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Lost in Character

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"I don't drop character 'til I've done the DVD commentary."
Kirk Lazarus (as Lincoln Osiris), Tropic Thunder

This is when a character who is an actor (not an actor in Real Life who plays a character) goes so deep into their role that they end up temporarily forgetting their original self. They usually start Method Acting, and, before anyone knows it, is so immersed in the role they're playing that they almost literally become that role, forgetting their old name, life, and setting aside their original personality. It's worth noting that while this is analogous to Becoming the Mask, the character who becomes this is not a criminal or The Mole, may not even like the role they have immersed themselves in, and has gone so deep into the role that they don't lament any Loss of Identity or even remember having been a different person (much less compare that life to the present).

While in this state, the character may act against their own interests or those of their allies and loved ones, though a good slap may fix them, or pushing a Berserk Button their normal self would take issue with. If the character had a previous psychological disorder, this may result in temporary Loss of Identity or even forming one or more Split Personalities. In extreme cases, it may take Deprogramming to bring them back.

This trope can be considered a mundane, non-Phlebotinum version of getting hit with Laser-Guided Amnesia and having Fake Memories implanted.

A Sister Trope to Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality.

Compare with Becoming the Mask, where con men or The Mole who grow to like their assumed identity more than their original one, and also That Man Is Dead, in which the character emphatically rejects his old identity. Compare also Enforced Method Acting, where this is imposed on an actor.

Contrast Brainwashed and Crazy and Split-Personality Takeover.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In .hack//SIGN, a limited version happens of this. Tsukasa knows he's in a videogame even though he can't leave the game and feels everything within it as though he were actually there, but he's forgotten that in real life he's actually a girl.
  • This is Kei's Fatal Flaw in act-age. While her method acting allows her to create hyper-realistic performances (almost disturbingly so to those watching), this also often leads her to forget her surroundings and acting as if what's in the script was actually happening before her eyes. If the script tells her to passively watch her child being killed, she'll drop-kick the "killer" to prevent it. After the audition for a film called Death Island (where the actors were supposed to create the mood for a massacre), she even says that she might have actually tried to kill someone for real if co-actress Akane hadn't stopped her.
  • Glass Mask:
    • Played straight, when this gets put to attention during the staging of The Two Princesses. Ayumi prepared viciously for the role, to the point that she talks of actually being Origeld, and Origeld being the one doing the moving and talking. After the last performance, she mentions this to Maya, who casually mentions that it's been like that for her all the time.
    • Discussed when Tsukikage later tells Ayumi and Maya to portray the elements for their test of understanding the role of the Crimson Goddess. She reprimands Maya for being the wind and not portraying it, telling her that losing herself into the character isn't a good thing to do.
  • In Midori Days, Seiji and his Delinquent friends get called upon to play the roles in a movie of the underlings of a character played by Aikawa Shou, their favorite actor. During Shou's tearful death scene, the boys get too worked up, rise up and beat the crap out of the actors playing the guys who killed him. The director decides to Throw It In!.
  • In the anime film Perfect Blue, Mima confuses scenes from the TV series in which she acts with reality, played for Mind Screw.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, Fuya Okudaira, a child actor, is pressured by his Stage Mom to not speak with other children and to focus on his role as D.D. ESPer Robin. While Fuya wants to be friends with other kids, he doesn't want to disappoint his mother. Upon coming across a Numbers card (which amplifies the user's desires, usually to a sinister extent) that takes a form similar to his mother, he begins to believe that he really is D.D. ESPer Robin, and vows to protect his card, No. 83: Galaxy Queen, as he would his own mother.

  • Gary Gulman has a routine where he talks about Kinky Role-Playing a teacher-student Sextra Credit scenario with his girlfriend as foreplay. But Gary rebuffs all of her advances, deciding he's more interested in getting her to pass his class than sleep with her.

    Comic Books 
  • Azrael: A combination of the Scarecrow's Fear Gas and the mind-altering System lead Jean-Paul Valley to believe that not only was he Batman, but the one true Batman, going so far as to claim that he was nothing if he couldn't be Batman.
  • Batman:
  • In a 1970s story, a combination of psychological conditioning and PTSD left Marvel Comics super-spy the Black Widow mentally "stuck" in her cover identity as mousy schoolteacher Nancy Rushman.
  • Dylan Dog's assistant Groucho is not the actual Groucho Marx, but rather a failed actor that impersonated him and simply never stopped acting in-character. Interestingly, his real name is apparently Julius, which was also the original Groucho's actual name (Julius Henry Marx).
  • The Vertigo reboot of Human Target made this a key part of Christopher Chance's success. He was so good at impersonating his clients that he actually built himself into their personalities in order to fool whoever was trying to take a swing at them, and required extensive deprogramming once a job was complete.
  • One Judge Dredd story involved an actor playing Judge Death at a tourist trap who got a little too immersed in the role. He begins talking like Death even when off the clock and eventually starts hallucinating the real Death appearing to him and encouraging him to murder people. He snaps and kills his manager, then tries to kill a group of people in a bar with an axe. Dredd is forced to shoot him to save them. Hilariously, his manager continues to praise his Method Acting, even while being strangled to death.
  • This was part of Judge Doom's backstory in Roger Rabbit: The Resurrection of Doom, explaining why nobody knew who he really was until after the events of the movie.
  • Spider-Man: In recent interpretations, the Chameleon sometimes has trouble discarding his assumed identities without some mental issues.
  • In the Tintin story The Secret of the Unicorn, Captain Haddock gets so wrapped up in the tale of his famous ancestor Sir Francis Haddock that he runs off some visitors at cutlass-point in the belief they're pirates, and demolishes his room while relating the battle with Red Rackham.

    Comic Strips 
  • This was also parodied in a 2009 Garfield strip, with the dialogue as follows;
    General on TV: Holy bovines, Corporal! There's a giant monster invading the city!
    Soldier on TV: That's not a monster, sir.
    General: What are you talking about? Call out the artillery!
    Soldier: It's just a bad actor in a rubber suit.
    General: Oh, it is not! It's a monster!
    Soldier: Come on... I can see the zipper.
    General: Egad! A zipper monster! That's the worst kind!
    Soldier: And that's not a real city.
    General: Insolence! I'll have you court-martialed!!
    Soldier: These are just tiny little model buildings.
    Garfield: General Cordwood seems to have buried himself in the part.
    Soldier: See?
    General: PUT MY HOUSE DOWN!!

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Bad Education (2004) Juan is only pretending to be his dead brother, Ignacio. But in the process, Juan gradually ends up in the exact same situation, such as getting involved with the same men and dressing up as a transvestite.
  • This concept is a metaphorical interpretation of Black Swan. Nina, sweet and a perfect representation of the White Swan, tries so hard to become the Black Swan that she loses herself.
  • The 1947 Film Noir A Double Life is all about this, where an actor (Ronald Colman) playing Othello on Broadway finds his life being taken over by the role and eventually follows in the part's footsteps when he murders his mistress.
  • Galaxy Quest: Due to the premise, this is a recurring joke for the whole cast. Just about everyone has a moment where they forget their real selves, Guy especially (who only had a one-time bit part on the show). Hell, by the end, even Alexander is in on it, and he always hated his role!
  • The House That Dripped Blood: In "Method for Murder", Richard, the failed actor that Alice uses to play Dominick, the strangler from her husband Charles' book, in order to drive him insane, becomes so immersed in the role that he actually believes he is Dominick and murders the psychiatrist, Charles, and finally Alice.
  • In a similar effect like the one in Perfect Blue, Nikki Grace from Inland Empire confuses her acting with reality, at a point where is impossible, even for the spectator to tell which is which.
    Nikki: Damn... It sounds like dialogue from our script!
    Kingsley: Cut, cut it.
  • One interpretation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail is that it is actually a documentary recreation of Arthur's adventures set in the modern era, only to have everyone fall prey to this until the end when they're arrested for murder.
  • Parodied in this ad for Pokémon Detective Pikachu, in which Ryan Reynolds claims to have indulged in ultra-intense Method Acting for the role of Pikachu, doing things like abandoning his kids in the middle of the street because “Pikachu doesn’t know who those kids are”. His wife, Blake Lively, is not enthused.
  • Deconstructed and parodied in Tropic Thunder by Robert Downey, Jr.'s character, a method actor so obsessed with being authentic with his roles that he's willing to get cosmetic surgery to look like an entirely different ethnicity, sticks to it well beyond any point of reason, and ultimately has an identity crisis when made to realize he has no idea who he really is under all these characters. The gag is extended to the DVD commentary, where RDJ stays in character as Kirk Lazarus as Sergeant Lincoln Osiris until the very line of the movie where Lazarus-as-Osiris claims not to break character until the DVD commentary. When Ben Stiller calls him on it, he finally breaks character... and continues the commentary as Kirk Lazarus, acclaimed Aussie actor. It's only when Lazarus has his own "Who am I?" moment in the film that Robert Downey Jr. emerges.
  • According to the sequel comic, Judge Doom of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was originally a Toon actor named Baron Von Rotten, who often played villainous roles (a deleted scene of the movie claimed Doom was the one who shot Bambi's mom). A concussion during a shoot led him to think he really was a villain.

  • Harlan Ellison's short story "All the Sounds of Fear" has a particularly grotesque and tragic take on this. Shapeshifting is involved, perhaps not entirely voluntary.
  • The titular hero of The Belgariad discusses this with Silk, the True Companions' resident thief and con artist, who has been employing an exaggerated version of his actual identity as an Alorn prince as a cover.
    Garion: I've been meaning to ask you about something. Always before, you acted almost as if you were ashamed of your title. Here in Mallorea, though, you seem to want to wallow in it.
    Silk: What a fascinating choice of words.
    Garion: You know what I mean.
    Silk: In the West, my title's an inconvenience. It attracts too much attention, and it gets in the way. Things are different here in Mallorea. Here, nobody takes you seriously unless you’ve got a title. I've got one, so I use it. It opens certain doors for me and permits me to have dealings with people who wouldn't have time for Ambar of Kotu or Radek of Boktor. Nothing's really changed, though.
    Garion: Then all of that posturing and pomposity — pardon the terms — are just for show?
    Silk: Of course they are, Garion. You don't think I've turned to a complete ass, do you?
    Garion: Then Prince Kheldar is as much a fiction as Ambar and Radek, isn't he?
    Silk: Of course he is.
    Garion: But where's the real Silk?
    Silk: It's very hard to say, Garion. Sometimes I think I lost him years ago.
  • This trope runs rampant through The Day of the Locust as part of the book's critique of Hollywood artifice; almost all of the performers in the book dive so deep into inhabiting fake personalities for audiences that their real personalities have all but vanished.
    • Washed-up vaudeville clown Harry Greener has spent so long using his suffering to entertain audiences that he now seeks out opportunities to regale unwilling but interested bar patrons with tales of his ruined life, from his over-before-it-began entertainment career to his marriage to a serial adulteress who ran away with a magician and left him to bring up their daughter, Faye, alone. Protagonist Tod Hackett reflects on Harry's permanently in-character status early in the book:
      When Harry had first begun his stage career, he had probably restricted his clowning to the boards, but now he clowned continuously. It was his sole method of defense. Most people, he had discovered, won’t go out of their way to punish a clown.
    • Harry's daughter Faye has been trained to use exaggeration as part of her dramatic performances, and while her acting career will likely never take off, she uses the same fakery as a defence against the harsh reality that she has no talent, viewing everything she does - including prostituting herself to pay for her father's funeral - as just another role.
    • Faye's quasi-boyfriend, cowboy Earle Shoop, and his friends Calvin and Hink can no longer separate the characters they play in their very occasional western roles from the people they are offscreen and spend their idle hours loitering in front of a saddlery store as if they were posing on a dusty frontier town set.
  • In Double Star Lorenzo is hired to impersonate kidnapped politician John Joseph Bonforte. He becomes so immersed in being Bonforte that after the original is killed, he takes over and actually becomes him. By the end of the book, he's forgotten he was ever anyone else.
  • Dream Park: In The Barsoom Project, a young LARPer named Michelle is handed a working rifle by a saboteur and unwittingly kills an extra in the Fimbulwinter Game. Unable to face what she's done, she convinces herself that she really is her character, "Eviane", who'd shot the man because he was a villain trying to impose Endless Winter upon the world.
  • In The Night Mayor, a problem develops inside a virtual reality realm based on Film Noir movies. The first person sent in to fix it is chosen because he creates detective VR stories and already has his own hardboiled detective VR persona. After he's been in for a while (and partly due to mind games by the villain), he loses track of his identity and forgets the persona isn't the real him, and somebody else has to be sent in to rescue him and fix the original problem.
  • Shtetl Days is about historical reenactors in a victorious Nazi Germany who play the role of Jews in The Theme Park Version of a shtetl. The protagonist Veit Harlan is so consumed by the persona of "Jakub Shlayfer" that he even writes it as his signature. An SS officer lampshades Veit's dedication to his role by seriously asking him for his identity card.
  • Kurt Vonnegut's "Who Am I This Time?", featuring an actor who entirely inhabits his roles, because he doesn't really have a personality outside of them. Later adapted to an excellent made-for-TV movie starring Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon, and directed by Jonathan Demme.
  • In the X-Wing Series, Gara Petothel is a Deep Cover Agent formerly from Imperial Intelligence who no longer has anyone to deprogram her between missions. During one infiltration she's profoundly impacted by the Power of Trust and hopes to Become the Mask and embrace the role of Lara Nostil, a Farm Girl-turned-Ace Pilot. But then she's contacted by the (dead) Nostil's actual brother with a message from the Big Bad, complete with doctored family holograms in the background that insert Gara into Lara's life. This is not good for her already fragile mental state, and for a little while she finds herself struggling to remember whether she's Gara pretending to be Lara or Lara who's imagining she was once Gara. She gets over it pretty quickly, though.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: Tommy is forced to become his highschool's Mascot after failing to show enough enthusiasm during a game. He quickly becomes addicted to the attention, refuses to answer to any name but "Hooty" and eventually attacks the coach when the team loses a game.
  • In Avenue 5, Sarah is an actress who is playing one of the bridge crew, also named Sarah, and constantly switches back and forth between Sarah, the actress, and Sarah, the character. This eventually leads to her ejecting herself out the airlock because it seemed like something her character would do.
  • Better Call Saul: As the timeline progresses, Jimmy is increasingly prone to diving into his various personas and effectively becoming them to cope with his problems and traumas. He starts as himself (a cheerful Nice Guy), gradually transitions into Saul (a sleazy but lovable Noble Demon) as he struggles, then crashes into Gene (a timid and paranoid Shrinking Violet) after having to go on the run, and then finally ends up creating Viktor (a callous and ill-tempered sociopath) when all the issues and feelings he's been suppressing for years get dredged back up and he starts self-destructively chasing the highs of crime again.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Drusilla uses her psychic talents to appear to Giles as his former lover Jenny Calendar in order to seduce some information from him. She gets so carried away in the role that she continues making out with him for some time after learning what she was after.
    • Overlapping with Becoming the Mask, Faith switches bodies with Buffy and then impersonates her for several days. She becomes so enamored with Buffy's heroic lifestyle (with loving family and friends looking up to her), that when she has the chance to skip town free and clear she instead comes back to save innocent hostages from a group of vampires "because it's wrong". When Buffy-in-Faith's-body shows up to confront her afterwards, all Faith's own self-loathing comes pouring out in their fight; she beats the crap out of her former body while screaming that she's dirt, trash, and evil. Buffy is able to switch their bodies back but is so shaken by what she just witnessed that she doesn't pursue Faith when she immediately flees.
  • Colditz: An officer in the World War 2 German prisoner of war camp simulates insanity so that he will be repatriated to Britain, the plan being that he will then reveal himself as sane and return to action. His simulation succeeds only too well – at the end of the episode, the prisoners in Colditz receive a letter from the officer's wife relating that he actually went insane and is now confined to a mental institution. The escape committee then decides that no other prisoner in Colditz is to attempt that ploy.
  • Community:
    • This was parodied in an episode when Abed told the story of creating and then becoming a character for his walk-on role in Cougar Town. Danny Pudi filmed a cameo on Cougar Town in reference to this scene.
    • Parodied in "Documentary Making: Redux", wherein Jeff is reluctantly cast as the Dean for a short commercial for Greendale and is forced to wear a bald cap over his natural hair. The shoot is only supposed to be for one day, but thanks in part to Jeff's own efforts to try and get out of it, it ends up going for almost two weeks – all of which time Jeff is forced to wear his Dean's costume. Over this time Jeff gradually begins to take on several of the Dean's character traits and becomes convinced that he's actually a bald man who "only dreamed of having hair".
  • This is arguably the super-power of Echo, the protagonist of Dollhouse. Despite repeated memory wipes, she always retains the "imprints" of the other personalities she's assumed.
  • L.A. Law: On the episode entitled "Leapin' Lizards," a comic-book company is suing actor Julius Goldfarb to enjoin him from making anymore public appearances as their character "The Salamander," a crime-fighting superhero he portrayed in a TV series years before. Under harsh questioning during the hearing, it comes out that Julius has come to believe that he actually is the Salamander, wearing his costume and going out at night to fight real criminals. He tears off his suit to reveal that he always wears the costume and starts climbing the courtroom wall, after which he's arrested and committed. When his lawyer Ann Kelsey visits him in the hospital, he breaks down in tears at the prospect of never again being able to be the Salamander.
  • Possibly Sophie Devereaux in Leverage. She mentions before her sabbatical that she's created so many fake personas she's not really sure what's really her anymore and leaves to bury each of them. This extends so far that we're not sure what her real name is.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Blood on the Saddle", originally Adam’s outlaw persona of Billy the Kid for the Old West show was simply a form of escapism for his otherwise dull life as an optician. However, following Susan convincing him to commit several murders in the role, by the end Adam honestly believes he is Billy the Kid. In the episode’s climax, he hallucinates that the Fincher farm is a saloon and believes Inspector Barnaby is Marshal Wyatt Earp.
  • Misfits had a Femme Fatale character who turned out to be this; she was auditioning for a part when the storm happened, and her power made her become that character. Unfortunately for everyone involved, this also means she subconsciously exerts a degree of Mind Control, compelling the men she gets involved with to fall into the roles of her recurring story: first as her secret lover, then her savior from her abusive ex-, finally becoming her abusive ex- for the next guy in the cycle to save her from.
  • This was a plot point in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Actor", when a TV movie was being made about Adrian Monk, starring renowned actor David Ruskin as him. Except, Ruskin has a history of falling too deeply into his roles (for example, once having to spend three months in a rehab clinic after playing an alcoholic in a TV movie, because he managed to have all the symptoms of alcoholism without drinking), and when he portrayed Monk... Afterward, in session with Dr. Kroger, Monk notes that Ruskin has decided to try something less depressing, then adds "He's in England playing Hamlet."
  • A common joke in The Office (US) involves a character (usually either Dwight or Michael or both) getting so caught up in a fake scnario that they forget it isn't actually real. Jim loves to take advantage of this for his pranks, such as when he effortlessly manipulates a role-played customer service interaction to tell Michael that he'll buy a million bushels of paper if he fires Dwight, and the two react with all the horror and temptation that they would if this were an actual legitimate offer.
  • One episode of Press Gang concerned an actor who played the lead role in children's adventure serial Colonel X, who had been severely typecast and 'drinking rather too much' before getting into a car crash which killed his wife. Unable to handle it, he started going around in-character as the Colonel, aided by how the press erroneously reported him dead along with his wife. (This is a mashup of problems affecting famous Doctor Who actors Tom Baker and Roger Delgado (who played the Master), and the Colonel is played in the show by Michael Jayston, who played the not-quite-Doctor the Valeyard. The episode was written by Steven Moffat, who later went on to... well, yeah.)
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Emma Stone. Stone plays an actress in a gay porn movie whose only role is to leave the house and then come back a while later to catch her husband cheating on her with another man. She gets deep into character, trying to understand what motivates the woman, and ends up giving an amazing performance...that the director will just cut, because it's gay porn, and no one cares about the internal life of the cheated-on wife.
  • In The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "A World of Difference", this is what everybody thinks happened to Gerry Raigan, an alcoholic actor who seems to have snapped and identified too closely with happy executive character Arthur Curtis. He, on the other hand, thinks that he actually is Curtis, trapped in a nightmare world.
  • On WKRP in Cincinnati, a well-paying job requires Johnny Fever to play an obnoxious, boisterous host of a televised disco dance show, to the point he actually does begin to lose himself and becomes frightened this vile character will become him. Twice as interesting for the fact that Johnny Caravella already plays a role as Doctor Johnny Fever – but it is a role he likes. His best friend Gordon Sims tried to lose himself in the role of Venus Flytrap, to escape from the memories of his time in Vietnam. They catch up with him anyway.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • According to kayfabe, the Boogeyman was an aspiring television actor who couldn't let go of his commitment to a role after his horror series was cancelled. There were a lot of rumors floating around about him while he was wrestling; dirt sheets commonly reported that he actually did eat worms backstage (he'd eat them in the ring as part of promos to freak his enemies out...or just because) and that he'd stay in character all the time.

  • Dead Ringers: Apparently anyone who plays Queen Elizabeth II becomes convinced she is Her Maj, as Olivia Colman learns a little too late in Christmas 2020, having ignored the warnings of Claire Foy and Helen Mirren.
  • When the cast of I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again reformed for their last series in 1973, after a five-year break, this phenomenon was Lampshaded in a mainly-comic sketch. Tim Brooke-Taylor was viewed as so identified with his famous radio personality of Lady Constance de Coverlet, that he simply couldn't get out of character. Fellow cast member Graeme Garden - playing on the fact he genuinely is a qualified medical doctor - diagnosed the condition and performed an "operation" on set to surgically separate Tim from Lady Constance - incidentally parodying TV medical dramas and soap operas.

  • Hamlet is sometimes interpreted this way, with Hamlet's feigned insanity leading to him actually losing his grip on reality.

    Video Games 
  • In one of the many endings on the PC video game adaptation of And Then There Were None, one of the culprits is an actress who got too far into character and committed murder for real.
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine has voice actress Susie Campbell. She really took to her Alice Angel role, so much that she liked it when Joey called her Alice and that she referred to herself as "Alice" in her Chapter 4 audio log where she mentions that Joey has an "opportunity" for her. Then she became an inky version of Alice.
  • In the BioShock Infinite DLC "Burial at Sea", it turns out that the Booker you've been playing as is actually an alternate version of Comstock. In his universe, he accidentally caused the death of his Elizabeth and was overwhelmed with horror and regret over what he did. In a desperate attempt to atone or at least calm his guilt, he found a universe that had no Elizabeth (that of the original BioShock) and took up Booker's name as a private detective who helped people in Rapture. At some point his deception became so thorough that he genuinely thought he was Booker, seeing no distinction between his real history and the cover story he made up for himself. Of course, "Booker" is his real identity and Comstock was an invention all along...
  • In Don't Starve, Wigfrid is a faded actress obsessed with her battle-hungry Viking character to the point of peppering her speech with umlauts and refusing to eat non-meat dishes. Her character animation "The Curtain Calls" implies that this was her most famous role, but also a Tough Act to Follow, driving her into depression and delusion until Maxwell offered her the chance to live as the Valkyrie for real.
    Whoever Wigfrid was before her titular role has been lost to time, and the power of method acting.
  • Gravity Rush: At the end of the mission "A Time to Play", Kat has seemingly forgotten why she was trying to infiltrate the Snakerabbits to begin with, embracing her role as the gang's new leader and threatening the police officers she was helping when they come by to see how things shook out. They're confused, but awkwardly let it slide since she solved the problem anyway.
    Kat: If you want to arrest the Snakerabbits, you're gonna have to go through me first.
    Chaz: Miss Kat...?
    Syd: Aren't you taking the undercover thing a little too far?
  • Martin Brown, one of the player characters of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, is an actor portraying Jacket in the fictional Midnight Animal film. In the dream sequence of one of his chapters, he professes his love of killing teenagers and attacks an interviewer. When confronted with Richard, Martin tries to explain that it's only a film, but Richard isn't buying it.
  • Metal Gear series:
    • Metal Gear Solid: Decoy Octopus is so committed to his disguises that he requires deprogramming to leave his assumed identities after a mission.
    • The purpose of the S3 program imposed upon Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was to inflict this upon him, turning him from a former child soldier who rewrote his whole past with the power of denial into a second embodiment of Solid Snake.
      Colonel: This is a type of 'role-playing game'. The point is that you play out your part – and I expect you to turn in a perfect performance!
    • In Metal Gear Ac!d, La Clown is able to 'become' Teliko so thoroughly that La Clown is able to access Teliko's memories and feelings, only breaking character when telling Snake her codename of Swallowtail. Apparently only a powerful psychic can detect the difference between La Clown's stolen memories and a person's real memories.
  • Played for Horror in NEEDY STREAMER OVERLOAD. The "Internet Overdose" ending concludes with Ame having a psychotic breakdown from all her stress and losing herself in her KAngel streamer persona, to the point of holding a memorial picture of Ame in one stream as if holding a funeral for her original self.
  • Some text in XCOM: Chimera Squad mentions Faceless being subject to Psychic Fragmentation Syndrome, implying impersonating other people has deleterious effects on their mental health. This explains why all Faceless encountered in the game are untransformed.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • The main characters in Sublo and Tangy Mustard are always wearing their costumes and refer to each other by the mascots' names even when they're not at work. Justified because their boss makes them wear their costumes at all times.

  • Taken to frightening extremes in Guilded Age: The five main characters are online gamers selected to take part in a deep-immersion virtual reality role-playing game, and due to the unique magic/technology hybrid nature of the game, they think they actually are their game characters, with absolutely no memory of who they really are or the lives that they used to have.

    Web Original 
  • One of the possible Game Over scenes you may encounter watching Netflix’s interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch in that the fourth wall is suddenly broken and the entire film is revealed to be just that, but the lead actor playing Stefan is losing his mind and starting to think he really is Stefan.
  • In The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, several of the ex-Doctors are portrayed in this way as part of their copious Adam Westing. Peter Davison, for instance, is well aware that he isn't actually the Doctor but seems to think that he can actually use the TARDIS to travel in time, and Tom Baker is portrayed ambiguously (via a Fake Shemp) – he's either convinced he is the Doctor for real, or he actually is the Doctor for real.
  • The Xanadu Storyverse has an inversion occur sometimes. Technically, it's Becoming the Costume, but this only happens sometimes to someone who was changed. On the other hand, the costuming was a mass event. Changed people who have had their minds replaced are called "strangers".
  • "Never Go Full Method", a Dungeons & Dragons greentext story about a changeling rogue who specializes in killing and replacing people, but is known for getting in character a little too much. He ends up nearly losing his mind and accidentally mindbreaking a Mind Flayer after a series of circumstances forces him to layer disguises upon disguises.

    Western Animation 
  • Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender seems to joke about this when she was playing the villain for training. When she throws a flaming boulder too close to Sokka she cries out:
  • Beetlejuice: Beetlejuice is roped into playing Captain Ahab in a production of Moby-Dick and so gets into the part he starts thinking he is the man, leading to a disparaging comment from the whale playing Moby about Method actors.
  • The arc of Series 5 of BoJack Horseman involves BoJack losing the distinction between himself and his Defective Detective character, Philbert. A set designer who unintentionally designs Philbert's house as looking exactly like BoJack's, a relationship with the actress playing Philbert's love interest, Meta Casting elements getting written into the character as a plot to Catch the Conscience, a gruelling schedule of endless night shoots, BoJack's difficulty handling his mother's death and his becoming addicted to opiate painkillers after an accident on set makes matters increasingly worse, and BoJack's decaying mental state eventually causes him to have a Creator Breakdown in which he perceives the world as a gritty police procedural and culminates in having to be pulled off his costar as he tries to actually strangle her during a fight scene.
  • In an episode of DuckTales (1987) when an amnesiac Scrooge goes missing, the boys have Fenton impersonate him until he can be found. Fenton gets too caught up into the role and starts pinching pennies even harder than the real Scrooge, up to and including cutting both the housekeeper's pay and the nephews' allowances! When the real Scrooge finally regains his memory and starts proving himself to be the real deal, by this point Fenton has lost himself in the role so much that he tries to have his own boss arrested.
  • In Ed, Edd n Eddy, Double D and Eddy dress up Ed in a monster costume vaguely resembling a xenomorph in hopes that maybe he'd attract customers to their fair, but Ed's overactive imagination soon takes over and he soon starts truly believing he is a monster and starts attacking all the kids in the cul-de-sac.
    Edd: This is worse than I thought! This isn't as simple as pretending or play-acting, Eddy! Ed actually believes he's become a monster!
  • Happens in A Flintstones Christmas Carol, while Fred is busy rehearsing his part of Scrooge and starts acting like a selfish jerk to his family and friends.
  • In an episode of the "Super Chicken" segment of George of the Jungle, an actor portraying a Snidely Whiplash-like character abducted the actress portraying the damsel in distress, making her a real Damsel in Distress.
  • In Kappa Mikey's Christmas Episode this is Gonard’s fate in a Bad Future via the It's a Wonderful Plot section. Because nobody yelled “CUT” during the taping of the final episode of Lilymu (since everyone was abruptly fired) Gonard never stopped playing his villainous counterpart from the show. Thus he became an actual supervillain; or at least a public menace.
  • In an episode of Kim Possible The Fearless Ferret and White Stripe's actors forget they are actors and think they are their own characters.
    Timothy North: So what have you been up to lately?
    Rudolph Farnsworth: Oh living each day in delusion thinking fiction is reality. That's me.
    Timothy North: Me too.
  • The Legend of Korra: Bolin does this when he gets some Acquired Situational Narcissism after playing Nuktuk, hero of the south, refusing to answer to his actual name, and not understanding why exactly the actress he works with isn't interested in him off-stage.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Fake It Till You Make It", Fluttershy creates three salespony personas — one posh, one hipster/valley, and one disaffected goth — and hides behind them because she's too much of a wallflower to deal with strangers directly. It doesn't take long for the personas to start taking over and disagreeing with each other.
  • In an episode of Peter Pan & the Pirates when Peter obtains Hook's hat he starts acting like a pirate captain himself. He gets so caught up playing the role though that he winds up literally believing himself to be a real pirate, to the point of even talking in Hook's voice. This ends up with the real Hook joining forces with him and Peter trying to feed Wendy to the crocodile!
  • The Simpsons:
    • Duffman, whose actor—or at least one of them—openly admits he has no distinct personality out of his costume anymore and cringes to be called by his real name (Larry Duffman). It's later implied that this happens to all the actors playing Duffman when Homer mentions he thought he heard he'd died.
      Duffman: Duffman can't die, only the actors who play him. Oh yeah!
    • One-shot minor character Senor Ding-Dong was only a man playing the role of a doorbell company mascot, a Zorro-style hero who fixes doorbells with a whip. Then he just became that character entirely.
    • Implied to have happened to the ventriloquist operating Gabbo, who repeatedly begs the puppet to stop calling the audience "SOB's", not realising that the camera was still rolling at the time.
  • South Park:
    • Cartman creates a very unfunny and very racist hand puppet impersonation of Jennifer Lopez for a diversity event. He soon completely loses control over everything he makes Jennifer do, and "she" gets a record deal despite Cartman's protests, engages in a sexual relationship with Ben Affleck, ends up in hospital thanks to assault from the real Jennifer Lopez, eventually reveals she is actually a con artist named Mitch Connor, swallows a Cyanide Pill and dies. Subverted in the final seconds of the episode when it's revealed Cartman was just doing it to convince Kyle that this trope was in play, so he could laugh at him about it. Although Mitch Connor returns in "200" and knows Mr. Hat, making this more confusing.
    • "Super Fun Time" has the boys and their class visit a 19th-century living history museum. There is a rule stating that the employees are not allowed to break character for any reason until the moment the work day ends, and the employees treat this rule as Serious Business. A group of robbers who held up a Burger King takes everyone in the museum hostage and demand they give up the code to an electronically locked door so they can escape the police, and since electronic locks don't exist in the 19th century, the employees can't tell them, no matter how much they want to. When the robbers start killing employees for not cooperating, one employee decides to break character and tell them the code to make the killing stop. Before he can do so, one of the other employees uses a gun the kids convinced him to get to arm himself against the bad guys and shoots him dead. The kids and the robbers are absolutely dumbfounded.
      Robber: You people are fucking insane!
  • In the second episode of Ultimate Spider-Man (2012), Agent Coulson is made the new principal at Peter Parker's school, so he can keep an eye on Pete and his friends. Midway through the next episode, he calls Nick Fury, frantically begging for the full power of S.H.I.E.L.D... to help balance the school's budget.

    Real Life 
  • This is not unprecedented for practitioners of Method Acting, and can have very real and very negative effects on the actor in question. A good portion of acting training is, in fact, learning how to avoid this.
  • After portraying Idi Amin (a brutal and genocidal Ugandan dictator) in The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker had to go into a period of intense therapy to shake off the character.
  • The Canadian actor Raymond Massey, best known for his many, many portrayals of Abraham Lincoln on stage, film, and television, eventually became so obsessed with perfecting his performance that he started to assume the vocal and physical mannerisms of Lincoln in day-to-day life, even appearing at social gatherings dressed in Lincoln-esque clothing. A friend said of his obsession, "Massey won't be satisfied until someone assassinates him."
  • Rumours abounded that Heath Ledger's take on The Joker was at least in part responsible for his death. The Joker's psyche certainly is unsettling, to say the least. His co-stars seem to debunk this theory as they said he seemed really relaxed between takes and on stage, and in no way exhibited behavior that supports this theory (his acting was good enough that it genuinely frightened some of them, but when the cameras were off he was perfectly normal). Likewise, at the time of Ledger's death, he was working on another film, Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus which was a comic performance and far less stressful.
  • Andy Griffith noted that he had this problem when playing Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd, and it led him to mostly stay away from such roles for the rest of his career.
  • Combined with the substance abuse issues he had at the time, David Bowie was noted to at least be worried about this happening with some of his stage personas, particularly the unsettling and unpleasant (and fascist) Thin White Duke from Station to Station, which in turn derived from his appearance in The Man Who Fell to Earth. This led to him moving away from adopting full characters on stage at around the same time as he pulled himself out of his addiction. Later in life, Bowie said he was afraid that his Ziggy Stardust character would come back into his mind and drive him completely insane.
  • The same thing nearly happened to Alice Cooper as his alcoholism spiraled out of control in the 1970s. A stay in a sanitarium pulled him out of it.
  • Peter Sellers. Directors often described him as "not having any real personality of his own". At one point during an interview, after demonstrating a wide variety of voices and character types, the interviewer asked if he was now speaking in his real voice. After some hesitation, he replied with a confused "I don't know." When Sellers was the guest on The Muppet Show, unlike any other guest on the series, he never appeared on-screen out of character. During the "five minutes to showtime" intro, he's Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther. This appearance is the source of his famous quote, "There is no me. I do not exist."
  • Actors who played the Doctor from Doctor Who have been prone to this, as the Doctor is said to be one of those characters (much like Sherlock Holmes) who just gets into an actor's head and erodes their identity, and prolonged exposure is extremely dangerous – most Doctors only play the character for short runs as a protective measure against this. A couple, however, slipped into this:
    • Due to the serious mental health problems he was experiencing at the time combined with a punishing shooting schedule, William Hartnell, who played the first Doctor, is reported to have, at times, not known if he was the Doctor or not. He slipped into character to talk his way out of a parking ticket at one point, which is understandable, but apparently would also slip into character to get away from familial obligations, and occasionally even for no obvious reason.
    • The other Doctor whose mental health tanked as a result of the role, Tom Baker, would reportedly keep up character whenever he was out and about for the benefit of child fans, but seven years of being the Doctor both onscreen and off took its toll on both his stress levels and his ability to distinguish Doctor Who from reality. He was unable to stop comparing himself to the character and experienced intense self-loathing for not being so wonderful and heroic as him, in particular struggling to accept his inability to save people from real problems the way the Doctor could save people from monsters, and found himself succumbing to various personality flaws that he had but the Doctor was too perfect for. The fact he had undiagnosed bipolar disorder absolutely did not help with this.
    • Accordingly, with Baker cited as the reason, no actor has since played the character for more than three consecutive seasons (David Tennant and Jodie Whittaker both technically had three and a half, the 'half' in the form of specials, but they were considerably spaced out over a year)
  • Jeremy Brett admitted that he became this when playing the Sherlock Holmes. Brett also suffered from bipolar disorder (like Tom Baker above), and once he was diagnosed and began treatment, his condition improved remarkably and he was better able to distinguish between himself and the character.
  • Bob Hoskins had a tendency to hallucinate towards invisible animated characters for a short while after filming of Who Framed Roger Rabbit wrapped up.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis dropped out of doing theatre when he appeared in a production of Hamlet and had a breakdown in the scene where he confronted his father's ghost. He later admitted that he projected his own estranged father, the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, into his performance and actually believed he had seen his father's ghost.
  • This can be a problem with less mature cosplayers at Fan Conventions and the like; one may become so absorbed in acting out the character they're dressed as that they go to harmful lengths to imitate the character, such as stalking and harassing cosplayers dressed as the character's love interests, often without those cosplayers' consent. It gets worse if the character is Ax-Crazy or unhealthily obsessed with said love interests.
  • Mel Blanc, of Looney Tunes fame, once spent two weeks in a coma after a car crash. The best efforts of his wife, son, and doctors couldn't revive him - until a neurologist addressed him as Bugs Bunny and he responded in Bugs Bunny's voice! He likewise responded to the names of other characters he voiced; apparently, they had ingrained themselves even deeper in his mind than his real self.
  • While making Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey basically disappeared for a year and Andy Kaufman took his place. When it was over, Carrey didn't even remember most of what he did during the shoot and was so exhausted that he declined to appear as Andy in R.E.M.'s tie-in video for "The Great Beyond". This reached a point where in interviews for the 2017 retrospective documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Carrey directly attributes his actions during production to Andy rather than himself (rather fascinating to consider given the number of Andy Kaufman fans who expected him to return from having faked his death). But as he explains, there was more to it than this: While it took a few weeks to fully reconstruct who he was afterward, by that point in his career Carrey needed a chance to shed the character he'd been playing in public for much of The '90s: "Jim Carrey" the perpetually sunshiny comic and movie star. Playing Kaufman allowed him to be free of that for a while, and gave him opportunity to ponder what his "real self" was as opposed to what the outside world and expectations wanted him to be, so he ended up more himself for the experience.
  • Similarly, Bill Murray essentially became Hunter S. Thompson while making Where the Buffalo Roam, staying completely in character off camera and away from the set. This made it extremely difficult for his Saturday Night Live castmates and fellow writers to work with him at the beginning of the fifth season.
  • Downplayed with The Fly (1986). In the retrospective documentary Fear of the Flesh Jeff Goldblum admits to having absorbed his character Seth Brundle's possessive insecurity about his relationship with Veronica Quaife — who was, it must be noted, being played by Goldblum's actual lover (and eventual second wife) Geena Davis. Goldblum became a pest during the shooting of the scenes between Veronica and the third corner of the Love Triangle, Stathis (John Getz), saying that there shouldn't be too much chemistry between them lest the love between Seth and Veronica be compromised, to the point that he was once asked to leave the set. Writer-director David Cronenberg subsequently reminded Goldblum that there had to be genuine tension in the triangle for it to work and he behaved from that point onward, but Davis and Getz agree that the scenes between Veronica and Stathis did end up being played pricklier than they read on the page — which, given that Stathis is a creepy Stalker with a Crush, may have been for the best.
  • Eminem:
    • Eminem was known in the Detroit rap scene of the mid-90s as being a lyrical-spiritual-miracle geek, obsessed with superhero comics and such a good boy that he didn't drink and couldn't even tolerate small hits of weak weed. After the failure of his debut album Infinite, an extremely depressed Marshall came up with the Slim Shady character and abruptly changed his style from a worthy, good-vibes sound to hilariously offensive, cartoony Horrorcore, at first reassuring concerned friends that it was all pretend and he needed to do this to sell records. He then got 'Slim Shady' tattooed on his arm and started to indulge in Slim-type behaviour, getting into guns, indulging in nihilistic drug binges and being belligerent to people around him. He snapped out of it after getting prosecuted for assaulting two people with an (unloaded) gun on two separate incidents on the same day, with his 2002 album The Eminem Show consisting in part of mature reflections on this incident, and toning down the Slim Shady content. He eventually expressed Creator Backlash to Slim Shady and killed off the character in Encore and "When I'm Gone" (the latter song containing apparently true anecdotes about him explaining his bad behaviour to his daughters as being Shady's actions), eventually bringing him back after getting sober and his personal life settling down. Even after getting sober, a lot of his work (especially on The Marshall Mathers LP 2) focused on the acknowledgement that there was no boundary between him and Slim, and confessing responsibility for words and actions he'd attributed to his 'evil twin'.
    • Eminem got so lost in the role of B-Rabbit in 8 Mile that he had to relearn how to write songs as himself again after getting off filming. It might be a factor in why The Eminem Show uses less shock humour than his previous music had done.
    • While a minor example, Eminem got so into playing the Serial Killer-themed version of Slim Shady on Relapse that he obsessively watched serial killer documentaries and horror movies during making the album, changed his body shape, and rapped things on the record so much more disgusting than anything else he was ever able to bring himself to say before or after (which is no mean feat for a shock comedy artist). When a particularly repugnant joke from a Relapse Cut Song about Rihanna's abuse at the hands of Chris Brown leaked ten years after it was recorded, Eminem gave this as an excuse, saying that when he made the album he was going through a rough time and was so caught up in playing his character that he wasn't thinking about whether or not he was going too far.
  • Back in the days of kayfabe, it was normal for a wrestler to live his gimmick 24/7.
  • During his run as the leader of the Ministry of Darkness, it was hinted a few times that The Undertaker was letting his character completely take over who he really was as a person. In a way, this was strengthening Kayfabe by breaking it.
  • El Santo. Lucha Libre legend throughout the 50s and until his death in 1984. He became known for his silver mask, which he only removed once for the public eye, and was buried with it on.
  • The guys behind WrestleCrap have suggested this is what happened to Jim Hellwig, the Ultimate Warrior, who went so far as to have his name legally changed to "Warrior."
  • Alyson Stoner has claimed on their podcast Dear Hollywood that this is extremely common for child actors, who are often so young that they don't have a firm boundary between reality and acting, while also living in a system which praises them for living out their typecasting. They have claimed that some of their childhood acting left them with traumatic false memories as a result of repeatedly imagining their mother dying to provoke tears at auditions. They've pointed out that reputable acting coaches teach techniques for de-roling and getting out of character, and questioned why they were not taught about them.
  • It's a fairly common interpretation of Tupac Shakur's Creator Breakdown that he got lost in character as Bishop in Juice, adopting a violent gangster persona that wasn't the real him. While it's obvious that Bishop did affect how he conducted his persona in the public eye, Pac was a troubled individual, with issues with his mother, women and authority, and had already shot two off-duty cops in Atlanta in self-defence for an attempted racist assault. His change in personality after Juice is probably more natural to attribute to the fact that, after he was in the movie, he was beaten nearly to death by a pair of racist Oakland cops, an experience that traumatised him so badly that his hair started falling out in clumps.


Evil Bratt

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