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Scott Harris

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By day, Scott Harris writes about movies. But by night, he patrols the streets of his city, clad only in pure justice.

Same Character, Different Face: Young and Old Actors Playing the Same Person

When director Rian Johnson began production on the sci-fi thriller “Looper,” which arrives in theaters on Friday, the biggest challenge facing him wasn’t choreographing the action or making the time travel comprehensible for viewers; it was making Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like Bruce Willis.

That, of course, is because they play the same character, only at different ages. Johnson managed to pull off the feat well enough (as seen in our full review here), but “Looper” got us thinking about all the other films that have tried this trick in the past — and often failed.

Without further ado, then, here’s our guide to the good, the bad and the ugly of younger and older actors trying to play the same role.

The Good

Titanic

“Titanic”
James Cameron didn’t have to worry quite so much about whether actresses Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart resembled each other; after all, they were playing the same character 85 years apart, so simply being alive would be close enough. They managed to do a little better than just good enough, though, as both Winslet and Stuart earned Oscar nominations for their portrayal of survivor Rose DeWitt Bukater.

The Godfather

“The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II”
Speaking of actors who earned Oscar love for playing the same role at different ages, Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro both won the Academy Award for Best Actor for playing the older and younger versions of Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II,” respectively. Trivia note: Neither actor showed up to accept their award. Hey, nobody summons The Godfather, capisce?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
Watching “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” is a melancholy experience for most film fans. On the one hand, River Phoenix turns in a great performance as a young version of Harrison’s Ford’s Henry “Indiana” Jones, introducing the world to the character’s fear of snakes, his nickname and his iconic hat, all with a dash of superstar flair. On the other hand, it’s a reminder of what a great talent was lost when Phoenix tragically died at the age of 23. This performance, though, lives forever.

Water for Elephants

“Water for Elephants”
When veteran actor Hal Holbrook got his first look at Robert Pattinson, he was dumbfounded at the resemblance between the “Twilight” star and Holbrook’s younger self. That resemblance served both actors well, with Holbrook playing the elderly version of Pattinson’s pachyderm-obsessed circus lothario. Old or young, both performances charmed our socks off.

The Bad:

Men in Black 3

“Men in Black 3″
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: Josh Brolin was amazing as the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’s Agent Kay. It’s amazing to see how well he nailed the body language, the speech patterns, the entire character, all while managing to put a younger spin on the performance. Really, a great, great job. So why is this on our “Bad” list? Because the character was supposed to be 29 and Brolin is 44. They even joked in the movie about how old Brolin looked! A funny one liner, but one-liners can’t disguise the many lines on Brolin’s mug. A good performance, a bad idea.

Hannibal Lecter

“Hannibal Rising”
This, on the other hand, was both a bad idea and a bad movie. Was the world really clamoring for an apple-cheeked young version of Anthony Hopkins’ brain-eating killer Hannibal Lecter? Well, if so, the world got what it deserved in this ill-advised and poorly received horror flop. French actor Gaspard Ulliel did what he could with the material, but honestly. Just no.

Sleepers

“Sleepers”
Late actor Brad Renfro showed off his talent in this 1996 drama. Unfortunately, as gifted as Renfro was, there’s one thing he wasn’t: Brad Pitt. In that respect, he shares company with every other man on Earth. It’s not his fault, but we prefer our young Brad Pitt to be portrayed by the only thing that can do him justice: CGI special effects, “Benjamin Button”-style.

Ugly:

17 Again

“17 Again”
Look, we like Matthew Perry and naturally we swoon over Zac Efron, because that’s apparently de rigueur. But not only is the idea of Zac Efron playing a younger version of Matthew Perry patently ridiculous, the movie itself (about a guy who spontaneously de-ages) is an uninspired, boring mess. C’mon, Matthew, we thought age was supposed to bring wisdom.

Anakin Skywalker

“Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and “Star Wars: Episode Three – Revenge of the Sith”
For snarky pundits, the first three episodes of “Star Wars” are the gift that keeps on giving. And this is no exception, as the only thing worse than Jake Lloyd’s little kid version of Anakin Skywalker is Hayden Christensen’s teenage version of Anakin. Lloyd, of course, was just a little kid, so we can’t bag on him. Christensen, on the other hand, has no such excuse. The pasty, dead Anakin (Sebastian Shaw) in “Return of the Jedi” has to be rolling in his midi-chlorian-enriched afterlife.


Categories: Features

Tags: 17 again, Anthony hopkins, Brad pitt, Brad Renfro, Gaspard Ulliel, Gloria Stuart, Hal Holbrook, Hannibal Rising, Harrison ford, Hayden christensen, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Josh brolin, Kate winslet, Looper, Marlon brando, Matthew perry, Men in black 3, Return of the Jedi, River Phoenix, Robert de niro, Robert pattinson, Sebastian Shaw, Sleepers, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode Three - Revenge of the Sith, The godfather, The Godfather II, Titanic, Tommy lee jones, Water for elephants, Zac efron

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