Actors playing as themselves: Treasured trope in films, TV shows


Hollywood astonishes audiences every day with the sense of realism it brings to the big screen, most noticeably when actors are cast to play themselves. 

Nicolas Cage has signed with Lionsgate to play the leading role of himself in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.”

The fictional motion picture is rumored to take a dramatic focus on the washed-up post stardom life of Cage, according to The Hollywood Reporter

Desperate to land a role in a new Quentin Tarantino film, the character is struggling with a mountain of debt, an estranged daughter and a constant inner voice from his ‘90s self who badgers him for making so many recent box office flops.

While this may be perceived as unique and surprising, it’s not the first time someone has played themselves in a film or television show. Many people probably remember “This Is the End,” which starred celebrated comedians Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Jay Baruchel and Michael Cera.

“This Is the End” features many A-list stars, all of whom play themselves. Celebrities such as Rihanna, Channing Tatum, Emma Watson and Paul Rudd make at least a cameo appearance in the apocalyptic film.

The film’s casting creates a realistic tone to play out through the film, making the movie-watching experience all the more enjoyable, largely comparable to Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich.”

With renowned co-stars such as John Cusack and Cameron Diaz, John Malkovich plays himself in this surrealistic drama. Cusack, who plays the part of Craig Schwartz, discovers a portal into the mind of legendary actor Malkovich.

The film centers around the schemes and mischief that stem from this amazing finding. The fantasy of discovering an impossible portal into someone’s mind is rather hard to believe. But the portrayal of a real-life person in this impractical plot creates a believable production.

The unrealistic plot widely corresponds to Joe Pytka’s “Space Jam.” NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan plays himself in this Looney Tunes adventure with co-star Bill Murray, who also plays himself. Jordan’s already renowned popularity simply ensured success in this animated classic.

Despite its uniqueness, for an actor to play themselves is a fairly common occurrence and an especially successful one.

HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” stars Larry David as himself revolving around his career, after the creation of “Seinfeld.” The show often welcomes celebrities to the show such as Michael J. Fox, Ben Stiller, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld and Shaquille O’Neal.

Similarly, SHOWTIME's critically acclaimed “Episodes” focuses on the career of Matt LeBlanc, also known as Joey Tribbiani from “Friends.” Due to the latter’s popularity and audiences’ love for Joey, LeBlanc and fellow cast members frequently reference the hit ‘90s show, allowing “Episodes” to invoke a realistic tone for its watchers.

Storytelling isn’t just a form of entertainment, it's a platform for education, culture and ethics. Exerting a sense of realism in film and television is important for audiences to believe what they’re seeing so they can maintain interest in the story being told.

While it’s often that an actor will play themselves in a leading role, the entertainment industry also frequently welcomes small roles and cameo appearances from all kinds of celebrities.

LeBron James plays a supporting role as a friend to Bill Hader’s character in “Trainwreck,” starring Amy Schumer. “Uncut Gems” casts Kevin Garnett as himself opposite Adam Sandler in the upcoming crime release. HBO’s “Entourage” constantly includes cameos with celebrities such as Eminem, Jessica Alba, Aaron Sorkin, Tom Brady and Mark Wahlberg.

From actors, singers and athletes to political leaders, Hollywood seemingly finds success in people playing themselves. Cage’s announced upcoming film, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” should be a shoo-in for success.


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