|Quotes • Headscratchers • Playing With • Useful Notes • Analysis • Image Links • Haiku • Laconic|
Sometimes an actor is so iconic, famous, or interesting that their celebrity casts a shadow over the roles they play. That's not Hancock in skin tight leather flying around saving people; that's Will Smith! In Hitch, that's Will Smith giving dating advice. And Independence Day has Will Smith as a fighter pilot! Audiences are unable to commit to a Willing Suspension of Disbelief and simply see the actor on screen rather than his character.
Sometimes this occurs because the actor is a media darling or tabloid punching bag, constantly in the news. After a while, audiences become so familiar with the actor's personal life that they can no longer see him or her as another person. Other times this is the result of movie stars becoming typecast or having limited range. Audiences come to expect the actor to play the same role over and over again, which becomes part of the actor's larger-than-life persona.
For an actor's career, this can be a double-edged sword. If people like the actor they'll stay loyal to him and see his movies regardless of what they're about. On the other hand, if audiences turn against the actor, they won't be able to appreciate his work no matter how good the material is. And if they really want to be taken seriously and play Hamlet, it's a real (but not impossible) obstacle to overcome.
The complete opposite of this trope is I Am Not Spock, where an actor is unable to step out of the shadow of their most famous role. See also Typecasting and Adam Westing, when an actor falls into this and cultivates it willingly.
- John Wayne was famous for "playing himself" in almost all of his films. His personality was so larger than life that his characters were ultimately just different names for the same man in different circumstances. Wayne himself admitted as much, though he did at least find his role as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers so unique that he named his son after the character. When Wayne tried to branch out too far, such as by playing Genghis Khan, the results were predictably disastrous.
- Samuel L. Jackson is generally perceived to be "Samuel L. Motherfuckin' Jackson" in any role he played after Pulp Fiction. Even as a fucking Jedi, he was still Samuel L. Jackson, and yes, the "L" is important. Other movies you may have seen recently are "Samuel L. Jackson hates motherfuckin' reptiles", "Samuel L. Jackson is cool even in a motherfuckin' family film", and "Samuel L. Jackson coordinates motherfuckin' superheroes".
- Clint Eastwood's roles in westerns are always seen as simply the "Clint Eastwood Gunfighter" character. Beginning with his role as "The Man With No Name" in the Dollars Trilogy with Sergio Leone, any future western with Eastwood would undoubtedly be seen as that character in a different setting, regardless of any actual backstories. The character has even come out of retirement twice, once after having become a priest in Pale Rider and once after having settled down as a farmer in Unforgiven. However, Eastwood has gone on record as saying that as far as he's concerned, William Munny from Unforgiven is the Man With No Name, and that it's the end of his story.
- Humphrey Bogart was an extremely popular actor who played characters with very similar personalities, encouraging this trope.
- Edward G. Robinson did the same.
- Jackie Chan's films are well... Jackie Chan films. People watch them to see Jackie get up to crazy action hijinks. His characters are even called "Jackie" in many dubs.
- The Rush Hour blooper reels have multiple instances of his co-star addressing him as "Jackie" instead of his character's name. Realizing the take was wasted already, he often responded in kind.
Don Cheadle: His name is Lee, god damn it!
- Jack Nicholson is always Jack Nicholson, whether he's Satan, the Joker, or a psychotic writer. With the notable exceptions of Charley Partanna in Prizzi's Honor (Remember? He's stupid) and the detective in Chinatown.
- Ernest Borgnine.
- Christopher Walken began playing a caricature of himself somewhere around the mid-to-late nineties and hasn't looked back.
- Tom Cruise, once he became a tabloid regular, to the extent that Cruise actually managed to somehow overshadow the War of the Worlds remake.
- Comedian Rich Hall has a bit where he sums up every Tom Cruise movie:
Hall: He's a <profession>. He's a pretty good <profession>. Until he has a crisis of confidence and he can't be a <profession> anymore. Until he meets a good-looking woman who talks him into being a better <profession>.
- Subverted hard in Tropic Thunder, where he caught pretty much everybody by surprise. But still this trope because the character became 'Tom Cruise doing that shocking comedy thing'. Most people probably couldn't even remember the name of the character if they tried. Les Grossman
- Adam West, who finally embraced it and plays "Adam West, the lunatic who never got past Batman".
- Tommy Lee Jones always plays basically the same character in all of his movies. Namely, Tommy Lee Jones. Now he's very good at playing Tommy Lee Jones, but in general its always the same guy with maybe one minor twist here and there (ie. an alcoholic in Rules of Engagement)
- Brad Pitt, Hollywood pretty boy and tabloid darling. Except when he's scalping Nazis. 12 Monkeys is another good example, as he plays a squiffy-eyed nutcase and possible villain.
- A magazine said Brad Pitt has two flavors: playing Brad Pitt (Legends of the Fall, Meet Joe Black, The Mexican, Ocean's Eleven) and weird roles in weird movies (Se7en, Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, Snatch)
- Brad Pitt usually averts this trope since most of his performances can still be viewed as Brad Pitt as a character rather than simply 'Brad Pitt in a film'. His 'star' quality always seems to be tempered by performance and good film choice.
- Even when he's a cartoon he's still a cartoon of Brad Pitt.
- A magazine said Brad Pitt has two flavors: playing Brad Pitt (Legends of the Fall, Meet Joe Black, The Mexican, Ocean's Eleven) and weird roles in weird movies (Se7en, Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, Snatch)
- Bruce Lee always played his own personal avatar in every film. Hey, if you see a man kung fu fighting like Bruce Lee, how are you supposed to think he's not Bruce Lee?
- However, Way of the Dragon's Tong Lung certainly gave us a look at Bruce's more comedic talents. Especially if you see the Hong Kong cut of the film where he accidentally goes to a prostitute's house, or really has to pee due to ordering too much soup in a restaurant because he can't read the menu.
- Most B-moive action films have such shallow stories and characterization that they rely heavily on the action persona of their star, leading the star to essentially play the same role over and over again under different circumstances:
- Steven Seagal plays his fantasy version of himself in every film.
- Chuck Norris, who then jumped to the small screen with Walker, Texas Ranger and arguably reversed himself into an I Am Not Spock, at least until he single-handedly invented Memetic Mutation so that everyone would know who he was.
- Jean Claude Van Damme's films can almost all be summed up by "Jean-Claude Van-Damme gets into kickboxing fights." This is spectacularly played with in JCVD.
- Shahrukh Khan is always Shahrukh "EYEBROWS" Khan.
- Hell, ALL Bollywood and Kollywood superstars are referred to by their stage names, no matter what role they play.
- Stephen Chow plays the exact same character in almost all his films (notable exception CJ-7). Many of them are named Sing too.
- Kevin Michael Richardson may be a voice-acting example. Aside from Joker, all his other roles are referred to as "Hey, it's that iconic baritone voice!".
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, to the point that whole films have been made specifically to be Arnold does X: "Ahnold gets pregnant," "Ahnold shops for Christmas toys," etc.
- People from sketch-comedy shows tend to fall into this.
- Jim Carrey has a tendency to play himself, and even when he toned it down to deliver a great performance in The Truman Show it was still a bit Jim Carrey showing us he can actually act. He finally managed to subvert this trope with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind though
- Adam Sandler, especially earlier in his career, when he played the exact same character in nearly every movie he was in. He, too, has gotten better, though not nearly as much.
- This is debatable, most people would say he always played one of two characters. Annoying retard or Goofy everyman.
- Reign Over Me averts this for Sandler, but people seem to forget that it ever happened.
- Will Ferrell, who may or may not be getting over it. He did very well playing against type in Stranger Than Fiction and Elf.
- Stranger Than Fiction even had a trademark Will Ferrell breakdown despite being a more dramatic movie. The soundtrack made it work.
- David Spade, especially in works like Joe Dirt and Just Shoot Me. You might as well just replace on the cast-list "Finch" with "As Himself".
- Eddie Murphy has played himself in every film he's done. Even as he plays multiple characters in his films, they're still clearly Eddie Murphy.
- Jack Black plays more or less himself in all his movies. (And videogames.)
- Jimmy Stewart was always Jimmy Stewart, even when playing real people like Charles Lindbergh or Glenn Miller. Unless he happened to be your superior officer in the Air Force, in which case, his name was Brigadier General Stewart.
- For a very jarring exception, watch him in After the Thin Man. He spends most of the movie playing his usual nice guy persona, so it's very unexpected when it turns out he's the murderer... and a complete psychotic nut to boot!
- Stewart also played against type in Rear Window, where he was a fairly grouchy voyeur.
- Cary Grant always played the handsome, cool, smooth leading man, except in Bringing Up Baby or Arsenic and Old Lace. Those are both earlier movies; as his career progressed, he was more and more pigeonholed into that one role, the 'Cary Grant leading man' role. Which he actively worked to cultivate over the years.
- Michael Caine, a cool Every Man who won't take people trying it on with him, even if he has to get a bit violent. But still tempers his rough with enough smoothness to be a hit with the ladies. This persona was a key role model for the Nineties "New Lad" lifestyle of magazines such as Loaded, FHM and Maxim.
- Harry Brown averts this, as though he's Michael Caine and a Retired Badass turned vigilante, he's an old man in much worse shape than the teenagers he's taking on, even if a number of them are monged by drugs and booze. Harry is definitely a man who used to be a Michael Caine character, but went to seed.
- Nicolas Cage generally plays the same smug but slightly confused character in every movie he's in, be it looking for missing girls and being attacked by bees, to being an undead biker, from low-jacking cars, to preventing a deadly virus loaded missile. This Nicolas Cage character only really emerged fully when he took up action roles, around the time of Con Air. Before that he'd played a variety of types, often quirky comedies (like Raising Arizona), but including his Oscar-winning role is Leaving Las Vegas.
- Notable aversion: Lord of War, the only Cage movie where his character isn't sympathetic.
- And that scene in the second National Treasure movie where he pretends to be drunk. After seeing several less emotive performances from him, it's pretty dang surprising.
- Face Off almost manages to be an aversion: he starts as an evil terrorist... and then becomes John Travolta, with a "smug/confused" performance.
- His character in Snake Eyes is a bit harder to classify. He's still got a lot of the Nic Cage aspects to him (smug as all hell, slightly weird, very distinctive way of speaking) but he's a lot darker than a lot of his other characters. He's a cop on the take, he's a yes man, he's so corrupt that he'd be the bad guy in any other film, and yet somehow is still a Nicolas Cage good guy (TM).
- William... Shatner.
- The Marx Brothers played virtually the exact same characters in all of their movies. Despite the fact that their respective characters were essentially identical in all of their films, in each film the characters have different names, jobs, and backstories. Even so, to the audience they're still always Groucho, Chico and Harpo...and sometimes Zeppo. (They were billed as themselves in Monkey Business.)
- Though Sean Connery tries to play different characters, the man's distinctive features and voice, at least since his hair greyed, tend to just say 'This is Sean Connery in Prison' 'This is Sean Connery the Scotsman Pretending to Be an Egyptian Pretending to be A Spaniard' 'He's pretending to be Harrison Ford's Dad in this one', etc.
- His voice alone can have this effect. 'This is Sean Connery as a dragon'!
- Abbott and Costello, to the point where most of their later films simply had them playing themselves.
- Look everyone, it's Bruce Campbell--er, whatever cocky, sarcastic character he's playing this time.
- Woody Allen will always play that nervous fella in all his movies, and if he's not on in front of the screen he will have a surrogate (perhaps the only exception to this is Match Point)
- One word: Interiors.
- Ben Stiller often plays very similar characters. Sometimes, even with his father, Jerry Stiller. You might know him better as George's dad. Yup, Ben Stiller is his son.
- Ricky Gervais after his appearance in The Office basically plays himself. Perhaps with a bit of Adam Westing (or maybe he is that much of a jerk.) An arrogant egotist with a sharp and chastising sense of humour.
- Robert Downey, Jr. does always seem to be playing a smartass these days. And not just a smartass, but a flawed, womanizing (with varying success), substance-abuse-prone, freakishly charming smartass. In fact he seems to just play himself. (Except Tropic Thunder when he's playing Christian Bale/Russel Crowe.)
- Morgan Freeman is awesome because he is Morgan Freeman. The reason he can get away with playing a lot of b-movie roles, is because not a Morgan Freeman playing a bad character in a bad movie, but a bad film becoming So Bad It's Good because its got Morgan Freeman in it!
- Ironic, considering some of his earlier roles were very different from the calm, smooth-voiced performance he's known for now. Consider him in "Brubaker" as a crazy prisoner (so-so) and Lean On Me as a Jerkass school principal (pretty convincing).
- The only reason that you never suspect he is the bad guy in Wanted is precisely because he is Morgan Freeman.
- And of course there is the fact that Morgan Freeman narrates every movie. No not his particularly character in that film, Morgan Freeman.
- As it says at the top, Will Smith. Back in the mid to late 90's, he was the same smooth-talking ladies' man-slash-flippant, snarky action hero, always locked and loaded with an "Aw, hell naw" at the ready to take down giant ships, giant bugs or giant spiders. He's expanded post-millenium to more serious dramas but all that means is he's now seen by fans as 'Will Smith acting really well'.
- Seth Green seems to have the same deadpan personality, no matter what part he's playing. He's also pretty good at getting in character though, so he comes off as some hybrid of Seth Green and whoever he's playing.
- Keanu Reeves. "Whoa, dude." Also inverted: for some time he apparently worried that his tombstone was inevitably going to read "Here Lies Ted." Then there was The Matrix.
- Nathan Fillion. As the quote on his page says, "Nathan Fillion always seem to play Nathan Fillion. And frankly I'm okay with that."
- Look! It's Owen Wilson as a spy! Check it out, Owen Wilson as a Cowboy/Cop/Model/Pseudo Sergeant! Occasionally averted, since he is rounded enough to play other roles; he just doesn't very often.
- Probably Johnny Depp, though he deserves a pass.
- Harrison Ford, thanks to having two iconic film roles. Although those roles are big and famous enough to override it; in those he's Han Solo and Indiana Jones. In anything else, he's Harrison Ford. The poster for Air Force One actually says "HARRISON FORD is the President of the United States of America."
- Sir Ian McKellen is known as the distinguished classical British actor, no matter what he does. He only just escaped I Am Not Gandalf by being so darn respectable and having a Sir on the front of his name.
- This might also have something to do with him playing Magneto in the X-Men films.
- Liam Neeson is an extremely talented and versatile actor, but of late many of his films, despite his excellent and varied performances, can best be described as Liam Neeson is a Jedi, Liam Neeson is Zeus, Liam Neeson Flies a Tank, Liam Neeson Fights Batman, and Liam Neeson Demonstrating His Particular Set of Skills.
- As well as Liam Neeson Vs. the Nazis.
- And Liam Neeson wearing a catsuit as Golden Lion Jesus.
- Even the case when he was cast as the dad in the English dub of Ponyo.
- This can partly be attributed to the fact that he's insanely tall and has a very distinctive voice, and neither are things one can really disguise, especially not the voice. Even when he's trying on other accents, his voice is very deep and, well, really easy to spot as Liam Neeson.
- Except for the time he was a borderline psychotic anti-hero.
- Averted hard by Peter Sellers. In an interview, he was asked what he, personally was like. He paused for a moment, looking honestly puzzled, and responded, "I don't know."
- Sellers somehow averted this trope and I Am Not Spock.
- Perhaps it was by being good enough to play three different characters in the same movie?
- In his appearance on The Muppet Show, he claimed to have had his "real self" surgically removed.
- Patrick Stewart seems to pull off both this trope and I Am Not Picard, interestingly.
- Mr. T shall always be Mr. T, fool!
- Tom Hanks mostly just plays Tom Hanks these days.
- Ryan Reynolds always seems to play the cool, funny guy in a romantic comedy or screwball comedy. Or the Green Lantern movie.
- Tim Curry is always Tim Curry. If he turns up in anything, it's odds-on that he is evil and/or will die at the end.
- King Acorn and King Arthur are two notable exceptions. Also Nigel Thornberry, who many don't even recognize as him.
- Also in video games: in Dragon Age: Origins, Tim Curry is the voice of the Evil Aristocrat who murders the PC's entire family (if you follow Human Noble origin) and goes on to help start a civil war before ultimately being killed by the PC and their party
- Steve Carell is an example similar to Harrison Ford above. In The Office and Anchorman, he's Michael Scott and Brick Tamland, respectively. In anything else, he's Steve Carell.
- Most of the lead actors in The Expendables. They're not Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, and Yin Yang. They're Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, and Jet Li.
- While pretty much no one can complain about his performance, several people lamented the fact that having J.K. Simmons voice Cave Johnson in Portal 2 had the drawback of making it pretty much impossible to picture someone other than Simmons saying those lines, regardless of all the portraits of Johnson lying around.
- For British players, this also applies to Wheatley. Try to hear his voice without picturing Stephen Merchant. Bonus points if you start expecting Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais or Barry from Eastenders to turn up, as Merchant's voice almost sounds strange without them.
- Many people don't even know that David Bowie's character's name in Labyrinth is supposed to be Jareth, not "David Bowie".
- Voice Acting Example: Norio Wakamoto as a newspaper editor; Norio Wakamoto as the Emperor of Britannia; Norio Wakamoto as a flying cat.. alien... thing... that may or may not be Santa Claus.
- Michael Cera is pretty much the same awkward young guy in every role, to the point that some are getting a little sick of it.
- Brian Blessed: Completely and utterly embraces this trope, absolutely revels in his reputation as a Boisterous Bruiser in spite of the fact he is perfectly capable of "proper" acting if he feels like it (see I, Claudius for proof).
- Stephen Fry is this through and through; if he isn't playing "Stephen Fry as a...", then he can easily be found using his instantly identifiable voice to narrate soothingly.
Stephen Fry: My role in this film as a gay, intelligent man with a sense of humor and appreciation for high culture is a real stretch for me.
- Robin Williams, with the exceptions of One Hour Photo and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Although even in his SVU appearance, his penchant for doing funny voices is specifically made into a plot point.
- Bruce Willis, unless he's playing John McClane.
- Colin Firth is always playing a stuffy Brit.
- Rob Schneider is... a carrot!
- This one's an odd case... Elton John is best known for being a musician, and whenever he does do an occasional acting bit, he almost always plays himself. However, when he was talked into taking up a part in The Movie version of Tommy, a Concept Album turned Rock Opera by The Who, he ended up not playing himself, but rather a character called the Local Lad, also known as The Champ (though the character's often called the Pinball Wizard by mistake because of the song he sings). Even though it's not Elton, the character seems to oddly have his fashion sense and style (and there's even a keyboard built into his pinball machine), thus people seem to easily confuse the character for Elton himself, which has not happened to any of the other performers in that movie (save for the previously-mentioned Jack Nicholson). It also doesn't help that a lot of people don't know the character's real name since it was never really said by anyone...Or the fact that he got to keep the boots afterwards...
- Marilyn Monroe is such an iconic sex symbol, even back when she was still in movies, that it's nearly impossible for a viewer to see her as anything but.
- Paris Hilton, to such a degree that "See Paris Hilton being gruesomely murdered!" was the unique selling point for the 2005 version of House of Wax. The album of John Ottman's score for the film calls the cue for that scene "Paris Gets It" — even though Miss Hilton's character is called Paige.
- Julia Roberts tends to be Type Cast in a narrow range of roles, in which she is so consistently a Love It or Hate It personality that "Julie Roberts movie" is almost a genre.
- Like Tom Cruise, she seems to have crossed some event horizon into whatever is beyond acting. She is the entity called Julia Roberts. Sometimes this entity makes a film. The advertising posters will declare Julia Roberts to be in a film. The public will base their decision on whether or not to see this film solely on this fact...eerie.
- Angelina Jolie is the premiere--some say only--action heroine of Hollywood. Any film she is in (e.g., Tomb Raider, Beowulf, Salt, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) are more about watching Angelina play the part of sexy action hero then watching sexy action heroes.
- Then again, half her movies are dramatic... which fit more with her real life persona!
- At one point, Jennifer Aniston wanted to appear on one of her favorite shows, 24. The producers refused, saying that she was so well known, it would kill the effect, instead of seeing the character, they'd see Jennifer.
- Jodie Foster is always an unassuming woman that'll put up with a bit of abuse before kicking some ass. Whether it be a man that makes suits out of human skin, a terrorist kidnapping her daughter or shooting a man in the face to get her dog back. It just doesn't matter.
- Dakota Fanning is always Dakota Fanning. Tom Cruise being in this trope as well had a weird effect on The War of the Worlds. Essentially, the central characters are Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, and Robbie. And while everyone else in Twilight is in I Am Not Spock mode, Jane might just as well be named Evil Dakota Fanning.
- Speaking of child stars, Shirley Temple is always a Cheerful Heartwarming Orphan who sings and dances. Four of her characters were actually named "Shirley". Like Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts, Shirley Temple has passed the event horizon into the realm beyond acting. The real Shirley Temple went on to do some grown-up roles which no one remembers, retired from acting, become a diplomat, and is still living in her eighties. But the pop culture entity of Shirley Temple is forever locked in time to her twee 1930s child self.