The Right Phenotype

There can be some very questionable casting in TV shows and films, so I thought I’d focus instead on the gleefully fabulous examples of family members, young versions and so on which work well.

Sometimes it’s possible to work out exactly what makes the casting so perfect- the colouring, the jaw line, the body type- and sometimes it seems impossible to properly pinpoint.

And sometimes they just actually seem to have the same face.

Chuck’s mother (Gossip Girl)

Laura Harring (Mulholland Drive) was picture perfect casting for the birth mother of Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick). It’s perhaps the slightly feline eyes that makes them look so similar. The only problem was that it made any doubt that she was his biological mother somewhat preposterous as he certainly resembles her- and much more than his father Bart (Robert John Burke) or his uncle Jack (Desmond Harrington).

Nathan’s father (Misfits)

Nathan (Robert Sheehan) is gracefully tall (and hella hot), and Dexter Fletcher (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) isn’t really either of those things. Despite that, he was still eerily well cast as Nathan’s father Mike. It’s not just the masses of curly hair- although they do help- Fletcher really does look like someone he could grow up to be, which might make Sheehan take pause.

Julia’s mother (Nip/Tuck)


One way to ensure that family members in a show look alike is to cheat and cast real relatives. This has been almost done to death with twin shows (Two of a Kind; Sister, Sister; Sweet Valley High) but it’s not only siblings who resemble each other. Vanessa Redgrave played Erica Noughton the mother of Julia McNamara in Nip/Tuck, and Julia was in turn portrayed by her real-life daughter Joely Richardson. Unsurprisingly, the two make a convincing looking mother/daughter act- it’s one of the boons of thespian dynasties.

Sasha’s mother (Californication)


Addison Timlin plays Sasha Bingham in Californication– the young movie star slated to appear in the adaptation of the main character Hank’s novel, and whom he’s been sleeping with. Right after he was congratulating himself for having age-appropriate sex with the woman he picked up in the hotel bar- Julia (Callie Thorne), the resemblance between the two women was enough for the twist that Hank had inadvertently had sex with both Sasha and her mother without the revelation when Sasha turned up.

At least as long as you hadn’t seen the trailer for the episode, which pretty much spoiled the whole plot in one fell swoop.

Rachel’s mother (Glee)


Idina Menzel looks uncannily like fellow Broadway star Lea Michele, a fact that apparently she and her husband Taye Diggs realised before Glee fans worldwide. Their looks and amazing vocals made Menzel a wonderful candidate for the role of Shelby, the biological mother of Rachel Berry (Michele), but as with Gossip Girl it made it a little too easy to connect the dots. At least Glee had an element of misdirection in the form of the mildly suspicious relationship between Shelby’s former student Jesse (another Broadway star, Jonathan Groff) and Rachel.

Elena’s mother (The Vampire Diaries)


Nina Dobrev and Steven R. McQueen seemed to be relatively believable as siblings Elena and Jeremy Gilbert- but when Elena discovered that she was in fact adopted, the search for her birth mother was on. The L Word‘s Mia Kirshner was a great choice for Elena’s biological mother, they have very similar looks. The best part is that thus far Isobel hasn’t been portrayed particularly sympathetically so I get to take all my dislike towards her character Jenny on The L Word and hate away!

And of course Katherine just looks like her doppelgänger Elena since they’re both played by Nina Dobrev, although they do sometimes handily have different hairstyles which makes it easier to identify them.

Awesome’s parents (Chuck)


Chuck nicknamed his sister’s boyfriend (and later husband) Devon “Captain Awesome” because everything he does- and his opinion of everything seems to be- awesome. Ryan McPartlin is the perfect fit for the character, and even though he feels like a character  from Scrubs a lot of the time, since Devon’s a doctor it kind of works. Bruce Boxleitner and Morgan Fairchild were great picks to play his parents Woody and Honey Woodcomb. Not only do they really look like they could be his father and mother, they managed to convey the same level of shiny awesomeness with ease.

Michael’s son (Arrested Development)


For some reason Jason Bateman tends to be horribly irritating in movies (c.f. Hancock) but Bateman as Michael Bluth in Arrested Development doesn’t rub me up the wrong way at all, maybe it’s because he’s given an opportunity to send up the smarm. As it’s a sitcom that focuses on one family it was pretty important that the actors seem believable as a family- but I think Michael Cera as his son, George Michael, was an especially good choice. They really do seem like they could be father and son, asides from the fact that Cera’s never particularly annoyed me in any of his roles.

Rita Sue and Dora Mae (Carnivàle)

Rita Sue (Cynthia Ettinger)’s younger daughter Dora Mae (Amanda Aday) always appeared more like her- both facially and in terms of body type- than her eldest daughter Libby (Carla Gallo). But I can let that one go because if I got my way Gallo would be in pretty much everything ever.

Rachel’s sisters (Friends)


Rachel (Jennifer Aniston)’s sisters, Jill and Amy, on Friends were played by Reese Witherspoon and Christina Applegate. All three look somewhat alike, although I’d say that Applegate and Aniston have a closer likeness. Both Witherspoon and Applegate were also great at depicting ditzy, selfish women- akin to early Rachel.

Lloyd’s sister (Undeclared)


Kimberly Stewart- not someone known for her acting, as you might be able to divine from her IMDb profile– was surprisingly convincing as Amanda, sister of Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam), on Undeclared. Not in terms of accent- this is American television where anything vaguely English is all the same, after all- but I was pleasantly taken aback by how much I bought them as siblings nonetheless.

Booth’s brother (Bones)


David Boreanaz and Brendan Fehr are very credible as brothers Seeley and Jared Booth, in fact I almost can’t believe that they’ve never portrayed brothers before given that they were both on shows that aired on the WB (the precursor to the CW, with lots of the same pretty people seeming to appear on all the same shows). I was a bit reticent about a brother character appearing suddenly in the fourth season, but Jared’s character has been fleshed out, and has revealed more about Seeley in the process.

Frasier’s brother (Frasier)


Originally Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) wasn’t even supposed to have a brother, but David Hyde Pierce’s practically being Grammer’s carbon copy led to the creation of the role of Niles Crane for him. Niles was really the breakout character of the show, and probably my favourite too. It’s a good thing that someone picked up on their similarity, otherwise it might have been a rather different, and less fun, show.

Malcolm’s eldest brother (Malcolm in the Middle)


The Malcolm in the Middle family didn’t necessarily all look that same-y, but Frankie Muniz (who played Malcolm) and Christopher Masterson (who played the oldest brother Francis) seemed entirely reasonable as siblings. Although maybe Christopher Masterson just has a really common face- rather unsurprisingly he resembles his brother Danny (from That 70’s Show) but he also often gets mistaken for Neil Patrick Harris, not that NPH is a bad person to get mixed up with by any stretch of the imagination.

The Pevensie sisters (Narnia films)


Anna Popplewell and Georgie Henley play the Pevensie sisters- Susan and Lucy respectively- in the recent Narnia films. I’m not sure anyone could have predicted just what a good casting call it was as Georgie was only ten when the first movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, came out and she in fact looked even younger. She’s grown to look even more like Popplewell as she’s aged, so much that the scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Lucy becomes beautiful by turning into Susan seemed incredibly seamless.

The older version of Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was portrayed by Georgie’s elder sister Rachel, finding a ready-made older sibling being much easier than all that fancy make-up and CGI nonsense.

Jack and Meg (The White Stripes)


In early interview Jack and Meg White claimed to be a brother-sister duo, and attempted to continue the charade even when evidence of their marriage, and divorce, was made public. The resulting confusion led to more press coverage for the band, so the tactic seemed to have worked. If they didn’t have such a kindred look it wouldn’t have seemed so tenable, however. Hey, maybe feeling like they were constantly looking into a mirror was why they got divorced?

Tara and Lafayette (True Blood)


It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes Nelsan Ellis and Rutina Wesley (the actors who play cousins Lafayette and Tara) convincing as family, they’re not all that facially alike- it’s more about their body type. They’re both slightly stocky and pretty muscly. Or maybe it’s just that in a show which has made some ridiculous casting choices (it’s set in New Orleans yet stars a Kiwi and a Brit, and just generally everyone on the show seems to be doing a completely different accent) it’s refreshing when it seems that any attention has been paid to making even a modicum of sense.

I’d say that Adina Porter and Alfre Woodard seem like sensible choices for sisters (and Tara and Lafayette’s mothers respectively) but I think it’s just that they’re both good at acting like crazy people, not that they look particularly similar.

Castle’s mother and daughter (Castle)

Susan Sullivan and Molly Quinn make a very reasonable grandmother/granddaughter duo: Martha (Sullivan) is the mother of Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), while Alexis (Quinn) is his daughter. They have pretty much the same colouring- and not just the hair! The three of them form an adorable family unit, and Quinn’s portrayal of Alexis makes me want to have kids, on the off-chance that they’re as useful as she is.

Clay and Jed (Cat Ballou)

As I mentioned in my review of Cat Ballou, Michael Callan (who plays Clay) and Dwayne Hickman (who appears as his Uncle Jed) practically have the same face. For me this is some of the most believable casting of family members of all time. Yes Callan and Hickman were practically the same age, but you can have a nephew who’s older than you- so that’s no problem.

Lana’s great-aunt (Smallville)


Lana’s great-aunt Louise McCallum looks almost exactly like Lana- not that surprising since they were both played by Kristin Kreuk. Using the same actress is one way of making sure that family members look convincingly similar. Kreuk also had the role of Lana’s ancestor Margaret Thoreaux, I hope she was drawing an extra pay-cheque for all these extra roles.

young Kurt (Glee)

I still find it difficult to believe that Adam Kolkin, who played the young version of Kurt in flashbacks, is no relation to Chris Colfer- who appears as Kurt the rest of the time. At least I’m not the only one freaked out by Colfer’s mini-me. The perfect casting wasn’t all that I loved about the ‘Grilled Cheesus’ episode in which he appeared- Finn worshipping a sandwich was hilarious, Kurt singing ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ was bittersweet, but I was most excited about a mainstream American show tackling atheism. It wasn’t perfect, and it was a little cheesy, but I’m still glad that they tried.

young Kathy H (Never Let Me Go)


Speaking of mini-mes, Isobel Meikle-Small as the young version of Carey Mulligan’s Kathy H in Never Let Me Go was also spot-on, and a little worrying given that it’s a film about clones. Charlie Rowe and Andrew Garfield as the young/old Tommy, and Ella Purnell and Keira Knightley both playing Ruth weren’t bad choices, but they didn’t make me nearly as suspicious.

young everyone (Supernatural)


Ridge Canape was a great choice for young Dean (normally played by Jensen Ackles)- not only does he look reasonably enough like Ackles but he’s all freckly- but it was fellow Days of Our Lives alum Brock Kelly as teen Dean which was ridiculously inspired casting. Meanwhile Dean’s brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) was played by Alex Ferris as a child, who looks like he could have grown up into Colin Ford, who depicts a slightly older Sam, and also has almost as good a head of hair as Padalecki himself. Their parents John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Mary (Samantha Smith) when seen in the past are portrayed by Matt Cohen and Amy Gumenick, whom I also think were brilliant picks. Even Bela (Lauren Cohan), who only appeared in a total of six episodes, had a very convincing young version of her in flashbacks played by Tiera Skovbye.

In addition to my appreciation for all the baby versions of characters on the show, using Chad Everett as an aged version of Dean was also a wonderful decision, even if the idea of an old Dean Winchester is slightly unsettling.

replacement Cher (Clueless)


The Clueless movie resulted in a spin-off TV series which aired from 1996-9. Many of the film’s characters and actors were retained, although some glaring plot differences did emerge. Alicia Silverstone who was main character Cher in the film (a modern retelling of Austen’s Emma) reportedly turned down the role in the series in order to focus on films (which didn’t really pan out for her). Luckily Rachel Blanchard was found for the part, which was pretty handy since it’s honestly quite difficult to tell the two apart.

Padme’s decoy (Star Wars)

Keira Knightley was cast in The Phantom Menace as Sabé, who functions as a decoy for the queen Padmé (Natalie Portman), because of her striking resemblance to Portman. Apparently even their own mothers had trouble telling them apart when they were in costume and make-up, which seems relatively plausible given the get up, but I think we can all agree that they definitely have a similar phenotype.

Lily’s idol (Black Swan)

Likewise Portman has a very close look to that of Winona Ryder, so I thought it was a good choice to have Ryder playing Beth, Nina (Portman)’s idol who she ends up replacing- especially because we see things essentially as Nina perceives them. I’d like to believe that Nina perceived Beth as looking rather like her for a reason, because I think it’s practically criminal to put these two in a film together and not have them as relatives. It smacks of wasted potential, as does much of Black Swan.

So that’s it for my list of good casting based on essentially shallow (but nonetheless deeply important) concerns. Although considering the lack of ethnic diversity on the list is it possible that I just think that all white people look the same? Discuss.

3 thoughts on “The Right Phenotype

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