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How the ‘Counterpart’ Team Created Two Howards in One Scene

In Justin Marks’ espionage thriller, mild-mannered Howard (J.K. Simmons) learns there is an alternate version of the world — and in it he has a double, Howard Prime (also Simmons). In the premiere, the two men are alone together for the first time, feeling each other out, testing each other’s memories and getting to know the differences in themselves, their relationships and their lives — all while Howard Prime is still holding back some key information.

“The idea behind the scene was to establish a strong precedent when it came to the kinds of scenes the audience would be able to see in a show like this,” Marks says.

Morten Tyldum
Director
“Initially, going into it, I had planned to have fewer and longer shots, but that can be challenging for an actor. If you have a pretty long sequence, you have to shoot it with one side, and then you have to use the audio from that track when [J.K.’s] performing against the other one. The rhythm has to be precise, and you have to link onto one of the takes — you already have to make a decision about which take [to use]. The show is all about the two Howards switching places, and this is the first time they start to be influenced by each other. It’s a scene about the private sides of these two men — where they recognize why they’re so different — and I ended up shooting it more intimately than I had planned.”

John Funk
J.K. Simmons’ double
“J.K. decided in advance which one he was going to play first, and we rehearsed it several times that way with me playing the other Howard. But then once before we went into lighting mode, we traded places so I could see his delivery and timing and movement as the other Howard to work that into my routine. J.K.’s two performances had to be in perfect sync — the two Howards have different body language and posture, and I had to match that. And in the meantime I also had to give a real performance back to J.K., so I had memorized all of the lines.”

Martin Ruhe
Director of photography
“We didn’t want to shoot [Howard and Howard Prime] differently because we already had different worlds in the show, and one world looks different from the other. Shooting them in different frame sizes, we didn’t want to do that because they have the same weight — you don’t want to favor one guy over the other.”

Jay Worth
Visual-effects supervisor
“Because we were able to do so much planning and prep, we were able to do the visual effects without much clean-up [in post]. …The one shot that made it harder without green screen was when we were over J.K. and we racked focus to himself. The rotoscoping on that ended up being a lot more technically challenging than we had initially planned. But it was a lot more conducive on the day, from the production standpoint, to not have to figure out how to bring in a green screen in a somewhat small apartment space and have to re-light.”

Dana Glauberman
Editor
“What we had to do on the Avid was some very rough temp effects so you saw both characters at the same time. Specifically for Howard handing Prime the picture, I did have to manipulate the frame a little bit in terms of blowing it up, just to get that hand-off exactly perfect for the right plane on the screen. Editing is so much like putting a puzzle together that adding these shots into the mix was fun and challenging in and of itself.”

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