Column: Body Doubles

by Gus Donohoo

Chicks dig scars. You need to break some eggs to make an omelette. Sticks and stones may break your bones. Don’t go chasing waterfalls. Dire repercussions can accompany many adventures, and much of what makes an adventure adventurous is the risk of temporary, permanent, or fatal incapacitation.

But deep down we want our adventures to be safe. We want the thrill of the chase without the hunt. The hunt without the heavy-caliber rifle. The rifle without the recoil. The recoil without the repercussion. We want to let’s-not-and-say-we-did.

So we find ourselves doubles. Body doubles are surrogates—adventurers on behalf of the timid. Because the meek don’t just inherit the earth, they pay some other sucker to inherit it for them.

The Stunt Double

Stunt doubles are professional bone-breakers. They make a living from doing things that aren’t entirely sensible. Famous for doing all of his own stunts, former Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger even flew the Harrier Jump Jet in James Cameron’s 1994 masterpiece True Lies. He also socked a real terrorist right in the kisser.

In the sequence of events that take a true-to-life adventure to the silver screen, an ensemble cast of adventurers descends, one tumble at a time, down the following steep hierarchy:

1) The actual adventurer:

The schmuck whom the bad luck of a real adventure actually befell.

Adventurousness score:

5 cowboy hats.


Potential lucrative book deal. Personal growth.


Hypothermia, snake-bite, loss of limbs, fear of confined spaces, fear of open spaces, fear of spaces.

2) The actor playing the actual adventurer:

The person who pretends to have the adventure and who will henceforth and for all of time, bask in the glow of something they only pretended to do.

Adventurousness score:

1 cowboy hats.


Fame. Groupies.



Never knowing if he/she really loves you for who you are.

3) The stunt double playing the actor playing the actual adventurer: 

The stunt double attempts to recreate the adventure had by another person so that someone else can appear to have the adventure that the adventurer had.

Adventurousness score:

3.5 cowboy hats.




No pension scheme.

The Decoy Double

Tired of dodging bullets the old-fashioned way? Then get yourself a decoy. Decoys are the ultimate luxury accessory for the powerful, and have been deployed by everyone from Adolf Hitler to Joseph Stalin, Henry Kissinger, Michael Jackson, Saddam Hussein, and Fidel Castro. A decoy double is a security tactic that diverts the bullets (bombs, knives, poison, garotte wire, acid, trap involving an anvil, trap involving an anvil covered in acid) of assassins away from you and into the body of a lookalike.

In 2002 George W. Bush famously choked on a pretzel in the White House, leading him to faint, fall off a couch, and bruise his face. Despite White House denials to the contrary, a gaggle of conspiracy theorists continue to assert that it was in fact Bush’s decoy double who choked on the pretzel.

The Nudity Double

The nudity double is a beautiful person pretending to be someone else that’s beautiful, so that less beautiful people watching the beautiful person will continue to assume that the more vain beautiful person is in fact more beautiful than they actually are.

The nudity double is much like the stunt double, yet limited to adventures of passion, or to scenes involving lingerie and swimming pools. Actors known to have used nude body doubles include Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Costner, and Owen Wilson. Actors we wished had used body doubles include Kevin Bacon in Wild Things (1998), and Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris (1972).

During the filming of a sex scene for TV series The Tudors, Henry Cavill was overcome by what he described as “spectacular breasts,” and amply demonstrated the risk of not using a nudity double: “She’s basically rubbing herself all over me and, um, it got a bit hard,” the Man of a Bit of Steel reported.

The Sex Double

In the 1950s the CIA orchestrated an ambitious plan to discredit Indonesia’s first President Sukarno by acting as an auteur-of-last-resort and filming a porno starring a Sukarno body double in the head role. Sukarno, Indonesia’s first President after Dutch colonial rule, had antagonized the USA by doing deals with communists and by being a general nuisance to grand imperial strategy.

“We were interested in the impact…outside Indonesia… [O]ur purpose was to present Sukarno in as unfavorable and unsympathetic light as possible.” Wrote a CIA Officer involved in the scheme, “If he were deposed by our friends the colonels, we wanted the world to agree with us that Indonesia would be better off.” A few years later General Suharto ousted Sukarno during CIA-backed communist purges that killed approximately 500,000 people. The influence of the tape is unclear, though appears to have been very limited. During Suharto’s 31-year dictatorship his family embezzled between 15 and 35 billion dollars, and East Timor was invaded and occupied, killing between 100,000 and 300,000 Timorese.

The Dating App Double

Known colloquially as the “Catfish,” or used as the verb to Catfish, or to be Catfished—the dating app double involves a person using an image of a different person to seduce another person into believing that the different person is the person that they in fact are. Alternatively it might involve a person using an outdated or digitally manipulated photograph in order to seduce another person into believing that they look like the person they looked like in the photograph that might have been taken in 2005 at a Wilco concert where the lighting was incredibly flattering. In 2015 a girl I met on Tinder told me she thought I would be taller.

The Double-Double


Image: Bobby Bank / WireImage