Created By: Quatic on August 13, 2012 Last Edited By: alnair20aug93 on August 2, 2016

Starring A Star As A Star

A famous actor plays a fictional famous actor (usually of a somewhat different genre)

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Trope
A Cast the Expert subtrope of Meta Casting, this is where a famous actor — the kind of person the average person would recognize on the street — is cast to play the part of a fictional similarly famous actor (or a fictionalized version of an historically famous actor), i.e. an actor that the average person in the fictional universe of the story would recognize on the street.

The fictional actor is probably somewhat different in both personal characteristics and acting predilections from the real-life actor playing the part. And so, the actor playing the part really has to carry a doubled acting load, playing the fictional actor engaging in the factional actor's 'off-screen' behavior, and portraying the fictional actor's 'acting.'

There are a couple of things going on in these roles. Firstly, it's easy to buy the idea that the character is a famous actor because we look at the screen and see, hey, famous actor (though it'd be interesting to catalogue examples of relatively unknown actors playing the role of a famous actor). Secondly, there's always great opportunity for some wry Actor Allusion to the actual career of the portrayer. Thirdly, the roles themselves are usually trope storms, either of the actors falling into out-of-bounds wackiness detached from the reality of normal people, or the counter-trope of actors being normal people trying to live normal lives amidst the glare of fame and unusual work pressures.

Some disconcertment may arise when a famous actor plays a famous actor alongside another famous actor playing an average person — for example, in The Hard Way Michael J. Fox is paired up with James Woods, with Fox playing a famous actor and Woods playing the typical rogue action cop. In Notting Hill, Julia Roberts plays a star who trysts with an average bookseller — played by Hugh Grant.

Where the star played by the star is the star himself (albeit a comically overplayed version of themself), then you have Adam Westing.


Examples:

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     Film — Fictional 
  • My Favorite Year — the legendary Peter O'Toole plays fictional legendary early era action hero Alan Swann (though Swann is more of an actioner, and more than a bit of a lush)
  • Notting Hill — megastar Julia Roberts plays fictional megastar Anna Scott (though Scott is more of a corset-wearing period-piece type actress)
  • Tropic Thunder — movie stars Jack Black, Ben Stiller, and Robert Downey, Jr. play fictional movie stars Jeff Portnoy, Tugg Speedman, and Kirk Lazarus (with Portnoy as more of a wacky fart-joke comedy guy, Speedman as a monosyllabic actioner, and Lazarus as an Oscar-obsessed intensive method actor)
  • The Artist — Jean Dujardin, best known for spy parody films, plays silent film star George Valentin
  • The Hard Way — comedy actor Michael J. Fox plays famous action movie star Nick Lang
  • Go West Young Man — saucy movie star Mae West plays saucy movie star Mavis Arden
  • In & Out — big star Matt Dillon plays actor Cameron Drake, who kicks off the story by winning an Oscar for his role as a homosexual soldier, and declaring his inspiration to be his regular-guy drama teacher (played by Kevin Kline), who Drake announces is gay; Dillon himself has never won an Oscar, but got his first nom a few years later
  • Bowfinger — occasional action star (and comedy superstar) Eddie Murphy plays action superstar Kit Ramsey, who happens to hew to a Scientology-like religion
  • Get Shorty — instantly recognizable star Danny De Vito plays Oscar-winning superstar Martin Weir (a step up from De Vito's actual, if not ignominious, career)
  • íThree Amigos! — comedy stars Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Chevy Chase play silent film western stars Lucky Day, Ned Nederlander, and Dusty Bottoms
  • California Suite — Dame Maggie Smith, who had previously won an Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, plays Diana Barrie, an actress who has been nominated for an Oscar; ironically, Dame Smith won her second Oscar for this performance
  • Inside Daisy Clover — 1960s child movie star Natalie Wood plays 1930s teen movie star Daisy Clover
  • In Spiderman II — movie star Kirsten Dunst plays Mary Jane Watson as a rising Broadway star (in the comics, Mary Jane is a soap star for a time, so this character development was probably on the producers' minds when she was cast in the first film)
  • In Sunset Boulevard — silent film era star Gloria Swanson plays all-but-forgotten silent film ere star Norma Desmond (and silent film actor and director Erich von Stroheim plays Desmond's butler Max, also her former silent film director).
  • In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? — famed actress Blanche Hudson was played by famed actress Joan Crawford (in the 1962 adaptation) and famed actress Vanessa Redgrave (in the 1991 adaptation); her fictional sister, famed (and then forgotten) vaudeville star Baby Jane Hudson was played by famed-and-never-forgotten Bette Davis in the original, and by real-life sister Lynn Redgrave in the remake.
  • In Forgetting Sarah Marshall — the eponymous title character is a famous for being an actress in weekly tv crime drama, played by Kirsten Bell, who became famous for being an actress in the weekly tv crime drama Veronica Mars (which has it's own in-house example, see below).
  • In Lost in Translation — aging American movie star Bob Harris us played by aging American movie star Bill Murray.
  • In Galaxy Quest — former episodic TV star Tim Allen plays former episodic TV star Jason Nesmith (though Allen was a sitcom star and Nesmith was a sci-fi series star).
  • In No Strings Attached — former sit-com star Alvin Franklin is played by movie (and occasional TV) star Kevin Kline.
  • In Blazing Saddles, Broadway musical star Madeline Kahn plays the famous stage performer Lili von Shtupp, aka the "Teutonic Titwillow."
  • In the movie version of Bewitched big star Will Ferrell stars as (washed-up, but still famous) movie star Jack Wyatt, who is looking to revitalize his career, which is why he's starring as Darrin in a revival of Bewitched. Highley lauded actress Shirley MacLaine also plays Iris Smythson, one of the world's greatest actresses of all time, who is also co-starring in the new series as the new Endora.
  • In Birdman, famous actor Michael Keaton (well-known for having twice played Batman in the 90s) portrays Riggan Thomson, a famous actor well-known for having twice played in-universe superhero Birdman).
  • S1m0ne — Director Victor Taransky, played by Al Pacino, after falling out with famous actress Nicola Anders (played by Winona Ryder), finds and casts a Virtual Celebrity named "Simone".

     Film — Biographical 

     Live Action TV 
  • Entourage — B-list actor Adrian Grenier plays sometimes A-lister Vincent Chase (and, to a lesser extent, B-list actor Kevin Dillon plays C-list actor Johnny "Drama" Chase)
  • Veronica Mars — once hugely famous star Harry Hamlin plays hugely famous movie star Aaron Echolls
  • In the Friends two-parter The One with Monica and Chandler's Wedding, lauded character actor Gary Oldman plays lauded character actor Richard Crosby (and teaches Joey Tribiani to increase his dramatic range by spitting while speaking)
  • 30 Rock — the stars of the show-within-the-show, TGS with Tracy Jordan, SNL alum Tracy Morgan plays Tracy Jordan, while Jane Krakowski plays Jenna Maroney; both characters are somewhat detached from reality due to their stardom
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show — TV star Carl Reiner, well known from his appearances in variety shows, plays well known variety show host Alan Brady
  • Gilligan's Island — knockout movie star Tina Louise played knockout movie star Ginger Grant; although ultimately four actresses played Ginger — a different one in the pilot (for which the character was not identified as a movie star), Louise throughout the series, and two others in later made-for-TV-movies, only Louise was already a genuine movie star when she took the part — and is generally regarded by fans as the real Ginger
  • In Californication — movie star Rob Lowe plays Eddie Nero, a deviant Brad Pitt expy.
  • Star Trek — longtime Broadway character actor Arnold Moss played Shakespearean troupe-leader Anton Karidian (who is in fact the disguised genocidal Governor Kodos of Tarsus IV).
  • In the Babylon 5 episode Day of the Dead, celebrity magicians Penn & Teller guest star as "Rebo and Zooty", who are basically expys of themselves. (Also, Harlan Ellison provided the "voice" for Zooty.)
  • Hot In Cleveland invoked this in their promos for the series when it premiered; Wendie Malick certainly isn't a big A-lister or anything, but in promos, she acted like one, because the character she played was an egotistical and diva-ish former television star (much like Malick herself, and pretty much all of the castmembers of this show).
  • In Extras, all the celebrity guest stars in play fictionalised versions of themselves, while sitcom star Ricky Gervais plays a fictional character, Andy Millman, who becomes famous as the star of the Show Within a Show When The Whistle Blows.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, famous sitcom star Bob Newhart guests as Arthur Jeffries, Ph.D. (aka Professor Proton), a famous former host of a children's science show.
  • In an episode of McCloud "McCloud Meets Dracula" John Carradine, an actor with a long history of appearing in horror films, plays Loren Belasco, an actor with a long history of appearing in horror films who has become convinced he's Dracula.

     Western Animation 
  • In an episode of The Simpsons Dennis Weaver, star of the tv series McCloud, plays washed up has-been western film star Buck McCoy.

Community Feedback Replies: 53
  • August 14, 2012
    wotnoplot
    It could be that the casters just want an actor to play the part (surprise, surprise) and the name is just a place holder which becomes the name the famous actor is called in the work of fiction.
  • August 14, 2012
    abk0100
    I'd make this this doesn't overlap too much with Adam Westing.
  • August 14, 2012
    Quatic
    @wotnoplot Well naturally actors are needed to play the parts, but one could as easily cast a relative unknown; a star is cast as a star for having the look of a star.

    @abk0100 yes, Adam Westing is intentionally and self-referentially overplaying the actor's own perceived characteristics. Here the fact of the fictional character being a star and the fact of the actor being a star are essentially coincidental -- except, naturally, that it is generally necessary to hire an existing star to star in a starring role.
  • August 14, 2012
    jbrecken
    Comedy actor Michael J. Fox played famous action movie star Nick Lang in the action comedy "The Hard Way."
  • August 14, 2012
    LittleLizard
    Some of the poker buddies of Richard Castle in... [[tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Castle Castle]] are writers, both, in the series and real life.
  • August 14, 2012
    Quatic
    @Little Lizard This might well fall into a supertrope of casting real life persons of a profession to act as fictional characters of that profession. Casting Gag, perhaps?
  • August 14, 2012
    captainsandwich
    the character Penny from the live action show Big Bang Theory is an actor. however In Verse, she is more of a Starving Artist than famous.
  • August 14, 2012
    Quatic
    @captainsandwich The trope as I'm seeing it wouldn't apply to Penny (or similar struggling actor characters like Joey Tribbiani in Friends, Bobby Wheeler on Taxi, or Fay Wray's actress character from King Kong) -- in fact I think that's an entirely different trope, related to the Starving Artist but with its own set of quirks, such as the artist struggling to achieve fame while facing the inevitable rejections and bad reviews. Even Jay Baruchel's character in Tropic Thunder (the character name was Kevin Sandusky) wouldn't count for this trope -- perhaps I need to rename it Stars Starring As Stars?
  • August 14, 2012
    ccoa
    Not sure, but:

    In Veronica Mars, hugely famous movie star Aaron Echolls is played by Harry Hamlin, famous movie star from the 90s. However, Hamlin was a fading TV and Direct-to-video actor at the time of the series.
  • August 15, 2012
    chicagomel
    Do musicians count?
  • August 16, 2012
    Quatic
    @chicagomel There might well be a supertrope noting that it takes famous to play famous, but there's a more precise idea here that not only does it take a famous person to sell 'famous,' it takes a really good actor to act like a really good actor.
  • September 7, 2012
    robinjohnson
    The play Present Laughter by Noel Coward is about a fictitious dressing-gown-wearing playwright growing tired of being so awesome and popular, played by Noel Coward in the original run.
  • September 7, 2012
    MorganWick
    Is this anything?
  • September 7, 2012
    polarbear2217
    Sunset Boulevard had Gloria Swanson playing Norma Desmond
  • September 7, 2012
    chicagomel
    Re the musician thing, ah. I was thinking of Angela's dad in Bones.
  • September 7, 2012
    TrollBrutal
    In Californication Rob Lowe plays Eddie Nero, a deviant Brad Pit expy.
  • July 15, 2013
    Prfnoff
    The problem with this trope is that "the kind of person the average person would recognize on the street" is rather subjective. Moreover, "star" protagonists have Star Making Role potential, Funny Girl being a prime example, though one more Bio Pic than this trope.
  • July 15, 2013
    Quatic
    Here's the thing. Consider the In & Out example -- Cameron Drake is a comparatively small part in the film, and a relative unknown could have been cast for that role -- but the part is of an actor who wins an Oscar in the first five minutes. So, really, for believability's sake, you've essentially got to have a real A-lister. Enter Matt Dillon.

    There is, as well, a bit of playing with the fame, where for example comic actors like Ben Stiller and Michael J. Fox are cast as action hero actors.
  • July 15, 2013
    XFllo
    This seems tropeworthy, though it's a mix of Trivia and In Universe stuff. Peculiar.
  • July 16, 2013
    TonyG
    I suggest the title Star Playing Star, which I think is clearer.
  • July 16, 2013
    JohnnyCache
    On the Babylon 5 episode Day of the Dead, Penn And Teller guest star as "Rebo and Zooty", who are basically expys of themselves. Also, Harlan Ellison provided the "voice" for Zooty.
  • July 16, 2013
    Quatic
  • July 17, 2013
    grapesandmilk
  • April 6, 2016
    69BookWorM69
    John Barrymore played the part of Larry Renault, a washed-up alcoholic silent movie star, in the 1933 film Dinner At Eight. If memory serves, Barrymore (like his brother and sister) was famous on the Broadway stage before making silent movies, being known as "The Great Profile".

    I also think there's something tropeworthy here; the creators are trading on the real life fame, using the audience recognition of the performer to an advantage as well as opening up the possibility of in-universe commentary on acting, fame, and particular human foibles.
  • July 17, 2013
    Quatic
    An interesting side effect of this trope is that it might not invoke the Celebrity Paradox (or might even play with it). Consider, for example, Entourage, where Vincent and Johnny Chase hang interact with other celebrities all the time. It is entirely conceivable that they could run into Adrian Grenier and Kevin Dillon, who would just happen to be actors to whom they bear a striking physical resemblance (although the specific TV show, Entourage, could not exist in that world, and presumably Grenier has simply been out of work).
  • July 17, 2013
    Duncan
    This would be a subtrope of Meta Casting.
  • July 17, 2013
    69BookWorM69
    ^ Definitely! Can't imagine how we missed this until now.
  • August 5, 2013
    jayoungr
    Does this cover biopics, where a (current) movie star plays a specific real (past) celebrity? Or is that a different trope?
  • August 5, 2013
    Larkmarn
    I don't... get this trope. This seems to boil down to "Actor is played by actor" seems a bit chairs-y, since ALL parts are played by actors. Working in "Actor is played by famous actor" is a bit better, if a bit subjective, except for the fact that when it's a leading role, of course the character will be played by a famous actor.

    And a good portion of these seem to just be Casting Gag.
  • August 5, 2013
    Quatic
    Actually, it's more like: "Famous actor is played by famous actor" -- don't take it for granted that a character given a leading role in a work will be a famous actor. Despite her "famous" father, Miley Cyrus was a relative unknown when she was cast to play famous pop star Hannah Montana. There it worked in reverse; it was the role which made her a famous pop star.

    And as to the Casting Gag aspect, in some cases perhaps, especially where an actor is cast against type (Ben Stiller and Michael J. Fox as action stars; Danny De Vito as a serious Oscar contender); but Peter O'Toole as Alan Swann and Julia Roberts as Anna Scott seems to me to be exercising in needing that level of instantly recognizable stardom to pull of a character written with that level of instantly recognizable stardom. Most of these aren't really casting gags as that trope is written, as that one implies that the current casting calls back to some previous role or real life incident, not the fame of the actor.
  • August 5, 2013
    69BookWorM69
    ^ Quite so. I think my John Barrymore Dinner at Eight example works the same way. Admittedly, this is a bit harder to do in a more fragmented media environment than it was decades ago (when most people watched a handful of television channels, and the vertically-integrated studio-owned movie theatres before that).
  • August 6, 2013
    Larkmarn
    "Famous" is going to be... tough to pin down. I mean, you've got Entourage in there and calling Vincent's actor a B-lister before the show is quite generous.

    If this does go through, I think it would technically be a subtrope of Cast The Expert.
  • August 6, 2013
    Quatic
    It is that, but at the same time it's almost a converse case of casting the expert; it is casting somebody as to whom the audience is already 'the expert.'
  • Live Action TV
    • Hot In Cleveland invoked this in their promos for the series when it premiered; Wendie Malick certainly isn't a big A-lister or anything, but in promos, she acted like one, because the character she played was an egotistical and diva-ish former television star (much like Malick herself, and pretty much all of the castmembers of this show).
  • June 12, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Correction: In Gilligan's Island the character Ginger Grant wasn't in the pilot. There were two secretaries without any particular characterization; after the pilot they were changed to Ginger (movie star) and Mary Anne (farmgirl).
  • June 12, 2014
    DAN004
    Title makes me lol.
  • June 12, 2014
    AP
  • June 12, 2014
    JonnyB
    An upcoming biopic about George Romero, Dad of the Dead, will star iconic horror actor Robert Englund in the title role.
  • June 13, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    so, if Paris Hilton were to play a "famous restaurant heiress" that would count?
  • June 13, 2014
    robinjohnson
  • June 13, 2014
    Snicka
    Do Biopic examples count which are about actual famous actors played by a different famous actor in the movie? E.g. Martin Landau playing Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood? Or is this trope only about fictional famous actors played by actual famous actors? In the latter case the Dad of the Dead example doesn't count either.
  • June 13, 2014
    Quatic
    @Shanghai Slave It's not just famous person playing other famous person, it's famous actor playing a different famous actor. Thus the actor playing the part must be famous and yet still convincingly portray a completely different actor (and perhaps, a completely different type of actor).

    @robinjohnson Adam Westing is to a degree a subtrope or sister trope to this; Ricky Gervais character there might be more apropos because he becomes the character becomes a famous sitcom actor.

    @Snicka, fictionalized versions of other famous actors would definitely count — the key is that the actor playing a star of Bela Lugosi caliber must themselves be a star of Martin Landau caliber. (An unknown playing Lugosi, or Landau playing a struggling/unknown actor, would not count.)
  • June 13, 2014
    Snicka
    ^ In that case, may I suggest a Soft Split? There's a little difference between a famous actor playing a fictionalized version of another actual famous actor, and a famous actor playing a completely fictional famous actor.

  • Film
    • Bewitched stars Will Ferrell as washed-up movie star Jack Wyatt, who is looking to revitalize his career, which is why he's starring as Darrin in a revival of Bewitched. Shirley MacLaine also plays Iris Smythson, one of the world's greatest actresses of all time, who is also co-starring in the new series as Endora.
  • March 29, 2015
    DAN004
    Bump.
  • March 30, 2015
    randomsurfer
    • In an episode of The Simpsons Dennis Weaver, star of the tv series Mc Cloud, plays washed up has-been western film star Buck McCoy.
    • In an episode of Mc Cloud "McCloud Meets Dracula" John Carradine, an actor with a long history of appearing in horror films, plays Loren Belasco, an actor with a long history of appearing in horror films who has become convinced he's Dracula.

    In Sunset Boulevard in addition to Swanson-as-Desmond, silent film director Erich Von Stroheim plays Desmond's butler Max, who was also her former silent film director.
  • April 3, 2016
    Snicka
    Another biographical example:
  • April 3, 2016
    Snicka
    And another (although I'm not so sure about this one, as James Franco was fairly unknown when playing this role and became a star later):
  • April 3, 2016
    BrokenEye
    So if the actor is playing a fictional actor who's basically a expy of the real actor (i.e. Adam West as Simon Trent in Batman The Animated Series) is that this trope, or is it Adam Westing?
  • April 6, 2016
    69BookWorM69
    ^ Good question. I'm also not too sure where the line is to be drawn either. Take the Dinner At Eight example: Larry Renault the character was a big star in silent films whose career declined after the advent of sound, and he is an alcoholic. The actor John Barrymore was also an alcoholic, but his stage experience and his excellent voice meant he transitioned to "talkies" quite easily. Oh, and the whole film has an All Star Cast anyway.
  • April 30, 2016
    Quatic
    I would answer it thusly. Tropes can overlap. If Adam West is playing himself, but focusing on something other than his being an actor and acting and being famous for acting, then it's Adam Westing without necessarily invoking this. If Adam West is playing Adam West, the actor, with the focus on his being an Adam West-like actor in a TV series, that would be this trope.
  • July 19, 2016
    alnair20aug93
    Corrected Formatting and Namespace, just to know. Also,

  • July 26, 2016
    69BookWorM69
    Bump
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