Actors share movie roles, decades apart

Detroit Free Press
1 part, 2 players: Actors share movie roles, decades apart
May 25, 2012

Plunged back into 1969 via time travel, Agent J (Will Smith) looks at the man sitting across from him and asks, “K?”

“How’d you know my name?” barks a Texas twangy Josh Brolin as Agent K, channeling Tommy Lee Jones so exquisitely that it’s hard to tell him apart from the original “Men in Black” star.

The trailer from “Men in Black 3” — the movie opens today — provides a glimpse of one of the coolest performances ever in a very special category — the younger and older version of the same character.

Few handle the task as well as Brolin because a lot more is involved than bearing a passing resemblance to someone else. Done well, the story line device offers a shock of recognition as acute as if a 20-years-younger (or older) version of yourself dropped by for a visit.

Which other actors have succeeded at this tricky assignment? What follows, appropriately, are some old favorites as well as a few newbies.

Mayim Bialik and Bette Midler
Character: CC Bloom, “Beaches”

Twintastic?: Garry Marshall’s 1988 weeper about two female friends who meet as kids was memorable for more than Barbara Hershey’s lip enhancement. A pre-“Blossom” Bialik as a scrappy child entertainer and Midler as the grown-up brassy bombshell who fights her way to stardom both conveyed an ambition big enough to last a lifetime.

Grade: B+

Rob Lowe and Robert Wagner
Character: Number Two, “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Twintastic?: The suave Wagner needed an actor who could take his character, Number Two, back to the swinging ’60s for the second installment of the Mike Myers spy spoof. Enter Rob Lowe, the only contemporary star worthy of inheriting the mantle — that deep voice, those sly glances, the perfect hair forever.

Grade: A.

Chris Pine and William Shatner
Character: Captain Kirk, “Star Trek” the movie and “Star Trek” the TV series

Twintastic?: Shatner’s eccentricities and verbal tics as the leader of the boldly going sci-fi series of the 1960s became legendary. Wisely avoiding anything smacking of an impression, Pine successfully echoed some of Shatner’s rhythms and charming arrogance as the young Kirk for the 2009 cinematic reboot.

Grade: B

Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando

Character: Vito Corleone, “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II

Twintastic?: After Brando offered an indelible performance you can’t refuse in the first “Godfather,” only a fool would have tackled the role for the prequel portion of the sequel and dared walk in his shoes. Or a genius like De Niro, whose mumbly reserve as a young Vito on his way to crime bossdom was a perfect match.

Grade: A+

Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart

Character: Rose, “Titanic”

Twintastic?: When both actresses earn Oscar nominations for the same character in the same film, they must be doing something right. Winslet was a breath of feisty air as a young woman willing to ditch her rich fiancé for handsome vagabond Leo DiCaprio. Stuart, as the elderly Rose, didn’t let being in her late 80s stop her from showing the glow of lasting lost love.

Grade: A-

Mila Kunis and Angelina Jolie

Character: Gia Carangi, “Gia”

Twintastic?: Jolie’s no-holds-barred portrayal of a rebellious supermodel on a tragic path was a hint of great things to come. And speaking of greatness, kudos to the cable movie’s casting director who recognized that Kunis, destined one day to play equally bold women, was right for a brief part as Gia at 11.

Grade: B

Jennifer Connelly and Elizabeth McGovern

Character: Deborah, “Once Upon a Time in America”

Twintastic?: Sergio Leone’s flawed, mesmerizing gangster epic cast an angelic Connelly as a young girl whose childhood acquaintance, a young thug named Noodles, moved on later to brutality and big-time crime. McGovern had the right beauty for the adult Deborah, but like much of the movie, the old and new characters seemed out of sync.

Grade: C+

Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness

Character: Obi-Wan Kenobi, the “Star Wars” series.

Twintastic?: Leaving aside the relative merits of the prequels to the original 1977 “Star Wars,” fans can agree that McGregor has the proper British fortitude and wisdom to wear the younger cloak of the Luke Skywalker adviser forever identified with Sir Alec Guinness.

Grade: B

Ashley Judd and Ellen Burstyn

Character: Vivi Abbott Walker, “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Twintastic?: A so-so girls-night-out movie adaptation of a best-selling book, this 2002 effort costarred two powerful actresses as the complex, sometimes cruel mother of Sandra Bullock. In this acting smackdown, a mercurial Judd wins over a glum Burstyn, but both women show how trauma and disappointment can turn a brave woman into a fearful, bitter one.

Grade: B-

Jimmy Fallon and Alec Baldwin

Character: Jack Donaghy, “30 Rock”

Twintastic?: The NBC sitcom’s live episode this season featured many treats, among them the cameo by late-night host Fallon as Liz Lemon’s boss, Donaghy, during a flashback to an old telethon. He had just the right pomp and gravitas to play Baldwin’s younger self — until he started cracking up at Fred Armisen in drag as a phone bank volunteer.

Grade: B-

Christina Ricci and Rosie O’Donnell

Character: Roberta Martin, “Now and Then”

Twintastic?: Four tween girlfriends learn about life in a small town in the 1970s — and four better-known actresses (O’Donnell, Melanie Griffith, Demi Moore and Rita Wilson) appear rather unnecessarily as those same pals years later. There didn’t seem to be much reason to pair Ricci with O’Donnell, but the same essentially goes for Thora Birch as a young Griffith and Gaby Hoffman as a young Moore.

Grade: D.

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