Actors that play themselves playing their character

I was having a discussion with a guy at work the other day about actors and actresses that always seem to be themselves playing the role they were hired to do.

In other words, actors that can’t really act, but instead play themselves in the role of a character. That is, someone who seems to be the same person in every movie they’re in, just with a different backstory.

My example was Sean Connery. While I’m no expert on his career, in fact I daresay I haven’t seen even half the movies he’s been in, the ones I have seen always seem to be Sean Connery playing Sean Connery as 007, or a jewel thief, or a CGI animated dragon.

Having just read a thread about Liza Minelli (that also mentions William Shatner), I got to wondering if other people notice actors that fall into this category. Is there even a name for this type of phenomenon (besides poor acting)?

Who would you say also fits into this “always plays themselves” role?

[sub]this could be imho poll material, but i imagined it might turn into a conversation about acting and talent, and so chose cafe society[/sub]

I thought this was going to be about John Malkovich. But I’ll nominate Jeff Goldblum.

Arnold Schwarzenegger comes most readily to mind. If you can name more than two of the characters he’s played by the name of the actual character, you’re doing better than I can.

Tom Cruise seems to fit the bill as well.

Michael Douglas. Good GOD Michael Douglas…and I hate him for it. That, and for having sex with Catherine Zeta-Jones when I’m not. :frowning:

Most old Hollywood actors played themselves in various ways throughout their careers. They’d create a screen persona and generally play variations on it until they got a chance to do something else. If that happened, they’d start playing themselves in their new persona. Some that come to mind include:

Humphrey Bogart
James Cagney
Edward G. Robinson
W. C. Fields
Groucho Marx
Fred Astaire
Dick Powell (though he made a change from sappy juvenile to hard-boiled detective)
James Stewart (he wouldn’t be cast as a killer, for instance, which is why he was effective when he was)
John Wayne
William Powell
Joan Crawford
Bette Davis
Marie Dressler
Mae West
Greta Garbo

Hell, practically every actor before the 50s. During the days of the studio system, it was considered good if someone stuck to playing the same sort of role – the audience would know what to expect.

Rodney Dangerfield
Robert Stack
Leslie Nielson

You’d rather he have sex with Catherine Zeta-Jones while you are? Ewww.

As opposed to the variety displayed by Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and the Zeppo replacements. :wink:

Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson!
Keanu “Ted Logan” Reeves
David “Smarmy” Spade

Hugh Grant

TV / Movie actor James Garner

TV / Movie actor Tom Selleck

Tom Cruise to a large degree

Conan, Terminator, and…uh…


Anyways, I think a number of old-time movie stars fall into this category, because many of them were hired to play a type rather than characters. William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford (more toward the end of her career), Bette Davis (again toward the end of her career) to name a few.

Jack Nicholson has been doing a Jack Nicholson impression for the last ten plus years.

Robert De Niro has been a Robert De Niro parody for the last ten plus years.

Norm Macdonald freely admits he can’t act, he’s just Norm Macdonald walking through a movie. In his case, it works (Dirty Work is funny!).

Tom Cruise and Ah-nold were on my list also, but I didn’t want to name too many people in the OP.

Cruise was just beginning to break out of that (in my mind anyway) with Magnolia, but then he went on to make, well, everything else he’s done since.

Is there an actual name for this? I think there should be… beyond just “bad acting”, or “character (or persona) acting” in the case of the old timers.

Bill Murray used to just play Bill Murray as a Ghostbuster, for example. But he’s been breaking away from that now.

Arnold’s character in Total Recall was Douglas Quaid or Hauser. With Conan and “the Terminator” that’s three! (Ardred adds “his name is Dutch in Predator”)

Dutch Schaeffer - Predator
Douglas Quade - Total Recall
Detective John Kimball - Kindergarden Cop
John Matrix - Commando

Anyway, I’d also have to nominate Woody Allen, who always plays neurotic, nebbishy nerds (in other words, Woody Allen!) Seconded on Jack Nicholson (why is he thought of as such a great actor?), Hugh Grant, and Will Smith.

Cruise was memorably cast against type in Born on the Fourth of July (which I remember as being good, maybe I’m wrong) and Magnolia, where you could hate him because his character deserved it, not because you already hated him for being Tom Cruise. I think you’re right on the whole, though.

I don’t think so (about the “breaking away from that” bit). In fact, Bill Murray was the first name I thought of when I read the title. I get the impression that all the “characters” he’s played in all the movies he’s been in (that I’ve seen, anyway) have just been aspects of him.

During his heyday in the 80’s, he played Bill Murray the cocky and arrogant wise-cracking guy who made fun of the movie while he was in it. Then he made The Razor’s Edge and was the overly earnest Bill Murray trying to find true meaning in life. Then Groundhog Day, he was a recovering cynical wise-cracking guy. Then the Wes Anderson movies, where he’s the ex-cynical wise-cracking guy wondering where his life went. The only exception I can think of, where he was really playing a different character, is Caddyshack.

That’s not a criticism; I think Murray rocks and every “character” he takes on is made 1000 times more interesting because he puts so much of himself into it.

Adam Sandler. (I love him anyway.)

I think he was Harry Tasker in True Lies.
And in Twins, he was Julius something, right?

Dayum! That is hard!