Created By: MasoTey on September 27, 2009
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Playing Oneself In A True Story

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When someone plays himself in a Docudrama, Biopic, or other dramatization of a true story.

This is not a celebrity or public figure appearing "as himself" in an entirely fictional work. (Right now examples of that seem to be going under Character as Himself.) This is when events are being re-enacted by the person who enacted them in the first place.

Compare Real Person Cameo. Contrast Character as Himself, in which a fictional character is given a real-world screen credit.

Examples:

  • Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back.
  • Various cops, bank employees and bystanders in The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.
  • Frank Wills, the security guard, in All the President's Men.
  • The film Alice's Restaurant recounts a true but comically exaggerated Thanksgiving adventure. Arlo Guthrie played himself and Stockbridge police chief William Obanhein ("Officer Obie") played himself in the film version, explaining to Newsweek magazine that making himself look like a fool was preferable to having somebody else make him look like a fool. Singer Pete Seeger also played himself.
  • Rudy Reyes plays himself in Generation Kill, purportedly because no one was hot enough to play him (if the Even the Guys Want Him page is to be believed).
  • United 93: several of those involved in the events surrounding the hijacking played themselves, most notably Ben Sliney.
  • Muhammad Ali starred in The Greatest, a biopic about himself.
  • Fantasia Barrino played herself in the Made-for-TV Movie Life Is Not a Fairytale, based on her memoir.
  • Jerry Lawler, David Letterman, and most of the cast of Taxi played themselves in Man On The Moon (a Biopic of Andy Kaufman).
  • In American Splendor, Harvey Pekar plays today's Harvey Pekar.
  • Howard Stern played himself in the film version of Private Parts.
  • And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself is in fact about a film being made about the Mexican revolutionary who sold the rights to film one of his battles which resulted in The Life Of General Villa which did indeed star Pancho Villa as himself.
  • The Iranian film Close-Up has this for essentially all of the people who were involved.
  • Dee Snider had a particularly shameless film called Warning: Parental Advisory, a made-for-TV movie about how he stuck it to the PMRC.

Rolling Updates.
Community Feedback Replies: 30
  • September 16, 2009
    Fanra
    In the film Alice's Restaurant, the movie recounts a true but comically exaggerated Thanksgiving adventure. Arlo Guthrie played himself and Stockbridge police chief William Obanhein ("Officer Obie") played himself in the film version, explaining to Newsweek magazine that making himself look like a fool was preferable to having somebody else make him look like a fool. Singer Pete Seeger also played himself.
  • September 16, 2009
    sessile
    • Rudy Reyes plays himself in Generation Kill, purportedly because no one was hot enough to play him (if the Even The Guys Want Him page is to be believed).
    • United93: several of those involved in the events surrounding the hijacking played themselves, most notably Ben Sliney.
  • September 16, 2009
    DracMonster
    Starring As Himself is a possible title, since it'll usually be introduced as "Starring Tropey McTroper as himself."

    This is Character As Himself when it's not Based On A Great Big Lie
  • September 16, 2009
    random surfer
    Muhammad Ali starred in a biopic about himself.
  • September 16, 2009
    melloncollie
    Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold And Kumar movies.
  • September 16, 2009
    MasoTey
    @Drac Monster: I'm provisionally changing the title to Starring As Himself — but I'm not really sure about it.

    For one thing, I fear it will be too easily confused with Character As Himself (which is already a pretty confused page, with fictional-character-as-himself and celebrity-as-fictionalized-version-of-himself examples lumped together); it would be better to have the true-story aspect in the title, if that could be accomplished gracefully.

    Also, the word "starring" is a bit ambiguous, and could be interpreted as referring only to major parts, which isn't necessarily the case with this trope.

    Edited later: Changing the name back, because Starring As Himself does seem to be resulting in confusion.
  • September 16, 2009
    MasoTey
    Sudden flash of idea: How would Reprising Reality work as a title?
  • September 16, 2009
    Andyzero
    Red Dwarf had some Time Travel in the episode "Timeslides" using old clips of Adolf Hitler. The special guest star opening credits was "Adolph Hitler as himself" set to a Laugh Track.
  • September 19, 2009
    sessile
    Neil Patrick Harris doesn't quite fit under this trope, as he's playing a fictionalized version of himself in the Harold And Kumar movies. (Unless he's suddenly straight and that instance of doing blow off a hooker's ass while standing through a moon roof didn't happen to make it to the news.)
  • September 19, 2009
    dilbert719
  • September 19, 2009
    MasoTey
    Autobiographical Film (or Autobiopic, which I was tickled to discover is already an established term) would be a useful redirect, but I'm concerned that, since it refers to the work as a whole, having it as the main title would discourage examples that are not leading roles.

    What does everyone else think?
  • September 19, 2009
    random surfer
    Jerry Lawler, David Letterman, and most of the cast of Taxi played themselves in Man On The Moon (a Biopic of Andy Kaufman).
  • September 19, 2009
    castaghast
    In the film In The Mood about a boy who has affairs with two much older women back when it wasn't cool to do that sort of thing (at least publicly), Ellsworth Wisecarver, the boy who had the affairs with the women in 1944, plays in his own movie as a man who accuses the boy of being a communist during a TV interview.
  • September 19, 2009
    MasoTey
    @castaghast: I'm tweaking the description to include instances like this (playing a character other than oneself in a movie about oneself) as a subtype. Personally, I think that's a distinct trope (more closely allied to Remake Cameo than to this) that should have its own page someday, but for now the examples do need somewhere to go.
  • September 19, 2009
    Prfnoff
    That part already has a trope: Real Person Cameo.
  • September 19, 2009
    MasoTey
    Ah! Thanks.
  • September 19, 2009
    animeg3282
    In American Splendor, Harvey Pekar plays today's Harvey Pekar.
  • September 20, 2009
    MasoTey
    Another thought, title-wise: Would Real Person As Himself work? It seems like a good parallel to Character As Himself (and Celebrity As Himself, if we can work out a split). "Real person" is a slippery term, of course, but Real Person Cameo uses it in the same way and seems clear enough.
  • September 20, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Howard Stern played himself in the film version of Private Parts.
  • September 20, 2009
    MasoTey
    We really need to get a title on this. Anyone who has an opinion, please vote!
  • September 20, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    A "Cameo" is just a bit-part, and would exclude someone playing a bigger role. Likewise, Real Person As Himself doesn't is usually done in fiction. How about True Story Featuring Person As Himself ?
  • September 21, 2009
    Triterope
    I think there are three factors that make this trope separate from any others we have currently:

    1. The role is relevant to the story; Real Person Cameo is just that, a cameo.

    2. The role is played straight; someone playing a parody version of himself is Adam Westing. (The Neal Patrick Harris example would go there.)

    3. The events in the story must have taken place in the actor's own life. William Shatner playing himself as the dodgeball chancellor in Dodgeball would not qualify, since he has never actually been a dodgeball chancellor. But Lance Armstrong's role in that movie would qualify, because he spoke of his experience competing in the Tour de France and overcoming adversity.

    As a title I suggest Autobiographical Role. It allows for a role to be autobiographical without the entire production being so (as Maso Tey said). Man In The Moon and Private Parts had many Autobiographical Roles, but most of the roles were played by actors, so Autobiographical Film wouldn't really be accurate.

    Also, the title Autobiographical Role allows for such a role to exist in a story that is greatly exaggerated or completely fictional. In the Alice's Restaurant example, the story is exaggerated, but the character isn't -- he's playing himself straight, giving his reactions to all the strange things that happen in the story.

    In the latter case, there are many examples of sports stars playing themselves straight in fictional stories, like Brett Favre in Something About Mary or Lance Armstrong in Dodgeball or Joe Namath in The Brady Bunch. I'll leave it up for discussion, but I think "person playing himself straight in fictional story" should qualify for this trope.

    Contrast Character As Himself, in which a fictional character is given a real-world screen credit.
  • September 21, 2009
    SomeSortOfTroper

    And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself is in fact about a film being made about the Mexican revolutionary who sold the rights to film one of his battles which resulted in The Life Of General Villa which did indeed star Pancho Villa as himself.
  • September 21, 2009
    Idler 2.0
    The Iranian film Close-Up has this for essentially all of the people who were involved.
  • September 21, 2009
    Gerkuman
    A vote for Reprising Reality. This trope is distinct enough to count as it's own.
  • September 21, 2009
    MasoTey
    @Triterope: Agreeing with Autobiographical Role, for the reasons you stated.

    However, I don't agree that "person playing himself straight in fictional story" should qualify.

    I see this trope as having to do specifically with attempts to radically re-create reality, to the extent of softening barriers between the original event and the staged re-creation. The person is, in a way, secondary — the focus is on the idea that "this really happened," and including the real person is a technique to emphasize the reality of the event. This doesn't apply when, although the person is real, the event is not.

    Put another way, it's a question of universes. The universe of a strictly fact-based film is, by definition, closely connected to Real Life, and the participation of the true story's original players — whether as writers, consultants, or performers — is used to make that connection stronger. So when a person re-enacts for the camera events he really participated in, the person in Real Life and the character in the film have essentially the same relationship to those events in their respective universes.

    But when a person plays himself (however accurately and unexaggeratedly) in the midst of fictional events, this does not happen. The way he relates to events in the fictional universe may be true to his personality and to the behavioral precedents he has set in the real world, but it does not portray the way he actually related to any specific real event. Instead of showing the way he did react to something that happened — a recreation of reality — it shows the way he would react to something that hasn't happened — an alternate reality.

    ETA: I'm not greatly familiar with many of the examples, so I'd appreciate any comments on whether or not specific examples in the top post fit.
  • September 22, 2009
    Medinoc
    What do we link Audie Murphy to? His wikipedia article or this?
  • September 22, 2009
    MasoTey
    That. If people want the Wikipedia article, they know how to find it.
  • September 22, 2009
    Medinoc
    I vote for Autobiographical Role, by the way.
  • September 22, 2009
    FalconPain
    Dee Snider had a particularly shameless film called Warning: Parental Advisory, a made-for-TV movie about how he stuck it to the PMRC.
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