For example, in The Office, at first look there are six characters who maintain the same first name as their real life actor, with five of them being major characters:

  • Angela, Phyllis, Creed, Oscar, Clark and Hide.

Other examples include Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men, and Woody Harrelson from Cheers.

As far as movies go though, although there are cases where the character will have the same name as the actor, most often the actor will actually play themselves (ex. John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich), and so, I consider this to be a different situation altogether.

So, again, my question: Why are TV show characters more frequently permitted to use their real life name, but not so much in movies?

  • 1
    This is really too broad.
    – Paulie_D
    Jan 9, 2018 at 15:41
  • There are some films (movies) that do this too, such as Charlie Chapman playing "Charlie" characters in many of his films. Marx Brother films, the leads in Blair Witch film are all named after the people playing the characters. But the reason I think this trope occurs, does have to do with fame status, which then TV is one way to boost a lesser known actors/actress status. So I agree with Nuclear Wang's answer. Jan 9, 2018 at 15:42
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  • Worth noting that the office may have been a bit of a special circumstance. Many of the characters were also involved in the show in other ways (a lot of writer/actors). Phyllis was actually just a casting assistant; but they had her reading during auditions and ended up liking her. Creed Bratton took his full name (and makes a lot of jokes involving his name). For that particular show, it just seemed like a writing choice to maintain the real names of a large number of characters.
    – JMac
    Jan 9, 2018 at 15:51
  • The Office is largely ad-libbed. It's much easier to just use one name and let the actors call each other by their names, it takes out a step in the process that the brain has to go through to convert actor name to character name. Things flow more natural. You also see this on a lot of bad movies with bad actors, presumably for a similar reason. Jan 10, 2018 at 15:44

2 Answers 2


This might have something to do with the fact that movie actors are generally more famous than TV actors. In the example of The Office, I didn't know the characters shared their actors' names until several seasons in. If I saw Titanic and the main character's name was Leo, I would have noticed that immediately and might find it distracting.

On top of that, TV shows usually run for several years with the same actors, meaning name-sharing in general can happen less frequently. The Office ran for 9 seasons, during which time most of the actors didn't have many other major roles. A Hollywood actor can put out several movies a year, and it would again be distracting if different main characters in unrelated movies played by the same actor had the same name!

  • To help support your answer, there is The Danza Trope, that basically confirms what you are saying about "fame" statis. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheDanza Jan 9, 2018 at 15:38
  • There is also the idea that with TV seasons you get to know your coworkers a lot better and are more likely to accidentally call them by their real name during filming.
    – rtaft
    Jan 9, 2018 at 19:21
  • The Office also has the special case where it's meant to be a faux documentary, so creating a strong separation from who the actors are and who the characters are is not as necessary. Two And A Half Men and Cheers, like The Office, are also comedies, so the four wall separation is a bit less important. Jan 9, 2018 at 20:43

It often happens with actors who are primarily comedians. In this case their character tends to be closely based on their stage persona and so it's not quite the same thing as an actor playing a role which is over as soon as that production ends.

In drama an actor is trying to convince they audience that they are a particular character, in situation comedies the lead is often selling the audience on their own personality and style.

This format is also a product of translating stand up comedians to TV. Stand up comedy is very time and effort intensive to write and rehearse and so is difficult to write enough material for a TV series and it tends to work better live anyway. The sitcom format pads the material out a bit while maintaining the comedians basic style.

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