How to Work With Body Doubles

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Photo Source: “Once Upon a Hollywood” Courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing

While watching a film or TV show, you may believe you’re looking at your favorite actor—but that is not always the case. There’s a possibility you’re actually seeing someone else entirely: the actor’s body double. Even though they are not always noticed, body doubles have been a staple of filmmaking for almost as long as the art has existed. They’re valuable parts of every production they’re involved in for a few different reasons. Here’s a breakdown of what it means to be a body double and how actors and doubles can work together.


What is a body double?

The Woman King

“The Woman King” BTS Courtesy Jénel Stevens

A body double or actor double is a professional substitute—whenever a script calls for something an actor is unable or unwilling to do, the body double is brought in to take that actor’s place. 

Body doubles typically look similar, if not nearly identical, to the actors they’re stepping in for. The closer the resemblance, the better, to lessen the chance of the audience noticing that they’re not actually looking at the main actor and breaking the illusion. 

“That’s our job—we’re supposed to make it look like it was them the whole time,” says SAG Award-nominated stunt performer and actor Jénel Stevens (“The Woman King,” “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War”). 

Filmmakers use a few tricks to disguise actor doubles. Clever camera work, editing, and CGI prevent all but the most eagle-eyed audience members from thinking, Hey, wait a second… Who is that? If possible, filmmakers will not leave a body double’s face in clear view of a shot, as it’s the easiest way to recognize them. When all goes well, actor doubles help elevate movie magic.

Reasons body doubles are used for films and TV

The Walking Dead

“The Walking Dead” BTS Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Actors might be replaced by their doppelgängers if a scene requires nudity, asks them to portray a skill they don’t have, or includes dangerous stunts. Body doubles also fill in if the actor is absent. 

If a scene requires specific body parts or nudity

When the cameras are rolling and the clock is ticking, actors don’t have time to waste. If there are any shots or scenes where a character will barely be in-frame or just show their arms or legs, they’re commonly reserved for a production’s second unit to shoot with a body double. 

If a script calls for an actor to be shot either partially or totally nude and they’re not comfortable with it, body doubles step in then, too. Actors might even get the chance to pick their own double to make them look more flattering, but that’s a luxury.

When actors are missing a skill

What happens when an actor doesn’t know how to play the piano or guitar, but their character does? Or how about if the script calls for an elaborate dance routine? Time to bring in body doubles who specialize in those areas. 

For dangerous stunts

Action films are only worth as much as their dazzling setpieces, which can feature some tricky and downright hazardous stunts. 

Some actors—such as Tom Cruise, Charlize Theron, and Keanu Reeves—are well-trained and daring enough to do their own stunts. However, the vast majority of actors use stunt performers as stand-ins when they need to get into a car chase, jump off a bridge, clash in a fistfight, and more. If you’re not sure if you can handle a stunt, it’s best to play it safe and leave it to the pros.

When an actor is unavailable

When an actor can’t get to the set to finish their part, a “fake shemp” is brought in to replace them. This can be due to scheduling, an unexpected incident that calls the actor away, or because of an actor’s death.

Yes, even when tragedies occur, the show must go on. In such cases, actor doubles are brought in—usually in tandem with CGI—to shoot any remaining footage, as was the case with the untimely deaths of Brand Lee while filming "The Crow" and Oliver Reed during production on "Gladiator."

How to work with a body double as an actor

Bobby Holland and Chris Hemsworth“Avengers Endgame” BTS Courtesy Bobby Holland

If you’re an actor, you may only interact with a double or stand-in a handful of times during production. However, you might have to work much more closely with a dedicated body double on certain projects. Here is how to get the most out of each other as professionals.

1. Walk them through your process

Remember that your body double is doing two jobs at once.

“We are their doubles, but, essentially, we are the actors, too. We have to be the character. So you have two people playing this role,” says Stevens. 

You’re both learning the part together, so it’s crucial that you thoroughly explain your acting process and methods. If you’re doing your own research or preparing for the role in a specific way, clue them in.

Not every double has the same training and experience. There will be occasions when you’re more equipped to act a part, in which case you should walk them through your motions. If they’re uncomfortable at first, take time to explain your movements and headspace.

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2. Try to connect

The right looks and skill set for the role aren’t enough to get the best performances—you also need to have good chemistry. 

Getting the right match between actor and double may take some trial and error. However, once you form that connection, it will be a boon to both you and the production.

“Being able to work with somebody who you like and trust and know and are comfortable with going forward is a huge plus on both ends,” says Stevens. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some very warm and friendly and inviting actors, and some of them I call good friends. One of them actually came to my wedding.”

The depth of your relationship with your body double is entirely up to you. Because you’ll wind up working so closely together, you may very well develop a genuine friendship. Meeting up for coffee, going for a walk, or just talking after rehearsals can encourage that bond to grow. When it does, it’ll add to your professional camaraderie and effectiveness as a duo.

Just be careful about how you go about it and don’t push it too far if they don’t want to; it can wind up backfiring and accidentally sour the relationship you were trying to develop.

3. Listen to their feedback

Even if you’re confident in your performance, it never hurts to get some feedback. Because your double watches the way you move, talk, and carry yourself, they’re in a fair position to critique your work.

Let’s say you’re playing a fierce warrior. Your double can help show you how to physically embody that role. Even if you’re playing a more reserved role, they can still provide worthwhile insights.

“It’s really about starting the conversation,” says Stevens. “If both sides can leave the ego out of it, it’ll make for a glorious relationship, on and off set.”

At the very least, you should always treat your double with respect and courtesy. If they have an insight to offer, hear them out.

How to be an effective body double

T2: Judgement Day“T2: Judgement Day” Courtesy Tri-Star Pictures

The actor-body double dynamic is a symbiotic relationship. Here are some tips on how to be a more effective double and how to create stronger relationships with actors. 

1. Stay in shape

Staying in the same shape as your actor is a must. Not only must you continue to look like your actor at the outset of the production, but you also have to match them if they undergo any body changes, such as losing or gaining weight

Rapidly changing your body can make it tricky to perform dangerous stunts that require you to maintain a high level of physical fitness. Work with your actor and your coordinator to navigate these hurdles to the best of your ability.

2. Pay close attention

Body doubles should study their actors at every opportunity and strive to work closely with them. 

Watch your actor on set at all times and take thorough notes on their movements and behaviors. If they’re open to it, go over their performance with them and work together to find where you can both improve. 

Be constructive with your feedback and use it as an opportunity for you both to grow. Ask them what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable and help out when you can. Most importantly, be empathetic and friendly. 

3. Know when to push yourself

You might be asked to do stunts or actions you haven’t performed before. Of course, it’s up to you whether you’re up to it. It’s natural to be nervous about something like diving into water from 30 feet up. 

In the past, doubles were stigmatized for declining stunts or roles they weren’t comfortable with. The industry has changed to be more considerate of what you’re willing or unwilling to do.

“It’s important as a stunt double to know your limits and communicate with your coordinator. If you’re not comfortable with something, you have to speak up about it because that’s how people get hurt,” says Stevens.

Still, the more you can rise to the occasion and push through to develop your skills, the more recognition you’ll receive. If you believe it’s within you to achieve something, and you have the proper training and support, you may want to spread your wings.

Famous body doubles and the actors they work with (examples)

Legend“Legend” Courtesy StudioCanal

If, as an actor or body double, you develop a great working relationship, it doesn’t have to end after production wraps up. 

Plenty of actors find body doubles who they want to stick with. It’s no wonder why, since finding someone who looks like you is difficult enough, but finding someone with whom you want to spend a lot of time is even harder.

If you take a liking to one of your doubles, try reaching out to ask if they want to collaborate on future projects. Doubles are encouraged to take opportunities like these because work in this field can be inconsistent and highly competitive. 

You can even specifically request doubles in your contract before you sign onto a production. In fact, lots of Hollywood actors do this, which has resulted in a handful of famous body double scenes. Here are some iconic actor-body double duos:

  • Linda Hamilton and her twin sister, Leslie Hamilton Freas in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”: It goes without saying that having a twin as a body double works wonders. This was the case with Hamilton and her sister, who seamlessly slipped into the film at multiple points. 
  • Lena Headey and Rebecca Van Cleave on “Game of Thrones”: Anyone who’s seen “Game of Thrones” knows that several members of its cast have bared it all for the camera. But Headey declined this option when her character, Cersei Lannister, was to be publicly stripped naked and shamed during a scene in Season 5. Fair enough.
  • Tom Hardy and Jacob Tomuri in “Legend”: In “Legend,” Hardy plays opposite himself in many scenes, made possible through clever camerawork and editing. However, during production, his mainstay body double would stand in to represent his other character in order to elicit a more natural performance from him.