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15 Actors Who Played Different Roles on the Same Show

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Soap opera addicts are used to the idea that, even in death, their favorite actors could very well pop back up on the screen one day—maybe as a ghost, an evil twin, a doppelganger or an entirely unrelated character. But eagle-eyed viewers of primetime television know that even the grittiest cop dramas and silliest sitcoms aren’t immune to recycling the casting director’s favorite actors.

1. JERRY ORBACH, LAW & ORDER

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Sure, it’s difficult to imagine a Law & Order without Lennie Briscoe. But Jerry Orbach’s L&O debut actually came in the form of defense attorney Frank Lehrman in 1991, during the show’s second season. A year later, Orbach was back in a more permanent fashion as the weary Briscoe, a role he played until his passing in 2004.

2. MARK LENARD, STAR TREK

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Any Trekkie/Trekker worth his or her re-mastered Blu-ray collection knows that Mark Lenard is one of the few actors to portray a Romulan, Klingon, and Vulcan on Star Trek. In the original series’ first season, he played a Romulan Commander in “Balance of Terror.” One year later, he returned as Spock’s Vulcan father Sarek, a part he reprised several times on the small and big screen through 1991.

3. GARRET DILLAHUNT, DEADWOOD

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The true mark of a great character actor is his or her ability to disappear into a role. And Garret Dillahunt is one of today’s most talented. So much so that some fans of HBO’s Deadwood didn’t even realize that the actor who played Wild Bill Hickok assassin Jack McCall in the first season and the actor who played whore-murdering geologist Francis Wolcott in season two were, in fact, one in the same. 

4. JEFFREY TAMBOR, THREE’S COMPANY

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Jeffrey Tambor proved his ability to play more than one character in a single sitcom long before portraying twin brothers George and Oscar Bluth on Arrested Development. Over the course of two years and three episodes of Three’s Company, he played a rich man intent on landing Chrissy, a crazy dentist recently dumped by Terri, and a psychiatrist who works at the hospital with Terri (and whom Jack and Janet mistake for a mental patient). Before any of that, he had a lead role in the Three’s Company spinoff, The Ropers.

5. DENNIS FRANZ, HILL STREET BLUES

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Dennis Franz has made a career out of playing cops. Which might help explain why the producers of Hill Street Blues thought they could get away with introducing the Golden Globe-winning actor as corrupt detective Sal Benedetto in 1983, who met an untimely demise, then resurrect him as Lieutenant Norman Buntz for the show’s final two seasons. The character’s popularity with fans even led to a short-lived spinoff, Beverly Hills Buntz.

6. DIANE NEAL, LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT

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Law & Order does this all the time. In fact, the Law & Order Repeat Offenders File is a website dedicated to the show’s tendency toward repeat casting. For the past decade, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit watchers have known Diane Neal as tough-as-nails ADA Casey Novak. But in 2001, she made one of her first on-screen appearances in the show’s third season playing a stockbroker charged with the rape of a male stripper.

7. TED MCGINLEY, MARRIED WITH CHILDREN

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A year before joining the cast of Married With Children as Jefferson D’Arcy, Ted McGinley played an alternate version of Al Bundy—Norman Jablonsky—in a two-part Christmas special in It’s a Bundyful Life, which imagines what life would be like for Peg, Bud, and Kelly had Al never been born.

8. KEVIN JAMES, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND

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What a difference a sitcom makes. From 1996 to 1998, Kevin James made six guest appearances as Kevin Daniels, friend of Ray, in Everybody Loves Raymond. Though his occasional spots on the show continued even after James landed the lead in his own sitcom, The King of Queens, in future crossovers James was playing his Queens character, delivery truck driver Doug Heffernan.

9. S. EPATHA MERKERSON, LAW & ORDER

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Two years before she began her seven-year stint as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, Golden Globe-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson starred as the mother of an 11-month-old shooting victim in Law & Order’s first season. 

10. HARRY MORGAN, M*A*S*H

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Character actor Harry Morgan is well known for his portrayal of the straight-talking Colonel Sherman T. Potter on nearly 200 episodes of M*A*S*H, beginning in the series’ fourth season. He landed that gig after a successful turn as a visiting general who turns out to be crazy in the third season premiere.

11. TERRY O’QUINN, THE X-FILES

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The man who would be John Locke owes his trio of appearances on The X-Files to his good friend, series creator Chris Carter. He pops up as a police officer in the second season, then again as The Shadow Man—a mysterious man following Scully—in season nine. O’Quinn also plays FBI agent Darius Michaud in The X-Files movie.

12. MICHELLE FORBES, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION

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Five months before she began her three-year run as Ensign Ro Laren, a protégé of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Michelle Forbes played the one-off role of Dara, the daughter of alien scientist Timicin (David Ogden Stiers), in the fourth season’s “Half a Life” episode.

13. MICHAEL O’KEEFE, LAW & ORDER

Photo courtesy of Law & Order Wiki

Last Law & Order example, we promise. But Michael O’Keefe—who nabbed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for The Great Santini in 1981—has actually played six different roles across the franchise, including twins in a 2001 episode of Law & Order. The same year he made his first of two appearances on Criminal Intent, followed by parts on SVU in 2002 and 2004.

14. JOHN FINNEGAN, COLUMBO

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Before there was Law & Order, there was Columbo, another network cop show that liked to recycle its actors. No actor spent more time on the set without being a regular cast member than John Finnegan, who played eight different characters between 1972 and 1991 before landing a recurring role as Barney, a restaurant owner.

15. JACK GARNER, THE ROCKFORD FILES

Photo courtesy Rockford Files Filming Locations

It would be tempting to call Jack Garner’s recurring role on The Rockford Files a case of nepotism. His brother, James, was the show’s star, after all. But the elder Garner worked for the part. From 1974 to 1979 he played nearly two dozen bit parts in the series, from an uncredited “Man in Washroom” to “Workman #1,” finally nabbing that elusive character with an actual name—Captain McEnroe—in 1979.

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There are plenty of other examples. Ooh! We just remembered another. The actor who played Rose Nylund's lover Miles also appeared in season one as Arnie, another of Rose's suitors. And Denise's husband on The Cosby Show had earlier been a love interest of Sondra. Who else belongs in the Same Actor, Same Series, Different Character club?

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

Warner Bros.

Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes? And [Hanson] said ‘Dean Martin.’”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

Warner Bros.

[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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