"He always plays himself."
January 10, 2008 11:02 PM   Subscribe

What are some examples of actors "playing themselves" (not someone purposefully featured as themselves, but someone whose personality is so powerful that it overwhelms the character he/she is supposed to be playing)? For instance, some people say that no matter what movie he's in, Jack Nicholson always plays "Jack Nicholson." Other people say the same for Robert DeNiro or Clint Eastwood. I'm looking for some actors and roles that are the embodiment of this notion.
posted by amyms to Media & Arts (116 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Jackie Chan is pretty much himself in every movie. His character is named "Jackie" in many of his movies, even. I guess that goes for a lot of action stars, though.
posted by ignignokt at 11:05 PM on January 10, 2008

I always thought Meg Ryan was like this.
posted by travis08 at 11:07 PM on January 10, 2008

Christopher Fucking Walken, and I mean that in the best way possible.
posted by secret about box at 11:08 PM on January 10, 2008

A similar notion to this is an actor who has been typecast. I can't help but see George Castanza any time I see Jason Alexander. He could be giving an academy award performance as a psychopathic murderer, and I would still see George Castanza murdering someone.
posted by travis08 at 11:13 PM on January 10, 2008

Adam Sandler and anyone who has ever appeared in a movie with him?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:14 PM on January 10, 2008

To clarify the Meg Ryan comment. With her I don't think it is an issue of her powerful personality, more her lack of range and choice of roles. Just don't want any future viewers of this thread to get the impression I am a Meg Ryan fan.
posted by travis08 at 11:17 PM on January 10, 2008

You might google "actors who cannot act."

Al Pacino will pop up, as will Bill Murray (even though I like some films Bill's in). Susan Sarandon too.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:19 PM on January 10, 2008

Sean Connery.
posted by genghis at 11:20 PM on January 10, 2008

Ah-nold? That's really more the accent than the personality though.

For me, the more famous an actor gets - either through a large body of work or just in a TMZ/Entertainment Tonight way - the less able they are to suspend my belief in films. For example, Julia Roberts is ALWAYS Julia Roberts to me, whoever she plays.

Also, anyone with a discernible schtick. Adam Sandler, as mentioned above. And definitely Robin Williams.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:21 PM on January 10, 2008

Ben Stiller?
posted by creasy boy at 11:23 PM on January 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. I'm also looking for examples of specific roles where you, as the viewer, thought "That's not (character name), that's (actor name)!" (i.e. one of the complaints about Jack Nicholson as "The Joker" in Batman was that he wasn't playing The Joker, he was only playing Jack Nicholson)...

Not to pile on Jack Nicholson, because I love him in most of his movies, but he was the foremost example of this phenomenon that I could think of.
posted by amyms at 11:25 PM on January 10, 2008

Tony Danza pretty much played the same character on every TV tt0112009/">show he was a regular on, and they were all named Tony, too.
posted by dersins at 11:27 PM on January 10, 2008

The new movie the Bucket List appears (at least from the trailers) to feature... Jack Nicholson playing Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman playing Morgan Freeman!
posted by MadamM at 11:27 PM on January 10, 2008

John Wayne.
posted by essexjan at 11:27 PM on January 10, 2008

Oh, for fuck's sake. Every TV Show. I suck at the internet.

And, on preview, you can't see any of those shows without thinking "Hey! Tgat's not Tony Banta/ Micelli/ Canetti! That's Tony Danza!"
posted by dersins at 11:30 PM on January 10, 2008

For me, "Ethan Hunt" was the main character in Mission Impossible 1 and 2. Then the crazy scientology/couch jumping/katie holmes-impregnating thing happened, and I saw Tom Cruise instead of Ethan Hunt in MI3. Kinda ruined the movie for me.
posted by cebailey at 11:30 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Don Knotts was pretty reliable. Also, I think Christopher Walken deserves some recognition.
posted by headlessagnew at 11:59 PM on January 10, 2008

There was a time when every Will Smith character was basically Will Smith. However, I think he's actually gotten better and graduated from this. But go watch the Bad Boys movies. (or have someone describe them to you, so you only vomit a little.)
posted by Doctor Suarez at 12:00 AM on January 11, 2008

I don't entirely agree, but I've heard several people express the opinion that Edward Norton is always Edward Norton, in every film he's in.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 12:03 AM on January 11, 2008

Even though he's only primarily acted in one show, several people have been quoted as saying Larry David, from Curb Your Enthusiasm, is pretty much Larry David.

I'd also say Whoopi Goldberg.
posted by wackybrit at 12:05 AM on January 11, 2008

If you watch some of the behind the scenes videos and other interviews, Ricky Gervais basically is David Brent in the British version of the Office.
posted by ecab at 12:10 AM on January 11, 2008

One of the things I love about Woody Allen is that he's a great example of what you're talking about.
posted by bunglin jones at 12:10 AM on January 11, 2008

One of the things I despise about Tom Cruise is that he's a great example of what you're talking about.
posted by bonobo at 12:15 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

William Shatner! Luckily, that's exactly what's needed for his character on Boston Legal, so it works. Must have been the easiest casting ever.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:18 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nicolas Cage.
posted by (alice) at 12:24 AM on January 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Vince fucking Vaughn. No one I know seems to understand why this bothers me.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 12:35 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Will smith/tom cruise/nic cage.

essentially actors who want to be associated with a manly role.
posted by filmgeek at 12:40 AM on January 11, 2008

Lindsey Lohan in Georgia Rule. I have no idea what her character's name was...she's just Lindsey Lohan in a small town, doing things that Lindsey Lohan would do.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:40 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

And in older films, all those players who had a schtick upon which they and the audience could rely: The Marx Brothers, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Bob Hope. I'm sure there are more.
posted by bunglin jones at 12:43 AM on January 11, 2008

john malkovich seemed pretty much like himself in being john malkovich, but i have to caveat that i've never actually met john malkovich.
posted by bruce at 12:44 AM on January 11, 2008

George Formby
posted by biffa at 12:45 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Every major Bollywood actor ever.
posted by divabat at 1:09 AM on January 11, 2008

I'm sure Chris Tucker draws upon his years and years of being an obnoxious loud mouth to portray one perfectly in every one of his movies.
posted by sambosambo at 1:18 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Well, I guess he's more of the epitome than the embodiment, so my bad.
posted by sambosambo at 1:20 AM on January 11, 2008

George Clooney is the first that springs to my mind and I'd have to put another vote in for Nicolas Cage.
posted by CaveFrog at 1:41 AM on January 11, 2008

I'd add John Cusack to the list.
posted by elendil71 at 1:42 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

... and actually his sister, Joan Cusack too, which is kinda weird.
posted by elendil71 at 1:44 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I alwas say, "...starring Hugh Grant in the Hugh Grant role." Do I even need to describe it. Even when someone cheaper does that role, I say "...with Joe Smith in the Hugh Grant role."
posted by planetkyoto at 1:52 AM on January 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by fire&wings at 1:54 AM on January 11, 2008

Keanu Reeves
(My theory on why The Matrix movies worked is because Neo is chronically confused, not unlike Ted Theodore Logan)
posted by clh at 2:04 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Bela Lugosi always seemed to be Bela Lugosi in pretty much every film he was ever in, most probably due to his thick accent and physical mannerisms. Oscar Levant did a really good impression of himself in every film he ever appeared in, as did W. C. Fields. Couldn't really say about any contemporary actors, since I don't watch too many contemporary films.
posted by motown missile at 2:05 AM on January 11, 2008

Jennifer Aniston, even with that stupid fake Texas accent in The Good Girl.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:17 AM on January 11, 2008

A great example from a movie I saw just this week: Sam Elliott. The Stranger from The Big Lebowski, Virgil Earp, Lee Scoresby... They're all him. Or at least, they're him in my mind. He might be completely different in real life. But since he gets cast as the same cowboy every time, in my mind that's just how he is.
posted by web-goddess at 3:55 AM on January 11, 2008

I always felt Robin Williams plays Robin Williams in most of his movies - certainly the comedies. One Hour Photo is probably the exception that proves the rule.
posted by Jimbob at 3:59 AM on January 11, 2008

My wife suggests Hugh Grant. I can see where she's coming from.
posted by Jimbob at 4:05 AM on January 11, 2008

Definitely Ricky Gervais. He plays one role, and that is an utter cock David Brent. Damn near ruined Stardust for me.
posted by corvine at 4:10 AM on January 11, 2008

R. Lee Emery. He's a marine drill sargeant who plays a marine drill sargeant in the movies.
posted by MCTDavid at 4:24 AM on January 11, 2008

Fred Dalton Thompson.
posted by oaf at 4:25 AM on January 11, 2008

You might find this article about "big acting" helpful. Here in the UK someone like Brian Blessed comes to mind, not as a great actor but as someone "larger than life" who can't ever do anything but play himself.
posted by hatmandu at 4:30 AM on January 11, 2008

Fourthing Tom Cruise.

"I like Tom Cruise movies. Especially the one where he plays the cocky young guy." -- The Amazing Jonathan
posted by futility closet at 4:51 AM on January 11, 2008

At the risk of being flamed horribly, but I sort of have the same feeling watching Humphrey Bogart movies.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:56 AM on January 11, 2008

Every actor ever except Meryl Streep. Only the truly brilliant have real talent. It makes sense --- musicians play in one style (excluding Miles Davis), artists have one style (excluding Picasso), etc.
posted by about_time at 4:57 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

R. Lee Emery was a drill sergeant, he's not acting.
posted by about_time at 4:58 AM on January 11, 2008

Oopps, read your post too fast, MCTDavid.
posted by about_time at 4:59 AM on January 11, 2008

When I saw Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks in "Chaplin," he became my second example (after Nicholson) of an actor who pretty much plays himself.
posted by kimota at 5:03 AM on January 11, 2008

Oh, and would Christian Slater count?
posted by kimota at 5:04 AM on January 11, 2008

Vince fucking Vaughn. No one I know seems to understand why this bothers me.

I am right there with you. Same shtick every movie. He shouldn't even show up to act, they can just digitally insert his performance from his last movie into his next one.
posted by ND¢ at 5:07 AM on January 11, 2008

denzel w, julia roberts, brad pitt, bruce willis, tommy lee jones, hallie berry... good question. these are the people who might as well just phone it in.
posted by eedele at 5:24 AM on January 11, 2008

Joe Pesci!
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:48 AM on January 11, 2008

elendil71, I agree—and I'm a huge John Cusack fan, too. He just always seems to be playing this charming/smart/sensitive/goofy/eccentric boy character, who simply switches hats from movie to movie. Watch enough of his movies and you'll see what feels like the evolution of John Cusack the boy to John Cusack the man happening, rather than a guy taking on a series of different characters. Watch Grosse Pointe Blank, Say Anything and High Fidelity back-to-back and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Thing is, he's such a private person in real life that it's tough to know whether that's "him" or not. And since he's been acting in major films since he was young, you kind of do see his personal evolution reflected in his movies. Can he act? Absolutely. But some actors "own" their characters more than others; you always see their spin on the character.

Thankfully, the "type" Cusack plays is oh-so-my-type. So he's got me hooked.

For the record, Leonardo DiCaprio has struck me the same way.
posted by limeonaire at 6:03 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can't believe nobody has said Michael Douglas.

Michael Douglas.
posted by bondcliff at 6:09 AM on January 11, 2008

Kevin Costner.
posted by candyland at 6:11 AM on January 11, 2008

Gregory Peck. Even when his character in prison, he's wearing perfectly tailored clothes and being...Gregory Peck. /not Peckist
posted by desuetude at 6:13 AM on January 11, 2008

Al Pacino is the epitome of this. It doesn't even matter if he's the good guy or the bad guy. It's all the same.
posted by pallak7 at 6:17 AM on January 11, 2008

Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler. Same character in nearly every movie they make.
posted by aerotive at 6:18 AM on January 11, 2008

Agreeing with Jennifer Aniston.

I would also say Reese Witherspoon, though I haven't seen some of her stuff, like Rendition. She just always seems to be the same high-strung, Type A, prissy character in each film. And what do you know, that's what they say about her in real life too. Despite this, I am a fan of hers anyway. Weird.

Maybe even Diane Keaton. Every film of hers I see it's just the same person (in the same turtlenecks!) over and over.
posted by ml98tu at 6:19 AM on January 11, 2008

Sandra Bullock. Cameron Diaz. Harrison Ford. Most of the A-list actually. There aren't many actors who really disappear into a part, and they tend not to be become ultra-famous because of that very lack of recognition on the part of the audience. I saw Frances McDormand, Toni Collette and Aaron Eckhart in many a movie before I really "noticed" them, looked them up on IMDB, and then was stunned to see how many movies of theirs I'd seen.
posted by orange swan at 6:20 AM on January 11, 2008

I'm with Henry C. Mabuse on this.

It would be an easier question to ask which Hollywood actors DON'T "play themselves" (to the extent that their public personae are also often artificial). We want our celebrities to remain as much of their public personae as possible under all circumstances.

This then extends to the "George Costanza" effect travis08 mentions -- if a celebrity becomes too closely identified with a role, we then DEMAND that the celebrity play that role over and over, often subsuming the actor's own public persona. That's why the "smart" actors establish their personae as strongly as possible and avoid defining roles that would typecast them outside of that persona.
posted by briank at 6:28 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

When an actor doesn't make strong character choices it doesn't mean they're not acting. Character work is only one of an actor's tools. In terms of stars, character work can even be a detriment -- I cracked up when I saw Julia Roberts in the trailer for Tom Hanks's War. Most audience members want to see the people they've come to see.
posted by skryche at 6:32 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Daniel Day Lewis- I must also point out that I see this quality in a positive light. From reading the other threads some folks feel that it is a trait of lousy acting. For me, I am attracted to the reliable depth the actor is able to put into a character time and time again.
posted by bkeene12 at 6:33 AM on January 11, 2008

I have mixed feelings on Christopher Walken. He's an amazing actor; in Suicide Kings he spent the entire movie tied to a chair and acted circles around everyone else in the film. In the last few years however, it feels as though if you were to look at the scripts from the films he's been in, his parts would read "Christopher Walken happens". This sort of thing normally would annoy me, but unlike say, Will Ferrell or Vince Vaughn, it kills every time.

A lot of the people that people have been mentioned thus far feels a bit more like confirmation bias. There's the problem of typecasting, plus I think you reach a level of fame where your image becomes too ingraned in the public consciousness. This happens with TV stars all the time. Someone upthread mentioned Jason Alexander, and how he's always George Costanza. Jason Alexander is an accomplished broadway player, that's not him doing that, it's you.

I think it's less actors "playing themselves" as a lack of talent, in many cases, it's more playing to strengths. Sam Elliot tends towards playing cowboys because he's a damn excellent cowboy. I'm sure if I worked at it, I could be a chef or follow my passions and become a professional screenprinter, but right now they're paying me a decent salary to work in IT.

Henry C. Mabuse upthread summed it up pretty well with "Everybody in Hollywood." The only actor I can think of that can completely disappear into a role almost to the point of being unrecognizable is Gary Oldman.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:36 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh! I have another one! Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen! Basically, their entire career was based on playing themselves and then they got all upset when people didn't take them seriously as individuals and individual actresses. If you check out the IMBD links, they even played people named Mary Kate and Ashley. Mary Kate is on Weeds these days and I would be interested to hear how viewers perceive her...if they can see beyond "oh, it's Mary Kate Olsen."
posted by ml98tu at 6:38 AM on January 11, 2008

Katharine Hepburn. I love her, but it's really really hard (for me) to watch one of her movies and NOT remember I'm watching "KATHARINE HEPBURN"!!!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:40 AM on January 11, 2008

Jeff Goldblum. He's been a quirky, eccentric intelligent scientist/engineer in all the movies I can remember him in.
posted by Avenger at 7:14 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wonder how you expect people to judge this. We don't know these people; any person we present as meeting your criteria may be like the person they've chosen to present to the public, or they may be (as Steve Martin describes in his autobiography) nothing like that at all in real life. I don't mean to criticize--I'm just very interested in film and acting, and this is an issue I've never come off the fence about. You can kind of guess, but then you're still just guessing.

To clarify the Meg Ryan comment. With her I don't think it is an issue of her powerful personality, more her lack of range and choice of roles.

She has range.

I think choice of roles is the key there. I just read this week that Chris Tucker didn't make a movie for six years in between the last two Rush Hours. He also got paid $25,000,000 and 20% of the back end gross to appear in that last one. From what he's said, his attitude could be summed up as 'why bother acting all the time, when I can work this rarely and rake in so much cash'? Why not indeed. Not to infer that I think Ryan is slacking--women have considerably fewer good roles to choose from, and everyone's opinion of a good role will differ, and that's fine.

Similarly, Adam Sandler, who keeps getting slagged off here, was amazing in Punch Drunk Love. Cameron Diaz was perfect in Being John Malkovich. Ben Stiller deserved big fat awards for Permanent Midnight. Why haven't they done more serious work? I have no idea. The Extras series finale made me think a lot about this stuff...


Oh, seriously now.

bruce willis

What do you expect an actor to do, grow wings? Have you seen all those? Willis has outstanding range. He may not appear in hard-hitting Oscar-baiting dramas all the time, but he's still incredibly talented, by any criteria you choose.
posted by zebra3 at 7:15 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Jack Black.

As for the "everyone in Hollywood" sentiment, I wouldn't say Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron play themselves. As for Leonardo DiCaprio, he learnt how to act sometime around "Catch me if you can".
posted by ersatz at 7:38 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've gotta agree with zebra3 here. Adam Sandler completely wowed me in Punch Drunk Love, and Cameron Diaz disappeared in Being John Malkovich. And really, a lot of these folks have put in some amazing performances over the years -- which were all the more amazing because they had to battle against such a huge wall in terms of pushing past people's ingrained expectations. As zebra3 says, a lot of this isn't them, it's us. They're so overexposed that all we see when we look at them is That Celebrity Face.

Is it that their personality takes over and they don't act anymore? Or is it that we see them in everything they do?

Al Pacino does legitimately use the exact same tics, expressions, and patterns in just about every part he plays these days -- I definitely blame him more than his fame. As a contrast, as mentioned above, Gary Oldman is friggin' chameleon, and astounds me all the time.

There's also a strange grey area where you're constantly aware of the actor as the icon you're familiar with, and yet he or she is convincing and engaging in the role anyway. You're caught between belief and disbelief the whole time. James Spader reminds me of this -- I never forget I'm watching James Spader, and he plays The James Spader role in everything, BUT he's also perfect for those roles and embodies them entirely convincingly. I feel like Kevin Spacey hits this from another angle -- he doesn't play The Kevin Spacey role, but you never forget you're watching Kevin Spacey. On the other hand, his performances are excellent, and there's a reason we all know who he is.

I think there's a lot of conflation in this thread between "I can't see anything but this actor" and "this actor won't let me see anything but him/her-self" -- it's a hard line to pin down, and I wonder about this myself all the time.
posted by tigerbelly at 7:53 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Peter O'Toole in "My Favorite Year".
posted by Sk4n at 8:33 AM on January 11, 2008

Sunset with Burce Willis and James Garner is to me a good out of character moive. Also see Mariel Hemingway.

"And it's all true. Give or take a lie or two."
posted by bjgeiger at 8:33 AM on January 11, 2008

Tom Hanks. Loveable nice guy.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:39 AM on January 11, 2008

There are actors and there are movie stars. The ones who "play themselves" are movie stars. I disagree with Robert DeNiro and Daniel Day-Lewis. R. Lee Emery showed some range in Mississippi Burning and Fletch Lives. Al Pacino used to be an actor, but since around Scent of a Woman he's been in "The Hoo-ah Period" where he substitutes bellowing for acting.

Robin Williams used to be this way for me. Then he turned in performances in The Final Cut, What Dreams May Come, and One-Hour Photo that very much got him out of that category in my book.

His acting was good in his first movie, The World According to Garp, and Awakenings. He also had a strong acting cameo in Dead Again.

Tony Danza pretty much played the same character on every show he was a regular on, and they were all named Tony, too.

He was the inspiration for my Danza Threory, which stipulates that some actors are so stupid they can't play a role unless the character has the same name as they do. (Kind of like when Homer Simpson went into witness protection). Then I saw Oliver Platt playing character named Oliver on The West Wing and modified the theory to account for actors that are so egotistical that their characters have to have the same names they do.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:44 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dennis Hopper, for example in The American Friend.
posted by charlesv at 8:49 AM on January 11, 2008

If you were English I'd say Sid James....but you're not!
posted by kenchie at 8:50 AM on January 11, 2008

Who says Michael Cera doesn't have range? Here he is playing Alexander Hamilton.
posted by futility closet at 8:59 AM on January 11, 2008

Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch. Minor actor, but there was no way he acted a single scene, more just talked as himself.
posted by CAnneDC at 9:02 AM on January 11, 2008

I'll flip the question around and name some actors that I find have excellent range and can play very different characters convincingly:

Leonardo DiCaprio - I really, really, want to hate this guy, but damn it he can act! See his characters in Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, Blood Diamond and even The Aviator.

Johnny Depp - I mean really, has anyone else recently played so many different kinds of roles so-damned well?

Russel Crowe - yes he's a big prick IRL, but he is an excellent actor.

Cate Blanchett - from Elizabeth to Galadriel to Bob Dylan? seriously, wtf...

Now here are some actors that you'd think have NO range but then surprise you with a knock-out performance:

Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love
Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich
Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting
Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas
Sylvester Stallone in Rocky and Cop Land
Keanu Reeves in My Own Private Idaho

And here is my list of actors who always seem to be the same role:

Hugh Grant
John Cusack
Julia Roberts
Richard Gere
Vince Vaughn
Jennifer Anniston
Jeff Goldblum
...the list could go on and on and on
posted by Vindaloo at 9:11 AM on January 11, 2008

Has anyone mentioned Brad Pitt yet? I don't feel there's much 'range' there.
posted by ob at 9:14 AM on January 11, 2008

I cannot believe no one's said Samuel L Jackson.
posted by djgh at 9:19 AM on January 11, 2008

Harrison Ford has three expressions:
Wry crooked smile. Bewildered crooked smile. Enraged crooked smile.
In. Every. Movie. Oh--did anyone mention Nicolas Cage or Tom Hanks or Kevin Costner or Nicolas Cage or Kevin Spacey or Michael Douglas or Tom Cruise or Nicolas Cage or Hugh Grant or Samuel L. Jackson or Nicolas Cage?

It would be simpler and more interesting to reverse the question. Last night I saw Javier Bardem playing a doting seventy-five year-old man in Love in the Time of Cholera. This couldn't be the same 38 year-old Spanish rugby player who portrays the creepy villain in No Country for Old Men. I can see why the Coen brothers chose him.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:24 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Daniel Day Lewis? He's more famous for the opposite. A Room with a View, My Beautiful Laundrette, Unbearable Lightness of Being, and My Left Foot come to mind as roles played within a few years that couldn't be much more different.
posted by desuetude at 9:29 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Owen Wilson, though I find him very likeable anyway, is the same likeable guy in every movie. I normally don't get into the whole celebrity gossip thing, but when he recently tried to commit suicide I was floored, because after having seen so many of his movies, you feel he is this mellow dude, very comfortable in his own skin.

Jeff Goldblum. He's been a quirky, eccentric intelligent scientist/engineer in all the movies I can remember him in.

I used to feel the same about Jeff Goldblum until I saw him live in The Pillowman (spooky!) on Broadway.

Oh, and absolutely Samuel Jackson and James Spader!
posted by misha at 9:32 AM on January 11, 2008

And I do not like Al Pacino at all, because I feel like he is always the same yelling, annoyed guy, but my parents tell me, "See Serpico." So, if anyone has seen it, maybe they will disagree.
posted by misha at 9:33 AM on January 11, 2008

I think with the names most often thrown out there, they all use "signature" acting styles in most roles, but all but a few of them have their exception roles that don't really get cited as such, either because the movie wasn't so memorable, or just for convenience sake. What about Robin Williams in "Insomnia" or Hanks in "Road to Perdition"? And you have guys like Pacino or DeNiro who have (deliberately?) become caricatures of themselves in recent films, which just reinforces their image. Walken might be another.

But that said, Harrison Ford does seem to be a prime example, not so much in his heyday, but from the mid-80s on, where he became more of the no-nonsense, ass-kicking father-saves-his-family type. Hopefully we'll get some more personality from him again this summer.

I love Kevin Spacey, but he does often have that "cold, hyperintelligent" line reading. I'm guessing he's played some wacky characters out there, but I dunno what off-hand.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:45 AM on January 11, 2008

I cannot believe no one's said Samuel L Jackson.

Guess it must be because we all saw Unbreakable.
posted by vorfeed at 10:08 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Who says Michael Cera doesn't have range? Here he is playing Alexander Hamilton.
I just saw that video and I have to say, it seems like he's playing Michael Cera in that video too. That said, I love him so I don't care.
posted by peacheater at 10:15 AM on January 11, 2008

Billy Crystal, although calling him an actor is like calling a bookmark literature.
posted by baphomet at 10:20 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Pacino was brilliant in Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. Right around Scent of A Woman is where I think he stopped trying.
posted by emelenjr at 10:29 AM on January 11, 2008

There is a whole lot of wrongth in this thread. Seriously, Daniel Day Lewis? Are you kidding?
posted by ludwig_van at 10:38 AM on January 11, 2008

Cary Grant is pretty much the same sort of sauve guy in all of his movies, as far as I can tell.
posted by jquinby at 11:24 AM on January 11, 2008

I just thought of some more actors I hate!

Rob Schneider, Gilbert Gottfried, Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, Brittany Murphy, Eddie Griffin, Norm MacDonald, Seth Green, Godzilla, Chris Kattan, and that stupid Geico Gecko.
posted by sambosambo at 11:25 AM on January 11, 2008

Also, re: John Cusack, this Washington Post article about the "Lloyd Dobler effect" states that Cusack only agreed to play the role "if he could fuse his own sensibility onto Lloyd." I've read elsewhere that Cusack insisted on making Dobler his own—and on making music by the Clash and other personal favorites integral to the action taking place on-screen.
posted by limeonaire at 11:27 AM on January 11, 2008

Hugh Grant was my first thought. Tom Cruise the second.
posted by happyturtle at 11:32 AM on January 11, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the great answers, everyone. And to those who gave counter-examples, too. You've given me a lot of interesting things to think about during my movie-watching.
posted by amyms at 11:32 AM on January 11, 2008

I agree with the statements that that is true of basically any movie star ever.
posted by SoftRain at 11:36 AM on January 11, 2008

Harrison Ford has three expressions:

He also does the same bit of business any time his character is injured: he makes his fingers crooked like they've been broken. This made sense in Blade Runner when his character's fingers had been broken, but he does it for different injuries, too.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:48 AM on January 11, 2008

Billy Crystal, although calling him an actor is like calling a bookmark literature.

That was hilarious even though I loved Mr. Saturday Night (which, to be fair, also required zero acting ability).
posted by Deathalicious at 1:02 PM on January 11, 2008

Jeff Goldblum. He's been a quirky, eccentric intelligent scientist/engineer in all the movies I can remember him in.

He did some wacky comedies that broke the mold early: Beyond Therapy, Earth Girls Are Easy, The Tall Guy, Transylvania 6-5000, and *cough* Vibes to name a few. He also dabbled in horror and played against type in Mister Frost and Hideaway. I think he makes a pretty creepy bad guy.

If you really want to see him not do his typical thing, watch Deep Cover. It's a vastly underseen 90's dramatic thriller written by Michael Tolkin in which Goldblum plays an attorney/dealer trying to climb the synthetic drug dealing ladder alongside Laurence Fishburne. Fishburne narrates, and he and Goldblum show their stuff in this like nowhere else. I implore anyone who likes cop movies and hasn't seen it to go do so immediately.

He also played a mobster in Mad Dog Time (AKA Trigger Happy), this bizarre gangland comedy written and directed by Joey Bishop's son, which is all about a mafia conflict and is simultaneously a metaphor for Paradise Lost. Goldblum's performance is the most subdued you'll ever see, and the cast is phenomenal.

Re the James Spader accusations, I defy anyone who has seen him in sex, lies, and videotape, 2 Days in the Valley, Mannequin (yes, I said Mannequin), The Music of Chance, Bad Influence, and Secretary to truthfully state that the guy doesn't have range and talent.
posted by zebra3 at 1:11 PM on January 11, 2008

I cannot believe no one's said Samuel L Jackson.

Seriously. This was especially noticeable in The Assault at West Point. It was set in, like, 1880 and everyone else speaks as if they are from that time (including Sam Waterson as a lawyer) but Samuel Jackson sounds like he stepped out of the 90s and put on a funny suit.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:41 PM on January 11, 2008

Marlon Brandon is the all time one-trick pony. I have never understood why he was respected as an actor.
posted by RussHy at 2:00 PM on January 11, 2008

A streetcar named desire, Apocalypse now, Last tango in Paris.
posted by ersatz at 2:21 PM on January 11, 2008

it seems that every movie star with a body of work get boxed in and recognized. Howza bout going in the other direction?

I 3rd that Daniel Day lewis is the exact opposite of what the question was looking for. I can't for the life of me think of a cliche "Daniel Day Lewis" type of role.
Johnny Depp also anti-typecast.
Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep,Michael Caine?
posted by stavx at 6:15 PM on January 11, 2008

I meant Marlon Brando, sorry. Yes, I know he did different roles, but he sounds the same every time. Gene Hackman, Paul Newman, Johnny Depp, Albert Finney: these guys are different people every time I see them.
posted by RussHy at 7:21 AM on January 12, 2008

I'd also add Philip Seymour Hoffman as a good counter-example.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:10 AM on January 12, 2008

Being an acting student (mostly stage, granted), my film prof is constantly telling us to play things "as we would do them". The thing is, when a camera is on you, and so close to you, you have to be really, really amazing to have it not see you "faking it". So often, the real challenge is to find the character in yourself. I personally, having spent most of my acting life on stage, where you can afford to be a bit "bigger" and can get away with playing a "character", find "playing myself" really really challenging.
posted by stray at 9:45 AM on January 12, 2008

John Malkovich! With few exceptions (e.g. Of Mice and Men, Making Mr. Right, in part), he plays the same alphamale oozing contempt a la his Vicomte in Dangerous Liaisons, whether as a killer (e.g. In the Line of Fire, ConAir), a muskateer (Man in the Iron Mask) or a gay new yorker in a comedy (Queen's Logic).

But man! He's a pleasure to watch. (At least until he went public with his fantasy of killing Robert Fisk.)

De Niro is like Pacino and Nicholson: a good actor who quietly became a one-trick pony.

As for actors who disappear into their roles: Johnny Depp and Gary Oldman as others have pointed out, but also Benicio Del Toro, who like Depp and Oldman, physically alters himself for a role. Compare Fenster from Usual Suspects, to Acosta in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, to Javier in Traffic, to the accused in the Pledge, to Jackie Boy in Sin City. Even when he looks the same and plays similar roles, he plays them wildly different (cf. The Funeral, Snatch, and Way of the Gun).

Okay, I'm a fan.
posted by Jezebella at 10:36 AM on January 12, 2008

In the October 22, 2007 issue of the New Yorker (p. 104), David Denby, wrote an article entitled Fallen Idols: Have the Stars Lost their Magic? The article is about how an actor playing themselves and being typecast can sometimes lead to a more powerful performance.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 11:32 AM on January 12, 2008

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