We’re old, we’re tired, or young or stupid, or forgetful or drunk…maybe some other combination therein. Whatever it is that causes our brains to short circuit trying to match actors and names doesn’t really matter; what matters is our frustration. We’ve all hit that wall; “Hey, you remember that movie with Tom Hanks and that guy—John something, the one who looks like the other John in Children of a Lesser God—but it’s not him, it’s the one who was in Home Alone? Which one is he?”
No worries, I’m here to help clear things up. I’ve devised a
n idiotic foolproof bunch of nonsense system to help you keep everyone straight.
1. Jeff Bridges and Kurt Russell
All floppy-haired and squinty-eyed, these two solid actors are only a year apart in age and as their careers have progressed, it hasn’t gotten any easier to tell them apart. But which one likes to work with Terry Gilliam, and which with John Carpenter? Who played the Dude, and who, the King? Easy peasy…
Russell (Always picture him with a patch over his left eye): Tombstone reads: Snake Who Escaped the Backdraft, Fought the Troublesome Thing in China, Went Overboard to Graceland and Broke Through the Stargate.
Bridges (Always picture him in a robe, smoking a joint): Baker’s Boy Knocked on Heaven’s Gate, Nadine Answered; Starman Ran to the Last Picture Show, Saw King Kong, Was Blown Away; That Fisher King Dude Has Two Faces, Seabiscuit left the Scenes of the Crime through the Door in the Floor, Surfed Up to Tideland, Spent a Gritty Dog Year Staring at Goats with a Crazy Heart and landed in Tron.
Got it? (Yeah, me neither.)
2. Julia Stiles and Erika Christensen
A Google image search will quickly reveal one of these thirty-something actresses is more prone to er…*revealing* herself; fully clothed, it can be difficult to discern their differences. But thanks to their prominent television roles, things are a little simpler: Stiles played Lumen on the fifth season of Showtime’s “Dexter,” while Christensen currently stars as Julia (uh-oh) in NBC’s “Parenthood.”
You may remember Stiles from the Bourne series, 10 Things I Hate About You; she also does stage work (Oleanna, The Vagina Monologues, Twelfth Night).
Christensen has leaned more toward television (“Third Rock from the Sun, The Practice, The Geena Davis Show, Six Degrees, Robot Chicken”); her film roles include Soderbergh’s Traffic, Swimfan and The Upside of Anger.
But honestly, the easiest way to tell these two apart lies in that image search I mentioned. Stiles is modest; Christensen is, shall we say, less so?
3. Javier Bardem and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Yes, there’s a physical resemblance here, but come on now—once either actor speaks—it should be easy to tell them apart (one has a heavy Spanish accent, one does not). But if that’s not enough, just remember this:
Bardem = Very Bad Hair
Morgan = Hair Not So Bad
4. Amy Adams and Isla Fisher
Okay people, this one’s simple. Amy (left) is the one who actually acts (The Master, The Fighter, Doubt, Sunshine Cleaning, Julie and Julia); Isla (right) is the one who is married to Borat. Ta-da!
5. Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton
Here, we move on to name confusion, rather than physical resemblance. I don’t know exactly why we have such trouble mixing up these two actors, but so it goes. In this case, we’ll go under the radar vs. big screen.
Pullman tends more (though not all) toward the *quieter* stuff: Lost Highway, The Killer Inside Me, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Accidental Tourist, The Last Seduction, Brokedown Palace, Igby Goes Down; he has done some big box films such as Independence Day, Sleepless in Seattle…
Paxton, on the other hand, likes to be noticed: “Big Love, Hatfields & McCoys” Aliens, Titanic, Apollo 13, Twister and the Spy Kids series.
6. Keith David and David Keith
You’d think it would be easy to tell them apart, but these two get me every time (note the similarities in expression and eyebrow usage!). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up An Officer and a Gentleman to reassure myself. But we can do this; we have the technology and voice is key.
David is the southern boy, he starred in the (ridiculously) prematurely cancelled “Lone Star,” played Elvis in Heartbreak Hotel and the suicidal Sid with a drawl, alongside Richard Gere’s Zack Mayo.
Keith, on the other hand, has a beautiful, booming voice (often used in voiceover animation and video games). Where David slings and slurs his words, Keith is all power and gravitas; he narrates “The Bible,” voices “Adventure Time’s” Flame King, and delighted as “The Cape’s” Max Malini. Here on out, I’ll remember him as Keith Go Boom(ing…as in voice).
7. William Hurt and John Heard…and sometimes John Hurt
This trio carries the one-two punch of look-alikes and name similarities. First up, the easily confusable John Heard and William Hurt. And speaking of punches, here’s a quick way to tell these actors apart:
William (left) is the one who physically abused then girlfriend/actress Marlee Matlin. Hurt also starred in “Damages,” A History of Violence and I Love You to Death.
John Heard (right) is not known to be violent; he played the dad in Home Alone, starred alongside Tom Hanks in Big, and done many television stints (“The Sopranos, Jack and Bobby, Prison Break” and “Entourage”).
But you should never confuse him with our beloved and brilliant John Hurt:
Hurt may first have caught your attention as The Elephant Man or in Alien; perhaps you know him from Nineteen Eighty-Four or “An Englishman in New York, Merlin,” Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Harry Potter or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; V for Vendetta, Crime and Punishment or Dogville; soon he’ll appear on “Doctor Who.” Simply remember him as the best.
8. The Other Three Baldwin Brothers
So you all know the one on the far left, that’s Alec, of course. We recognize him by the twinkle in his eye and the anger on his Twitter feed. But what about the rest of the boys? The other three have decidedly less twinkle and star power—I’m pretty sure we know them more for their personal antics than the stuff they’ve filmed.
Since there are so many, I’ve decided to borrow from Snow White’s pals, those pesky dwarfs.
Stephen (left) = Squinty/Sneezy (You just try sneezing without squinting)
Billy (right) = Happy (He’s always smiling)
Daniel = Dopey (for obvious reasons)