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Actor Role Confusion
aka: Your Secrets Safe With Me Superman
In-fiction, a reality-impaired fan confuses the actor with the character, thinking they're the same as their character or even literally the same person.

Distinguish:
  • I Am Not Spock, which refers to an actor who's unable to get any part other than the character for which he or she is known.
  • I Am Not Shazam, which refers to the confusion of a character with the title of a work or with the character's Catch Phrase.

A subtrope of Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality. See also But I Play One on TV, which is when the same thing happens in Real Life.

Contrast Your Costume Needs Work. Sometimes leads to Becoming the Mask in less cynical stories. Role Association is a milder version, where you just associate a (usually more famous) role with an actor even when they're in something else.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the second Sakura Taisen OAV, Kohran is mistaken by a group of kids for Shounen Red, a character she plays on a radio drama — and then attacked by the baddies-of-the-episode. The rest of the team has to come up with a way to rescue her without breaking the illusion and "shattering the children's dreams."
  • In Super Gals the main children characters (Sayo & co) mistake the actor from the series of Odaiba Shark as the real character, even when they see it filmed. Every time they meet he pretends to be the character to protect their dreams.
    • Said actor was written out of the show for one episode and appeared in a kid's show as an exercise coach. Sayo believes it's by chance they look similar.
  • Muteki Kanban Musume: Deconstructed when a little Girl confuses Kanban Musume Megumi with Hell Bunny, the villain from Star Rangers. To fool a little girl with that lie is treated In-Universe as a Moral Event Horizon.

    Comic Books 
  • One Astro City story featured an actor who played the superhero Crimson Cougar on a soap opera. After he foils a robbery while in costume, people start treating him like a real superhero. Including supervillains wanting to kill him.
  • Leads to trouble in one Lucky Luke album which involves a troupe of actors. Lucky is accused of a crime, and when the actor of a Dastardly Whiplash-like villain defends Luke, the settlers only get angrier.

    Films — Animated 
  • The movie Bolt is about a canine television star who mistakes himself for the superhero he plays on TV. Not that he was ever given reason to believe otherwise.
    • Rhino the Hamster suffers from the same confusion.
  • The first Toy Story sees Woody's exasperation with Buzz Lightyear who fails to realize he is, in fact, a toy, and not a Space Ranger. In the sequel, he gets to convince another Buzz Lightyear figure of the same thing.
  • A Bug's Life: The circus troupe's acting is mistaken for real heroics.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Galaxy Quest, the actors in a science fiction TV show are believed to be real heroes by fans from outer space. Of course, they eventually rise to the challenge.
    • And it isn't just the fans from outer space who conflate the two; their die-hard human fans on Earth sometimes have the same problem:
    Brandon: "But I want you to know that I'm not a complete brain case, okay? I understand completely that it's just a TV show. I know there's no beryllium sphere, no digital conveyor, no ship..."
    Nesmith: "It's all real."
    Brandon: "Oh my God, I knew it. I knew it! I knew it!"
  • The basis of the plot of íThree Amigos! when some poor and desperate Mexican villagers mistake three (down on their luck) movie stars for the heroes they play on-screen and hire them to protect their town from real bandits. For their part, the actors are also quite desperate and reverse the trope, mistaking the real bandits for actors.
  • My Name is Bruce mirrors the Three Amigos with a young man who thinks that Bruce Campbell really is as heroic and awesome as the characters he plays. Except he's a drunken lech, about to get evicted from his trailer home and not at all prepared to deal with the real murderous ghost that is plaguing the town.
  • After seeing him cheated out of winning a fixed match in Ready To Rumble, two unbelievably stupid wrestling fans track down (fictional) WCW wrestler "Jimmy King" and are shocked to find that he's a pathetic drunk and not a hero. Fortunately, over the course of the movie they manage to turn him into a hero.

    Literature 
  • In Philip Roth's novel Zuckerman Unbound, writer Nathan Zuckerman encounters fans who call him "Carnovsky," mistaking him for the title character of his book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Friends, Joey does a print PSA for STD awareness, and then has trouble getting dates afterwards.
    • In another episode, Brooke Shields portrayed a Loony Fan stalking Joey, convinced that he was really the character he played in a Soap Opera. The friends got rid of her by convincing her that Joey was actually the Evil Twin instead.
  • In the pilot of The Beverly Hillbillies, Jed asks if Tom Mix is in Beverly Hills, only to be told that Mix is dead (the actor died in 1940). Jed then says "Oh, yeah! What's the matter with me? Remember Peril? He got shot at the end of that picture."
  • In Drake & Josh, Josh was hired to play a criminal as part of a Crime Reconstruction. He was thereafter arrested several times by people confusing him for the actual criminal.
  • In a 30 Rock episode, the mother of Jack's Puerto Rican girlfriend hates him because he looks exactly like the villain of a Mexican telenovela she watches. (Both are played by Alec Baldwin, of course.)
  • Extras plays with this, in that an Adam Westing Shaun Williamson is so typecast as Barry (a character he played for ten years on British soap Eastenders) that even the credits identify him as "Barry".
  • In the 1970's sitcom Alice, when George Burns happens to drop by the diner, ditzy waitress Vera thinks he's God (from his film Oh, God!) paying a visit.
  • In the Psych episode "Lights! Camera! Homicidio!", the killer was a rabid telenovela fan who had confused the show with real life. She was killing actors whose characters had been cruel to the lead actress' character.
    • That might be an homage to an episode of Hawaii Five-O where a mentally ill boy kills men who resemble characters menacing the female protagonist of his favorite comic strip.
  • In the NCIS episode "Cover Story", a Loony Fan of McGee's books thinks that they're true stories, and goes on a rampage killing the people that McGee based his villains on. He eventually tries to kill Abby because "Amy" broke up with "McGregor," but is stopped (and then arrested) when McGee tells him that "Amy" and "McGregor" are getting married.
  • Parodied by The Chaser: Appearing in Government Ads, Australia says no.
  • In an episode of The Famous Jett Jackson, Jett meets a kid who thinks he really is Silverstone, the cool spy he plays on TV.
  • In the Quantum Leap episode "Moments to Live," Sam leaps into the star of a medical soap opera, and is kidnapped by a fan who wants the fictional doctor to be the father of her child.
  • In one episode of The Brady Bunch, Peter tries out for the school play and gets the role of Benedict Arnold. Whenever he tells anyone whom he's playing, they inevitably respond with, "Traitor!"
  • This is the set-up for Legend. Ernest Pratt, a dime-store novelist in the old west, lives with his scientist friend Professor Janos Bartok in the small town of Sheridan, Colorado. The people of Sheridan mistakenly believe that Pratt—a drinker, gambler, and womanizer—is the audacious and pure hero of his novels, Nicodemus Legend. Bartok and his associate, Ramos, convince Pratt to assume the Legend persona while supplying him with Legend-like futuristic gadgets that they invent.
  • In an episode of Forever Knight, the only witness to a murder is a retarded person who saw a masked wrestler do the deed. But all other evidence suggests that the man who plays the masked wrestler was innocent. Eventually the detectives realize that the witness considered anyone wearing the mask to be the wrestler in question, and thus didn't realize that someone else was wearing the costume.
  • Tony Soprano idolizes Gary Cooper, who in his mind epitomizes "the strong silent type", the ideal kind of American from a long-gone era. He's called on this by his number two, who points out he's mixing the real life person with the characters that he played. Tony still argues that the icon is what matters.

    Music 
  • William Shatner's spoken-word song "Real" address this:
    "I have saved the world in the movies/So naturally there's folks who think I must know what to do"

    Video Games 
  • In Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, both the President Of The Galaxy and Big Bad Dr. Nefarious apparently believe Clank's Secret Agent Clank holovid role to be real and that Ratchet is merely his valet.
    • Somewhat justified in that they are both aware Clank was involved with actually saving the galaxy twice before, along with Ratchet, and assumed the guy they've seen being badass is the actual badass of the two.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Inverted in an episode where Patty and Selma kidnap Richard Dean Anderson due to their obsession with MacGyver. After he macgyvers an escape from the room they've locked him in, he gets such a kick that he stays with them in spite of the kidnapping, eventually calling himself MacGyver and trying to imitate his fictional persona. He ends up becoming so annoying that they drive him off with boring vacation slides.
    • In "Homer to the Max", a new police drama airs, starring a Bad Ass cop named Homer Simpson.
      Homer: Wow. They captured my personality perfectly! Did you see the way Daddy caught that bullet?
      Lisa: That's not really you, Dad, he's just a fictional character who happens to have the same name.
      Homer: Don't confuse Daddy, Lisa.
    • When the character is later retooled as a bumbling Plucky Comic Relief moron, the guys at Moe's torment the "real" Homer by demanding he do something stupid like his namesake character.
    • In one of the Treehouse of Horror episodes, Lucy Lawless is constantly being referred to as Xena, leaving her to exclaim more exhortedly each time "I'm not Xena, I'm Lucy Lawless". Eventually she is captured by Comic Book Guy as part of a collection of live action actors frozen in carbonite plastic. Bart and Lisa try to save her but fail and she has to fight him off with She-Fu moves, high kicks, back flips and ululating. She then grabs the children and flies off with them.
      Lisa: "Wait, Xena can't fly."
      Lucy: "I told you I'm not Xena, I'm Lucy Lawless."
    • Throughout the story, Lawless speaks in the Fake American accent she used for Xena rather than her native New Zealand accent.
      • Something similar happened when she made a guest appearance on another show: the episode starts with one of the male leads thinking Xena was going to kill him.
    • Homer himself is a particularly extreme example:
    FBI Agent: Most people write letters to movie stars. This Simpson guy writes to movies. "Dear Die Hard. You rock. Especially when that guy was on the roof. P.S: Do you know Mad Max?"
    • In "Mr Plow", Barney goes one step further and confuses the actor with the wrong role as he bids a cheerful farewell to "Superman" and promises to protect his secret identity...to an Adam Westing Adam West. Actually, that's why the trope once was named Your Secret's Safe With Me, Superman.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, Peter writes to Richard Dean Anderson, thinking he is MacGyver, asking him to save his dog from the pound with a rubber band, paper clip, and straw. He puts his eye out.
  • Fanboy on Freakazoid!. The minute he sees Mark Hamill, his delusion that he's Luke Skywalker gets turned up to 11.
  • The Looney Tunes Show: In "Off Duty Cop", Daffy is unable to understand that his favourite character Steve St. James is actually an actor named Leslie Hunt, so he decides to become Steve St. James himself.
  • In a Robot Chicken sketch, Harrison Ford is chosen along with Aerosmith to stop a meteor from crashing into Earth.
    Harrison Ford: "Listen. I'm 62 years old, and I'm just an actor. You people are all insane."
    SW fan: "Go get'em, Han Solo!"
    • Of course when Mark Hamill reminds everyone that he blew up the Death Star with his eyes closed, he's told "That was just a movie, Mr. Hamill" by the exact same Star Wars fanboy.
    • A similar Star Wars example (in a different episode) has Billy Dee Williams (similar to the Real Life example below) explaining Lando's actions at a grocery store.
  • Invoked in Celebrity Deathmatch; During the fight between the cast of Sex and the City, Johnny Gomez tells Nick Diamond that it's highly unprofessional to confuse an actor with the character they play.
  • In the Imaginationland trilogy of South Park, Kurt Russell is chosen to lead the military invasion of Imaginationland because "he was in the movie that was sort of like this".

    Real Life 
  • Every actor will at one point encounter fans who don't seem to understand the difference between the role they play and who they really are. Some common examples:
    • If an actor is seen with his real life partner instead of the actress who plays his wife in a TV series some people will think he's committing adultery.
    • But I Play One on TV: An actor who performs a certain profession will be thought to be an expert in the matter himself.
    • Actors who have accidents, divorces or other kinds of tragic occurences in films and TV series will sometimes be addressed by complete strangers in the street who want to give them advice or help them out. A similar confusion appears when said actor plays a pitiful character.
    • One of the most common examples of this trope occurs with actors who play villains or antagonists. Some people refuse to have anything to do with them or will even criticize them, insult them or get violent when they meet them in the street.
    • The phenomenon can even be witnessed in politics. Many actors have been elected to official governmental posts because voters liked them for the heroic roles they usually perform on screen: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood,... Despite the fact that following a film script is a lot easier than handling Real Life situations.
    • Reagan is a particularly interesting example, because his detractors often claimed that his mental state lead him to think that he was a Hollywood hero fighting against the "Evil Empire" in the Soviet Union. His entire "Star Wars" defense system was inspired by the eponymous film, despite not being a very realistic depiction of space in the first place. Other people have claimed that Reagan's supposed "charming confused granpa" image was an act in itself that fooled both his supporters and critics into thinking that he was a mere puppet in the hands of his own government.
  • Rudolph Valentino, was a 1920s Hollywood actor famous for playing a handsome sheik who abducted women to his tent. When Valentino unexpectedly died at the height of his fame mass hysteria broke out under his fans. Some women even committed suicide, seemingly not understanding that Valentino was an actor, not a real life amourous sheik.
  • Rita Hayworth, famous for playing the femme fatale in Gilda, once said: "Everyone wants to go to bed with Gilda. Then they wake up with me."
  • The Academy of Motion Pictures & Sciences also seems to suffer from this problem. Many actors have received Oscars over the years because they played a pitiful person who suffers from some kind of disease, handicap or problem in a high profile movie released that same year. Or because they played an admirable humanitarian activist or historical character. The award in those cases seems to be more a reward for the hardships or good deeds the character underwent or did in the movie than the performance itself.
  • The Nostalgia Chick often acted as if her character was mean to her best friend Nella. Quite some viewers of her web video series took this abuse seriously and criticized Lindsay for not treating Nella better. It got to the point that Nella herself had to type a statement that they are just performing an act.

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alternative title(s): Your Secrets Safe With Me Superman
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