a character with an actor,” Paquette has said about his decision to cast his actors as shifting characters. “So, at all times, all of the actors are all of the characters.”  

  • 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' (2009)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Heath Ledger was originally supposed to star as Tony in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, about a theater group that agrees to a bet with the devil, but after his sudden death in 2008, production halted. In a shrewd move, rather than delete Ledger's scenes, director Terry Gilliam re-framed them — the ones with Ledger, he decided, should be played as representations of Tony's real self. Meanwhile, Gilliam cast Colin Farrell, Jude Law and Johnny Depp to portray Tony as he travels to magical worlds, which would explain the sudden body-swapping. 

  • 'Freaky Friday' (2003)

    Freaky Friday is the classic body-swapping film. In the 2003 reboot, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan play a mother-daughter duo who each believe the other has an easier life — until they wake up in the body of the other person. With no plan to return to their original bodies, they agree to temporarily live as each other, an experiment that opens their eyes to what they each struggle through on a daily basis.

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