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Living a Double Life

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"New friends I have made are fascinated with the international intrigue associated with my father's line of work. However, I let them know that life with a spy was as normal as theirs except that their fathers planned corporate strategies while mine planned embassy break-ins, assisted defectors and their families seeking asylum, and created counterintelligence strategies. Pretty normal stuff as I saw it."
Spies Wives: Stories of CIA Families Abroad by Karen L. Chiao and Mariellen B. O'Brien

Any character secretly living another life (or even more than that) can be a very powerful plot device in fiction, allowing for any number of stories. What kind of life is being led normally? What kind of life is being led secretly? Will the secret life be revealed? If not, how will it be avoided? If it is revealed, how soon in the story, and what are the repercussions?

And this is Truth in Television, where reveals of such lives make up quite a number of scandalous tales.

Compare Double Consciousness.

Subtropes include:


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Code Geass:
    • Main character Lelouch balances being a Brilliant, but Lazy Ordinary High-School Student by day, and the flamboyant, masked revolutionary/terrorist (depending on how you view him) "Zero" by night. It's implied the only reason he even bothers keeping up the school-boy persona, instead of just embracing being Zero full time, is because someone needs to be there to look after his sickly little sister, Nunnally.
    • Kallen Statdfeld is likewise one of Zero's subordinates, but still continues pretending to be a frail school girl when she's not with the Black Knights - she also has no idea that her irritating classmate Lelouch is also her boss, Zero.
  • Don't Become an Otaku, Shinozaki-san! feels like she's in this situation. On the one hand, she befriends otaku Kaede and Micchy with the intent of "saving" them from Otaku life. On the other, she was previously a Lovable Alpha Bitch in middle school. She tries to keep her growing otaku side hidden from everyone who isn't Kaede, Micchy, and their own friends. Akina "feels like" this because she eventually realizes, to her horror, that the only person in her class who thought Akina wasn't an otaku was Akina herself.
  • Rebuild World: While Akira is working as a hunter (Private Military Contractors who also search for Lost Technology) in both lives with the same name, there is a large distinction shown in Akira's interactions between two different groups. Akira’s time in the slums involving Sheryl and her slum gang, play up the Unscrupulous Hero and The Paranoiac side of himself is on one side, and the time he spends with Elena, Sara, and Shizuka, where he lets his guard down and they see him like an innocent kid, is on the other. The rare interactions between these two sets of characters allow for a lot of drama.
  • Spy X Family: To outsiders, the protagonists are a happy family unit comprised of a psychiatrist, a government clerk, and their daughter. In reality, the father is a superspy and the mother an assassin, who married each other for cover unaware of the other's real job. As for the daughter, she is a telepath who is aware of their real job.
  • In Tamagotchi, when Lovelitchi is initially introduced, she keeps her job as the Idol Singer Lovelin a secret from her new classmates. Then Mametchi considers her one of his Tama-Friends, and she starts to have a bit of a crisis when she realizes Tama-Friends aren't supposed to keep secrets from each other, leading to her revealing her identity as Lovelin to Mametchi and his gang in episode 6b, and later to some Tamagotchi School students besides them in episode 47.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, some Ghouls choose to establish human identities and live as humans. The staff of Anteiku balance running a Coffee Shop by day with being the peacekeepers of the 20th Ward by night, while several characters struggle to balance an active school life with their night-time activities of protecting their territories and satisfying their Horror Hunger for human flesh. Then there's a major Chekhov's Gunman of the series, author Takatsuki Sen, who balances her life as a famous novelist with being the leader of Aogiri Tree.

  • The Firesign Theatre gives us Captain Equinox! By day, Adolf Tree, a mild-mannered college professor. By night, Kiki, a mini-skirted habitué of Hollywood's starstruck Sunset Strip! But twice a year, he's Captain Equinox!

  • 21 Jump Street: Schmidt and Jenko are cops who must go undercover at their old high school and pose as students in order to bust a drug ring. The sequel has a similar plot except it is set at a university.
  • Angel in Angel (1984). Schoolgirl by day, hooker by night.
  • Better Luck Tomorrow: The Asian-American teens in the film appear to be stereotypical overachievers and honor students bound for college, but their perfectionism masks a darker side — engaging in petty crime and drug dealing.
  • Catch Me If You Can centered on the story of Frank Abagnale, a young Con Man who allegedly passed himself off in a variety of identities, including as a pilot, a doctor in Georgia, and an attorney in Louisiana.
  • In The Departed, a police officer is going undercover to infiltrate the inner circle of a mob boss, while the boss's underling is infiltrating the police department.
  • The Devil's Own is about an IRA member who conceals his true identity when he arrives in New York City and is given a place to stay at the home of an NYPD sergeant and his family.
  • Fish Tank: Conor presents himself as a bachelor dating Mia’s mom, when he is actually married with a family.
  • The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: The Bartels hire Peyton Flanders as a nanny. What they do not know is Peyton blames Claire Bartel for the death of her husband and baby, and is secretly planning to wreak havoc on the Bartel family as revenge.
  • Platt & Matix in In the Line of Duty: The FBI Murders are regular businessmen and churchgoers on top of bank robbers.
  • The Mask: During daytime, Stanley Ipkiss is an insecure bank clerk who can't catch a break. At night, he is The Mask, a green-faced mischief-maker who wows crowds with his outrageous antics.
  • Neo from The Matrix leads a double life as a regular white-collar worker Thomas Anderson and an infamous hacker of international renown.
    Agent Smith: As you can see, we've had our eyes on you for quite some time now, Mr. Anderson. It seems that you've been living two lives. In one life, you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, you pay your taxes, and you … help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias "Neo" and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future … and one of them does not.
  • Mrs. Doubtfire: Daniel Hillard disguises himself as an elderly, matronly Scottish woman named Euphegenia Doubtfire so he can be a nanny for his kids, over whom he is in a custody battle with his ex-wife. Much of the humor is generated from Daniel trying to balance his two separate "identities".
  • Never Been Kissed: Josie Geller, a twenty-something reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, poses as a high school student at her alma mater as part of research for a story.
  • Promising Young Woman: Cassie works at a coffee shop, but at night she goes to clubs and bars pretending to be drunk so she can catch male would-be predators in the act.
  • She's the Man: After her soccer team at school is cut, teenager Viola disguises herself as her twin brother Sebastian so she can play soccer on the boys' team at an elite boarding school.
  • Superhero films like the Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man films usually revolve around a protagonist who has a normal life in addition to a secret identity fighting crime as a vigilante.
  • Averted with Iron Man, which teases Tony Stark living a double life before he blurts out his superhero identity at a packed press conference. This sets the stage for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a place where most heroes don't bother with secret identities.
  • Theodora, in Theodora Goes Wild is a kinky novel writer, but don't tell her aunts—-or anyone else in her small, prudish town.
  • Tootsie: Michael Dorsey, an unemployed actor, disguises himself as a woman in order to land a role on a TV soap opera.
  • True Lies: Helen thinks her husband is a mild-mannered computer salesman, but he is actually a spy. The irony is that Helen has some secrets of her own.

  • Murder for the Modern Girl: Ruby Newhouse leads a double life where she acts like an independent, party-going flapper to hide the fact that she's a vigilante killer going after men who abuse women. In one particular moment, after poisoning Francis Mather, she heads straight to Tommy Gibson's party to keep her public image and hang out with her friends.
  • Raffles is a famous athlete by day and a Gentleman Thief by night.
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades: A significant source of the series' drama is the fact that main protagonist Oliver Horn is simultaneously the upstanding de facto leader of the Sword Roses and rising star in Kimberly Magic Academy's student body, and an Anti-Hero leading a secret conspiracy to assassinate six Kimberly teachers and the headmistress to avenge the murder of his mother. Discussed in his Internal Monologue in volume 10: he comments that he's only able to stay sane by keeping a hard line between the two, which his comrades' just-floated proposal to recruit his friends Katie Aalto and Vera Miligan into the conspiracy risks upending.
  • The Ripliad series by Patricia Highsmith follows the sociopathic character Tom Ripley, whose MO is assuming the identities of deceased persons.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Americans: The 1980s-set series centers on two Soviet intelligence agents posing as a typical American couple.
  • Breaking Bad: Walt is a high school chemistry teacher with a family. In order to pay the mounting bills for his cancer treatment, he turns to a life of crime cooking and selling methamphetamine. One of the drug kingpins in his area, Gus Fring, owns a chain of fast-food restaurants that he uses as a front for his drug operation.
  • Chasing Life: Thomas had a second family living in Florida, and at the time of his death was working on a manuscript that leads to the revelation of his death actually being suicide.
  • Desperate Housewives had many characters keeping secrets underneath the facade of suburban charm, but the narrator’s secret provides the basis for the show. Mary Alice appeared to all who knew her as a doting mother and wife, but unbeknownst to them she committed a crime many years earlier. A drug addict left her son with Mary Alice (who then went by the name Angela) and her husband, who thereafter raised the kid as their own. When the newly sober mother later returned to claim her child, Mary Alice killed the young mother and hid the body. Years later, Mary Alice received an anonymous letter claiming knowledge about the body and threatening to reveal the crime to authorities, which leads Mary Alice to commit suicide out of desperation.
  • Dexter: Dexter Morgan’s day job is solving crimes as a forensic analyst. He’s so good at it because his night job is being a serial killer, targeting other killers who have escaped the justice system.
  • Hannah Montana: By day, Miley Stewart is a typical teenager. At night, she is famous pop singer Hannah Montana.
  • Mad Men: In the series pilot, Don Draper is introduced as a creative director at the tony Manhattan ad agency Sterling Cooper. He is also shown to be a womanizing bachelor. The episode ends in a reveal that shows Don is actually a married man with a family living in the suburbs. At the end of the first season, it is revealed Don was born into poverty as “Dick Whitman” but assumed the identity of Don Draper, a fallen soldier during the Korean War.
  • True Lies (2023): As in the original film, Harry has been keeping his spy career a secret from his family.
  • Weeds: Nancy Botwin, a suburban soccer mom, gets involved in the marijuana business to support her family after her husband dies. The series charts the increasing lengths she goes to in order to keep her business a secret.
  • Yellowjackets: The show takes place in 1996 as well as the present. In the present time frame, the now-adult survivors of a plane crash appear to be well-adjusted, but they mask the trauma they still carry from their time stranded in the wilderness. Taissa, an attorney who is running for state senate, has a double life where she sleepwalks and commits unspeakable acts. Misty works as a nurse at an elderly care facility, but retains her sociopathic personality and keeps a woman whom she suspects of blackmail tied up in her basement. Shauna is a stay-at-home mom who engages in an extramarital affair to compensate for missing out on a normal teenage experience.

  • The narrator of the song "Junk Food Junkie":
    "In the daytime, I'm Mr. Natural
    Just as healthy as I can be
    But at night I'm a Junk Food Junkie
    Good Lord, have pity on me"
  • The Styx song "Double Life" from Kilroy Was Here is a Villainous Breakdown song where the antagonist, Dr. Righteous, realizes just how full of shit he and his anti-music crusade are but is in too deep to abandon it.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • By night, Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D. is one of the biggest stars in All Elite Wrestling. By day, Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D. is a dentist. For real. (Though outside the ring, "Dr. Baker" is perfectly acceptable address.)

  • Paulo Thiago is a UFC welterweight fighter who initially was noticed for an underdog victory by knockout in his UFC debut against perennial contender Josh Koscheck... however, his legend took off in the US when it was revealed that his day job is being a member of the Brazilian capital's military police special operations battalion — aka BOPE.
    • He's a member of the unit in Brasilia, not the unit in Rio de Janeiro on which the book and movie were based, but the distinction is usually lost in the US, which the UFC has never tried to correct — in fact, at UFC 134: Rio his entrance music was the Elite Squad theme song, complete with the (Brazilian) crowd singing it.

    Video Games 
  • A particularly nasty version of this is Curtis Blackburn from killer7. The man's public face is as a black-market organ dealer. Behind closed doors, he's a vicious pedophile, who rapes the young girls he abducts for their organs before murdering them. His "daughter", AYAME Blackburn, is a teenage girl he abducted and brutalized into becoming his "apprentice".
  • Sharon from the Street Fighter EX series works as a nun by day, dutifully and painstakingly making it her mission to take care of orphans living at the monastery where she was raised. At night, however, she moonlights as a cool and collected highly-ranked secret agent usually employed by an unknown intelligence group to carry out assassinations.
  • Transistor: Help()'s info on Sybil Reisz's Background notes her involvement with the Camerata as "She was everywhere, and yet somehow she made time to lead a second, hidden life."

  • I Fell in Love, so I Tried Livestreaming: The main cast of the series are all students, with many involved in school club activities and Hakua being an Ojou with high expectations placed on her. They're also livestreamers who want to keep their streaming a secret from their peers. The protagonist, Yuu, is a former livestreamer but wants to hide his past from others.

    Web Original 
  • hololive: Mori Calliope describes the experience of being both a V-Tuber and living her normal "life" out in Underworldian Japan as such, specifically in "The Grim Reaper Is A Live-Streamer".
    "I never had a life to begin with
    And now, I got two
    Double the power to sin with"
  • In TOME, Zetto and Kirbopher are really the same character using different accounts. While Kirbopher is a main character and a friend to the other members of the main cast who cares about nothing more than having fun, Zetto is the co-leader of the hackers, and is obsessed with finding and wiping out the Forbidden Power.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad! had many forms of this.
    • Roger became a master of this when he took up frequent disguising, to the point where the show found many ways to play with this.
    • As on the picture, Hayley turned out to be an award-winning cook, dressing up like a 1950s housewife despite her far left-wing views.
  • Action Pet Perry the Platypus in Phineas and Ferb acts like a normal pet around his family, but is actually a badass secret agent.
    • Also, apparently Ferb.
      Phineas: Anyone else here living a double life? Put your hand down Ferb.
  • The Steven Universe episode "A Single Pale Rose" reveals that Rose Quartz was truly Pink Diamond all along, and she was Running Both Sides for the entirety of the Gem War, even for her "assassination".
  • The Winx Club in World of Winx pose as talent scouts for a reality tv show, hiding their identity as fairies while in pursuit of an abductor of talented youngsters.