What is a Body Double?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Body doubles are professionals who take the place of performers during the filming of a scene for a television or motion picture production. The body double normally bears enough physical resemblance to the performer that is it impossible to detect the difference when the distance, angle, and lighting are situated in the proper manner. Doubles may be used when the scene calls for action that could be dangerous for a headlining performer, or when the appearance of the performer is only incidental to the scene.

A Hollywood body double often performs stunts that an actor may not be able to do safely.
A Hollywood body double often performs stunts that an actor may not be able to do safely.

For the most part, a body double does not have to bear a striking facial resemblance to the performer. However, the overall skin tone, body type, height, and color of hair are often considered essential in order to achieve the proper effect. Often, the double is filmed from the back or at a distance, making it virtually impossible for the viewing audience to determine if the scene contains the performer or the double.

Action stars such as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson often have body doubles in their films.
Action stars such as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson often have body doubles in their films.

In the early days of television, a body double was especially helpful in scenes where the performer would be carrying on a conversation with a twin or other character who was supposed to be identical in appearance. A common arrangement during the golden age of television was for the performer to face the camera while the double was viewed only from the back. This arrangement would allow one actor to provide the voice over for both characters, which could be dubbed in after the scenes were filmed and cut.

One of the most common types of body double is known as the stunt double. This type of movie double is called upon to act in scenes that require a great deal of physical exertion and may be somewhat dangerous. Since many headliner performers are paid well for their services, having to hold up production when a major actor or actress is injured on the set can be extremely expensive. To minimize the potential of injury to the star, the stunt double takes over when the scripting calls for car chases, an escape from a burning building, or any similar physical action. In order to protect themselves, stunt doubles are usually highly trained in how to perform various actions with a minimal chance of injury.

As with actors and actresses, the Hollywood body double typically belongs to a union and is paid at least a minimum daily wage that is referred to as scale. Television productions may choose to employ a body double for the run of the series, or on as needed basis.

Body doubles typically wear makeup that is almost identical to that of the main actor or actress.
Body doubles typically wear makeup that is almost identical to that of the main actor or actress.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

OceanSwimmer

@dega2010: Tom Cruise does his own stunts, as well. He has worked in almost every genre but he’s made his mark as an action star. For his last two installments of Mission Impossible, Cruise insisted on doing his own stunts. The studio executives were against it, but Cruise won out in the end. He also did his own stunts in his latest movie, Knight and Day.

Also, our beloved governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, performed almost of his own stunts. His most famous movies that displayed his amazing stuntman ability were Commando and the Conan movies.

googie98

@dega2010: Jackie Chan does all of his own stunts. He has suffered a few broken bones in the process but he is very talented as a stuntman. Even though Chan’s early training was geared toward a career in the Peking opera, he ended up working as a stuntman and actor. He is now known as the world’s top martial-arts film actors.

dega2010

Are there any actors that do their own stunts without using a body double?

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