This one I have had brewing for months. You know how you flick on the tube, some generic American cop show is on – something with all the intellectual nutrition of a Twinkie – and something nags at you about that chap behind the two lead characters at the murder scene in the cold intro? Some dude poking around with crime scene tape or something? Or the woman second on the list of suspects visited by the detectives just before they get round to the actual killer’s house?
You know – the one you think ‘haven’t I seen them before?’ And when you check on IMDb not only have you seen them on some other show, you’ve seen them on this very same show – as someone completely different? And you get to thinking, aren’t there enough actors in America that they don’t need to reuse them?
Well, presumably no – there are not enough competent actors with competent agents around either New York or Los Angeles with the sort of availability to fill all thirty or so one-off speaking parts in the twenty-odd episodes the top dozen or so procedural shows churn out each year without the occasional duplication, now. Plus, they are actors, so pretending to be persons B, C, D and E in addition to person A on the same programme, in appearances separated by months if not years, isn’t that big a problem.
The big franchises – Law & Order (the biggest of all, with five separate strands stretching back to 1988, eight if you count the overseas remakes, nine with spin-off Conviction), CSI (a mere three shows) and NCIS (only two) – plus other long running series requiring near unlimited quantities of villains, witnesses, victims and all-purpose room meat (like Homicide: Life On The Street, Criminal Minds, NYPD Blue or Dexter) are particularly good sources for spotting the multi-role actor.
To kick us off, almost at random, here’s Paul Schulze – a pretty familiar face from various recurring roles, including panicky priest Father Phil from The Sopranos and Officer Rick Heim in Oz, he also notched up seven distinct appearances across two different Law & Order shows. So let’s get started…
Appearance #1: Law & Order s3e7, ‘Self Defense‘, playing Garfield, a crime scene guy speaking to Phil Cerruta (Paul Sorvino).
Appearance #2: Law & Order s3e13, ‘Night & Fog‘, playing an unnamed ‘EMS Medic’ at a crime scene being quizzed by Mike Logan (Chris Noth) and Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach), who had just replaced Cerruta.
Appearance #3: Law & Order s3e15, ‘Mother Love‘, playing CSU Tech Horan, who in no way resembles Garfield.
Appearance #4: Law & Order s5e8, ‘Virtue‘, playing a patrolman, Randall, whom Briscoe has trouble believing.
Appearance #5: Law & Order s15e21, ‘Publish and Perish‘, after a ten year break, he pops up playing bent vice cop Detective Pete Milligan.
Appearance #6: Law & Order s20e23, ‘Rubber Room‘ (the very last episode of the core series), playing lawyer Mr Kralik.
Appearance #7: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit s12e4, ‘Merchandise‘, playing father of a teenage girl run over by a car, Patrick Holbart.
Edited Friday 11 January 2013 to clarify the number of L&O franchises