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Talent Double

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A specific form of Stunt Double. The actor is about to perform some action to show his character's prowess in an area. The camera zooms in as he does to hide the fact that his display of talent is being performed by an expert. An example of this would be a skilled piano player stepping in for the actor for the piano-playing sequences and the camera focusing only on his hands to cover up the switch. (One dead giveaway for this specific instance is to watch for a "slow left hand" in the shots that show the actor's face.)

The main difference from a simple Stunt Double is that the action the Talent Double performs usually does not require raw athletic power or include potentially dangerous situations, but instead expertise in a specific field. Music, dancing, and figure-skating are the most common ones.

A special case is when an actor/actress lip-synchs to a song and the voice is filled in later by a more experienced singer. No camera cover-up here, but a sound cover-up instead.

Compare with The Cast Showoff and Not Quite Starring. Cast the Expert is the Inversion of this Trope.note 

Examples in fiction within fiction

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  • In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Vanity's Double", Vanity and his Mirror Self twin Century both audition for the lead character role in the production of Robin Hood, but because of a mix-up between the two, Vanity was chosen while Century was rejected, despite Century putting on a better audition than Vanity. However, when Vanity's fear of swordfighting even with wooden swords threatens the possibility of his being removed from the lead role, Century is called in as a swordfighting talent double in action scenes where Robin Hood must duel with a sword, with both Vanity and Century dressed identically so the audience couldn't tell which one was Vanity or Century.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Deliberately obvious in a spoof Public Service Announcement in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. A heavyset Shrinking Violet overcomes his shyness to show off his dancing skills, which apparently combine with Temporary Bulk Change skills. (The Show Within a Show's Aesop is something like Be Yourself.)
  • Illusions (1982): When a musical film star in 1942 Hollywood can't participate in redubbing a number because she is off fighting the war, studio exec Mignon Dupree has to find a talent double to record the audio track. She uses a young black woman named Esther Carter. Employing a black woman to be the true talent propping up a talentless white lady leads Mignon to a crisis of conscience.
  • Singin' in the Rain is about a silent actor and actress who are a famous "movie couple" that have to adjust to the emergence of talkies. They're signed on to do a musical. The actor's fine, as he used to be in musical theatre, but the actress (played by Jean Hagen) can't carry a tune without a bucket (or even speak without a harsh accent), so she needs a talent double. In a particularly confusing occurrence, Debbie Reynolds, who played the fictional talent double, was herself using a talent double in real life — in one scene, the voice dubbed in over Debbie Reynolds' voice is Jean Hagen's!

  • Discworld, Maskerade: Christine is pretty (and well-connected) but can't sing her way out of a paper bag. Meanwhile Agnes can sing circles around a mermaid, but she's, um, less photogenic. So the director has Agnes sing Christine's songs for her at full voice, while Christine sings very quietly. It helps that Christine is a dingbat who doesn't realize this arrangement is on purpose.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the third season of Dance Academy, Kat gets cast as the lead in a dance movie. Grace is then cast as her dance double, despite Kat being a dancer herself.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Troy McClure from the film Young Jebediah Springfield rides a buffalo like a bull at a rodeo. Except that close ups clearly show Troy on a very, very fake buffalo with stage hands pushing it around. However shots from far off show a real buffalo bucking wildly, nearly throwing off the talent double. The children watching In-Universe don't appear to notice the discrepancy.

Examples in media:

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Luminous Witches episode "I Will Not Forget Those Days", Inori Shibuya's koto performance for the episode's titular song was performed by Virginia Robertson's voice actress Mai Narumi.

    Film — Animation 
  • Coco: The guitar solos played by Miguel, Ernesto, and Héctor were performed by Uruguayan guitarist Federico Ramos.
  • Mickey's harmonica solos in the "Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi" story from Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas were performed by the late session musician Tommy Morgan.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Left-handed major league baseball player Babe Herman was used for the scenes in The Pride of the Yankees where Gary Cooper was supposed to be throwing the ball lefty.
  • The Goblin King's juggling and crystal ball tricks in Labyrinth; in the case of the crystal balls, talent double Michael Moschen stood behind David Bowie with his hand through the sleeve of Bowie's coat.
  • Artist Phil Jimenez's hands were used in the place of Tobey Maguire's during the drawing scene in the first Spider-Man movie.
  • The sketch that Jack does of Rose in Titanic was actually done by James Cameron, the director. Cameron is a talented storyboard artist too.
  • Not surprisingly, Nick Cannon isn't nearly as good a drummer as his character in Drumline.
  • The The Lord of the Rings film had stand-ins for many, but not all, of the main cast in the horse riding scenes. Viggo Mortensen did all of his own stunts and became extremely proficient at sword-fighting; Orlando Bloom owned the horse he rode.
  • In the first straight-to-DVD sequel to A Cinderella Story, Selena Gomez uses a double for most of her dancing scenes.
  • In the ballet flick Center Stage (2000), Jody Sawyer, Cooper Nielsen, and a couple of the supporting characters are played by professional dancers (notably Amanda Schull, a member of The San Francisco Ballet's corps de ballet for three seasons, as Jody, and Ethan Stiefel, who very quickly became a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet early in his career and who has been a principal at American Ballet Theatre for years now, as Cooper). Prima ballerina Kathleen will be instantly recognizable to most ballet fans as the legendary ABT principal dancer (and many-times dance partner of Ethan Stiefel) Julie Kent, while Zoe Saldaña, who had extensive ballet training, did much of her own dancing, but was doubled for the long shots of the final performance. Ironically, Maureen, the best dancer in the school, was played by a non-dancer.
  • Rufus's most excellent guitar solo at the end of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure was performed by a talent double.
  • Jack Black's solos in School of Rock are doubled. Although Black had, at the time, been playing guitar for years as a member of Tenacious D, that group is an acoustic duo, and as such his experience and proficiency was entirely on acoustic guitar. As a result, he had to learn how to play electric guitar for the film and only does some basic riffing himself. He stated that the kid that played lead guitar was far better than he was with it, and even taught him a few things during filming.
  • James Bond
  • Ronin (1998) used, in a similar fashion to the Skyfall example above, out-of-shot stunt drivers in the passenger seats manipulating a special second set of controls.
  • Used jarringly in The Princess Bride, where Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes have a fun and acrobatic, if not terribly accurate sword fight with no doubles, save for the one moment for each where they do an acrobatic leap, and have the camera cut back to them in a different pose and location than where we saw the double land.
  • Spoofed in Cannibal! The Musical, where Packer's ballet double in a Dream Sequence is incredibly obvious.
  • Natalie Portman studied ballet for a solid year prior to making the film, but that still ain't all her in Black Swan. The close-ups are, though. Caused a minor controversy with the double speaking out because she felt like she wasn't mentioned enough. Much of the controversy stemmed from the idea that praise for Portman's dancing in the film may have implied that one could become a professional ballerina after only a year of training. Portman's double, Sarah Lane, was credited as "Lady in the Lane", rather than as Portman's dance double.
  • Flashdance had multiple Talent Doubles for Jennifer Beals including a gymnast and a man. The dancing's pretty much the only thing the movie got good reviews for. Keep an eye on the double's wig during the last dance scene.
  • Done in Seventeen Moments of Spring with Stirlitz, due to the actor having a tattoo which would have made his work as a spy very problematic.
  • The Sting. When Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) is demonstrating his skill at card manipulation, the techniques are actually performed by John Scarne, an expert on cheating at cards.
  • Soul Surfer is a biopic about a real-life competitive surfer named Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm in a shark attack. Where do you find a skilled one-armed surfer to double for the film's star in the surfing scenes? You get Bethany to do them, of course.
  • In The Ipcress File when Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) goes to make his date a meal; the hands doing the cooking and cracking the eggs are those of the original novel writer, Len Deighton.note 
  • La Vie en Rose stars Marion Cotillard as French singer Édith Piaf. She won an Oscar for her performance, which did not include singing her own songs.
  • In the 2006 film Smokin' Aces the Vegas Performer Buddy Israel (played by Jeremy Piven) does some card flourishes. The talent doubles which performed them were Dan and Dave Buck.
  • Some movies, such as Becoming Jane and Prospero's Books, feature "hand doubles" for scenes in which characters are shown writing in close-up. Even if the actor or actress has good handwriting, styles do change over the centuries, and getting a professional in may be the best way to emulate a historical style of calligraphy. Also fairly common for typing or keyboard scenes any time the actor lacks touch-typing skills.
  • In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, George Clooney was all ready to do his own singing and even recorded the famous "Man of Constant Sorrow". In the end, the voice they used was bluegrass singer Dan Tyminski.
  • The scene in Honey where the title character does a pirouette in the air is the only moment where Jessica Alba used a stand-in.
  • Angela Bassett lipsync'd to recordings of the real Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It (1993).
  • Dennis Quaid lipsync'd to recordings of the real Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire!.
  • Chloë Grace Moretz admitted that she can't play cello and her head was added on for such scenes in If I Stay.
  • In Crossroads Ralph Macchio gives a pretty decent impression of playing the guitar, but the actual music was recorded by Ry Cooder (most of the blues parts) and Steve Vai (the final part of the famous duel).
  • In Road to Zanzibar, Bob Hope is doubled by Olympic wrestler Peter Mehringer in the scene where he wrestles a gorilla.
  • In The Bishop's Wife a professional harp player provided both the on-screen hands and the harp playing when Cary Grant, as Dudley the angel, had to play a harp.
  • In Selena while Jennifer Lopez is a talented singer in her own right, the director felt that fans would be upset to hear anyone but Selena singing her songs so soon after her death. So Lopez was taught to lip sync and the vocals you hear in the movie are actually Selena's.
  • Vivien Leigh couldn't dance, so for the dance in Gone with the Wind, she is doubled in all non close-up shots by Sally De Marco.
  • From Shane: Shane's fancy gun twirling in the climactic showdown was actually performed by Rodd Redwing. Earlier, when Shane demonstrates his prowess for Joey, and it is clearly Alan Ladd himself on camera, the actor had been given a different, easier-to-use revolver for the scene.
  • Polish pianist Janusz Olejniczak, who also performed much of the soundtrack on The Pianist, appears as Adrien Brody's piano-playing hands. It's worth noting that Brody studied piano for the role and actually learned to play the pieces Szpilman performs on-screen, though the playing you hear on the final soundtrack is Olejniczak's.
  • The (fire) baton twirling in Miss Congeniality is done by a double, not Heather Burns. In rear shots you can see she's somewhat bigger, too.
  • In The Reluctant Dragon, when Robert Benchley visits the animation rooms at the Disney Studio, animator Ward Kimball is shown sitting at his desk drawing Goofy, but in a close-up, the hands drawing are those of Art Babbitt, who specialized in drawing the character. And furthermore, the animated pencil test that follows was animated by another Goofy specialist, Woolie Reitherman.
  • In Tricky People, the song "Safely Held in Your Heart" is clearly sung by an adult woman, even though the character who's supposed to be singing it is a ten-year-old girl.
  • The Bronze: Michelle Derstine, who's performed in Cirque du Soleil, doubles for Hope with the gymnastic sex scene, providing all of the stunts and nudity.


  • In Walk the Line, one of the casting requirements was that the actors portraying Johnny and June Cash perform their own work, without talent doubles. Joaquin Phoenix's singing of Johnny Cash's songs was so good and so convincing that Roger Ebert, a Johnny Cash fan, says in his review of the film that he thought it actually was Cash singing until the credits told him otherwise. On the other hand, Reese Witherspoon's singing of June Cash's songs was negatively received as she sounded nothing like June whatsoever and the singing itself was criticized. That didn't stop her from winning an Academy Award for it, though.
  • In Save the Last Dance, Julia Stiles says in the "behind the scenes" clips that she told the director she would work until her feet bled, if necessary, because she didn't want to be doubled for the dance scenes.
  • Kevin Spacey sang all the songs himself in the Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea.
  • Jamie Foxx does all of the piano playing in the Ray Charles biopic Ray.
  • Dennis Quaid played the piano without a double in the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls Of Fire!
  • In Major League, the film's cast did all the baseball scenes themselves, save for former Dodger Steve Yeager doing much of Jake Taylor's catching behind the plate. (Yeager: "Tom Berenger's a good guy, but he can't throw.") For anything they couldn't do, they just filmed around it: for instance, Wesley Snipes, who never played baseball, couldn't throw a ball nor run fast, so his character isn't seen throwing and his running scenes are in slow motion.
  • In Pretty Woman not only is Richard Gere playing the piano for real in one scene, but the end credits reveal he's playing his own composition.
  • In Control, the actors playing the members of Joy Division play and sing all the songs in the film themselves. The soundtrack album even includes their rather uncanny rendition of "Transmission".
  • Likewise, What We Do Is Secret, a biopic of the punk group The Germs features the actors themselves performing the band's songs on screen. The soundtrack album is filled with either the actors' renditions of the Germs' songs, or the surviving members of the real Germs fronted by actor Shane West, who played the band's late frontman Darby Crash. After the film's release, West even toured with the Germs as their new frontman for three years.
  • Killer Diller (2004), which is about a blues band, has Tree Adams on guitar and Jeff Babko on piano.
  • In Shine, those really are Geoffrey Rush's hands playing the piano in scenes featuring David Helfgott as an adult; he had taken piano lessons until age 14 and started again when he was cast in the film.
  • Beach Party: Mickey Dora doubles for Bob Cummings in the long shots of him surfing.
  • When casting Mean Machine, about a football match between prisoners and the guards at the prison, part of the audition process was a football tryout. If they weren't any good, they weren't cast as one of the players.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Done many times in The Benny Hill Show as a sight gag: We see Benny Hill from the waist up, then a pair of legs tripping the light fantastic, and finally a long shot of Benny swaying vaguely next to the young guy who's actually doing all the fancy footwork.
  • Averted in Blake's 7 in the case of Vila Restal, who prior to filming was taught by a magician to perform the sleight of hand tricks that are the vital distraction in the second episode. Despite the cutting of that scene being concentrated on the other characters, Michael Keating performed actual tricks and entertained the rest of the cast with them on slow days.
  • Although all of the actors in Blue Water High were taught to surf (so they at least knew how to stand on a board), the majority of the surfing was done by doubles, occasionally very conspicuously, as when a black actor was doubled by a surfer who just had a dark tan.
  • Doctor Who:
  • Done and paired with The Cast Showoff on the House episode "Half-Wit". Dave Matthews used a hand double for his role as a musical savant, Hugh Laurie did not.
  • In Liv and Maddie's "Howl-A-Rooney", Maddie's breakdancing is quite clearly not being done by Dove Cameron.
  • When Dave Nelson is required to tap dance on NewsRadio we only see actor Dave Foley from the waist up and the talent double from the waist down.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • "Psirens": a skilled guitarist (in fact, it was Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music) stood behind Lister, with his arms through his jacket, for a scene where he's required to play a guitar with any degree of competency.
    • Smeg outs featured Craig Charles insisting that he didn't need a double for playing golf for "Stoke Me a Clipper". Hilarity Ensues.
  • Averted in Sesame Street; Big Bird's drawings of his friends from the famous "Goodbye, Mr. Hooper" episode were drawn by Caroll Spinney, the voice and performer of Big Bird.
  • Sherlock: While Sherlock can play the violin, Benedict Cumberbatch certainly can't. While he has proper posture and acts the violinist very well (he holds it in a lazier version of the orchestral rest position at times, and tunes it in the same way in one scene), it's obvious to anyone who's ever played the instrument that the actual music is dubbed. The bowstrokes don't quite match up, and we never see him use vibrato, despite hearing it on the soundtrack. Still one of the better cases of instrument dubbing, as you usually won't see the inconsistency unless you're looking. The musician who did the actual playing was named Eos Chater, a member of the classical-pop crossover quartet Bond. It's her music on the soundtrack, and she mentioned later some of the more bizarre ways they kept her just off camera so Benedict could mimic her movements, including at one point having her positioned outside the window on a crane.)
  • In the Starsky & Hutch episode "A Body Worth Guarding," the Russian ballerina Anna Akhanatova is clearly played by a different actress during the scenes where she dances.
  • A double was used in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for a scene when Sisko is writing a novel. The double was one of the show extras and an occasional writer, who typed the words that appeared on the page.
  • Noted jazz trombonist Bill Watrous dubbed for Jonathan Frakes in some scenes of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Will Riker is shown playing the trombone. Frakes really could play jazz trombone, but sometimes Riker's proficiency was written to be above Frakes' actual skill level. Frakes once joked "When Riker played badly, it was me, but when he was playing well, it was Bill Watrous."
  • Played for laughs in Stella. Towards the end of an extravagant dance number by the main characters, the doubles' faces are clearly shown, and at one point there is a slow-motion close-up of one of their faces.
  • A flashback in Warehouse 13 to an incident where the entire cast tap-dances via an artifact uses actual dancers for leg shots. Saul Rubinek is clearly faking dancing in a few shots. Averted when Claudia is shown tap dancing in heels in full-body shots.

  • The music video for Tonic's 1996 song "Open Up Your Eyes" involves the band skating down a residential street and passing quirky suburban characters. When the band does a short routine during the bridge, one of the band members momentarily turns into a black guy who dazzles the audience with some cool breakdancing before reverting to his white form.
  • In the video for George Harrison's "Got My Mind Set On You," during the middle instrumental part, a double breakdances instead of George himself.
  • Played with in the video for The Art Of Noise's cover of The Peter Gunn Theme. It opens with a man in a bar passing the time by walking a coin across his fingers. When he gets up to put the coin in the jukebox, he sprouts a third arm, revealing that the hand doing the coin trick belongs to a talent double.

  • In Oklahoma!, Laurey's Dream Ballet was always danced by someone other than the actress, up until the 2002 revival.
  • Tanz Der Vampire justifies the aforementioned method by the fact that in both of its major Dream Ballets, the principal actors are still on stage while the dance sequences are taking place, and the dancers represent what they are dreaming at that exact moment. This is even more just a case of necessary doubling in the Vienna revival, where both Sarah and Alfred dance along with Herbert, Magda and the ensemble.
  • In the second US tour of Rock of Ages during the "More than Words/Heaven/To be with You" medley, while Drew is singing, Sherrie has a dance double dressed similarly to her who first mirrors her actions, then as Sherrie freezes, the double performs a dance solo.
  • On the Town used a double for the Dream Ballet's "Gabey the Great Lover" in the original production, but revivals usually avert this.

    Real Life 
  • Controversially, China used a talent double for their child singer during the Olympic Games, a less pretty and cute but more talented little lady. Later at the same Olympics, a parade of China's 56 ethnic groups were all Han Chinese in costume. Their talent was they could be trusted not to stage a sudden protest over China's treatment of their portrayed minority.
  • In an interesting variation, musicians sometimes use themselves as a double. Especially for high-profile events like, say, a major sports game or a presidential inauguration, it's not all that uncommon for a musician to lip-sync over a pre-recorded performance to minimize the chances of something going wrong. After all, you can't exactly call off the whole show just because the big star woke up with a sore throat.