17 Actors Who Played Themselves in Movies

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Back in the day when I went to see The Hurt Locker, one of the previews I saw was for a strange movie called Cold Souls. It starred Paul Giamatti as…Paul Giamatti, and I wondered how much of his actual “self” was contained in that role. Was the movie written with Giamatti in mind? If so, how much of his performance is actually “acting?”

In any event, I started to think about movies in which actors appear as themselves. Sometimes it’s as a cameo, but other times, it’s as prominent as the lead character, like in Giamatti’s case. There’s definitely been some notable appearances over the years, so here you can take a look at 17 actors who played themselves in movies.*

*For the purposes of this list, I’m naming only actors, so celebrities like Bob Barker (in Happy Gilmore) don’t count.

Paul Giamatti in Cold Souls

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Cold Souls was written and directed by Sophie Barthes. If you’ve seen the very disturbing Happiness, that name should ring a bell. Anyhow, Cold Souls is the story of Paul Giamatti’s decision to deep freeze his soul. After a mixup of sorts, Giamatti sets out on a search to quite literally find his soul. Pretty clever, I’d say.

John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich

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In Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, a puppeteer stumbles upon a portal in an office building in New York City. The portal leads to the mind of John Malkovich, and whoever enters the portal can experience all the things that Malkovich is feeling. Malkovich is played by, of course, Malkovich, and one of the more memorable scenes is when Malkovich himself enters the portal. Malkovich!

Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD

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It’s interesting that it took Jean-Claude Van Damme playing himself to finally help one of his films receive critical praise. In JCVD, Van Damme is a struggling actor (which is putting it lightly), and he’s got major problems in his personal life, too. Instead of using karate, he only fantasizes about it, and Van Damme’s portrayal of himself seems to be what we’d expect. What a scumbag he was, though. Seriously – hooking up with teenagers while his wife was pregnant?

Bruce Willis in Ocean’s 12 and What Just Happened

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In the preposterous and forgettable Ocean’s 12, Willis foils Danny Ocean’s attempt to steal the Coronation Egg when he realizes that Tess (Julia Roberts) is not really Julia Roberts. It’s a brief cameo that I’m sure Soderbergh thought was quite clever. In What Just Happened, Willis poses as an obstacle to a producer trying to fix up a film called Fiercely, refusing to shave his thick beard and cursing out anyone who suggests he do so. And what a beard it was.

Sean Penn in What Just Happened

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Penn is the star of the fictional movie Fiercely, and his character (and his character’s dog) are shot dead at the end of the meta-movie. It’s this graphic violence that throws a big wrench into the planned release and final version of the movie. Penn’s ex-wife Robin Wright Penn is also in What Just Happened, but unlike her ex-husband, does not play herself.

Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold & Kumar Movies

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Sure, NPH was pretty good on “How I Met Your Mother,” but there’s no way he shed the “Doogie Howser” label and rejuvenated his career without playing a hard-partying, cocaine-snorting version of himself in the Harold & Kumar movies. Now, everyone knows exactly who “NPH” is.

Bruce Campbell in My Name is Bruce

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In My Name is Bruce, Bruce Campbell mistakenly believes that a demon called Guan-di is merely a guy in a rubber suit and part of an elaborate hoax concocted to make Bruce live up to his B-movie hero status. When it turns out that Guan-di is real, Bruce has to decide whether to take the easy way out and run, or to stand up and fight and become a hero in real life.

Ben Affleck & Matt Damon/Jason Biggs & James Van Der Beek in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

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Affleck and Damon aren’t in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back for more than a scene, but it’s a pretty funny one. They’re filming a sequel to Good Will Hunting, and Affleck is partiularly funny, partaking in a bit of self-deprecating humor. Every time I think that Affleck is a giant douche, he makes me laugh, and things like Daredevil and Armageddon are forgiven.

Biggs and Van Der Beek are also in a very small scene, but it’s also pretty funny. They’re set to play the characters Bluntman and Chronic, the movie Jay and Silent Bob are trying to stop. “You wouldn’t last a day on the creek.”

Billy Zane and David Bowie in Zoolander

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Zane and Bowie appear in back-to-back scenes in Zoolander: Zane, after being told to “put a cork in it” by Derek, announces that it is, indeed, a walk-off. The always awesome David Bowie volunteers to judge the walk-off. And don’t tell me Bowie wasn’t an actor – the dude was great in Labyrinth and tore it up as Tesla in The Prestige.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Action Hero

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It’s definitely not McTiernan’s best, and it’s far from Arnie’s best, but The Last Action Hero was doing this meta-crap way before almost everyone else. Jack Slater (played by Schwarzenegger) is a fictional movie character, similar to many of the characters Schwarzenegger has played. Through the use of a magic ticket, Slater comes into the real world and quickly learns that all the things he could do in his world don’t really work. At one point, Slater must attend the movie premiere of Jack Slater IV to prevent Arnold Schwarzenegger from being killed and thus preserving his own existence.

Steve Carrell in Knocked Up

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It’s a brief cameo, but Carrell appears as himself on the red carpet and gives a brief interview to Alison Scott. He refuses to say some stupid “E!” slogan, though, to which I say good for him.

Robert Englund in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

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In New Nightmare, Freddy Krueger invades our world and terrorizes the actors and crew who helped make the Nightmare on Elm Street films. Englund reprises his role as the iconic killer, but as this movie is set in the “real” world, he also plays himself, the actor who played Freddy Krueger.

Chuck Norris in Dodgeball

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Chuck Norris.  That is all.

Are there any instances of actors playing themselves in movies that I may have missed? There’s gotta be a couple; let me know in the comments section!

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