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18 Actors Who Gave Life To Their Characters Successfully

Some movie stars are so stunningly attractive or have such natural panache that they can get away with virtually portraying themselves on screen. However, for most thespians who have spent years training to play other people, it can be difficult to step into their own skin.

There have been occasions when performers representing fictionalized versions of themselves performed equally, as well as actors portraying fictitious versions of themselves. Vote for the actors that you think did the best job.

1. Bill Murray – Zombieland

Actors Who Gave Life To Their Characters Successfully, Bill Murray - ZombielandSource: Zombieland

Before, Bill Murray has played himself in films, including Jim Jarmusch’s 2003 anthology film Coffee & Cigarettes and Space Jam from 1996. Murray isn’t truly a zombie in the aforementioned undead spectacular, but he dresses up to seem like one in order to venture outside his home without being attacked by brain-eaters.

2. John Malkovich – Being John Malkovich

Source: ‘Being John Malkovich’

When your name appears not only on the poster but also in the film’s title, you’re carrying a lot of weight. As a result, John Malkovich deserves a lot of credit for his three Academy Awards. Even if John Malkovich did not receive a nomination, he was nominated for being John Malkovich. The 1999 fantasy/comedy film by Spike Jonze stars John Cusack as a man who discovers a magical passage into the title character’s mind.

3. Nicolas Cage – The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Source: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Over the span of Cage’s decades-long career, there have been various ages of the Oscar winner. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent arrived at a time when Cage’s standing was vacillating between reclamation and meme-ification, real affection for his work and satirical adoration.

The film perfectly captures that moment, and Cage, as usual, is up to the task. Playing a sarcastic but kinda-close-to-home version of himself, with occasional cameos by a younger (digitally de-aged) version who insists on his own (their own?) movie-star relevance, Cage-as-a-movie-star-as-a-movie-star-as-a-movie-star-as-a-movie-star-as-a-movie-star-as Cage is on the verge of being obsolete.

Cage is on the verge of calling it quits. But not before one more gig: a $1 million birthday party appearance for a wealthy eccentric (read: alleged international arms dealer) who happens to be a Nicolas Cage admirer. Superfan of Nicolas Cage who “has a museum of Nicolas Cage memorabilia in a secured vault on his own home.”

4. Neil Patrick Harris – Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

Source: Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle’

When he stole every scene in Harold & Kumar, the artist once known as Doogie Howser, M.D. officially discarded his geeky reputation. Pay a visit to White Castle. In Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, he then burnt it down.

Harris’s over-the-top craziness as “NPH,” the lunatic, boozing, drug-gobbling, lady-mongering version of himself, ensured his later hiring as Barney Stinson’s womanizing on How I Met Your Mother. “I don’t know, we may run out of drugs before we run out of sequels,” Harris said when asked whether the NPH character could grow much more debauched.

5. Carl Weathers – Arrested Development

Source: ‘Arrested Development’

Carl Weathers has re-entered the public awareness as Greef Karga in The Mandalorian series, following his appearances in the Rocky movies, Predator, and Happy Gilmore, which made him instantly recognized in three separate eras. But don’t forget that he appeared as a spoof version of himself in multiple seasons of the popular series Arrested Development.

He plays Tobias’ acting coach, but his most memorable teachings are about saving money, such as how to acquire free refills at fast food places and how to defraud airlines by exploiting loopholes. He quickly became a fan favorite, with the running humor about him being very inexpensive rating high in a program full of them.

6. Michael Cera/Emma Watson/Rihanna – This is the End

Source: Wings of Desire’

Seth Rogen’s debut film, the apocalyptic comedy This Is the End, was released in 2013, and he already had a roster of Hollywood buddies prepared to appear in the film as themselves. Michael Cera portrays a coked-up version of himself who enjoys hooking up in toilets and is tragically punctured by a falling light pole and his regular colleagues Jay Baruchel, James Franco, and Jonah Hill.

7. James Van Der Beek – Don’t Trust The B**** In Apartment 23

Source: ‘Don’t Trust The B**** In Apartment 23’

James Van Der Beek has a roughly equal number of television and film credits to his name, and he portrayed a fictionalized version of “The Beek” in the sitcom Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23, much as he did in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob films.

As a friend of the main character Chloe, his driving aim is to restore his failing acting career. While other more vulnerable performers could find this humiliating, Van Der Beek saw it as a learning opportunity: “I like the ego assassination that it entails. It’s simply so excellent for me and so healthy.”

8. Larry David In – Curb Your Enthusiasm

Actors Who Gave Life To Their Characters Successfully, Larry David In - Curb Your EnthusiasmSource: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Despite the fact that Larry David’s name appeared in the credits of every episode of Seinfeld, few people recognized how funny he was until he starred in his own comedy, Curb Your Enthusiasm. The show stars David and different guest celebrities as themselves, focusing on personality flaws and little annoyances, both genuine and imagined.

Curb, which premiered in 2000 and is still going strong, is a critical favorite who has gotten 47 Primetime Emmy Award nominations over its career.

9. Peter Falk – Wings of Desire

Source: Wings of Desire’

The late actor Peter Falk is most known for his role as a scruffy police investigator on Columbo, but he did a lot more in his career than bust criminals in a rumpled trench coat. He has appeared in a number of well-received films, including Wings of Desire, a classic German fantasy about a supernatural person falling in love with a trapeze performer (which was later adapted as City of Angels, starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan).

10. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night’ And ‘Help

Source: ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ And ‘Help

Despite their best attempts, none of the Beatles (with the exception of Ringo Starr’s stunning performance in Caveman) had much of an acting career. They were always at their finest when they were just being themselves, which is why A Hard Day’s Night and Help! are among their best pictures.

While the former is essentially a lengthy ad that gives viewers a glimpse into the band’s early careers and personalities, Help! is far stranger and might be the moment when the band strayed off the beaten path and into the realm of psychedelia.

11. Matt LeBlanc – Episodes

Actors Who Gave Life To Their Characters Successfully, Matt LeBlanc - EpisodesSource: Episodes

Matt LeBlanc will always be remembered as Joey Tribbiani, the dopey hottie from the hit 1990s sitcom Friends. But when he returned to television in 2011 for an award-winning British comedy series called Episodes, he made a lasting impression.

The plot revolves around LeBlanc playing a satirically charming but pompous version of himself in an American copy of a foreign comedy. Despite the fact that it is a show that is unfamiliar to most American fans, LeBlanc was awarded a Golden Globe for his work on Episodes. Which had to be satisfactory, given that his labor on Friends yielded him nothing. That is, until there is a horrible spinoff series.

12. Jean-Claude Van Damme – JCVD

Actors Who Gave Life To Their Characters Successfully, Matt LeBlanc - EpisodesSource: JCVD

Jean-Claude Van Damme has been paying his dues in the Hollywood tough guy fraternity since he punched and kicked his way into the spotlight in 1988’s Bloodsport (which came after he did stunt work in Predator, was a “spectator” in Breakin’, and played “Gay Karate Man” in some movie called Monaco Forever). He also acted in JCVD, a Belgian criminal drama in which he played a broken-down action movie star (he’s the Muscles from Brussels, remember?) in 2008. Instead of the shockingly limber, butt-kicking fantasy hero, we finally get to see a little of Van Damme the human person.

13. Kevin Garnett – Uncut Gems

Source: Uncut Gems’

Former NBA star Kevin Garnett played himself in Adam Sandler’s 2019 crime thriller Uncut Gems, proving that Shaquille O’Neal’s performance in Kazaam didn’t kill every basketball player’s shot at acting. The large power forward has a significant part as a younger, opal-obsessed Boston Celtic who becomes involved in some nefarious precious gem operations.

14. Paul Giamatti – Cold Souls

Source: Cold Souls

You probably have no idea who Paul Giamatti is in real life since he is so skilled at impersonating other people. This is explored in the comedy/drama Cold Souls, in which he depicts himself as an overworked actor who struggles to emotionally distance himself from the people he portrays once the production is completed.

He agrees to undergo a technique that allows him to store his soul on ice in order to deal with this problem. Complications inevitably arise.

15. Joaquin Phoenix – I’m Still Here

Source: I’m Still Here’

Many felt Joaquin Phoenix had lost his mind when he began appearing in public and on talk programs with a massive lumberjack beard, declaring a desire to shift his career path to rap. However, it came out that he was only partaking in some performance art follies in order to promote a movie role.

16. Steve Coogan And Rob Brydon- The Trip

Actors Who Gave Life To Their Characters Successfully, Steve Coogan And Rob Brydon- The TripSource: The Trip

Although they may be unfamiliar to American audiences, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have long been household names in the English comedy scene. While you may know them for their voice work and supporting roles, their faces and real-life personalities are on full display in The Trip, a British comedy in which the two play restaurant tour guides.

They were portraying caricatures of themselves, according to Coogan, which altered the show’s improvised aspect. To “give it a bit more edge,” they emphasized particular aspects of their personality. “Others of the chats with Rob are humorous, but some of them are quite unpleasant,” he added. They’re actual counter-arguments. It’s a unique situation.

17. Maggie Cheung – Irma Vep

Source: Irma Vep

Maggie Cheung is more well-known in Hong Kong than in the United States, since the former Miss Hong Kong runner-up rose to prominence after starring opposite Jackie Chan in the film Police Story. However, in 1996, she featured in French filmmaker Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire), in which she portrayed herself in a tumultuous remake of a silent horror film.

Cheung’s character is that of an outsider looking in, and the film is intended to be a critical look at the status of French cinema. Cheung, who wore a zippered catsuit the entire time, received terrific reviews owing to Assayas’ simple advice to “simply act herself.”

18. Al Pacino – Jack and Jill

Source: Jack and Jill

The Adam Sandler comedy Jack and Jill may be one of the worst films ever made, but it’s worth seeing just to witness Al Pacino acting like Al Pacino. He offers an over-the-top performance on par with the times he’s portrayed foul-mouthed real estate salesmen, cocaine kingpins, and/or Satan in a narrative that sees him fall bizarrely obsessed with Sandler’s identical twin sister.

When the funniest person onscreen isn’t a professional comedian, but the classically trained dramatic actor who played Michael Corleone in The Godfather trilogy, you know your movie has some issues.

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