Time Until Next Intake:

Body Doubles: Everything You Need to Know 

What Do Body Doubles Do? 

Body Doubles make shows and movies possible by allowing the characters they are portraying to appear to have abilities or skills they do not have, or a certain desired look. Here are some examples of when a body double is needed: 

  • When a scene requires a stunt that is too dangerous for the actor.  
  • When the actor does not possess a particular skill.  
  • When an actor is uncomfortable performing a nude scene in a movie or needs a close-up of a specific body part substituted.   
  • When an actor is not available.  

 

What Kind of Body Doubles Are There? 

There are three kinds: 

Body Double for Stunts 

Most actors are not allowed to perform their own stunts, even if they wanted to. This is because if they are injured (or worse, killed) the movie could be indefinitely delayed or forced to cease production. In the rare cases where they do their own stunts and the insurance company agrees, the premium charged by the insurance company goes up (Tom Cruise is a prime example of a major star doing his own stunts, but that’s a whole other article…).   

When being cast as a stunt double for a specific actor, you must be approximately the same height (you cannot be taller, but you can be slightly shorter), weight and build of the person you are imitating. Although many do, you do not have to look like the actoras that can be achieved through wigs, makeup, and costumes. The idea is that during the shoot the stunt double’s face won’t be filmed, at least not in any clear way. Sometimes certain stunt doubles are so successful that they will work with the same actor for years. Check out this People Magazine side-by-side comparison of actors with their stunt doubles (Can you tell who is the real Jason Momoa is in the first shot? I can’t). 

Become an Insider

One other important distinction is that stunt performers are not stand-ins. A stand-in does look like the actor, and will be on set during set up, lighting and blocking. Then when it’s time to perform the scene, the actor will step in to take their place.  

 

Body Double for Sex Scenes and Other Body Shots 

Often actors are uncomfortable with sex scenes, for a number of reasons. They may not want to be seen naked by the public, they may not be in the shape their character should be in, or perhaps the studio won’t pay them the money they feel they deserve to shed their clothes. In any event, the body double’s height, weight and build must be very similar to the actor’s to pull off a convincing switch.  

Lena Headey in Game of Thrones, Isla Fisher in Wedding Crashers, Liam Neeson in A Million Ways to Die in the West all requested body doubles for their steamier shots 

Sometimes a body double is required for other reasons. A classic example is the movie poster for Pretty Woman. Body double Shelley Michelle’s body was used, and Julia’s head superimposed. When Penelope Cruz’s pregnancy started to show during the production of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, her sister Monica stepped in for some of the full-body scenes. During the production of Iron Man 3, when Robert Downey Jr was injured and recuperating, a body double was used and Downey’s face was added through facial captures recorded later 

Sometimes a body double will do so much work in place of an actor they will become known as a ‘Fake Shemp’.  The name originates from The Three Stooges actor Shemp Howard, who, in 1955, died of a heart attack during production. The remaining two stooges shot new material and edited it together with older stock footage to complete their scenes. But that wasn’t enough, so a body double was hiredwhose face was covered by an object (or he was shot from behind). Today, thanks to digital technology, more can be done. A famous example of a ‘Fake Shemp’ today would be Crispin Glover’s body double in Back to the Future II. Actor Jeffrey Weissman played the part and was helped along with prosthetic makeup and Glover’s images from the first film. The result worked, although Crispin later sued, and the Screen Actors Guild had to revise its policy to ensure permission was granted first by the actor being doubled.  

A body double can also be used when the actor isn’t available, or for a second unit shooting in a different location. A second unit can get shots like the character driving in a car or walking down a street. Having the body double shoot these scenes instead of the actor can save a lot of time and money. 

Meet Reese Witherspoon’s body double, Marilee Lessley. The two met while Marilee was working as an extra on the set of Witherspoon’s Legally Blonde 2. She has been working as Reese’s body double ever since: 

 

Body Double to Fake a Skillset 

A character may be required to perform a skill that the actor is not capable of. For example, in the Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra, Michael Douglas was cast as the famous performer. The problem was that he could not play the piano. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the piano scenes you see in the movie were shot with Philip Fortenberry, a Juilliard-trained pianist who for years performed at the Las Vegas Liberace museum (so, he knew how Liberace moved). Director Steven Soderbergh shot Philip performing, then Michael acting in the same set up, then had Michael’s head superimposed over Philip’s. They also used close-ups of Philip’s hands on the piano keys. The result was seamless. 

Sometimes, if you look closely, you can spot the body double. Check out this video from Watchmojo on the “Top 10 Most Obvious Body Double Shots in Movies”: 

 

How Do People Become Body Doubles? 

To start, it’s a good idea to be represented by a reputable agency (see my blog article: 5 Acting Agency Red Flags to Watch Out For When Trying to Land an Agent).   

For those who are considering a career as a stunt double, they should: 

  • Consider formal training at a stunt academy, like The International Stunt School or The International Stunt Academy (Toronto Film School doesn’t endorse these businesses, but notes them here to show such schools exists). 
  • Train on your own. You can take courses in martial arts, gymnastics, stunt driving, horseback riding, etc. 
  • Seek advice from current stunt performers and ask for permission to be on set to watch them work.  
  • Stay athletic (there’s a lot of running, jumping, fighting that goes on when it comes to stunts). 
  • Know how to act (after all, you are portraying a character). Often stunt doubles are registered as actors.  
  • Pick a specialty or two so you are more employable (for instance, sword fighting or handgun training). 

Those who are not interested in stunt work but are willing to sub their bodies or talents for those of real actors need to get known. They too should have an agent and get the word out about their likeness and skills. They can do this by getting cast as an extra on film sets, developing an online portfolio with pictures and videos, and taking the time to network in the industry.   

 

What Do Body Doubles Get Paid? 

It really depends on how often you work, how in demand you are, and if you or your agent can negotiate a good rate.  

For those interested in stunt work in particular, there are union and non-union stunt performers (just like there are union and non-union actors). Union stunt performers are part of the Canadian Stunt Association and will receive better pay, and there will be certain regulations that they need to follow on set. Also, the type of stunt performed will dictate the pay. To get in to the union, it helps to have a special skill.  

Keep in mind that regardless of the type of body double you aspire to be, it’s not full-time work. That’s why it’s ideal to find other work in the industry and be on stand by for body double duty.   

Garry Murdock
Born in Montreal, Garry Murdock is the marketing copywriter for Toronto Film School. He got his start in television production at YTV, and then later worked as a promo producer and commercial director for a number of television networks. He was the supervising producer of Cineplex’s national in-theatre pre-show, providing creative direction and leadership on over 600 produced segments, and directed on-location interviews around the world with Hollywood celebrities such as Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck, Chris Evans, Kermit, Miss Piggy and many more. He has a bachelor’s degree in Radio and Television Arts from Toronto Metropolitan University and a certificate in Digital Marketing Management from the University of Toronto.

Garry Murdock

Born in Montreal, Garry Murdock is the marketing copywriter for Toronto Film School. He got his start in television production at YTV, and then later worked as a promo producer and commercial director for a number of television networks. He was the supervising producer of Cineplex’s national in-theatre pre-show, providing creative direction and leadership on over 600 produced segments, and directed on-location interviews around the world with Hollywood celebrities such as Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck, Chris Evans, Kermit, Miss Piggy and many more. He has a bachelor’s degree in Radio and Television Arts from Toronto Metropolitan University and a certificate in Digital Marketing Management from the University of Toronto.

Blogs

Video Game Student Dmytro Salenko Wows Creative Success Award Judges with ‘Mindscape’ Game Pitch

Toronto Film School recently announced Dmytro Salenko as the inaugural winner of its newly launched Creative Success Award. For Salenko, a Video Game Design & Animation student, being selected as the first-ever recipient of the quarterly $2,500 bursary meant the world to him – not only proving that all his hard work and dedication is …Read more