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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.


Photo courtesy of Law & Order Wiki

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.


Photo courtesy of TrekCore

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.


Photo courtesy of HBO

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. 


Photo courtesy of Sitcoms Online

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.


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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.


Photo courtesy of Law & Order Wiki

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.


Photo courtesy of Name That Christmas Special

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.


Photo via YouTube

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.


Photo courtesy of Law & Order Wiki

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. 


Photo courtesy of CBS Television

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.


Photo courtesy of The X-Files Wiki

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.


Image courtesy of Memory Alpha

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.


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.


Photo courtesy of Aveleyman

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.


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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.