What Is a Body Double? (Definition and Examples)

What is a Body Double? (Definition and Examples)
'Sisters'Credit: American International Pictures
What is a body double? How do they work?

We've got the body double meaning lined up for you. 

Have you ever thought you were seeing double? Well, in film and television, you actually might be. See, when directors shoot particular scenes, sometimes they need people to act as actors' substitutes. Someone to stand in and be the person while the talent is in hair and make-up or even running late. 

Those people usually share the same physicality or even similar looks to the lead. We call them doubles, or body doubles, and they're crucial to the filmmaking process. and it's not just standing in, at times they'll be on screen, in huge scenes, and even doing nudity. 

Today, we're going to define "body double." We'll look at examples of their use in film and TV, as well as photography. We'll even check out the movie by Brian De Palma, which happens to be one of my favorites. 

Ready? Let's dive in. 

What Is a Body Double? (Definition and Examples)

Before we dive in, I want to reiterate that there are a wide array of meanings when it comes to this term, so we're going to go one by one, adding definitions and nuance as we go. 

"Body double" Definition 

In filmmaking, a double is a person on set who is used to pose as another actor. While their face is not shown, their body is used to pretend they are someone else. There are several specific modifications to this, like being a hand double, butt double, or boob double, depending on what is shown in the shot. 

How Much Does Body Double Make? 

According to SAG, a full-body double earns $3,936 per week, or $204,672 per year, accounting for 52 consecutive workweeks. But know that most doubles are not employed for a full year. Some may just get one day's work. 

Who Uses Body Doubles? 

Actors who do not want to appear naked on screen might have in their contract that the studio hires a double so someone else is named in the scene, but is shot to look like them. They also can be in a scene such as a stunt or another action sequence that requires a body to be seen, but not a face. 

In fact, when it came time to shoot the nude scene in Domino, Keira Knightly was allowed to pick her own butt double, saying, They all had very nice bottoms and I chose one.”

Think about when you've watched movies where a character plays the piano, or does some art, ballet, or even types a book. If an actor cannot master a specific skill or task, they'll use a double to perform those tasks. Doubles are there to keep realism in movies and TV shows. You want to buy into the world and into the characters. Doubles are a great way to maintain that realism for the audience, without putting the actor at risk or forcing them to feign a mastery they do not have. 

Body doubles also may be deployed by the production as stand-ins.

What is a Body Double? (Definition and Examples)
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's body double is his cousin, Tanoai ReedCredit: Universal Pictures

What Is a Stand-In? 

A stand-in is not a double. They are people who resemble the actors in height and weight, and who can stand in while they set up shots. We call these people "stand-ins" because they literally stand in. But when the cameras roll, they are actually not in the shot.

For that, we use a photo double. 

What Is a Photo Double?

When it comes to shooting, there have to be actors in the background of shots. But if they are out of focus or far enough away that won't be seen, they'll use a double. These people are called "photo doubles." They must resemble an actor in height, build, hair color, and skin complexion. They need to look like they could be the actor's twin, or at least make you do a double take. 

But if you need this person to do stunts, you better find an expert. 

What is a Body Double? (Definition and Examples)
Bryce Dallas Howard and Whitney Coleman - "Jurassic World"Credit: Universal Pictures

"Stunt Double" Meaning

What are stunt doublesstunt double is specifically a skilled replacement or double for an actor.

They are used for dangerous sequences or other sophisticated stunts that require these special skills, like martial arts, car driving, horseback riding, or parachuting. Stunt doubles may be used in cases where an actor's physical condition or advanced age create certain risks.

Also, many actors are protected or barred from the studio from doing their own stunts, so their doubles have to step in to make sure the famous face is not harmed. 

What is a Body Double? (Definition and Examples)
'Jurassic Park' stunt doubles for Chris PrattCredit: Universal Pictures

Body Double movie

This notion of a double was used for the great 1984 Brian De Palma erotic thriller movie, Body Double. It's a neo-noir about someone who works in film and television, and may or may not be falling in love with a person doubling as someone else. This wordplay actually made many people aware of the term and its practice in Hollywood. 

Of course, there are way more practical examples of how body doubles are used in movies as well. 

What is a Body Double? (Definition and Examples)
'Body Double'Credit: Columbia Pictures

Other Body Double Examples  

Perhaps my favorite use of a double in film occurs in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Linda Hamilton, who plays Sarah Connor, is actually a twin in real life. So James Cameron used her twin sister as her body double in this surgery scene.

Instead of looking in the mirror at a reflection, you're seeing Linda Hamilton's sister Leslie, perform on Arnold Schwartzeneggar's double, and the reflection is the actual Arnold and Linda following their motions. Pretty cool, huh? 

Another fun one comes from Game of Thrones, when there's an epic sword battle between Gwendoline Christie and Rory McCann as Brianne of Tarth and the Hound. Their body doubles, and also stunt doubles, stepped in to perform the sword skill stuff, and then the director cut in some close-ups to show faces, and cut really wide to disguise who was hitting who.

What is a Body Double? (Definition and Examples)
'Game of Thrones' behind the scenes Credit: HBO

Summing Up "What Is a Body Double?" (Definition and Examples)

Now that you know what a body double is, you can use them to save time and protect talent on your own sets.

Have you ever watched a movie or TV show and caught a body double in action? Let us know in the comments.     

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