"I created a monster
Cuz nobody wants to see Marshall no more
They want Shady — I'm chopped liver"
It can be said that some roles take on a life of their own, separate from the actor that plays them. Fox Mulder
lives more vividly in our collective imagination than David Duchovny; Leonard Nimoy was so eclipsed by his character in Star Trek
that he titled his autobiographies I Am Not Spock
and (once he'd made his peace with it) I Am Spock
However, some actors not only allow the character this existence, they actively cultivate them as a persona as real as any other person walking around. This is usually done in one of a couple of ways.
- The first way is to portray the individual as an entirely separate person, while acknowledging the existence of the actor. The character may refer to the actor in the third person, or vice versa.
- The second version is to entirely subsume the "real" actor in the role. In this case, the actor is never mentioned by the character and the actor almost never appears in "public".
- The third method is when the actor acknowledges the character is "them", but somehow a "different" them. This is the least frequently seen, most subtle version, and the mechanism of this change in personality is not consistent, further making it more difficult to recognize.
See also Adam Westing
, where a celebrity's public persona is a self-parody, but still uses their real name.
In a case of Real Life Writes the Plot
, Alter Ego Acting isn't limited to the actors themselves; many of the fans, especially with sci-fi or fantasy series (like the Furry Fandom
) use this trope to various levels in regards to their internet personas. In a reversal to the trope being applied to the actors, the third method is usually the most used, to the point where the fans refuse to respond to anything but their alter ego's name. Typically, though, the alter ego has enough personality quirks that only work within the confines of fantasy, the alter ego is unable to be fully emulated in the 'real world' during standard, off-line living and, thus, their real selves are markedly different, no matter how much they try.
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- Dame Edna Everage, who refers to Barry Humphries as her "entrepreneur" or manager.
- Andy Kaufman pretended to have a difficult working relationship with his alter ego, Tony Clifton. His dedication to making Tony a separate persona went as far as appearing on stage with him - "him" actually being a friend (usually Andy's close colleague Bob Zmuda) dressed as Clifton and imitating Andy's Clifton voice.
- It went further than that, actually; Andy would go far out of his way to do things in character that he would never have done as himself. When he was disguised as Tony, he chain-smoked cigarettes, never turned down a free drink, and ate red meat without blinking an eye — all guaranteed to shock anyone who knew that it was Andy Kaufman (a fairly straight-edge vegan) behind that mustache.
- It went even further when Andy permanently passed the Tony persona on to Bob Zmuda circa 1982. Bob was convincing enough that many people didn't realize for years that he had taken over the role; as revealed by Jim Carrey in the 1994 Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman special, a good half of Tony's TV appearances were done by Bob and not Andy. (Speaking of Carrey, see below...) After Andy's death, Bob reprised the character at a tribute/benefit, and Tony still occasionally resurfaces via several performers. This raised it to Charlie Brown from Outta Town level.
- Japanese television personality Masaki Sumitani does not respond to being called by the name of his alter ego, Razer Ramon HG (a.k.a. Hard Gay, a.k.a. HG-kun). He has, however, left fans briefly, changed into costume, and "sent" HG-kun to fulfill their interview requests. When ambushed on a TV program with his shades off, he realized there was a camera pointed at him, hid his face and scrambled for his hat and sunglasses to get into character.
- Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues. In fact, bonus material from the House of Blues Radio Hour even features Elwood interviewing Dan about his work with Jim Belushi, as the "Dancing Refrigerators". In another example, John Landis gets interviewed, and treats Elwood and Dan as totally different people
- Paul Reubens tended to portray Pee-Wee Herman as a completely separate person, even billing the character as being played by "himself" in movie credits. He had never been interviewed as Paul Reubens until the film Mystery Men came out. Even then he managed to get through the first few minutes of the interview without saying a word, responding with nodding or shaking his head until forced to answer a non yes/no question.
Jay Leno- "Okay, what time is it?"
Paul - (presses button on talking watch)
- Daniel Handler shows up at "Lemony Snicket's" book signings as a representative of Mr. Snicket, or sometimes "Mr. Snicket's Handler", and tells fans that the author was detained by some unfortunate accident. This is a slight variation, since while Handler writes under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, he never "plays" Snicket in public. He would occasionally give an interview where he acknowledged Snicket's fictionality, making him a type 3 as well.
- This trope was inverted, subverted, and played with 6 ways from Sunday on the DVD commentary, featuring Handler in character as Snicket, with director Brad Silberling. Silberling tries to claim that Jim Carrey was replaced by the real Count Olaf, and Snicket plays along at first. After a while, he becomes bored, and begins accusing Silberling of lying to him. So we have the real author playing his fictional creation critiquing a real actor under fake circumstances while the real director claims that his real film features the fictional author's fictional character for real.
- In an unusual journalistic example, Hunter S. Thompson created a public persona that played up his flaws and general craziness to a point where he mirrored as much as reported the nastiness, paranoia, and absurdity around him. Often, this was under the name of Raoul Duke; just as often, it wasn't, falling into the third type of Alter Ego Acting.
- Many pro wrestlers fall into this in Real Life, especially when Kayfabe was in high reign, but Mick Foley is probably the only one who made it actually part of his gimmick; in the later part of his WWE run, it was openly acknowledged that he had three "faces" that he would put on as the situation demanded (Dude Love, Cactus Jack, and Mankind), as well as his own normal persona that was rarely seen in the ring.
- TNA recently resurrected this aspect of Mick Foley's character, as Mick "interviewed" Cactus Jack; as the mock interview went on, Cactus took on a life of his own, accusing Foley of being a craven sellout cashing in on the fame that Cactus had earned by sacrificing their shared body, something Foley would never have done if it were up to him.
- Gregory Helms, best known for his Superhero gimmick of "the Hurricane," would at times appear on WWE TV as a reporter under his own name.
- Sacha Baron-Cohen attempts to portray his various characters as real people completely separate from himself. He has sometimes referred to himself as a separate person while in character. Responding to critics of his film Borat, he assumed the character of Borat to join in on the criticism, leveling anti-Semitic slurs against himself. When promoting his films, he usually insists on appearing in-character.
- A strange example of this: on Australian program Rove Live, Sacha was playing Brüno while promoting the film of the same name. When Rove did his usual "20 bucks in 20 seconds" questionnaire, his final question was for Bruno to tell Rove what he thought of a picture of Borat, to which Bruno replied that Borat was "an incredibly racist stereotype" and "he's played by Sacha Baron-whatever, right? Yeah, he really can't act", so that's what, a double subversion as well as playing it straight?
- John Clark played Fred Dagg for many years, with the character being treated as essentially real, with other media and interviews playing along. Since everybody knew Fred Dagg, John Clark could not be himself or play any other roles, and eventually left New Zealand partly to escape the role.
- Stephen Colbert's "Stephen Colbert" persona, discussed below, has another persona, Ching Chong Ding Dong, an offensive portrayal of a Chinese person. "Stephen Colbert" argues that he cannot be held responsible for the actions "Ching Chong" does, since "Ching Chong" did it, not "Stephen."
- In a number of his late novels (after he'd pretty much lost his marbles), Philip K Dick used characters named Phil Dick and Horselover Fat (the rough meanings of his two names) to try to parse out his spiritual beliefs and experiences.
- Near the height of Garth Brooks' career in country music, he released an alternative rock album under the pseudonym In The Life Of Chris Gaines. He clearly played it as though he was creating a character, going so far as to release a VH-1 mockumentary, and hosting SNL as Garth Brooks but being the musical guest as Chris Gaines.
- Related: sometimes avatars in the online virtual reality Second Life refer to their "typists" (or similar terms), making a distinction between the character and the human playing him/her/it: e.g. "Sorry I have to go, but my typist is making me go to bed." The consistency with which this convention is applied varies greatly, with some always maintaining character and others using it as an occasional joke.
- The same is true of online role-playing in general, where those who use MUCKs, MMORPGs, and other real-time roleplay programs (or just roleplay through online messengers) will speak in-character of their "player" needing to leave/eat/go to the bathroom/sleep. This can be Played for Laughs through a bit of Black Comedy, as when the character really would like to continue but can't, so threatens the "player" for making them have to leave.
- Sharp-tongued Lily Savage was always entirely separate from her actor Paul O'Grady, and he usually speaks of her as if she's a completely different person. For example, when he gets people asking him to perform as Lily again, his usual reply is "She's gone off to join the convent."
- Anthony Fantano of the music review The Needle Drop has a slightly offbeat silly "roommate" Cal Chuchesta, that pops up time to time and sometimes gets his own reviews.
- The members of GWAR would sometimes open shows as the band "X-Cops." In the mid-90s it was spun off as a new band made up of non-GWAR members.
- This was also done by Spinal Tap who perform in character (they are actually actors). Christopher Guest as well as many of the other writers and actors from Spinal Tap made a similar mockumentary called A Mighty Wind. They did one show in which the band from Mighty Wind opened for Spinal Tap. They were booed off the stage by fans who were either unaware or uncaring that they were the same people.
- For some time, Devo did the same thing, opening for themselves as Dove: the Band of Love. At first they were hippies, but during the 80's they became right-wing Christians, and even captured and brain-washed Devo's mascot Booji Boy during a show. Devo's music was held as Satanic and horrible, despite the fact that Dove played an awful lot of covers.
- And then there's Booji Boy himself, who is Mark Mothersbaugh in a baby mask singing with a disturbing falsetto.
- John Lydon invented the Johnny Rotten persona to handle public appearances, as he (Rotten) says he's (Lydon) extremely shy in real life. Depending on whether he's promoting The Sex Pistols and gonzo work or Public Image Ltd., he appears as either Rotten or Lydon.
- In Pappy's Flatshare Slamdown, Tom always plays the Beef Brothers round as Fanshawe Standon.
Matthew: Thomas, to conclude the case for the defence, are you going to be doing it as yourself?
Tom: No, I'm going to be be defending in the style of a John Grisham, deep southern American lawyer, Mr Fanshawe Standon.
- Daft Punk never appear in public without helmets on and have not been photographed as themselves in ages. There are currently only one or two pictures of them without their helmets or another face obstructing item.
- The major cast of Trailer Park Boys appear in character almost constantly, even including "behind the scenes" commentary on the DVD for the show.
- Carroll Spinney, who portrays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, supposedly refused to do Sesame Street-related interviews out of character.
- Company policy at Jim Henson Co. was that the actors and puppeteers who play the various Muppet characters are not allowed to engage anyone in an on camera interview.
- However both Henson and Spinney made separate appearances on the syndicated version of Whats My Line?
- Played with during the Muppet appearance on The West Wing. Nobody broke character or showed the puppeteers behind the puppets.
- The members of Finnish heavy metal band Lordi make all of their public appearances in the elaborate monster costumes they wear onstage, and have gone to unusual lengths to keep their real names secret from the public. (Indeed, the band's first demo video has never been released to the public because it shows the singer, "Mr. Lordi", with no mask.)
- When a gossip magazine showed a picture of Lordi without his mask (on the cover, no less), it created a massive backlash and tens of thousands of fans signing a petition of boycotting the magazine, eventually resulting in a public apology from it.
- Part of this is because all the members of the band are very private people, actually working in a normal job as well as being a monster rocker, or both. Amen, for instance, is a web designer, and at least one of the members is a music teacher.
- Sometimes GWAR appears out of costume as RAWG; other times, they appear in costume and in character on daytime TV, where Hilarity Ensues.
- Likewise, the Australian rock-band TISM made a point of never appearing (on stage or for interviews) without wearing some sort of identity concealing outfit, and referred to each other only by their stage names (such as Ron Hitler-Barassi and Humphrey B. Flaubert).
- Experimental rock band The Residents have never been seen without their masks, never dropped out of character in public, and have never released their real names. They've managed to keep their identities a secret for 40 years. It is, however, long been suspected that "The Cryptic Corporation," a group of two "spokesmen" who speak for the band in all interviews, are actually the creative core of the band. The Cryptic Corporation admits to collaborating with the Residents, but always denies that they are actual bandmembers.
- When Jim Carrey was cast as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon he stayed in character(s) for the duration of the shoot (see above and below); this included not responding to his own name. (In addition, after the shoot was completed, Tony Clifton was discussed in Type One terms by all the participants.)
- A really bizarre case was when "Kaufman" went auditioning for How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. The Dr. Seuss estate rejected him, but then Carrey broke out of that character and did a Grinch impersonation that got him the role.
- Mana from Moi Dix Mois (formerly Malice Mizer) is almost never seen out of costume, out of character (e.g. speaking), or out in public. When he has been, it's usually by accident/some sort of freakish fluke.
- And when he is photographed out of costume, nine times out of ten his face is mostly obscured by a large hat and sunglasses, and he's wearing bulky black clothing. He even appears like this when he's caught out suddenly by stray fans or photographers, which seems to suggest that this 'incognito' look is genuinely what he wears on a day to day basis.
- Jane Turner and Gina Riley rarely appear out of character as Kath and Kim.
- Larry the Cable Guy used to simply be a role Daniel Lawrence Whitney would use on stage in his comedy routine, but it eventually took over his entire persona in all work he did - film, television, interviews, et cetera. He even wrote a book in-character, littered with grammatical errors. Whitney will usually break character for a few seconds once or twice per show as part of a joke.
- Rob Potylo used to record albums, play concerts, and make appearances on radio shows or at comedy clubs as Robby Roadsteamer, a trashy Jerkass Guttural Growler initially inspired by the way he saw singers for local nu-metal bands carry themselves on stage. He did some interviews as himself where he'd acknowledge Robby Roadsteamer as a character, but for the most part he would never appear publicly as himself. The character eventually got retired because he was concerned that if he kept it up too long he'd be pigeonholed - nowadays he makes music as himself rather than the character. It's since been joked that Robby Roadsteamer still exists, he just hasn't been heard from in years because he and his band left the Boston music scene for Western Massachusetts.
- Comedian Leigh Francis has hardly ever appeared on TV as himself. He is currently known as Keith Lemon, but has previously been Avid Merrion, The Bear, and singer Craig David note .
- Daniel Day-Lewis has a major case of this, as he heavily researches his film roles to get into character - months before shooting even begins. When he's involved in the production process of films like Last of the Mohicans, Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood and many others, he won't refer to himself as anything other than the name of his character on or off-set. One story mentions that this has caused at least one friendship to break down - Liam Neeson won't even talk to Day-Lewis anymore because, when they were exercising together during an off day while filming Gangs, Day-Lewis wouldn't respond to Neeson calling him his real name - he would only speak if he was referred to as "Bill The Butcher".
- In an unusual subversion, comedian Andrew Clay Silverstein has been practically forced into a sort of Type 2 version of this trope. His character, Andrew "Dice" Clay, is seen as such an over the top misogyist and homophobe that fans and detractors alike are unable or unwilling to separate the actor from his character, despite the profound difference between his real and assumed personalities, and his more recent attempts to distance himself from "The Diceman". This hasn't been helped by many other performers refusing to perform or appear with Silverstein, even out-of-character.
- The mistake he made was refusing to ever break character for so long that most people assumed the Diceman was a real guy.