Focusing on the multi-directed Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, 2012), this article examines the film’s unconventional approach to the ensemble format in adapting David Mitchell’s apparently unfilmable novel. It considers how the film’s unique multi-role, cross-casting performance strategy both reveals the possibilities of transnational cinema but also exposes its limitations. Drawing from popular critical reception and cast and crew commentaries, the article considers how multi-role performance offers a challenge and alternative to conventional modes of performance, how vaudeville can help to make sense of the performance approach adopted in the film, and investigates the relationship between prosthetics and play in establishing the ensemble. The film raises questions about race, ethnicity and gender, the boundaries between identities and the challenges of performing multiple roles as played out on the body of the actor. With multiple actors taking on multiple roles across multiple narratives, the article argues that Cloud Atlas offers a radical example of the ensemble as a metaphor for global interconnectedness and problematizes its very mode of performance as a result.