In my script the appearance of the protagonist physically changes at the end of the first act. As I envision it, the same actor would not play the part from that point on. This is not a Face/Off situation where characters change places; the protagonist becomes a separate and new character (we’ll call him Tom) in the latter acts while retaining the previous mental identity (Jim) from the first act. I hope this makes sense with as little as I’m telling you.
The protagonist will then be referred to as Jim by those who knew him in the first act and meet him subsequently, and Tom by all those he meets in the 2nd act and beyond. My current solution is to refer to him as Jim in the first act and Tom in the latter two to match their physical appearance. Is it okay for me to rely on the context of my story to lead the reader through the transition (identity is a theme throughout) or am I risking confusing the reader?
Fort Worth, TX
I understand what you’re trying to do, and so will your readers, as long as they’re engaged enough by your story to care. In fact, readers will follow you down almost any rabbit hole provided you can convince them something rewarding awaits.
When you’re pulling a big switch like this in a script, it’s okay to stop the action for a few lines and directly address the reader:
He ejects the DVD from the player and holds it up to see his reflection, an improvised mirror. He touches his face, confused.
Jim Maxwell is now TOM BARNHARD.
Mid-40’s, he has a similar build but a completely different face: rougher, darker. He is physically a different person.
(NOTE: From this point forward, we’ll be referring to this character as Tom. It is designed to be a different actor.)
Tom catches movement in the reflection. Another MAN. Charging right at him.
When dealing with potentially-confusing moments like these, it’s okay to give the reader slightly more concrete information than the viewing public might receive. The reader doesn’t have benefit of seeing that Derek Luke has suddenly become Denzel Washington.