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In Two and a half men, some different roles in the series are played by the same actor. For instance, in season 4 there is Herb's sister, which is exactly the same actress as Walden's ex-wife a few seasons later. Also, I don't know the exact season and episodes, Chelsea (Charlies girlfriend for a few episodes) plays in one of the first episodes just a normal girl who slept with Charlie (but not called Chelsea).

So, why do they do this? Don't they remember they already "used" this actor before? Or is there a plan behind this?

  • Welcome to Movies.SE! Please be aware that this is an objective Q&A site, not a forum. Also, are you asking about Two and a Half Men only, or about other TV shows that do this? The latter would be too broad, as shows might do this for a whole number of reasons (budgetary constraints, a reward for attentive fans, they just really like that particular actor/actress...) – F1Krazy Sep 19 '18 at 19:39
  • Thank you for your answer! I know this is a Q&A site and as written above, my question is why they might do the "double usage" of actors? :) I am not only asking about Two and a half men, but this were the best examples I could think of. For me it just doesnt make sense to use them twice in one series, because it destroys the "logic" (this is my opinion). And I also dont think they would do it because of the budget.. – Stonecutter Sep 19 '18 at 19:51
  • Related - movies.stackexchange.com/questions/41909/… – Paulie_D Sep 19 '18 at 19:59
  • @Paulie_D thanks, thats almost the same question which I was looking for :) I guess I had the wrong words for search – Stonecutter Sep 19 '18 at 20:17
  • Note that Giovani Ribisi did two different characters on Friends – Vishwa Sep 20 '18 at 6:44
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There are several possible reasons for this.

The actor was so good they made them a regular, but their original character doesn't fit in the ongoing plot, as is often the case with disposable minor characters.

  • Jerry Orbach played a minor role in Law & Order as a lawyer, but later was cast as one of the two main police officers (a leading role). This applies to a vast majority of leading actors in Law & Order; they often had a minor role at first.
  • Peter Capaldi and Karen Gillan both played minor roles in the same episode of Doctor Who (The Fires of Pompeii), and would later return to play the two main parts (not at the same time).
  • Mark Lenard played many roles on Star Trek as side characters, but ended up as an infrequently recurring character as Sarek (Spock's father). Part of what made him a recast actor was his skill at playing an alien-humanoid character, which requires walking a fine line between foreign yet recognizable. Not every actor has that skill.

Because there are only so many actors.

  • Monty Python is embodies this principle. Moving from sketch shows to feature length movies, they ended up with movies where the 6 Monty Python members play countless characters. This is because the nature of their comedy (short disposable sketches) means that they can't fill a feature length movie with just 6 characters (it would get tiring really fast), and therefore chose to have the 6 actors play many short-lived characters.
  • Law & Order is actually a really useful example here. Almost all main actors (in future seasons) had a minor role in the beginning. Every episode, there are multiple episodic characters. These characters only exist within a single episode, but they do get a fair amount of spotlight during this episode. This means that you need (at least) good actors. Given how many Law & Order episodes have been created, with "disposable" episodic characters that need to be played by good actors, and filming always takes place in the same location, there are only so many actors availaible in the region before you start recasting the same actors in new roles.
  • If you also factor in variations of Law & Order (Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, ...), there is a massive amount of actors who have played multiple parts.

Because the director and actors often worked together. This is more common between different shows, where the same director tends to work with the same actors. For example, there are few Tim Burton movies that do not star Helena Bonham-Carter (Burton's wife) and Johnny Depp (who Burton likes working with).

But I've also seen it happen within the same TV show:

  • Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood). Played a character who ends up getting killed about halfway through the show. David Milch just liked Dillahunt so much that he eventually cast him again as a completely different character (and I have to admit that Dillahunt is such a good actor that it took me a while to be sure that it was the same guy).
  • Dan Hildebrand (also Deadwood) played a character who died in the first episode. In the last season, he was recast as another minor character.

And I also dont think they would do it because of the budget.

Yes and no. Assuming different actors with equal skill and cost are available, it seems reasonable to cast different actors for different roles (barring examples where the director is finding a role for an actor, instead of an actor for a role)

But budget indirectly factors into it. Background characters are a dime a dozen. You don't need any acting talent to be in the background. However, if the show has many disposable characters with significant lines (as is the case with Law & Order), then you're limitng yourself to skilled actors.
If you want to keep the actor wages down, you'll be hiring people who are local to where you are shooting, and there's only a finite amount of adequately skilled actors in your region. Therefore, you have to make a compromise:

  • Lower your standards (= lower quality casting)
  • Find actors further away (= higher budget costs)
  • Accept that you recast actors (= you know they're good actors, and it's not exceedingly jarring if the actor isn't immediately reused for the next episode)

If you space the recurring actors' roles properly, the third option is (in my opinion) the best option. Lowered quality or increased costs can often lead to a show being cancelled (low quality = lack of viewership, high costs = lack of companies investing in the show), so you want to avoid them at all costs.

  • More examples - Babylon 5 (usually under makeup), Stargate, X-Files – HorusKol Sep 20 '18 at 23:21
  • Sorry i didnt answer until now, but very impressive answer, thanks for your time! You listed some good reasons :-) – Stonecutter Sep 23 '18 at 14:16
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It's not that big a deal.

The characters played by those actors appear mostly in 1 episode.

So, casting the same person as another character works. The creator of the show doesn't have to look for a new actor to play the role. There is no specific plan behind the particular casting.

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