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In Oceans 13 - Julian Roberts plays a character doing an impression of Julia Roberts. There is a Nicolas Cage movie that seems to employ a similar narrative choice.

I'm trying to work out the word or phrase for this. "Breaking the fourth wall" comes to mind. It doesn't quite fit.

My question is: What is it called when an actor plays themselves in a movie?

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    There is a difference between playing a fictionalised version of yourself (Nicolas Cage is acting as a version of Nicolas Cage) and playing a character impersonating yourself (Julia Roberts is acting as Tess, who is impersonating Julia Roberts who also exists in the movie's universe).
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 12:39
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    Also perhaps a more subtle difference between an actor playing a fictionalised version of themselves (Nic Cage or John Malkovich), and an actor simply playing actually themselves (Trump in Home Alone 2); almost always a brief cameo.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:18
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    I don't think there is a term for it, other than "playing (a version of) themself".
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 20:13
  • A better example from Oceans 13 is Bruce Willis, who played a fictionalised version of himself in the same scene as already mentioned. Commented Feb 27, 2022 at 1:32
  • In Cannonball Run, Roger Moore plays Seymour Goldfarb who thinks he is Roger Moore (as James Bond, though I think that name is not mentioned). Likely there are other examples like that. Commented Mar 4, 2022 at 4:11

4 Answers 4

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I have most often heard/read this as "Spoof", as they are typically making fun of, on some level, themselves. Another great example is Last Action Hero (1993), where Arnold is clearly making fun of his own action films. In that film, Danny (the little boy) says that Jack Slater (Arnold)'s friend John Practice should not be trusted as he "killed Mozart" (since he is played by the same actor as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus). It also features Sylvester Stallone on a movie poster for Terminator 2, as well as a host of other "inside jokes".

The Oxford Dictionary defines Spoof as "a humorous imitation of something, typically a film or a particular genre of film, in which its characteristic features are exaggerated for comic effect." That pretty accurately describes the examples you gave, as well as the one I've pointed out.

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    Playing yourself isn't a spoof. You can play yourself without spoofing yourself. And you can be spoofed without playing yourself (which is the more common occurrence).
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 17:03
  • If you do it in an exaggerated manor, it's more than likely a spoof. I can't recall any time an actor played themselves in a manor without spoofing themselves, unless it was in a cameo role. Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 17:34
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    That just confirms that playing yourself and a spoof are different things.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Feb 27, 2022 at 12:08
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    The question presented is "What is it called when an actor plays themselves in a movie?"
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 14:00
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    You both made your interpretations of the question clear as well as how they disagree, I don't think this needs to be discussed further. Downvote the question if you think it's wrong. You've done your duty in explaining why you think it's wrong and so has the answerer in explaining why he doesn't.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 16:07
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It's called a cameo appearance, or just cameo nowadays.

The term originated in the 20's, when a "cameo role" meant a small character part that stands out from the other small parts. The dictionary definition is "a short literary sketch or portrait", based on the original meaning of the word cameo: a miniature carving on a gemstone.

Later in the 20th century the word was used to refer to any short appearance as a character.

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    I agree that such appearances may also be cameos - but for example the Nick Cage movie given - he is playing a fictionalized version of himself as the main role of the movie.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 12:06
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    Another example is John Malkovitch in Being John Malkovitch - much bigger than a simple cameo.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 12:40
  • @iandotkelly but then he's not really playing himself, and it's not a small part either...
    – Luciano
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 13:23
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    I agree - and a cameo is probably the 'purest' form of someone playing themselves but the question is wider.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 13:33
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    Another issue is not all cameos involve the actor playing themself. For example most of Stan Lee's cameos were as some anonymous civilian rather than "Comic Writer Stan Lee" (of course, he did do that role too at times). Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 14:21
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TVTropes calls it "As Himself" (though this of course can apply to male or female actors)

This trope is when a real-life celebrity or famous figure is playing a fictionalized version of themselves, as a main character or recurring character. This is mostly a television trope, but there are film examples.

This real celebrity is playing themselves, but they are inserted into fictional circumstances, play alongside clearly fictitious characters and sometimes have fictional backstories in relation to those fictional characters.

Indeed, in the Live-Action Film subpage of example of this trope lists this instance:

In Ocean's Twelve, Julia Roberts plays a character, Tess, who is persuaded to pose as Julia Roberts. This plan actually falls apart due to another surprise example: Bruce Willis spots Tess!Julia and eventually is able to figure out it's not Julia Roberts, foiling the Ocean crew's plan.

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I believe it's called 'Self-Credit'. For example:

Leonardo DiCaprio: Scorsese's Goodfellas (Video documentary short) -Self

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    This is a very brief answer. Can you explain more?
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 15:23
  • I'll furnish an example: Leonardo DiCaprio: Scorsese's Goodfellas (Video documentary short) -Self
    – Sumanta
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 11:28
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    While this may answer the question, a little explanation won't hurt.
    – A J
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 3:31

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