At 71, these Vancouver-based twin actors are just hitting their stride | CBC News

Fun, professional and a joy to work with are some of the ways film and TV producers describe Joyce and Jacqueline Robbins, but to meet the septuagenarian twin actresses in person is hard to put into words. 

To see them walking down the street near the condo they share on Vancouver’s West Side, onlookers may initially be drawn by their identical appearances, which often include their grey hair placed in buns at the tops of their heads and bright red lipstick. 

Their constant pas de deux, which includes finishing each other’s punch lines and speaking in unison, would almost certainly cap off the encounter. 

“We used to be five, but we had to kill the other three as you can’t compete with the Dionne Quintuplets,” the twins joke in unison, referencing Ontario’s famous identical sisters, born in 1934.

Clockwise from left: Usman Ally, John DeSantis, Matty Cardarople, Jacqueline Robbins and Joyce Robbins in A Series of Unfortunate Events. (Joe Lederer/Netflix)

Joyce and Jacqueline Robbins, known as the Robbins twins, have been acting professionally for more than 40 years. At 71, they seem to have hit their stride. 

Best known for their roles as the White-Faced Women in the Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events, this summer their work has included an episode of CW’s Two Sentence Horror Stories, several episodes of Paramount Television’s Joe Pickett and an appearance on the MGM co-production of Billy the Kid. 

“Suddenly really an embarrassment of riches has happened for us,” Joyce said while sitting in a Blenz coffee shop on West Broadway, her sister Jacqueline tight by her side in a matching floral shirt. 

Judging by what filmmakers and producers have to say about them, it’s no wonder the Robbins twins have writers scripting shows specifically for them, as was the case for Two Sentence Horror Stories. 

The episode they starred in was directed by identical twins Kailey and Sam Spear. 

The Robbins twins say they have no intentions of retiring from acting anytime soon. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

“We thought we had killed all the twins in the industry, but they just seem to be multiplying,” Joyce and Jacqueline said in unison.

Liz Levine, the show’s executive producer, said Joyce and Jacqueline don’t just provide a unique look as identical twins “of a certain age,” they’re also a pleasure to work with. 

“The ladies just show up with the energy of a couple of 18-year-olds’ first day out of high school,” Levine said.” 

“They’re enamoured by everything. Their eyes twinkle. They are full of questions and curiosity.”

Born in Minnesota

The Robbins twins were born in Minnesota in 1949 and grew up in Calgary. 

Their father was an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist and their mother was a pharmacist. The twins say their parents encouraged their interest in acting from a young age. 

Joyce and Jacqueline Robbins moved to Vancouver from Calgary in 2006 to take advantage of the larger film industry on the West Coast. (The Characters Talent Agency)

In Calgary, they performed on stage in community theatre and when they spent summers in North Vancouver they would write and direct plays for all the neighbourhood children. 

Their father insisted they pursue a career to fall back on, so both of them became elementary school teachers — a profession they pursued for 15 years. 

In 1976, they were cast as background actors in their first feature film: Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians.

“To be directed by him was such an honour,” Jacqueline said. 

Perfect for horror

Since then, other film credits have included The Wicker Man, Cut Bank and several television series. In 2006, they moved to Vancouver to take advantage of the film industry here. 

They’ve also starred in many independent productions, the latest of which they shot this summer. Outrunners, a comedic thriller about a game show that takes place during a pandemic, was shot in and around Vancouver.

The Robbins twins on the set of the short film Of Tides/To Distill, written and directed by Courtney Verwold. (Scott Hemenway)

Executive producer Shawn Major says the twins’ unique paired look makes them perfect for the horror and thriller genres.  

“Just the look of them, and then what can come out of their mouths with their comedic timing, is impeccable,” Major said. 

Major has worked with the twins on several occasions and he says they’re always open to just about anything. 

‘It’s just a number’

Levine, who produced Two Sentence Horror Stories, said although the twins have never taken acting lessons they always know how to capture the emotion of a scene. 

“I’m just a really huge fan and feel so excited for them at this stage of their career and their lives that they’re working more than ever,” Levine said. 

Joyce and Jacqueline Robbins in Outrunners, an independent film shot in Vancouver this summer. (Wendy D)

The Robbins twins say they don’t intend to stop acting anytime soon. 

They say an aging demographic, combined with a growing number of elder female actors like Helen Mirren, Betty White and Jane Fonda, make it increasingly likely there will continue to be roles for them in film and television. 

“If we have the energy, it’s just a number,” Jacqueline said of being 71. “We will [act] as long as we are able to do it.”

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