Emma Stone in Maniac.
Don’t be too surprised if you watch Maniac and find yourself thinking, “Hmm, that actor looks familiar …” The mindblowing Netflix mini-series takes viewers into bizarre dream worlds inhabited by its protagonists, Owen Milgram (Jonah Hill) and Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone), and like Dorothy going to the Land of Oz, familiar faces from their lives pop up on the other side of this therapeutic rainbow. As Maniac gets deeper and deeper into Annie and Owen’s subconscious minds — that is, as an experimental drug trial alters their own personas in ways that reflect their psychological needs and defense mechanisms — it also recycles people from the “real” world, reintroducing major characters and seemingly minor ones in unusual and surprising ways. Here are the 27 actors who appear and reappear across Maniac as different characters. Did you spot them all?
Stone’s grief-stricken protagonist weaves in and out of the dream worlds of the Neberdine drug trial, allowing the Oscar-winning actress to embody different characters that reflect different aspects of Annie’s real-world personality. In one, she’s a Long Island nurse determined to retrieve a stolen lemur. In another, she’s a thief looking for the infamous 53rd chapter of Don Quixote. As the trial progresses, Annie’s alter egos become more focused and confident, including an elf hired to usher a sick child to magical healing waters, and the cold-blooded CIA spy who saves Owen’s Snorri.
Hill must have jumped at the chance to play such a vibrant array of characters embedded in one deeply scarred psyche. As Owen, he’s quiet and reserved, but he gets to break out in the dream worlds of the Neberdine trial. His Bruce Marino is mostly just along for the ride as they try to rescue Wendy the lemur, but each dream iteration gains more agency, starting with Ollie, the suave thief who impresses strangers at Mrs. Neberdine’s séance. After that, he’s taking apart his mobster family from within, and then hysterically causing the potential end of the world as Snorri, the Icelandic man who blew up an alien with his gimlet. And let’s not forget, as Owen himself says when Maniac races toward its climax: “Annie, I’m a hawk!”
On a second (or third) rewatch of Maniac, it’s fascinating to see how Dr. Greta works her way into the narrative well before she utters her first line. She pops up in bus-shelter ads and book covers in New York City, and in a sly nod to her son Dr. James K. Mantleray’s mommy issues, Sally Field also voices the GRTA computer that runs the Neberdine drug trial. But we don’t actually see the actress in the flesh until she appears in episode five, “Exactly Like You,” as Lady Neberdine, the heiress who runs a fashionable séance in Ollie/Owen’s dream world. Soon after that, we meet the real-world Dr. Greta, the dream world’s manifestation of GRTA, and even an evil elf Queen in Annie’s fantasy world. Sally Field can do it all!
Game Night star Billy Magnussen appears as the devil on Owen’s shoulder as Grimsson Milgrim, an imaginary figure with an awesome mustache who happens to look exactly like Owen’s actual brother Jed. Grimsson weaves his way in and out of Owen’s dreams, sometimes playing minor roles (Owen has a vision of him spitting ectoplasm in “Exactly Like You”) and sometimes playing major ones (he reveals the truth about GRTA and the McMurphys in the climatic episode, “Utangatta.”). On the other hand, Jed is the cause of much of Owen’s grief, bullying his brother into testifying with a fake alibi at his sexual-assault trial.
Gabriel Byrne brings his typical gravitas to Maniac’s premiere episode, playing the patriarch of the Milgrim fortune. Porter is someone who seems outwardly supportive of Owen, but quickly reminds him of the importance of protecting Jed above all else. He returns in a much more openly malevolent form in Owen’s first C-pill dream in episode seven, “Ceci N’est Pas Une Drill,” where he’s wielding a drill and looking for the rat in his mob enterprise.
Perhaps the closest mirror image to her real-world counterpart, Annie’s dead sister reappears in her subconscious as a wide-eyed fantasy elf midway through the season. Fitting for the guilt Annie still carries about Ellie’s death, she imagines a Tolkien-esque world inspired by Ellie’s favorite genre, where she’s paid to protect and cure the sickly girl. In the final dream world, Annie achieves the closure with Ellie that she was never allowed in reality, allowing her to finally say good-bye forever.
The sole member of the Milgrim family circle with whom Owen seems to connect, his future sister-in-law Adelaide is first seen early in the series, during the big party at the Milgrim house. Adelaide resurfaces in “Ceci N’est Pas Une Drill” as a cop who puts Owen undercover in the violent mob run by his father. She’s both trying to save him and placing him in a great deal of danger — a perfect dream alter ego for a guy who’s in love with his brother’s fiancée.
The Americans star Lev Gorn pops up early in Maniac, playing the bodega cashier who tells Annie that “most quarters have been swallowed and defecated by a human.” (Nice small talk, buddy.) He pops up again a full eight episodes later, playing the Russian NATO representative in the show’s trippy final fantasy, who’s exhausted by Snorri’s testimony and fearful of an alien invasion.
Grace Van Patten plays one of those characters that will clearly have an impact from the first moment we see her. Maybe it’s the way the camera lingers over her photo in a book that Owen’s alter ego Bruce is reading in episode four, “Furs by Sebastian,” a point at which the dream world begins to fracture. As Bruce sits in the car, he sees the photo of her with a caption that reads, “Olivia Meadows, your ‘emotional poltergeist,’ who you screamed at during your BLIP.” (Just then, a truck that looks a lot like the one that killed Ellie speeds by.) Olivia then surfaces for major roles in episodes five, seven, and eight, always closely tied to Owen’s characters. In “Exactly Like You,” she plays an alluring séance-goer who gets to step into a quirky dance after Arlie/Annie disappears. She really comes to the foreground in episode eight, “The Lake of the Clouds,” as a waitress who talks about the Gnostic Gospels and her paranoid ex-boyfriend. In the dream world, she and Owen end up together, raising seven kids in his small Roosevelt Island apartment until he jumps out the window.
This oddball scientist was running Neberdine’s drug trial in Maniac’s early episodes — and pursuing a love affair with GRTA the computer on the side — until he dropped dead from abusing a mixture of the A and C pills. But GRTA conjures him back to life in the dream world of the fifth episode, “Exactly Like You,” where he’s wearing bizarre, steampunk-ish headgear, seems a shell of his former self, and dances with Owen, Annie, and Olivia during a spiritual ceremony meant to open a rift in the “astral plane.”
Played by Joseph Sikora, J.C. is one of Maniac’s most unforgettable supporting characters. You’ll surely recognize him from the dream world of “Furs by Sebastian,” where he’s one of the dancing tough guys who get into a gunfight with Fish and Wildlife officials. (He’s the one in American flag pants.) The same actor also plays a young man in the real world, whom Annie spots during an awkward moment of ignored conversation at a restaurant in the series premiere.
If you thought the driver who takes a bullet for Ollie/Owen in episode five looked familiar, he’s traveled with our hero before. Remember the Ad Buddy who sat beside him on the subway in the series premiere?
Owen’s Ad Buddy isn’t the only one to make it into his subconscious. Annie’s Ad Buddy from the second episode, “Windmills,” also returns in the dream world of episode five, where she marvels at Ollie’s magic trick. That’s not all: According to IMDb, Kavoussi also voices the dragonfly who speaks to Annie in the fantasy world in episode seven.
Gonzalez plays two iterations of men who make the most of their limited power. (After all, “There’s not much of a difference, authority-wise.”) First, he’s a Milgrim Enterprises security guard who encounters Annie in the series premiere. Then, he pops up in episode four as the Fish and Wildlife enforcer who faces off against Sebastian, the fur-coat salesman who warns, “I’m a bear. I’m a motherfucking grizzly bear. I eat Fish and Wildlife!”
Owen’s boss from the series premiere pops up in two different roles, both of which feel like Owen’s subconscious trying to enact some vengeance on the man who told bad jokes and put him on furlough. He’s the butler whom Ollie/Owen uses for his magic trick in the fifth episode, and he faces a much worse fate in episode seven, when he’s the unlucky victim of Gabriel Byrne’s drill torture.
The man driving the truck that killed Annie’s sister returns thematically in “Furs by Sebastian” when Annie ends up at his mother’s home. Rentler literally returns in episode seven, though, playing a servant in Annie’s Tolkien–esque fantasy world who drowses off while he works, just as he fell asleep at the wheel on the last day of Ellie’s life. Annie largely ignores him, perhaps indicating that she’s moving closer to closure with that life-changing trauma.
Trudie Styler plays Owen’s mother Angelica, and she reappears in the fantasy world that’s seemingly dictated by Annie’s subconscious in episode seven. Why would Annie use the appearance of Owen’s mother to populate her fantasy world? Perhaps it’s because Owen’s and Annie’s subconscious minds merged in their B-pill dreams and remain intertwined in the final phase. Maybe they’ll be connected be forever. (Fun fact: Styler is Sting’s wife, which must have made the day that Jed sings “Every Breath You Take” a fun one on set.)
The attorney in Owen’s first scene, who grills him on how to behave when he testifies to Jed’s alibi, resurfaces as the consigliere to a much more violent version of the Milgrim clan in Owen’s C-pill fantasy in “Ceci N’est Pas Une Drill.”
Even the skeptical Neberdine assistant who guides the “Odds” to their pods gets a role in Maniac’s dream worlds, appearing as one of the cops in Owen’s first C-pill fantasy. Too bad he gets shot by Owen’s imaginary brother Grimsson.
Most of Owen’s family members resurface in the dream worlds, including his sister Holly, who pops up as the tarot reader at the séance in the fifth episode and as a poor partygoer splattered with Ernie’s guts in episode nine.
One of the only members of the Milgrim family whom Owen seems to trust in the real world is Belle, with whom he plays just before the dinner scene in Maniac’s premiere. It’s no wonder she returns as his own daughter, telling dad jokes in his first B-pill fantasy (“Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon?”), and pops up again briefly as one of his kids in his tiny cramped apartment just before he jumps out of the window in episode eight.
Annie’s roommate made enough of an impact that she’s recycled into the most cameo-filled dream in episode five, “Exactly Like You,” as one of the attendees hanging on to Owen’s every word.
All of the Milgrim boys resurface as variations on themselves in the gangster world of Owen’s C-pill fantasy (although it’s unclear if Mike has three nipples in both worlds). He apparently also voices a grub that Annie talks to under a rock in her elf fantasy.
Phil Milgrim is at the dinner in the series premiere and is in charge of the battery for the drill in the more brazenly criminal version of his clan. At least he looks like he’s having more fun at the séance in episode five.
Billy Magnussen’s real-life brother Jesse plays one of Jed and Owen’s brothers in both Maniac’s real world and in the criminal fantasy, although he doesn’t say much. Perhaps that’s because it was already confusing enough with Billy playing two characters.
From left: Photo: Michele K. Short/NetflixPhoto: Michele K. Short/Netflix
From left: Photo: Michele K. Short/NetflixPhoto: Michele K. Short/Netflix
This one is quite clever: If you look closely in the penultimate episode, you’ll see a pair of twins in the McMurphy room, where GRTA keeps her prisoners. Those same twins appear alongside Sally Field both at the séance and in Annie’s elf fantasy, clearly attached to GRTA in the dream world.
Special thanks to Alexandra Curran.