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Honing a double-edged sword

As Hollywood hopefuls, twins may face less competition when it comes to scoring on-screen roles, but the parts they're vying for often leave a lot to be desired.

January 20, 2008|Cristy Lytal | Special to The Times

Anisa and Olissa Brooks are the first set of identical twins of the day to audition for "Mardi Gras," a teen sex comedy about three guy friends -- Mike, Bump and Ira -- who head to New Orleans to get lucky. The twins, Sherman Oaks residents of Irish and Abanake extraction, wear the same outfit: black tank top, pinstriped short shorts and brown suede open-toed high heels. Their dark hair falls well below their shoulders, and they have a tendency to say the same thing at the same time.

"How long have you been doing the twin thing?" asks casting director Catherine Stroud of London/Stroud Casting, who is seated on an old sofa in a bare-walled room in a temporary production office on the Sony lot in Culver City. Behind her, an assistant operates a video camera.

"About three years now," they reply in stereo, their voices loud and stark in the small, resonant space.

"But you were always twins," deadpans Stroud, before adding as an aside, "They didn't get my little joke . . ."

They smile politely.

Corniness is nothing out of the ordinary for the Brooks sisters -- or, for that matter, any pair of identical twins with Hollywood dreams. With most twin-centric plots involving evil doppelgangers, mistaken identities or sexual fantasy, challenging, complex parts can be difficult to come by. And even when great twin roles do come along, say in films such as "The Parent Trap" or "The Prestige," it's famous singleton actors who are cast and doubled on screen through camera trickery.

"In movies, twins are either killing somebody or they're hooking up with the same person," says Ashley Ummel, a leggy blond who, along with her identical twin sister, Sarah, is competing against the Brooks sisters for roles in "Mardi Gras." "Or I also see roles [where] twins start making out with each other. And then they wonder why they can't get anybody cast in that. Nobody wants to make out with her sister -- unless you're that desperate to get a part."

On-screen staples

Despite the small number of twin actors in competition for roles, twins appear on the screen more frequently than they do on the streets. A few of the many projects currently casting multiples are the "Sex and the City" movie, commercials for Clairol Herbal Essences and JC Penney, and a Dolce & Gabbana campaign.

Of course, the younger the actor, the bigger the advantage to being a twin because the law restricts the number of hours infants and children can spend working on movie sets.

"There are amazing amounts of roles for babies and newborns that people aren't even aware of," says Debbie Ganz who, along with her identical twin sister, Lisa, runs the management and casting company Twins Talent, based in New York. "It's a lot easier to use multiples for major films and soaps because when you have twins and triplets, you can interchange them."

The most famous beneficiaries of this are Dylan and Cole Sprouse and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the latter of whom are actually fraternal twins despite their striking resemblance.

Unlike the Olsens, most fraternal twins bear no more likeness to each other than ordinary siblings. For them, pursuing twin roles usually isn't a viable option. Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi and Gisele Bundchen all have fraternal twins -- Hunter, Marissa and Patricia, respectively -- who are also pursuing acting careers. (Joseph Fiennes, Eva Green and Isabella Rossellini, among others, have fraternal twins with jobs outside the industry.)

"People think that the twins that stay looking alike are the ones that are a little nuts," says Debbie Ganz. "But we're really not nuts. If I did not have a twin, I would still like my hair this way, still like the high boots I wear, still like the sexy shirts I put on. I'm supposed to not buy those things because my sister likes them? The truth is Lisa and I like the same hair. We like the same clothes. We both have the same taste. Looking exactly like someone and almost being a clone to someone, there's a bond that can't be explained."

It's a bond that Ashley and Sarah Ummel understand quite well. The sisters first announced their presence to the world when their dad was making an omelet for his pregnant wife. He began cracking eggs only to discover that nine out of the dozen were double-yolked. That night, he and his wife received the results of their sonogram and learned they were having twins.

After a childhood spent as self-proclaimed nerdy ugly ducklings who liked water polo, horses and anime, the girls grew up to be identical beauties. They earned business degrees while doing modeling work and acting in "CSI: Miami" and "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." And while the San Diego-based duo is hardly pursuing Hollywood with the same dogged intensity of many singleton actors, many doors, both in the industry and in day-to-day life, have been opened to them by virtue of being twins.

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