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In this question it says Will Smith named his character because, if people were going to remember his character's name then it may as well be the same of his work...

Alfonso remarked that Will had to be careful in naming his character, as people would refer to him in public by that name for the rest of his life, and suggested that he name the character "Will Smith".

I thought that most shows created a character and then sought a cast who could play them. Is it common for cast members to name their own characters?

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    It seems to me that it is commonplace for stand-up comedians who get a TV show "based on their work" (at least first name, if not both)... I have no idea if this was the case for Smith with Fresh Prince, though. – Steve-O Jul 13 '18 at 13:21
  • This is too broad TBH. We can answer specifically regarding Fresh Prince but otherwise...nah! – Paulie_D Jul 13 '18 at 13:50
  • In some cases, the writer/director changes the character names to fit the actor. I can't for the life of me remember it, but one movie I've seen actually had every character's first name match the name of the actor playing them. That's either an amazing coincidence, or a script rewrite. – Johnny Bones Jul 13 '18 at 15:01
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    Alfonso.... Oh! You mean Carlton? – Lord Farquaad Jul 13 '18 at 15:38
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    @JohnnyBones Probably not the one you're remembering, but the supporting marine characters in Aliens shared first names (or at least first initials) with their actors. In dialogue they're all referred to by last name so it isn't obvious, but you can see several names in their helmet-cam displays: Al Matthews' character is "Apone A.", Mark Rolston is "Drake M.", Cynthia Scott is "Dietrich C.", etc. – Russell Borogove Jul 13 '18 at 19:05
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It is extremely rare for actors to get to name their characters. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is the exception. According to Wikipedia, NBC approached Will Smith, who was already a popular rapper. Since this would be a flagship project featuring him, he was involved in the development of the project - including selecting his character's name.

  • I wonder if he used another name during his rap career, if he would have asked to use that name, "Will Smith", or whatever the writers had in mind. Another note is Jazzy Jeff kept his name ("Jazz") in the show too. So, in a weird way, you could watch Fresh Prince as an autobiographical show about the rapper, Will Smith. ...just with little rapping actually in the show. – BruceWayne Jul 13 '18 at 15:47
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    (For interest) Here's a supplementary video from Will Smith himself giving more insight into the process of how he got the role on Fresh Prince: polygon.com/tv/2018/5/12/17347826/… – Bilkokuya Jul 13 '18 at 16:16
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    Note that @Bilkokuya brings into the question if "already popular rapper"; based on the story, he was a one-hit wonder rapper who was down on his luck and about to wash out and was offered the job at a party because someone was drunk and high on coke and thought the idea sounded fun and hip. No, seriously, watch that video. – Yakk Jul 13 '18 at 17:52
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    @Bilkokuya - That video is awesome. Thanks! – T.J. Crowder Jul 14 '18 at 12:21
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    I hesitate to put this as an answer as this is "Movies and TV", but it's incredibly common in old British Radio comedies. The main cast of Hancock's Half Hour all had the same character names as the actors that played them: Tony Hancock, Sid James, Bill Kerr, Moira Lister and Andrée Melly. The same is true of Much Binding in the Marsh. Kenneth Horne in Round the Horne, Number 1 and 2 from The Men From the Ministry had the same first names as their characters, Radio announcers also often appeared as themselves such as Douglas Smith in Round the Horne and Wallace Greenslade in The Goon show. – Crow T Robot Jul 14 '18 at 22:42
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It is uncommon, but not extremely rare as Brett says. A user on IMDB has even made a list of those kind of shows.

Usually the star is already pretty popular before the show begins production, and the showmakers use the name of the star to promote the show.

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    @DarrelHoffman That might also be more common than you'd think. Offhand I can think of the Dick Van Dyke show, the Mary Tyler Moore show, and the Andy Griffith show as a couple other examples (although the latter two share the first name between actor and character). – Carmeister Jul 14 '18 at 5:58
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    @Carmeister and Darrel - Four more examples for you: The Bob Newhart Show (Bob Newhart plays Robert Hartley), Newhart (Bob Newhart plays Dick Loudon), The John Larroquette Show (John Larroquette plays John Hemingway), Ellen (originally These Friends of Mine) (Ellen DeGeneres plays Ellen Morgan). Newhart, Larroquette, and DeGeneres were all well-known when those shows were created for (and/or by) them. – T.J. Crowder Jul 14 '18 at 12:00
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    Wouldn't count Ellen since her last name is not in the title, and the character is still named "Ellen". Newhart is the best example since the character and actor/title have nothing in common, unlike all the others where they share a first name. It does seem as though this style of naming shows has declined in popularity over time. – Darrel Hoffman Jul 14 '18 at 13:17
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    @DarrelHoffman Cosby's character on The Cosby Show was named Heathcliff ("Cliff"), not Bill so it's an even better example. – Jaquez Jul 14 '18 at 15:58
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    If the star is co-producer or executive consultant of the show, technically the decision is made by star-as-co-producer, not star-as-actor : ) So I'd say that "Actors don't make that calls, but people we know from acting often do more work on a movie than just act". – Agent_L Jul 14 '18 at 18:25

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