Sometimes after a show takes off, an actor is unable (or unwilling) to continue in a role for various reasons. So what’s a showrunner to do? Recast the character, of course! The decision to recast a role can get complicated when it’s a popular character, and it’s such a gamble that some series don’t even bother trying to recast, opting to write off a character entirely and add a new one. In others, it’s a conscious device used to switch things up.
Whatever the reason, many shows have managed to successfully pull off the recasting trick — a move that’s become known as “The Darrin Effect” or “The Darrin Syndrome” after Bewitched pulled off the trick with Samantha’s husband. Below are some of the most notable character roles that were actually played by two (or more) people.
Sarah Chalke took over the role of the eldest Conner daughter in the sixth season of the ABC sitcom when Lecy Goranson left to pursue higher education. However, when Goranson decided she had time to fit acting back into her schedule by season 8, the show surprisingly switched the actors once again. Scheduling conflicts meant Chalke had to step in for a few episodes when Goranson wasn’t available, and the “new Becky” took on the role full time once again for the show’s ninth and final season.
In the revival Roseanne series (now the Roseanne-less spinoff The Conners), Goranson was cast as Becky, while Chalke made a cameo as a rich woman wanting to hire Becky as her surrogate, marking the first time the two Beckys appeared on screen in the series together. Naturally, jokes were made to address the past. “I can see why you picked me,” said Goranson when her character met Chalke’s for the first time. “I mean look at us, we could be the same person!”
Janet Hubert-Whitten controversially left the show after its third season, reportedly due to a contract dispute. Though the jury is still out on what really happened behind the scenes, Daphne Maxwell Reid stepped in to play Aunt Viv for the show’s remaining three seasons on NBC. In Maxwell Reid’s first appearance, she was introduced casually, with Will’s best friend Jazz telling her that since she’s had a baby, “there’s something different about you.” Pan to Will staring into the camera, as he often did during the series.
As mentioned in our intro, Dick York was originally cast in this role, but by the third season of the ABC series, he was experiencing terrible back pain and his health was deteriorating. By season six, producers had no choice but to recast the role, and Dick Sargent took over the role until the show ended in 1972. The change in actors was one of the most prominent casting change-ups in television up to that point, and proved that recasting a featured role was indeed possible.
Laurie Forman That ‘70s Show
Lisa Robin Kelly originated the role of Eric’s promiscuous and freeloading older sister. But when she left the Fox sitcom after the third season, it was written into the script that the blonde bombshell went off to beauty school. In season 5, the character came back for a special appearance, but Kelly was replaced in season six by Christina Moore as a recurring character. Laurie was never seen again after that, supposedly having moved to Canada. Sadly, Kelly passed away in 2013 at the age of 43 due to an accidental drug overdose.
Reggie Mantle Riverdale
Imagine being cast in two shows at the same time, both of which are a massive success. This is the fortuitous problem actor Ross Butler found himself in when he was cast as Reggie in The CW’s Riverdale and Zach in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. He stayed with 13 Reasons Why, and his supporting character on Riverdale — Archie’s best friend and sometimes rival — was recast, with Charles Melton taking over the role. It worked well, since Reggie’s character arc really didn’t pick up until the second season, and Melton was later promoted to series regular for the third season.
The Doctor Doctor Who
In one of television’s most frequently recast roles, 13 actors (or 14, depending on your interpretation of the character’s intentionally convoluted timeline) have played The Doctor in this British sci-fi series and its reboot, starting with William Hartnell in 1963. The shuffling has been possible thanks to the fact that The Doctor is a Time Lord, an extraterrestrial being that can — when near death — regenerate its body to take on different forms. Each iteration of The Doctor has a unique personality, but retains the memories of previous lives, leading to one of the most popular questions among fans: Who’s your favorite Doctor? Peter Capaldi played the role of the 12th Doctor, with Jodie Whittaker taking over as the 13th Doctor for the current season, becoming the first female actor to do so.
Harriette Winslow Family Matters
JoMarie Payton was the original Hariette, the sassy character that inspired the series’ creation as a spinoff from Perfect Strangers. The series about a middle-class African-American family ended up becoming popular for its introduction of Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), the family’s nerdy neighbor, but Payton played the role for almost the entire ABC/CBS sitcom’s run. She eventually left during the ninth and final season to pursue other projects. Judyann Elder briefly became the new Harriette for the series’ final episodes.
Carol Willick (Geller) Friends
She wasn’t a main character on the series, so you might have missed that the role of Ross’ ex-wife was actually played by two women. Anita Barone was initially cast in the role, appearing in the second episode to tell Ross she was pregnant. When we saw Carol next, however, she was portrayed by Jane Sibbett. Barone reportedly left to pursue a more full-time role. Sibbett continued to pop up occasionally throughout the series.
Queen Elizabeth The Crown
Claire Foy brilliantly played a young Queen Elizabeth for the first two seasons of the highly praised Netflix drama about the Royal Family, earning a long list of awards for her performance. With the timeline jumping ahead for the upcoming third and fourth seasons, veteran actress Olivia Colman was cast to take over the role. She’ll have big shoes to fill, with Foy having won both a Golden Globe and Emmy Award for her work, but we can’t think of a more qualified actor to take on such a prestigious role.
Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane Game of Thrones
Through this HBO series’ seven-season run thus far, three actors have played the role of the towering and cruel knight and retainer to House Lannister. He first appeared in the inaugural season, played by Australian actor Conan Stevens. When Stevens went on to pursue a role in The Hobbit films, Welsh actor and stuntman Ian Whyte took over in season 2. Since season 4, the role has been played by professional strongman Hafpor Julius Bjornsson from Iceland, who stands a towering 6-feet, 9-inches tall.
Capheus “Van Damme” Onyango Sense8
As one of the main characters in this Netflix sci-fi series that acquired a cult following despite having been canceled after two seasons, British actor Aml Ameen initially played the young Kenyan bus driver. The role was recast for the Christmas special and second season, with Toby Onwumere, a recent acting graduate, taking over. The abrupt recasting was reportedly due to “creative differences.” Due to the show’s immense popularity, the second season included not only a two-hour Christmas special, but also a two and-a-half hour series finale to wrap up the story, with Onwumere closing out his portrayal of the character.