All the dual-acting contenders in this year’s Oscar race had the benefit of performing their roles in separate films. Except for Nicolas Cage, who delivered two complex, diametrically opposed portrayals in the same movie: the unorthodox Spike Jonze-helmed “Adaptation,” in which Cage portrays obsessive screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his happy-go-lucky twin brother, Donald.
“I wanted to try something brand new, giving myself over to the vision of the writer and the director,” Cage says of his unorthodox choice. “Charles was the neurotic one, and Donald was a lot more comfortable (with himself) and had a girlfriend. Spike would always ask who I wanted to start with when I got to the set. If I was cranky on a given day, of course I wanted to play Charles.”
If Cage nabs a best actor nomination this year, he would be only the second actor to do so for portraying twins onscreen. In 1965, Lee Marvin won his only Oscar for playing drunk gunslinger Kid Shelleen and his ornery twin Tim Strawn in “Cat Ballou.”
Of course, Cage joins a small group of actors who’ve grappled with the difficulties of split-screen filmmaking to portray multiple roles onscreen. One of the most memorable first instances was when Hayley Mills portrayed separated-at-birth twins in Disney’s “The Parent Trap” (1961). Originally, the script called for just a few split-screen shots and the rest were to be of Mills opposite a blonde body double. Walt Disney was so impressed with the seamless technology that he asked for the script to be revised to include more scenes of Mills opposite herself.
Eddie Murphy has become a split-screen master in comedies like “Coming to America” and “The Nutty Professor,” in which he played seven different characters, often all in the same frame.
Cage used the usual bells and whistles to get his twin scenes just right, including acting opposite a tennis ball, having X’s taped all over the room to show him where to move and listening to a scratch track on an earpiece, “to make sure I didn’t eclipse myself sonically,” he says.
Cage looks poised to join the small legacy of actors who’ve been recognized for multiple roles. In addition to Lee Marvin, there’s Fredric March, who won the 1931 actor trophy for the titular roles in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”; Joanne Woodward, who won for her multiple-personality perf in “The Three Faces of Eve” (1957); and Peter Sellers, who received an acting nom for playing three people, including the titular role, in Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” (1964).
(Keith Collins contributed to this report.)