by Jason F. Koenigsberg
Ever see an actor and think that he or she reminds you of another more well known and accomplished actor? Of course you have. That is how some people make their living in the movie business. Producers cannot afford the actor they want, so they hire the next best thing. An actor or actress who looks like the big name star that they wanted but could not afford. The budgeted version of a household name. Maybe they could not afford the actor, or maybe the part was too small for the big star to accept the role, either way sometimes it stands out and takes away from the movie. Other times it actually may enhance the movie because the bigger star would have served as more of a distraction in that role. Below is Pan and Slam’s Guide to the Poor Man’s Version of Famous Actors…
William Devane and Michael Ironside are the poor man’s Jack Nicholson
During the 1970’s when Jack Nicholson was one of the biggest actors in Hollywood he was in practically a major movie ever year. But he could only do so much, so when you could not afford Jack, or he turned you down your part for something else, a lot of producers did the next best thing and hired William Devane. Never was this more obvious than in Hitchcock’s final movie Family Plot (1976). Originally Nicholson was offered the Bruce Dern role and turned it down, however someone must have really wanted Jack or a Jack-like presence in that film because William Devane played opposite Bruce Dern and Devane both looks and sounds exactly like Jack Nicholson. Jack’s star power still loomed long into the 80’s and 90’s and that is where Michael Ironside comes in. I mean just look at those eye brows. He often starred as the heavy in so many roles such as Scanners (1981), Total Recall (1990), and even The Next Karate Kid (1994). There is no doubt in my mind that if the filmmakers had their way, Jack Nicholson would have starred as the villain in each one of those films and probably many more parts that Michael Ironside has done over the years. Side note, when Christian Slater exploded onto the scene in the early 1990’s a lot of people were comparing him to Jack Nicholson with his look and demeanor, but I highly doubt he ever got jobs because Jack Nicholson turned them down. The age gap is too big and unless he was supposed to play Slater’s father it would not make sense for either Jack Nicholson or Christian Slater to be taking roles offered to the other.
James Duval is the poor man’s Keanu Reeves
Throughout the 1990’s Keanu Reeves was one of the biggest names in Hollywood. With hits like Point Break (1991), Speed (1994), and The Matrix (1999) he was a box office force to be reckoned with. His career has since dwindled other than the John Wick movies which have brought him back from the brink of irrelevance, but during his heyday he was getting so many offers that he could not possibly fulfill them all. Enter James Duval. No relation to Robert Duvall or Clea DuVall, this guy probably got some big scripts thrown his way because he looked shockingly similar to Keanu Reeves when he was one of the biggest actors on the planet. James Duval popped up in films like Independence Day (1996), Go (1999), and Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000) making audiences for a second say, “hey it’s Keanu Reeves, er, no wait, never mind”.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the poor man’s Robert Downey Jr. and Javier Bardem
This guy is fortunate (or unfortunate depending on how you look at it) being the discount version of two big name stars. I mean look at these guys. Can you tell who is who? It is like Iron Man and the killer from No Country for Old Men (2007) had a baby together and he grew up to be Negan from The Walking Dead. I never realized until I saw Jeffrey Dean Morgan how much Robert Downey Jr. and Javier Bardem looked alike. Sadly, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is nowhere near the same pay scale as Robert Downey Jr., one of the biggest movie stars on Earth, or the same level as Academy Award winner and Hollywood’s favorite Spaniard Javier Bardem. So despite starring in a huge cable TV program and some major event motion pictures like Watchmen (2009) and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) he is going to continue to be the discount version of those two icons.
David Schwimmer is the poor man’s Nicolas Cage
Now I realize Nicolas Cage is not exactly the superstar he once was. But at the time David Schwimmer became famous as Ross on the hit NBC series Friends and received subsequent movie parts after this role, all I ever saw on the big screen was a poor man’s version of Nicolas Cage in a role Cage probably turned down because it was either too little screen time or too little money. They resemble each other, but ever more than that their voices sound oddly similar. Schwimmer is just more even keeled and Cage acts like he goes off the deep end a lot more often, but I honestly think Cage could play any Schwimmer role and Schwimmer could play almost any Nic Cage role if he lowers his inhibitions a little, or in the case of some Nic Cage movies, a lot.
Haley Bennett is the poor man’s Jennifer Lawrence
After I saw The Girl on the Train (2016) it was the first time I noticed Haley Bennett and all I could think of was that the producers wanted Jennifer Lawrence but she was either too expensive or turned them down. It really hurt the film and took me out of the picture every time I saw her on screen. Just look at them above, or run a Google image search with both their names. No matter what color they dye their hair, blonde, brunette, red, poor Haley Bennett looks so much like the cheaper version of J-Law. In the long run if enough people think the same way as me it will hurt Haley Bennett’s career if Jennifer Lawrence’s starts to stall and Ms. Bennett will never get the top priority roles that Lawrence is offered. So in the meantime, she can enjoy being Jennifer Lawrence on a discount appearing in films such as The Magnificent Seven remake (2016), and Rules Don’t Apply (2016).
Skeet Ulrich is the poor man’s Johnny Depp
Now this one was probably done on purpose and their careers reflect each others… to a point. Johnny Depp’s first role was in Wes Craven’s biggest hit of the 80’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Skeet Ulrich’s breakout hit was in Scream (1996), Wes Craven’s biggest hit of the 90’s. Wes Craven obviously wanted a Johnny Depp type and he pretty much got a dead ringer for Depp minus a few years and a much cheaper price tag. After A Nightmare on Elm Street Depp would go on to be a leading man in huge blockbuster movies for the next thirty years and counting. After Scream Ulrich would have big roles in a few major motion pictures like James L. Brooks’ As Good as It Gets (1997), Richard Linklater’s The Newton Boys (1998), and Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil (1999), but by the time the new millennium began, it was all over for Skeet and some of Depp’s biggest roles, mainly a pirate, were right around the corner.
Jesse Plemons is the poor man’s Matt Damon
Maybe not necessarily the poor man’s version of Matt Damon, more like Matt Damon’s fatter, younger brother, but still one cannot look at Jesse Plemons and NOT think of Matt Damon. If Philip Seymour Hoffman were still alive I’d probably include him somewhere in this section but in the meantime if Matt Damon turns you down, Jesse Plemons is the next best choice.
Casey Affleck is the poor man’s Ben Affleck
Now I know that they are brothers and I am well aware that Casey is the one with a Best Actor Academy Award and not his big bro. But since winning his Oscar Casey Affleck has become a pariah in the Hollywood community because of certain accusations of misconduct and he was not even invited to present the Best Actress Oscar at this years Academy Awards which is tradition. Plus, no matter what, his big brother Ben is still the superior name and more of a box office draw even if his Batman is the lowest grossing and he is mired in terrible DC films. Plus, even if Ben Affleck has a series of flops, he has certainly survived them and thrived afterwards. Casey we do not know what will happen to his career from this point on, so it is generally safe to assume that Ben Affleck will continue to be the A-lister he has been for over twenty years and Casey, might still get the leftovers.
Sylvester Stallone and Frank Stallone
This one is more of a joke. Thanks Norm MacDonald for embedding Frank Stallone in my head. Above is a clip of the scenes they share in Rocky (1976) and Rocky II (1979)
Gary Busey and Anthony Heald are the poor man’s Nick Nolte
Nick Nolte’s often known for playing hardened grizzled characters, but he has two actors that resemble him and often play parts he would probably deem too small for his filmography. Gary Busey may be a household name from starring in a bunch of hit movies over the years like Lethal Weapon (1987), Predator 2 (1990), and Under Siege (1992), but there is no denying he and Nick Nolte have a strong resemblance, plus Busey’s bizarre real life antics probably make him just as famous as Nolte. Anthony Heald on the other hand is a character actor with perfect teeth and a face that is definitely similar to Nick Nolte’s. You probably have seen him in supporting roles in films such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Red Dragon (2002), and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). If they ever make a movie where Nick Nolte has two brothers, Busey could play the more disheveled loser black sheep brother, and Anthony Heald could be the stuck up, successful, well-to-do brother.
Leelee Sobieski is the poor man’s Helen Hunt
Whatever happened to Leelee Sobieski? In the late 90’s and early 2000’s she was everywhere. I guess since Helen Hunt’s star power dropped, so did the roles for her bargain bin version. Oh well, Ms. Sobieski did get to work with Stanley Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and very few people alive can say they were directed by the late great Kubrick.
Diane Kruger is the poor man’s Keira Knightley
I would be willing to bet that when they were casting Troy (2004), they really wanted Keira Knightley fresh off her break-though hit The Pirates of the Caribbean (2003). She was either unavailable, too expensive or turned them down flat. So German director Wolfgang Peterson thought of the young and beautiful actress Diane Kruger who has a striking resemblance to Ms. Knightley. Diane Kruger would get a few more big roles in American movies but since her breakout part as Helen of Troy she has maintained a successful career mostly working in Europe. Her biggest role to date is as the actress/spy Bridget von Hammersmark in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009). Meanwhile Keira Knightley balances her time between big budget Hollywood productions and small scale independent films racking up Oscar nominations along the way.
Michael Pitt is the poor man’s Leonardo DiCaprio
Another one you can tell just by looking at them. DiCaprio is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. There is no way that he can possibly say yes to all the scripts he is offered and there is no way that every producer and director that wants to hire him can afford his price tag. So somewhere a casting agent discovered Michael Pitt. He took the lead role in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003) after DiCaprio turned it down to work with Martin Scorsese again on The Aviator (2004). But do not fret for Michael Pitt, he got his chance to be directed by Scorsese on the pilot episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a part that DiCaprio could have easily played if he wanted to. Michael Pitt is like the TV version of DiCaprio with roles in Dawson’s Creek and lead roles in indie movies that are probably too small to afford DiCaprio such as Last Days (2005) and Funny Games (2007).
Liam Hemsworth is the poor man’s Chris Hemsworth
Another set of brothers, one is an A-lister from being Thor in the Marvel movies who takes a back seat to practically nobody. The other is well his little brother best known for starring in The Hunger Games movies, The Expendables 2 (2012), and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), and taking a backseat to Jennifer Lawrence, 80’s action stars, and aliens respectively.
Stephen McHattie is the poor man’s Lance Henrikson
Most people do not know who Stephen McHattie is and sadly a lot of people probably do not know Lance Henrikson by name but they will definitely know his face from some blockbuster movies going all the way back to a pivotal role near the end of Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Henrikson’s mug is even more noticeable in The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), Near Dark (1987), Alien 3 (1992), and Scream 3 (2000). Stephen McHattie has carved out a nice career for himself as a character actor but his resemblance to Lance Henrikson makes him look like he was always the filmmakers second choice. You might recall seeing Stephen McHattie in such films as Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), A History of Violence (2005), Watchmen (2009) and a myriad of television shows from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. Most of his resume is filled with lower budget productions that Lance Henrikson could have probably played but turned down for bigger paychecks.
Virginia Madsen is the poor man’s Sharon Stone
Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s Virginia Madsen and Sharon Stone probably competed for a lot of the same roles and some went to Ms. Madsen while others went to Ms. Stone. However once Basic Instinct (1992) was released and Sharon Stone showed everyone her hooha in the worlds most famous interrogation scene, she launched to the A-list with bigger scripts, bigger roles and became one of the highest paid actresses of the 90’s despite being typecast for basically the same role she played in the film that launched her to superstardom. Virginia Madsen was never shy about showing a little skin, check out The Hot Spot (1990) to see her reveal a lot for Don Johnson, but none of the films she had a lead role in were ever the type of hit Stone had with Basic Instinct. Virginia Madsen went from being Sharon Stone’s peer, to getting whatever was leftover from what Sharon Stone turned down. Luckily as Stone’s sex appeal and a series of bad film roles started to decline her box office clout, Virginia Madsen kept on working and eventually earned herself a well deserved Oscar nomination for Sideways (2004) which resulted in a brief career resurgence for her with some big roles opposite legendary name actors like Harrison Ford in Firewall (2006), a plethora of stars in Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion (2006) and Jim Carrey in The Number 23 (2007). But because of Sharon Stone’s willingness to show all in the highest grossing erotic thriller of all time, the 90’s were not a kind decade to Virginia Madsen.
Christopher Eccleston is the poor man’s Ralph Fiennes
Ralph Fiennes movies may not consistently blow up the box office, but after starring in successful films and Best Picture winners such as Schindler’s List (1993), The English Patient (1996), and The Hurt Locker (2009), and he even becoming James Bond’s new ‘M’ in Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015). Ralph Fiennes is a household name. Christopher Eccleston on the other hand, is not, but my lord does he look like Ralph Fiennes! He looks more like Ralph than his younger brother Joseph who has not appeared in a film seen by the masses since 1998’s Best Picture Winner Shakespeare in Love. Christopher Eccleston on the other hand has never starred in a Best Picture winner, but he was in Best Picture nominee Elizabeth (1998), and David Cronenberg’s Existenz (1999) which felt like a bargain bin version of The Matrix (1999) and hit film The Others (2001) which felt like a knock off of The Sixth Sense (1999). So his career matches his star caliber. Eccleston’s biggest box office hits are Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000) and Thor: Dark World (2013), meanwhile Ralph Fiennes grandchildren probably do not have to ever worry about money after all the dough he made from playing Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise.
Bradley Cooper is the younger Sean Penn
Notice I did not say he was the poor man’s Sean Penn since I think at this point Bradley Cooper may have a bigger price tag and box office drawing power than Penn. Every time I see Bradley Cooper in a movie all I can think of is that he is playing a role Sean Penn could have done ten or twenty years ago. On the flip side when you look at Sean Penn’s greatest hits like State of Grace (1990), Dead Man Walking (1995), and Mystic River (2003), couldn’t Bradley Cooper have played those parts if he were old enough at the time? I think so. The main difference between the two, Bradley Cooper has a sense of humor and Sean Penn does not. Cooper has starred in comedies and continues to even after earning award nominations and accolades for his work, just look at him on SNL. Sean Penn would never be caught dead doing any of that. The only comedic role Penn has taken in his career was as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High all the way back in 1982 when he was still trying to make it big. At the same time, I think Sean Penn has a certain intensity to him that makes his dramatic work a step above many other actors from his generation and Bradley Cooper does not have that extra level of gravity in even his best dramatic work. They are similar, there is a resemblance but they are hardly identical nor are either actor the discount version of the other. Check out the video below as he asks Sean Penn and a few other legendary film personalities questions on Inside the Actors Studio.
There are two poor man’s versions I chose to leave off, Jon Polito as the poor man’s Danny DeVito, and Timothy Olyphant as the poor man’s Bill Paxton since both Polito and Paxton have passed away I did not feel it would be in good taste, but I always saw those actors as the discount version of the bigger name stars. Polito even got to spoof that as Danny DeVito’s brother on a few episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Are there any other actors I left off that are the bargain versions of a big name star? Let me know.