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A specific form of Stunt Double. The actor is about to perform some action to show his character's prowess in an area. The camera zooms in as he does to hide the fact that his display of talent is being performed by an expert. An example of this would be a skilled piano player stepping in for the actor for the piano-playing sequences and the camera focusing only on his hands to cover up the switch. (One dead giveaway for this specific instance is to watch for a "slow left hand" in the shots that show the actor's face.)
The main difference from a simple Stunt Double is that the action the Talent Double performs usually does not require raw athletic power or include potentially dangerous situations, but instead expertise in a specific field. Music and figure-skating are the most common ones.
A special case is when an actor/actress lip-synchs to a song and the voice is filled in later by a more experienced singer. No camera cover-up here, but a sound cover-up instead.
Compare with The Cast Showoff.
- Maskerade: Christine is pretty (and well-connected) but can't sing her way out of a paper bag. Meanwhile Agnes can sing circles around a mermaid, but she's, um, less photogenic. So the director has Agnes sing Christine's songs for her at full voice, while Christine sings very quietly. It helps that Christine is a dingbat who doesn't realize this arrangement is on purpose.
- The Simpsons: You may remember actor Troy McClure from the film Young Jebediah Springfield where he rides a buffalo like a bull at a rodeo. Except that close ups clearly show Troy on a very, very fake buffalo with stage hands pushing it around. However shots from far off show the a real buffalo bucking wildly, nearly throwing off the Talent Double. The children watching on The Simpsons don't appear to notice the discrepancy.
Examples in real life:
- The Goblin King's juggling and crystal ball tricks in Labyrinth; in the case of the crystal balls, the Talent Double stood behind David Bowie with his hand through the sleeve of Bowie's coat.
- Singin in The Rain is about a silent actor and actress who are a famous "movie couple" that have to adjust to the emergence of talkies. They're signed on to do a musical. The actor's fine, as he used to be in musical theatre, but the actress (played by Jean Hagen) can't carry a tune without a bucket, so she needs a talent double. In a particularly confusing occurrence, Debbie Reynolds, who played the fictional Talent Double, was herself using a Talent Double in real life - in one scene, the voice dubbed in over Debbie Reynolds' voice is Jean Hagen's!
- Averted in Walk the Line, where Joaquin Phoenix sings Johnny Cash's songs; and also in the 2007 Joy Division movie Control, where the actors playing the band do all of the music and vocals. Rather ironically Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for lip-syncing to Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose while Phoenix was only nominated. (And of course Control's Sam Riley didn't attract any notice at all even though anyone who can do Ian Curtis's epileptic robo-dance without looking like an idiot deserves an Oscar.)
- Artist Phil Jimenez's hands were used in the place of Tobey Maguire's during the drawing scene in the first Spider-Man movie.
- The sketch that Jack does of Rose in Titanic was actually done by James Cameron, the director.
- Done interestingly in The Passion of the Christ where the hands hammering the nails into Jesus's arms are those of Mel Gibson.
- A legendary example in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan when Andie Mcdowell had a talent double. The talent in this case? Acting; Glenn Close had to re dub all her lines because Andie Macdowell was a model and could not deliver a believable performance.
- Not surprisingly, Nick Cannon isn't nearly as good a drummer as his character in Drumline.
- The Lord of the Rings film had stand-ins for the horse riding scenes, e.g. Liv Tyler.
- Averted in a few cases -- Viggo Mortenson did all of his own stunts, became extremely proficient at sword-fighting, and actually bought two of the horses he rode at the end of filming. Orlando Bloom likewise rode his own horse -- and broke a couple of ribs falling off at one point.
- In the straight-to-DVD sequel to A Cinderella Story, Selena Gomez uses a double for most her her dancing scenes.
- In the ballet flick Center Stage, Jody Sawyer, Cooper Nielsen, and a couple of the supporting characters are played by professional dancers (notably Amanda Schull, a member of The San Francisco Ballet's corps de ballet for three seasons, as Jody, and Ethan Stiefel, who very quickly became a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet early in his career and who has been a principal at American Ballet Theatre for years now, as Cooper). Zoe Saldana, who had extensive ballet training, did much of her own dancing, but was doubled for the long shots of the final performance. Ironically, Maureen, the best dancer in the school, was played by a non-dancer.
- Rufus's most excellent guitar solo at the end of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was performed by a talent double.
- Likewise, Jack Black's solos in School of Rock are dubbed.
- Though, solos aside, he does play the guitar and does his own singing. The kids avert the trope-- they all play their own instruments or sing themselves. Katie Brown, who plays Rebecca, is an accomplished guitarist, and learned to play bass for the film.
- Likewise, Jack Black's solos in School of Rock are dubbed.
- Roger Moore used a double for handling guns in his James Bond films, as he had a phobia of firearms.
- Used jarringly in The Princess Bride, where Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes have a fun and acrobatic, if not terribly accurate sword fight with no doubles, save for the one moment for each where they do an acrobatic leap, and have the camera cut back to them in a different pose and location than where we saw the double land.
- Spoofed in Cannibal! The Musical, where Packer's ballet double in a Dream Sequence is incredibly obvious.
- Deliberately obvious in a spoof Public Service Announcement in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. A heavyset Shrinking Violet overcomes his shyness to show off his dancing skills, which apparently combine with Temporary Bulk Change skills. (The Show Within a Show's Aesop, of course, is something like Be Yourself.)
- Natalie Portman studied ballet for a solid year prior to making the film, but that still ain't all her in Black Swan. The close-ups are, though. Caused a minor controversy with the double speaking out because she felt like she wasn't mentioned enough
- Much of the controversy stemmed from the idea that praise for Portman's dancing in the film may have implied that one could become a professional ballerina after only a year of training. Portman's double, Sarah Lane, was credited as "Lady in the Lane", rather than as Portman's dance double.
- Flashdance had multiple Talent Doubles for Jennifer Beals including a gymnast and a man. The dancing's pretty much the only thing the movie got good reviews for. Keep an eye on the double's wig during the last dance scene.
- Done in Seventeen Moments of Spring with Stirlitz, due to the actor having a tattoo which would have made his work as a spy very problematic.
- The Sting. When Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) is demonstrating his skill at card manipulation, the techniques are actually performed by John Scarne, an expert on cheating at cards.
- Soul Surfer is a Biopic about a real-life competitive surfer named Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm in a shark attack. Where do you find a skilled one-armed surfer to double for the film's star in the surfing scenes? You get Bethany to do them, of course.
- Averted in Save The Last Dance. Julia Stiles says in the "behind the scenes" clips that she told the director she would work until her feet bled, if necessary, because she didn't want to be doubled for the dance scenes. She did quite a good job.
Live Action Television
- Doctor Who:
- "The Doctor Dances": Closeup shots of the Doctor's feet when dancing were of another actor.
- "The Lazarus Experiment": In the final scene inside the church, the actual organ playing was done by someone else.
- Red Dwarf, "Psirens": a skilled guitarist (in fact, it was Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music) stood behind Lister, with his arms through his jacket, for a scene where he's required to play a guitar with any degree of competency.
- Smeg outs featured the actor for Lister insisting that he didn't need a double for playing golf. Hilarity Ensues.
- When Dave Nelson is required to tap dance on News Radio we only see actor Dave Foley from the waist up and the Talent Double from the waist down.
- Done many many times in Benny Hill as a sight gag: We see Benny from the waist up, then a pair of legs tripping the light fantastic, and finally a long shot of Benny swaying vaguely next to the young guy who's actually doing all the fancy footwork.
- Done and coupled with The Cast Showoff on the House MD episode Half-Wit. Dave Matthews used a hand double for his role as a musical savant, Hugh Laurie did not.
- Averted in Blakes Seven in the case of Vila Restal, who prior to filming was taught by a magician to perform the sleight of hand tricks that are the vital distraction in the second episode. Despite the cutting of that scene being concentrated on the other characters Michael Keating performed actual tricks and entertained the rest of the cast with them on slow days.
- Although all of the actors in Blue Water High were taught to surf (so they at least knew how to stand on a board), the majority of the surfing was done by doubles.
- A double was used in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for a scene when Sisko is writing a novel. The double was one of the show extras and an occasional writer, who typed the words that appeared on the page.
- Played for laughs in Stella. Towards the end of an extravagant dance number by the main characters, the doubles' faces are clearly shown, and at one point there is a slow-motion close-up of one of their faces.
- For the album cover of Billy Joel's 52nd Street, he's shown in an alley holding a trumpet. Although he writes all of his music and plays the piano, he does not play the horn.
- The music video for Tonic's 1996 song "Open Up Your Eyes" involves the band skating down a residential street and passing quirky suburban characters. When the band does a short routine during the bridge, one of the band members momentarily turns into a black guy who dazzles the audience with some cool breakdancing before reverting to his white form.
- In the video for George Harrison's "Got My Mind Set On You," during the middle instrumental part, a double breakdances instead of George himself.
- A few Dream Ballets in Broadway musicals were (at least originally) done with dancers standing in for the principal actors. This practice was carried over into the movie version of Oklahoma.
- With Oklahoma!, Laurey's dream ballet was always danced by someone other than the actress, up until the 2002 revival.
- Tanz der Vampire justifies the aforementioned method by the fact that in both of its major Dream Ballets, the principal actors are still on stage while the dance sequences are taking place, and the dancers represent what they are dreaming at that exact moment. This is even more just a case of necessary doubling in the Vienna revival, where both Sarah and Alfred dance along with Herbert, Magda and the ensemble.
- Controversially, China used a Talent Double for their child singer during the Olympic Games, a less cute but more talented little girl.
- And repeated again at the same Olympics with a parade of China's 56 ethnic groups all being Han Chinese in costume. Apparently their talent was they could be trusted not to stage a sudden protest over China's treatment of their minority.