I’ve often wondered what it would be like to know someone who was in the movies, and now I finally do. And I have to admit, it’s kind of cool.
We just watched An American Pickle, which stars Seth Rogen as a Jewish immigrant who gets preserved in a vat of pickles and wakes up 100 years later in modern-day New York City, attempting to fit in with the assistance of his last remaining descendant (also played by Rogen).
Director Brandon Trost concedes that filmmakers have been doubling people numerous times before, using a combination of split-screen photography, body doubles, CG-assisted-dots-on-the-face technology, and tons of invisible post-production trickery. All of this was used on An American Pickle, but with one specific caveat.
Normally, you’d shoot one side of the “person whose face you need to see,” and then immediately set up the other side with that actor playing the second person in that same location, in real-time. But in American Pickle, while every scene featuring both characters was shot twice, they were shot months apart, as Rogen didn’t want to wear a fake beard. As a result, everything featuring Herschel was filmed first. Rogen shaved his enormous beard off, and the movie went back to each location and had to re-shoot the scenes again, using the exact same lighting, camera position, and movements.
A key part of the success in making all this work was Ian Poake, who was Rogen’s body double for both characters throughout the film.
Ian grew up right across the street from where I still live. He is the same age as my youngest son, and the two would occasionally play together. Ian had the acting bug from an early age. I remember going to see him play the Cowardly Lion in a middle school production of The Wizard of Oz, where he stole the show. To no one’s surprise, Ian went on to study acting in college and has pursued acting as his career ever since. An American Pickle is his biggest role to date.
Poake never actually spoke dialogue as Rogen’s double, only emoting with his face to Rogen’s off-screen playback, and sometimes had to literally say what he was doing physically so Rogen could follow with his eyes. Here’s a behind the scenes look at some of this movie magic. (Ian is the guy on the left.)
Rogen says that Poake made his performance “much better.”
“It was in some ways very selfless,” Rogen said. “He was compensated, but in some ways, a very selfless thing for him to do was essentially act in an entire movie with the understanding he would be removed from it later.”
Like Rogen, Poake played both roles and was opposite Rogen “in almost every scene.” He’d frequently just “sit there and look at me,” the star explained and was totally “malleable” and adept when it came to blocking.
“I remember telling him, specifically, like ‘The better job you do, the less it will seem like you exist,” Rogen told Meyers. “Thriving for complete evaporation on your part — that’s the bulls-eye you’re really trying to hit,’ and he really did an amazing job.”
Perhaps as a reward for a job well done as Rogen’s double, Ian did get to have a small speaking role in the movie, playing opposite Rogen in a bar scene as Devon.
It was wonderful to read what Gregory Lawrence, a reporter for Collider, had to say about Ian: “It seems like a technically impressive, and ultimately thankless job — but I, for one, thank Mr. Poake, and can’t wait to see him in a role where his dang face is on screen.”
Here’s the trailer, and I should note that even if we didn’t have this connection to the movie, we found it to be quite an enjoyable film.
I wish Ian the best of luck; I’ll be sure to tell everyone I know that I knew you way back when…
And here is a little bonus of Ian from back in his high school days: