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Cast the Expert

Mike: Did the actors do their own skydiving?
Tom Servo: No, the skydivers did their own acting.

The thing about actors is that most actors are actors. While they are expected to portray fictional characters engaged in a wide variety of occupations, they rarely have the experience to be truly skilled in everything that the character does in the story. Generally, this isn't a problem. Enough skills can be acquired to fake the job through training from an expert, and for particularly complex tasks a Stunt Double, Talent Double, or Voice Double can be used.

However, on rare occasions, a person, sometimes even a non-actor, will be cast in a role partly because they already have skills from a non-acting work experience or a major hobby that are relevant to the role they are being asked to portray. Examples include both extras and main characters. If the extras are soldiers assigned to the production by the military, it is probably evidence that the film is Backed by the Pentagon. Compare to The Cast Showoff, where scenes are added to an actor's role to give them a chance to show off a talent, and Irony as She Is Cast, when actors are required to display Stylistic Suck in a talent which they are actually quite skilled at.

This trope only refers to someone being cast as a fictional character or as a fictionalized portrayal of a real person. Reality TV, game shows and the like do not count. Neither do non-fictional informative shows hosted by experts in their field, as it is not only normal but pretty much required that, for example, someone that hosts a home improvement show should know something about home improvement.

This is one of the possible methods of using Meta Casting to give added depth to a production.

Compare Non-Actor Vehicle and Autobiographical Role. Related to Disabled Character, Disabled Actor.


Fictional examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Live Action TV 
  • In a 'Murder She Wrote' episode, when the town is putting on a play about an infamous trial, they cast a real judge as the judge in the play.
  • Skippy The Bush Kangaroo: In one of the episodes, a movie director decides to cast Heroic Pet Skippy as a Heroic Pet, which results in Skippy saving an actor for real when something goes wrong.
  • Family Matters: In "A Ham Is Born", Carl Winslow moonlights as a security guard at a movie studio where a police drama is being filmed. The movie director is annoyed at Carl's opinion of a film scene until Carl mentions his 20-year experience as a Chicago police officer. After Carl demonstrates the actual procedure for arresting criminals, the impressed director decides to cast Carl Winslow as the new leading protagonist of the film. Ultimately, Carl quits his career as a film star because he, as a married man, refuses to kiss the leading actress, even if it was only part of the movie storyline.
  • On Bones one of the actors in the Film of the Book of one of Dr. Brennan's novels studied to be a scientist, and was hired because the Techno Babble didn't scare him off. This becomes useful when it turns out a real murder had taken place on set, and they needed additional help examining the body.

Real-life examples:

    Film 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey - The voice from mission control is played by Frank Miller, who was a Real Life air traffic controller. When the two astronauts are interviewed by the BBC, the interviewer is Kenneth Kendall, a BBC newsreader.
  • Almost Angels - The Vienna Boys Choir provided many of the boys that played Vienna choirboys in the movie, though the lead parts were played by child actors with their singing voices dubbed.
  • Anatomy of a Murder - Judge Weaver was played by Real Life lawyer Joseph N. Welch.
  • Beverly Hills Cop. The role of Detroit police inspector Douglas Todd was played by Real Life Detroit police detective Gilbert Hill.
  • Black Hawk Down: In wide shots, those were actual Army Rangers fast-roping from UH-60s.
  • Bloodsport cast a lot of real-life martial artists as the tournament contestants. Notably, the Muay Thai fighter in the semifinals is Paulo Tocha, one of the first western Muay Thai experts.
  • The Exorcist: Father Dyer is played by Reverend William O'Malley S.J., a real-life Jesuit priest. Director William Friedkin commented that instead of looking for another actor to play Fr. Dyer, he went looking for a real-life priest who knew how to act.
    • The medical technicians who test Regan are also real medical technicians. Eerily, one of them committed the murders that inspired a later William Friedkin film, Cruising.
  • Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Ermey was hired to advise on the film's portrayal of a US Marine Corps instructor, but was eventually just given the role. Kubrick was hesitant at first, since Ermey's actually a very nice guy... until Ermey made a video of himself chewing out the camera for fifteen minutes without stopping or repeating himself while being pelted with rotten fruit and tennis balls.
  • Retired Marine Captain Dale Dye has made a career for himself not only consulting on military films, but also playing military officers on screen.
  • Going My Way - The Robert Mitchel Boychoir provided the boys that played the part of the parish choir.
  • Les Choristes - All the boys in this film about the creation of a choir at a Boarding School of Horrors are members of the Real Life choir Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc, including choir member Jean Baptise Maunier playing a Pierre Morhange, a boy with an exceptional singing voice.
  • Secretariat - Ron Turcotte was played by a jockey named Otto Thorwarth.
  • In Seabiscuit, George "the Iceman" Woolf is played by real-life Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Gary Stevens.
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • In addition to the lead actors who were trained on horses, and numerous digital extras, the Riders of Rohan were portrayed by regular horse riders from all across New Zealand who came with their own horses to act as extras.
    • For The Return of the King, The New Zealand Army provided extras for the final battle in front of the Black Gate. Behind the scenes commentary on the DVD's makes note of how good they were as following directions and setting up formations, as how much enthusiasm they brought to the combat scenes.
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial - The doctors are real doctors. The commentary mentions that this was because actors wouldn't quite speak as if they had been using the proper terms for years because, well, they hadn't been.
  • Eddie Bunker lived as a criminal and thief many years before becoming a writer. He was later cast as Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs.
  • Audie Murphy, war hero and movie star, who played himself in the movie of his auto-biography To Hell And Back. He also played a civil-war solider in Red Badge Of Courage.
  • For Ivan the Terrible, Sergei Eisenstein used actual Soviet soldiers for the battle sequences, which kept them from going to actual combat during World War II.
  • The Enemy Below. Many of the sailors on the destroyer escort were Real Life U.S. sailors provided by the Defense Department. Likewise, the person playing the ship's chief engineer was the ship's actual commanding officer.
  • In The Best Years of Our Lives, Harold Russell, a man who had lost both hands in World War II, was cast as a man who had lost both hands in World War Two. He did such a good job he won two Oscars for that role, including an honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans" because the committee felt he should be honored but they didn't expect him to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
  • In Black Swan, the man playing Natalie Portman's dance partner was her Real Life dance instructor for the film, although he doesn't have many lines. He is also her husband and father of her child.
  • In Grosse Pointe Blank Benny the Jet, a legendary kickboxer as well as Cusak's personal trainer, has a role as an assassin.
  • The guy James Bond pursues in the Le Parkour scene at the beginning of Casino Royale is actually one of the inventors of Le Parkour.
  • Banlieue13 (re-dubbed as District 13) features the other founder of Le Parkour as the main protagonist.
  • In Million Dollar Baby, Maggie's opponent in her final match was played by Lucia Rijker, a champion female boxer in Real Life.
  • In the film Requiem For A Heavyweight the eponymous heavyweight's final boxing match (at the start of the film) is against Cassius Clay, whom you might know better as Muhammad Ali. Ali's not just "the opponent," he actually has some in-character lines. At the end the heavyweight is forced into a humiliating wrestling match against the real life professional wrestler Haystacks Calhoun.
  • As could be expected, the Rocky series has cast several real-life boxers, usually in bit parts. The most prominent ones are the main opponents in Rocky V and Rocky Balboa, played by Tommy Morrison and Antonio Tarver. Furthermore, in Rocky III Rocky is in a boxer-vs-wrestler bout with "Thunderlips," played by Hulk Hogan. Hogan was a Monster Heel at the time, as is Thunderlips.
  • The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra—a parody of 1950's B Movies—references this in a roundabout fashion. Dan Conroy is an actor, but he plays the character of Ranger Brad as though he were an actual park ranger who got talked into playing a role in the movie because he had his own costume.
  • When Disney did Brother Bear, they went to Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley for advice on the Inuit language. They liked the way he spoke Inukituk so much, they created a narrator role for him.
  • The film Act of Valor takes this Up to Eleven. Nearly every credited actor is enlisted in the United States Military, many of them actual Navy SEALs - who will go uncredited because they are, well, Navy SEALs.
  • The paramedics attempting to resuscitate Murphy in RoboCop (1987) were played by a real-life trauma team. They were allowed to improvise their lines, and on the DVD commentary the writers mention how it turned out better than what they ever could have thought up. One reason it worked so well is that the image of a trauma team working on a dying man in such a calm, emotionless, business-like manner feels incredibly creepy. Most people expect the ER team to act like they do on TV.
  • Many of the military extras in the Transformers series are actual military. In several cases, they didn't even have a script beyond Michael Bay telling them to say and do what they'd do in the situation.
  • Professional ice skater Lynn-Holly Johnson was cast in the lead role in Ice Castles, which was her film debut. Presumably, it was easier to teach a skater to act than to teach an actress to skate at the level required for the character.
  • In the Thai film Beautiful Boxer (based on the life of Parinya Charoenphol aka Nong Thoom) the title role was filled by real life Muay Thai fighter Asanee Suwan.
  • Miracle cast actual college hockey players as members of the 1980 US Olympic team. Special mention goes to Billy Schneider, who played his father, Buzz.
  • Slap Shot had a number of minor league hockey players among its cast. The actors who played the (in)famous Hanson brothers were in the major league World Hockey Association, meaning the archetypal unskilled thugs of hockey cinema were visibly stronger players than any of their costars!
    • As a bonus, the Hansons were based on the Carlson brothers, two of whom essentially played themselves in the film as two of the Hansons.note  The third brother was played by David Hanson, who also served as inspiration for "Killer" Carlson.
  • Any Given Sunday featured NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor as one of the Sharks linebackers. And Terrell Owens As Himself. Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown plays one of the Sharks coaches.
  • Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin had a small role in Stick It, winning the uneven bars competition in the (rigged) final meet. Tricia Skilken was played by Tarah Paige, a former elite gymnast. And the gymnasts who compete in the Classic and at Nationals are virtually all competitive gymnasts, including many notable NCAA gymnasts and Olympians Allana Slater and Mohini Bhardwaj.
  • When the President's limousine is flipped over by a nuclear blast in The Sum of All Fears, he is rescued by a squad of actual Marines. As with a number of the military examples, the Marines were simply given the situation and asked to respond as they would in Real Life.
  • Richard Todd, who played Major John Howard in The Longest Day, was a paratrooper and veteran of the actual D-Day landings.
    • In fact, Todd was present at the actual landings at Pegasus Bridge depicted in the film. Todd, played by another actor and uncredited, actually shows up in the movie, exchanging a joke with Howard, played by Todd himself, about how "paras are always late."
    • Also amusingly averted... Christopher Lee auditioned for the movie, but was turned down because the filmmakers didn't think he looked enough like a military man. Apparently, they weren't aware that he had, in fact, served in WWII as a member of the both the RAF and SAS (or, more accurately, the SAS's precursor, the Special Operations Executive).
  • Grindhouse
    • Death Proof introduces stuntwoman Zoe Bell, As Herself.
    • Planet Terror features Robert Rodriguez's real life physician as the doctor who worked alongside Dr. William Block.
  • Ronin featured world-class figure skater Katarina Witt as a Captain Ersatz of herself - the championship count given for her character in the film is her actual championship total.
  • Many of the SEAL team members in The Rock were played by the (retired) SEALs who also advised on the film.
  • A few of the players on both teams in the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard are actual retired NFL players, such as Michael Irvin as a wide receiver for the inmates' team and Bill Romanowski as a linebacker for the guards' team.
  • Titanic: All the crew aboard the research ship and its submarine are, well, actual research-ship-and-submarine crewmembers. Cameron hired the Akademic Mstislav Keldysh to visit the wreck, and kept them on payroll for use as set and extras once the production phase started.
  • A minor example in Airplane! The screenwriters wrote lines for the two black characters who "only speak Jive". The actors who were cast in the roles pointed out that all the lines were ridiculous and were allowed to improvise their own dialogue.
  • Danny Trejo spent his early years as an armed robber and heroin addict, before being sentenced to 15 years in prison. Upon his release, his friend Eddie Bunker was working on a movie set and mentioned they needed someone who could play a big, scary Mexican thug. Trejo got the part, and has played similar roles more than a few times since.
    • A fellow actor once asked him where he'd gone to acting school. Trejo replied by naming the prison he'd been incarcerated in.
  • Soviet comedy Striped Cruise is about a cargo of wild tigers that break free and wreak havoc on a ship, but are tamed by the ship's pantrywoman. Rather than using stunt doubles, professional tiger tamer Margarita Nazarova was cast as female lead, bringing her a USSR-wide superstar status.
  • Several of the soldiers in the finale of Rockabilly Zombie Weekend were played by active duty soldiers who had worked checkpoints in the Middle East; as such, they manned the airport checkpoint in the film and were told to simply do everything as they would do in reality. The protagonists in the truck were given a minimum of coaching for the scene and simply responded to the questions in character.
  • Most of the Rebel soldiers at the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back were actual Norwegian soldiers.
  • In The Last Airbender, Noah Ringer, who played Aang, was cast for his martial arts ability (he has a black belt in Taekwondo), and had never acted before. He had to attend acting classes before shooting began.
  • In Performance, some of the minor cast members appearing as London Gangsters were reputedly the real thing.
  • It Happened Here, an Alternate History film about a Nazi-occupied Britain, cast British fascists as local collaborators.
  • Actress Esther Williams (competitive swimmer) in Million Dollar Mermaid, a biopic of famous swimmer Annette Kellerman.
  • In The French Connection, Doyle and Russo's supervisor is played by Eddie Egan, the cop that Doyle's character is based on. Egan's real-life partner Sonny Grosso (on whom Russo's character was based) played Bill Klein. The mechanic who disassembles the car to find the drugs was played by the mechanic who did that job for the NYPD.
  • Before becoming an actor, Jason Statham was training to be an Olympic diver (for which, presumably, he shaved). To make money while he trained, he became a street seller (not entirely legal). When Guy Ritchie was filming Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, he needed a street-wise seller. Lo and behold, there's Statham. Strangely, he has yet to demonstrate his diving abilities.
  • Spidey's wrestling opponent Bonesaw in Spider-Man is, of course, played by real life wrestler Macho Man Randy Savage.
  • In Plan 9 from Outer Space, the only remotely convincing performance was the minister who gives the eulogy for the policeman-turned-zombie (played by Tor Johnson). The minister was played by a minister Ed Wood knew.
  • Uwe Boll cast real Romanian prostitutes as prostitutes in Bloodrayne...because they were cheaper than hiring extras, not because of verisimilitude.
  • Ricky Jay is a stage magician and a magic consultant as well as an actor — so naturally, any time he appears in a movie or TV show, there's a good chance that sooner or later his character will perform some sort of sleight-of-hand or magic trick.
  • In The Ice Princess, Nikki Flether (the 'Jumping Shrimp') is played by real-life figure-skater Kirsten Olson.
  • A number of the rugby players in Invictus are, unsurprisingly, played by real-life rugby players.
  • In Say Anything, Lloyd Dobler's kickboxing opponent, who breaks Lloyd's nose when Lloyd is distracted by Diane's ill-timed declaration of love, was played by real-life kickboxing champion Don 'The Dragon' Wilson.
  • Michael Mann's 1981 film Thief has an interesting subversion of this trope. Chicago Cop/Consultant Dennis Farina made his film debut playing... a hired goon. Real life jewel thief John Santucci was cast as a police sergeant. The industrial tools used in the film were provided by actual thieves- lending a level of realism uncommon in the heist genre.
  • Nearly all the footballers in A Shot At Glory were real-life players at the time of filming. The staged football matches in the film all appear fairly realistic as a result.
  • Rush, in an effort to be as authentic as possible, scoured the globe for actual Formula 1 cars in use at the time. These cars were almost always driven in the film by their present owners - most of whom actually race their cars in historic competitions.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Choir - The BBC TV miniseries adaptation casts St Paul's Cathedral chorister Anthony Way as a chorister for the fictitious Aldminster Cathedral Choir.
  • Law & Order: Attorney and politician Fred Thompson played the district attorney for several years, though it should be noted that he also had prior acting experience playing the roles of senior government officials, so this would be a cross between Cast the Expert and Type Casting.
  • Dennis Farina, an ex-cop, plays cops on Crime Story and Law & Order in addition to many film roles.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street - Gary D'Addario, a retired police commander, inspired the character Al Giardello, and played a recurring role as QRT head Lt. Jasper.
  • The X-Files episode "The Amazing Maleeni" features two stage magicians, both played by actual stage magicians.
  • Generation Kill Rudy Reyes of was attached to the project as an expert, but the actor playing him suddenly became ill, so he simply played himself. It helps that he already looks like a GQ model.
  • NYPD Blue consultant and former New York detective Bill Clark was seen a few times as a cop.
  • Andy Buckley, who plays former-CFO David Wallace on the US version of The Office, is a Real Life stock-broker.
  • Pauley Perrette studied sociology and criminal science before becoming an actress and playing forensic specialist Abby Sciuto on NCIS.
  • John From Cincinnati- A TV show set in the surfing community. Keala Kennelly, who plays Kai, is a well-known professional surfer who set the record for riding the largest tow-in wave by a woman. Greyson Fletcher, who plays Shaun Yost, is a fourth-generation surfer whose drug-addicted father revolutionized the sport in the 80s with "aerial"-type tricks and whose grandfather was a defining legend of the previous-generation surf community. Greyson's character Shaun is a third-generation surfer whose drug-addicted father revolutionized the sport in the 80s with "aerial"-type tricks and whose grandfather was a defining legend of the previous-generation surf community.
  • Stargate SG-1 often had actual members of the military on screen, including two Air Force Chiefs of Staff playing themselves. Also the reason Sgt. Siler spends most of his appearances being electrocuted, blown up and hurled around is because he's played by the show's stunt coordinator.
  • Power Rangers regularly casts martial artists and gymnasts in the main roles (frequently, the audition sheets will say that martial arts, gymnastics, or dance is a huge advantage toward getting the part.)
    • While that's true for the martial artists, it also goes a long way in the other direction as well, often tailoring the character to the actress. Amy Jo Johnson was a gymnast, so was Kimberly. Nakia Burrise was a singer, so was Tanya. Catherine Sutherland was a dancer, so Kat was switched from a diver to a ballerina.
  • A few episodes of NUMB3RS has Bill Nye play a scientist.
    • He also does this in an episode of Stargate Atlantis, playing a key part in saving the day.
  • KDFW-TV news anchor Clarice Tinsley has played a TV reporter on Wishbone, Walker, Texas Ranger, and The Good Guys, all shows set and/or filmed in the DFW Metroplex.
  • Glee: Heather Morris was a dance instructor for the cast until they decided to add her in as Brittany.
  • Mayim Bialik, who plays Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, while her character is a neurobiologist.
  • On CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, assistant coroner David "Superdave" Phillips is played by David Berman, who worked as a coroner for a time in real life. Berman is also a consultant on the series.
  • The villainous magician in the Lois and Clark episode "Illusions of Grandeur" is played by Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller.
  • In most of the large-scale incidents on Emergency! where units other than Engine/Squad 51 appear, the other firefighters are actually firefighters. Similarly, Engine 51's driver Mike Stoker was played by Los Angeles County firefighter Mike Stoker, the captain in the first season was an LACoFD captain, and the uncredited dispatcher was really a county dispatcher.
  • The low-budget 80s action film Killpoint is mostly memorable for using real police officers in several scenes, including a S.W.A.T. team.
  • R. Lee Ermey played another drill instructor in the sci-fi series, Space: Above and Beyond.
  • Retired Marine Captain Dale Dye has played a number of soldiers, including Colonel Sink in Band of Brothers, Colonel Wood in The Rough Riders, a Marine officer in Space: Above and Beyond and a Resistance officer in Falling Skies he plays an officer directing the resistance. He also ran the boot camp for the actors in Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, and The Pacific. He also reprised the role of Colonel Sink for Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway.
  • In an episode of Battlestar Galactica that called for a musician in a major part, they came close to casting the series composer Bear McCreary. They went with someone else after the audition, but it came very close to fulfilling this trope. Bear had a cameo later on as a piano player in the background.
  • Summer Glau was actually discovered this way. Glau, who is a trained dancer, was originally cast as a ballerina in an episode of Angel.
  • In the children's TV series Brum, Mike Cavanagh played the role of the motoring museum owner. In real life, he wasn't an actor but the actual owner of the museum. He didn't have to do much acting as for the most part he only appeared in the opening and closing of each episode, and in the 2001 revival the footage was cut so he was barely even seen at all.
  • The PBS educational series The Voyage Of The Mimi gave the role of crusty Captain Granville to Peter Marston, who was a crusty MIT professor and the actual owner of the boat used in the show. Not to mention likely the first and only nuclear physicist with an Actor's Equity card.
  • Both the History Channel and the Military Channel have had a number of shows hosted by either Richard ("Mack") Machowicz or Will ("Whiskey-Whiskey") Willis. Mack is a former SEAL, while Will served in both the Army Rangers and Air Force Pararescue.
  • Mr Selfridge cast Natalia Kremen, a former artist with the Bolshoi Ballet and English National Ballet, as famed ballerina Anna Pavlova.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 speculated about this in the episode Skydivers, supplying the page quote.
  • In the Leverage episode The Two Live Crew Job, rival thief Apollo is played by former pickpocket and series consultant Apollo Robbins.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise. In Season 3 the Enterprise starts taking a regular hammering during the Xindi arc, so featured a lot of scenes where the main characters would walk down a corridor in the midst of being repaired. As this involved Building Is Welding, the Paramount set constructors (who were familiar with using welding equipment safely) were put in Starfleet uniforms as background extras.
  • On Game of Thrones, many of the prostitutes are played by porn actresses.
  • JAG:
    • Retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant Matt Sigloch, originally hired for a small part in the Pilot Movie, became the on-set military technical advisor for all the 227 episodes.
    • Admiral Chegwidden’s replacement as Judge Advocate General in the final 10th season, General Cresswell, is played by actor David Andrews, who is a graduate of Stanford Law School and was a practicing attorney before becoming an actor.
  • A recurring trope in Russell T Davies' run on Doctor Who is showing in-universe TV newscasts describing whatever alien invasion is currently plaguing Earth. Many of the newsreaders are played by actual anchors for BBC News.
  • Some of the extras in Invasion: Earth in the scenes involving weapons were actually service personnel from RAF Leuchars, which served as the show's set for the air base.

    Theatre 
  • In both the original Broadway production and the film version of The Music Man, the school board who always disagreed about everything until Professor Hill tricked them into being a barbershop quartet were played by The Buffalo Bills, an award-winning barbershop quartet.

    Video Games 


Cast SpeciationCharacters and CastingCelebrity Paradox
The ChoirImageSource/Live-Action TVThe City Hunter
Does Not Like MenImageSource/Music'Weird Al" Yankovic
Cash Cow FranchiseTriviaCast Incest

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