Joss Whedon has spent years crafting what has been affectionately titled the "Whedonverse". He has built entire worlds from the ground up, each one of them populated by unforgettable characters. Whedon’s shows have transcended what people thought that television was even capable of. They’ve altered expectations, perceptions, even speech patterns.
Over the years, Whedon has become known not only for creating lovable and relatable characters, but also for often casting the same people to play them. There have been plenty of actors who have partnered with directors for several projects, but there is a veritable cornucopia of performers who are just waiting to team up with Whedon again. Seriously, ask pretty much any actor about working with Joss Whedon and you’re probably in for some gushing.
Whedon isn’t the only reason that these characters were so memorable though. It’s the amazing actors that brought them to life! Some have played major parts in more than one series, while others played ancillary characters in several. However big or small the part, all of them have proven integral. Here are 16 Actors Who Have Played Multiple Characters In The Whedonverse.
16 Nathan Fillion
Long before Nathan Fillion became a household name, he was cast in Joss Whedon’s canceled-way-too-soon sci-fi Western, Firefly. As Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Fillion brilliantly captained both the ship and the charming band of misfits on board (several of which populate this list). Shortly thereafter, Fillion came barreling into the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Caleb, the misogynistic priest in collusion with the First. This character was quite different from the amiable roles that the genial actor was (and still is) generally cast in. Speaking of terrible people, Fillion starred in another wonderful Whedon project, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. He played the hero who is actually the villain of the piece, Captain Hammer-- a role he was clearly born to play.
Fillion is now a bona fide star with an extensive resume of film and television credits. Many know him best as the titular star of Castle, a role he played for eight seasons. One of the most exciting upcoming projects for Fillion is his casting as Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man, in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, slated to hit theaters May 5th, 2017.
15 Christina Hendricks
Best known for her role as Joan Holloway on Mad Men, the Emmy nominated Christina Hendricks has done a great deal of work in both film and television. One of her earliest roles was in “Prodigal”, the 15th episode of Angel’s first season. Hendricks played an unnamed barmaid who had been spurned by Liam (Angel’s human name). Interestingly, her fellow Mad Men costar, Vincent Kartheiser would also land a role on Angel a couple years later as Angel’s son, Connor. Although her role on Angel didn’t leave much of an impression, the character that she portrayed on Firefly most certainly did.
Hendricks played Saffron, who at first glance was an extremely innocent and incredibly subservient woman that Mal unwittingly married. In actuality, Saffron was a con artist who almost succeeded in turning Serenity and her entire crew over to pirates! “Our Mrs. Reynolds” stands out as a fan-favorite episode of the series and Hendricks was so prefect in the role that her character returned for another episode, “Trash”. If the show had been around for longer, it is reasonable to assume that Saffron, aka Bridget, aka Yolanda, would’ve become a recurring character.
14 Sean Gunn
Gilmore Girls fans will recognize this actor as Kirk, Stars Hollow’s most lovable eccentric (and there are a few to choose from). Aside from that, he is the brother of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, who also directed Slither with Nathan Fillion. Joss Whedon actually worked with both brothers. Gunn, a core character of Angel, played by J. August Richards, was even named after them.
Sean appeared on Angel twice. First, he played a relative of Doyle’s named Lucas in “Hero”. We only see him in Brachen Demon form, meaning, the real Sean Gunn was buried pretty deep. Lucas was desperately pleading with Doyle to help his kind escape the Scourge (basically a Nazi demon squad). The actor popped up again just four episodes later as Mars in “She”. Mars ran a spa and was helping Princess Jhiera protect the women from her misogynistic home dimension. Sadly, both the characters played by Gunn were killed off. Thankfully, Kirk never was. We can look forward to seeing him when Gilmore Girls returns to Netflix November 25th!
13 Kal Penn
Kal Penn is a busy guy. He may be known for playing Kumar alongside John Cho in the Harold and Kumar movies, but he has also been in countless TV shows and even served in the Obama administration. One of his earliest roles was Hunt in the season four Buffy episode, “Beer Bad”. This is the “very special episode” of BtVS, in which we learn that drinking beer is, in fact, bad. Hunt is one of several dudes to go caveman after drinking some magically altered beer. The same happens to Buffy, although thankfully, we never have to see her in the same Neanderthal makeup as the guys.
That wasn’t Penn’s only Whedonverse appearance, though. A couple years later, he showed up on season three of Angel in “That Vision Thing”. He plays the young man in a fez, or you know, the creepy, wiggly brain guy. At the behest of Wolfram and Hart, he was sending Cordelia visions that were pretty much killing her. This prompted Angel to throw a spear through his head. Many years later, Penn would wind up working with fellow Whedonverse alum Alyson Hannigan in his reoccurring role on How I Met Your Mother.
12 Tom Lenk
Tom Lenk is best known for his role as the lovable Andrew Wells, appearing on both Buffy and Angel. He was one third of the villainous trio of Buffy's 6th season, the other two members being, Jonathan Levinson (Danny Strong) and Warren Mears (Adam Busch). Andrew really only became a character because Brad Kane, the actor who played Tucker Wells in the season three episode “The Prom”, was unavailable. So, instead they decided that Tucker would have a younger brother and it was a running gag on the series that Andrew was only recognized by the moniker "Tucker's Younger Brother." While Andrew began as craven comic-relief-turned-murderer, he was given a chance at redemption in season seven and became a beloved member of the Scoobies. Let’s be real, that team already had several former killers on it.
However, playing Andrew wasn’t Lenk’s first appearance on the show. Eagle eyed viewers would notice that he actually portrayed Cyrus in the season five episode “The Real Me”. As a member of Harmony’s gang, we only ever see the actor in his vampire visage, making it nearly impossible to remember that he had ever been on the show before. Joss Whedon has employed the actor a couple other times as well, in Much Ado About Nothing and Cabin in the Woods.
11 Adam Baldwin
Known by many as Animal Mother from Full Metal Jacket, Adam Baldwin has played two separate roles in the Whedonverse. First, he was Jayne Cobb in Firefly. Considering he was a mercenary with shifting loyalties, Baldwin managed to imbue Jayne with a surprising amount of humanity. He may have been the most difficult of the characters to warm to initially, but everyone wound up loving Jayne. After Firefly’s tragic cancelation, Whedon cast Baldwin in Angel’s 5th and sadly, final season.
Baldwin played Marcus Hamilton, the gang’s new liaison to the Senior Partners. This was a very different role from Jayne. Gone was Jayne’s casual attire (and that cunning hat), because Hamilton only rocked designer suits. The main trait shared by the two characters was that they were both badasses. Although, while Jayne had a heart buried under his hard veneer, Hamilton was a villain through and through. After Angel ended, Baldwin went on to another long-term gig: John Casey on the criminally under-watched, but awesome show, Chuck.
10 Andy Umberger
Andy Umberger is one of Joss Whedon’s “hat tricks”, meaning, he appeared in BtVS, Angel and Firefly. Fans may recognize him as the Captain of the Union of Allied Planets from the latter’s pilot episode. He also literally fell to pieces as creeper Ronald Meltzer in “I Fall to Pieces”, an episode from Angel’s first season. After getting completely obsessed with a woman named Melissa, he used his rather icky ability to sever his body parts at will. He employed this not just to spy on her with detached eyes, but also to, ugh, crawl his hands into her bed. Ronald’s final fight with Angel left his body parts scattered, but it was Melissa who ultimately defeated him in an incredibly empowering moment.
Another reason he may look familiar is his recurring role as D'Hoffryn on BtVS. D’Hoffryn was Anya’s Vengeance Demon boss, the one who turned her in the first place. Despite being under all that makeup, Umberger managed to convey the demon’s dry sense of humor, while still making him intimidating. He appeared in several seasons of the show and was even a major player when the series continued in comics.
9 Gina Torres
Malcolm Reynolds wouldn’t have gotten far if it weren't for Zoe Washburne standing by him. Seriously, he'd be lost without her. Gina Torres played his fellow Browncoat, backing him at every turn, willing to kill or die for him. Although Zoe was almost crushed under the weight of losing her husband in Serenity (fans are still crying about it as well), the crew managed to help her find a way to cope. Thankfully, Wash lives on through his daughter, whom Zoe gave birth to when the show found new life in comics.
Like Adam Baldwin, Gina Torres landed on Angel after Firefly was cancelled. When Cordelia basically went evil, it was really Torres’s character, Jasmine, who was at the wheel. She was a goddess that pretty much used Cordelia to give birth to herself (it wasn’t the series’ finest moment). Also known as the Devourer, she fed on humans, all the while creating Utopia via mind control. Since then, Torres has appeared on many a cool TV show, from a guest spot on Pushing Daisies to a multi-episode arc on Hannibal. If you haven't watched those two shows, remedy that immediately! Notably, she spent several years as the powerful Jessica Pearson on Suits and even appeared on Castle.
8 Carlos Jacott
Jacott is another one of Whedon’s “hat tricks”. His first appearance was playing Ken in the premiere of Buffy’s 3rd season. After having to murder Angel to save the world, Buffy fled to LA in an attempt to escape her true calling. It is there that she runs into Ken, an apparent do-gooder, who actually turns out to be a monster in man’s clothing. Literally. As in, he’s enslaving homeless teens in a hell dimension until they are too old to work (which only takes about a day in our world).
Following that, Jacott played Richard Straley in season one of Angel. Richard was about to marry Doyle’s ex-wife and seemed like a swell guy, until he attempted to eat Doyle’s brains. A couple years later, Jacott showed up on Firefly as Lawrence Dobson, an undercover fed working for the Alliance. Much like the other two Whedonverse characters that he played, Dobson appears to be one thing, but is actually something else entirely.
7 Alan Tudyk
Alan Tudyk’s film and television credits are far too numerous to list. For many, he will always be Wash. As Hoban “Wash” Washburne, he played the heart of the Firefly crew. Tudyk was the ship’s happy-go-lucky pilot and Zoe’s loyal husband. While often played for comic relief, Wash’s unfailing optimism often helped hold the crew together. Like all of the characters aboard Serenity, Wash was beloved by fans. His heroic death at the end of the film is considered by everyone to be Serenity’s most soul-crushing moment (sorry Shepherd Book).
All that being said, when Joss Whedon called on the actor to guest star on Dollhouse, it was for a decidedly different purpose. Upon meeting Tudyk’s character, Stephen Kepler doesn’t initially seem like that much of a stretch from Wash. However, we quickly learn that this character’s good nature is all a façade and that he is actually Alpha, the genius rogue doll with murderous machinations. Since his work with Joss Whedon, Tudyk has remained busy. He even has his own web series, based loosely on his experiences working on Firefly called Con Man.
6 Felicia Day
When Felicia Day appeared in the final season of BtVS as a potential slayer, it was impossible to predict the incredible actress/writer/comedian that she would later become. After her portrayal of Violet on Buffy, which was a relatively small role, she played two other parts in the Whedonverse. One of these was Penny, the love interest of both Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion’s characters in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
She also showed up on Dollhouse, in the finales of both seasons. The flash-forward finales mainly follow characters who were not present throughout the rest of the series and are incredibly strong episodes. It is a testament to Whedon’s writing that he was able to make these characters matter in such a brief time period. In a depressing turn of events, the first of these, Epitaph One was never aired in the States. It is thankfully, available on DVD and Netflix.
Felicia Day created and starred in a web series, The Guild, which saw six seasons. She has also made appearances on Con Man and written a book. Aside from that, she had a recurring role on Supernatural and is currently filming Chew, based on the comic series of the same name.
5 Alexis Denisof
Although there are no shortage of amazing character arcs in the Whedonverse, there is perhaps no one with a more poignant one than Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. He goes through an incredible transformation that is both as intense and satisfying. The uptight Watcher first appeared in Buffy’s 3rd season and, after he lived through the Mayor’s ascension, eventually became a series regular on Angel. The sad departure of Glen Quinn’s Doyle left a void in the show and Wesley filled it better than anyone else probably could have. The man that we first met on Buffy bears little resemblance to man he becomes over the course of Angel’s five seasons and Denisof made this evolution entirely believable.
Aside from appearing in other Whedon projects, The Avengers (under a whole lot of makeup) and Much Ado About Nothing, Denisof also dropped by Dollhouse. He played Senator Daniel Perrin, a man who was astonished to discover that he was, in fact, a doll, placed like many of their assets in important positions of government. Denisoff had a delightful recurring role on How I Met Your Mother, as well as several other jobs in television. He also reprised his role in the MCU as The Other in Guardians of the Galaxy.
4 Amy Acker
According to Amy Acker, when the phone rings and she sees it’s Joss Whedon, she answers the phone with one word: "Yes." Acker has probably played a part in more of his projects than anyone else on this list (except for maybe Alexis Denisoff). Joining Angel at the end of its 2nd season, she played the role of Winifred “Fred” Burkle. Despite becoming a series regular well after the rest of the cast had had time to gel, Fred was a welcome addition and wound up becoming a fan favorite. She remained on Angel until the end, even after her character had been killed off!
No really: Fred was killed by this ancient demon known as Illyria, but the entity used her body as a host. It was an exceptional performance on Acker’s part. She made the two characters so completely different that it was sometimes difficult to remember that she played them both.
Years later, Acker played the part of Dr. Claire Saunders on Dollhouse. It was eventually revealed that there was more to Dr. Saunders than met the eye. Originally, she had been a doll herself, but after being horribly disfigured by Alpha, the Dollhouse had wiped her memory and left her believing that she had always been a doctor. Acker has worked with Whedon several times since, appearing in Much Ado About Nothing, Cabin in the Woods and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She has had many other jobs in television, including being a series regular on Person of Interest, which took its final bow in June.
3 Summer Glau
Glau made her first Whedonverse appearance playing the Prima Ballerina in one of the best episodes in Angel’s 3rd season, “Waiting in the Wings”. She was cursed to dance in the same performance of Giselle for eternity because this loser, Count Kurskov, was upset that she didn’t love him. Get a life, Kurskov! Whedon was so impressed with her that he cast her as River Tam in Firefly. Glau's dancing background made River’s awesome fight scenes (mostly talking about Serenity here) kind of beautiful due to the grace with which she moved.
Glau also appeared on Dollhouse as Bennett Halverson, a computer programmer who, like all Dollhouse characters, wasn’t who she seemed. Few actors have built up the amount of geek cred that Sumer Glau has. Aside from all of these Whedonverse roles, she went on to have a badass starring role in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (RIP) and made several appearances on the coolest sci-fi show that no one was watching, The 4400. More recently, she has dropped in on Arrow several times and even shot an episode of Castle.
2 Jonathan M. Woodward
Of all three “hat tricks” on this list, Jonathan M. Woodward’s performances stand out as the most memorable. All three characters that he played appeared to be good guys (or at least okay guys), before revealing themselves to be dangerous. “Conversations with Dead People” was one of the finest episodes of Buffy’s 7th season. This was in large part due to the discussions between Buffy and Holden Webster. Holden rose from his grave as a vampire while Buffy was on patrol and, as it turned out, they had been classmates. Buffy had a lot going on and the former psych student presented an excellent opportunity to unburden herself. Being a vampire, he did, of course, try to kill her. However, Woodward’s performance made him so impossibly likeable that it was actually a bummer to see her stake him.
Woodward also showed up on Firefly as Tracey Smith, a supposedly dead former soldier who served with Mal and Zoe in the war. Not only was Tracey actually alive, but his traitorous actions nearly got the entire crew killed. Once again, Woodward was likeable, even as you realize that he is a betrayer. Lastly, the actor played Knox on Angel. He seemed like such a sweetheart! Appearing to be the only non-evil employee of Wolfram & Hart, he shyly attempted to woo Fred (Amy Acker), only to wind up being the cause of her death, when he made her host to Illyria.
1 Eliza Dushku
After Eliza Dushku’s scene stealing performance as Faith on both Buffy and Angel, Whedon made an excellent choice casting her to star in Dollhouse. Faith Lehane begins as slayer with a brick-sized chip on her shoulder, who perhaps loves her job a little too much. However, she winds up becoming a hardened killer. This journey starts on Buffy but continues on Angel, which is where Faith, coming apart at the seams, finally chooses to atone for her many sins. Although her character arc is complete when she plays a huge part in saving the world in Buffy’s final season, her adventures continue in the comics. While her appearances in the BtVS comics are a perfect continuation of her character (in particular an arc written by Brian K. Vaughan), it is her own title, Faith and Angel that is truly not to be missed.
Portraying her second Whedonverse character, Echo on Dollhouse, Dushku had a difficult task on her hands. Playing a different character every episode is no easy feat. However, Dushku made it seem that way. Each of her personalities was completely believable and she managed to make Caroline (the real Echo) distinguishable from all the pieces of Echo that we see. Although the show was off to a bit of a shaky start, it did hit its stride fairly quickly. Dollhouse was the second good show with Dusku in a starring role to be cancelled by Fox in less than two seasons (the first being Tru Calling). Hopefully, she finds a new vehicle soon. Her talent is certainly deserving of one.
Which Whedonverse actor is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!