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Mean Character, Nice Actor

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"That was the best acting I've ever seen in my whole life."
"I want y'all to meet Frank Schultz. Mr. Schultz is the villain of our play, but off the stage he's meek as a lamb and wouldn't hurt a fly."
Andy, Show Boat

The inverse of Nice Character, Mean Actor — the guy playing the Big Bad, the badass or the For the Evulz Evil Overlord is, off-camera, the nicest, sweetest person you'll ever meet. Maybe they were previously pigeonholed into nice guys roles and they're relishing the chance for Playing Against Type; maybe they're in it for the Money, Dear Boy; maybe they're the resident Large Ham and they just like playing deliciously evil characters; or maybe they have the Face of a Thug and got cast because they look big and scary (despite being anything but).

And when you think about it, villains — especially in genre fiction — tend to lose a lot, only exist for the primary characters to play off of, and often end up looking ridiculous. It's not a career path that necessarily goes with actually being an arrogant or selfish actor; if anything, truly egotistic actors tend to hate playing the villain.

May overlap with Friends All Along, in situation where someone is playing the villain of a staged scenario for a friend.

Contrast Nice Character, Mean Actor. Compare Monster Façade, where a creature with scary looks but nice personality puts on a mean act, for other purposes than entertainment.

See also Scary Musician, Harmless Music, Bad Influencer, and Hapless Self-Help, and compare Funny Character, Boring Actor.

In-Universe Examples Only:

    open/close all folders 

  • A commercial for the business card company Vistaprint invokes this. The ad begins with a typical Scary Black Man standing in a rather intimidating pose, looking like a security guard or bouncer, and then it's revealed... he's a wedding planner, and is about as threatening as milquetoast.
    • Another ad for the same company shows an old man glaring into the camera, looking like he has a grudge against the world... only to pull back as he slips on a set of headphones, revealing he's a DJ and not nearly as unpleasant as he looked.
  • The entire premise of a series Walker's Crisps adverts features Gary Lineker, an ex-footballer famed for his friendliness a man who epitomized the spirit of the game in over a thousand top-level appearances for his club side and for England, and who was never booked once, stealing bags of crisps from children.
  • A Sprite commercial from the 90's featured a character called Freight Train, whom appeared to be a fierce basketball player during the filming of a fictitious soda commercial. But after the director says "Cut", he is revealed to be a nice man who asks about his motivation in a gentleman-like manner.
  • Cartoon Network did a lot of ads wherein they portrayed their characters as Animated Actors, and as such this trope was often toyed around with. A good example would be Eustace Bagge from Courage the Cowardly Dog. In the original show, he was an unrepentant Jerkass who held nothing but contempt for the titular character and mostly showed apathy towards his wife. In the ads, he was usually a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who spoke cordially with his fellow toons, wasn't above playing Santa during Christmas time (granted, he also displays Brutal Honesty towards the kids) and even spoke fondly of Courage in one ad.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Black Lagoon has a bonus chapter showing 'behind the scenes' content as if the story were a live-action TV series. It's the villains (and the least-heroic heroes) who are often depicted as the most outgoingly friendly with their fellow actors.
  • Blend-S: In Maika's job as a Cosplay Café waitress, she acts like a sadist due to her appearance, but she is actually one of the most pleasant people anyone would meet.
  • The Dangers in My Heart: Anna Yamada seems to get type-casted as a bratty teenage girl in her acting career; such as the lead detective's rebellious daughter in an upcoming crime-thriller and a bully in a direct-to-steaming horror film. She's a sweetheart outside of that and states having to practice extra hard for the former role since her lines are out of character for her.
  • This is the entire premise of Detroit Metal City: The main character is a young farm boy who wants to be a sappy pop idol, moves to the big city to pursue that career, and discovers he can only get a job as the lead singer of a death metal band, with rumors of him being a rapist and a murderer. He's perpetually terrified.
  • Fruits Basket: For a School Play, Tohru is assigned to play Cinderella's evil stepsister (which was engineered by Minami from the Prince Yuki Fanclub as revenge for getting close to Yuki). Sadly, Tohru is such a Nice Girl that she can't even try to say one of her lines without breaking down in tears at the awful things she must say for her role. Luckily, after seeing how everyone is woefully miscast for the play, the scriptwriter ends up rewriting the stepsister into a nicer character so Tohru can perform the role more easily.
  • Gakuen Babysitters: Kōsuke Mamizuka is a Prone to Tears sweetheart and loving father offstage, despite being known for tougher and more villainous roles (one of which being a KIDNAPPER).
  • In The Idolmaster anime, sweet and kind Haruka plays the Big Bad of a movie according to the trailers. She apparently was enjoying it.
  • In Interspecies Reviewers, the fox succu-girl Mig is this. While she has more than enough cause to be mean in-character, as she works at what can most accurately be described as a rape roleplay brothel, her calling Crim a "disgusting rapist freak" nearly caused the angel to have a breakdown. She immediately broke character to assure him that everything was fine, though she did tell the other reviewers off for bringing an innocent guy like Crim to an establishment he clearly wouldn't enjoy.
  • A scene in Perfect Blue has Mima playing someone up on stage who gets manhandled and raped by a rowdy crowd. Mid-scene, the director yells "Cut! Everyone freeze!" and the guy on top of her quietly stammers out, "I'm so sorry."
  • An episode of Pokémon: The Series has our heroes helping an amateur filmmaker by acting in an indie movie. Cilan, who's as nice a Nice Guy as ever appeared on the show, plays the role of the evil pirate who kidnaps the beautiful princess. He even makes a speech about how important a convincing villain is for the movie.
  • In Skip Beat!, Kyoko keeps on getting roles as bullying Alpha Bitch, much to her chagrin.
  • In Welcome To El Parasio, Mary the Kid is a cruel, trigger-happy Heel inside the ring...but outside of it she's Mariko Tanahashi, the nicest Cool Big Sis anyone could ever ask for. Everyone (including Mariko herself) accepts this as a matter of fact and treats Mariko and Mary as two separate entities, but the main character Tadasuke gets upset at the idea of anyone being afraid of such a sweet, kind-hearted woman.
    • The manga also has the Death Carpenter, a major heel from another wrestling group who regularly assaults her opponents with weapons like chisels and barbed wire. When Tadasuke spends a day at the other group, he learns that the Carpenter is an ordinary (if slightly stoic) woman...who actually is a carpenter when she's not wrestling.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Happy Heroes, there is a story arc in the middle of Season 4 called "The Fairy Tale Adventure" where the characters travel through different well-known fairy tales and are made to play the roles of their characters. One episode of the arc is focused on the story of Snow White, with the role of the evil queen played by... Sweet S., the kindest and most compassionate of the Supermen who just so happens to be enough of a Lethal Chef that it makes her apples poisonous like the one in the original story.

    Comic Books 
  • Discussed in one issue of Archie Comics. Reggie is booing and heckling a pro-wrestler and egging him on, knowing the guy can't do jack to him. So later when Reggie's car gets a flat and that same wrestler pulls over (to help him out), Reggie is terrified until the guy explains what The Heel is in wrestling and that the whole point of his character is to be booed and heckled.
  • The Mistress, Ayane Anno, in Gold Digger. In the ring, she presents herself as a near-demonic dominatrix who has no concept of, or tolerance of, mercy. In private? She adores kids, loves her friends, has a bazillion plush toys, and nearly reformed an entire evil society through sheer niceness. In fact, she'd love to portray herself in-ring as an adorable Friend to All Children type, but her eyes are supernaturally intimidating, preventing this. To her dismay.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: Malcolm, the actor who plays Dr. Calico. When he's out-of-character, he's quite the polite man, and has developed an Intergenerational Friendship with Penny. Even after she's quit the show, they still keep in touch.
  • Ibiki Morino in I Am NOT Going Through Puberty Again!. This results in the time travelers failing to find any of his threats the least bit intimidating during the first phase of the Chuunin exams (since they're all personally acquainted with him in the future). Well, that and they know that he's bluffing. Sakura, in particular, describes him as "a great big fluffy teddybear when he wasn't on duty".
  • One Ranma ½ fan comic (presenting the cast as Animated Actors) had Kodachi as Ranma's "real-life" wife, and far kinder (not to mention saner) than the character she plays.
  • An in-universe example in Sword Art Online Abridged with a Salamander player who works in the soup kitchen by day, but at night, he just wants to log into Alfheim Online and roleplay as "a sexually predatory general named Pantysmasher". OOC, he is nice enough to coach Suguha (aka Leafa) on roleplaying due to her lack of talent.
  • Tales of Karmic Lies Aftermath: Benjamin Papenbrook portrays Chat Noir in Ladybug: Miraculous Journey and is definitely nicer than the character he portrays, to the point that he makes sure his co-star and girlfriend is okay after filming a scene where Chat threatens to murder her character.

    Films — Animation 
  • Dumbo: In the circus parade scene, the gorilla acts like a typical Killer Gorilla, shaking the bars of his cage and letting out a vicious roar - until he accidentally breaks one of the bars of his cage and screws it back with a sheepish expression.
  • Special Edition releases of The Lion King (1994) feature an outtake short that similarly conveys Scar and the hyenas as nice guys doing an acting job.
  • Parodying Hilarious Outtakes Pixar included scenes at the end of some of their films where they had the animated characters behave as if they were real actors who portrayed the fictional characters of the film. Naturally, it led to this as well:
    • In the "outtakes" during the end credits of Monsters, Inc., it is shown that regardless of how much of a jerk Randall is, his "actor" is actually a perfectly nice guy. We also see that the dour, humorless character Roz is a real joker off-camera.
    • One outtake at the end of A Bug's Life has The Brute grasshopper Thumper anxiously asking the director about the quality of his Ax-Crazy performance of mere moments before, in a high-pitched nasally voice.
    • In the same film, Hopper is a fairly sensitive guy out of character, at one point being exasperated to the point of tears and retreating to his trailer when Atta can't keep a straight face during the "do I look stupid to you?" scene.
    Hopper: (voice audibly breaking) "This is the fifteenth take. I cannot work like this. I will be in my trailer."
  • Both Hamm and Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story. Whenever Andy is playing with them, they're always cast as the bad guys. In-universe it can happen with any toy after all.
    • And possibly Emperor Zurg, who is actually evil because he always thinks that he is the real Zurg, much like the toy version of Buzz Lightyear constantly thinking that he is the real Buzz and not a toy.
    • For Toy Story 3, there's Dolly, one of Bonnie's toys. Whenever Bonnie is playing, she's always cast as the villain of her stories.
    • And since all of Andy's remaining toys now live in Bonnie's house, during playtime, Hamm, Mr. (and Mrs.) Potato Head, and Dolly will all be the villains.
    • In Toy Story 2's "Outtakes" Stinky Pete is shown to be a sincerely affable guy who makes jokes with the rest of the cast, while also chatting up his female costars.
  • Bolt: The actors playing Dr. Calico's mooks in the Show Within a Show. They're nice to the crew during filming, and during the climax, the big, bulky mook from the film's opening tries to save Penny from the burning studio. Another mook also gushes over Rhino in the climax (while Rhino, unable to tell the difference, is constantly yelling death threats in his face that go ignored due to Animal Talk).
  • The main premise of Wreck-It Ralph revolves around this trope, as the way that characters act in their games doesn't necessarily reflect their actual personalities outside of gameplay. Antagonists such as Bowser, Clyde, M. Bison, Kano, and Dr. Robotnik are treated as this. When you see them in Bad-Anon, they're just nice people who play the role of the bad guy, and for this reason they tend to be mistreated. Zangief puts it best:
    Zangief: "[...] Zangief, you are bad guy. But this does not mean you are bad guy."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The hero of The Alien Factor intentionally acts cold towards the townspeople in order to get them to leave him alone in his quest to kill the monsters rampaging through the town. Turns out he too is an alien sent to kill the creatures and knows the townsfolk don't stand a chance against the monsters if they should run in to them.
  • In Black Swan, the monstrous Von Rothbart is so menacing he even appears in Nina's nightmares and hallucinations. However, on the premiere night of the ballet, the dancer playing him strolls past Nina with a friendly "hi", and is one of the first to ask if she's okay in the stage wings after a bad fall.
  • In Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022), it's shown that Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul were just acting for the cameras and actually friendly with the Rescue Rangers off-set. Furthermore, there's a convention booth with Skeletor and He-Man sitting side by side for their fans.
  • In Iron Man 3, Trevor Slattery AKA The Mandarin fits this. He's not really a terrorist leader, he's just pretending for the cameras.
  • Joker (2019): Murray Franklin plays a snide Deadpan Snarker who mocks Arthur's disaster first gig on national television, but when he later invites "Joker" on the show, he is polite and decent to him in person backstage. When Arthur proudly confesses his murders of the three Wall Street guys, Murray expresses disgust but attempts to reach out and reason with him and refutes his claim that all people are awful. Sadly for Murray, Joker doesn't buy it.
  • In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Rick Dalton suffers Typecasting as the bad guy in other rising stars' film productions, much to his chagrin. But on the set of Lancer, after flubbing many of his villainous character's lines initially, a chance meeting with pre-teen co-star Trudi helps to motivate him to make the most of his next scene... involving him kidnapping Trudi. His resulting demonic performance — in which he not only graphically threatens Trudi's life but also violently throws her to the ground in his villainous monologue (complete with requisite padding for the girl) — earns him praise from the director, and even Trudi admits that it's the best acting she's ever seen from another person.
  • In Rocky III, Rocky Balboa agrees to a charity match with a massive pro-wrestler named Thunderlips, played by then known mostly only to wrestling fans Hulk Hogan. Rocky tries to goad Thunderlips into a friendly fun match but that soon leads to Rocky being tossed around the ring like a ragdoll, suplexed, back nearly broken over a knee, and finally tossed clear out of the ring well into the audience. After climbing back in the ring and delivering some bare-knuckled damage of his own, the match is finally determined a draw and the after-match interview reveals Thunderlips to be a pretty okay guy, congratulating Rocky on a good match and posing for pictures with his wife and kids, explaining his actions in the ring as "The name of the game." The final shot of the scene is a newspaper headline revealing that the charity match raised over 75,000 dollars for a local youth club.
  • Robert Englund's fictional counterpart in Wes Craven's New Nightmare is much like the real-life guy; talkative and jovial, and genuinely enjoys the villainous role he's playing.
  • In Souls for Sale, the actress described as "the best-hated vampire" in movies is actually a "sweet lady" who helps the heroine to establish a career in Hollywood.
  • Tugg Speedman from Tropic Thunder. Action movie star, donates to panda conservation charities, co-wrote a children's book, and is very close friends with his agent.
  • The titular character from Wayne's World is a pretty decent, if clueless and not particularly socially capable, person. His on-screen persona is an unabashed troll who doesn't hesitate to mock guests on his show and abuse his best friend Garth.
  • The Wrestler, being a movie about Professional Wrestling played on this, since both Faces and Heels were portrayed as friendly towards each other throughout. One particularly impressive scene had the main character (Randy, a Face) discussing the "script" of his upcoming extreme rules match with his opponent, who was a polite and soft-spoken man (real-life wrestler Dylan Keith Summers, whose ring name is Necro Butcher in real life too!). The scene was threaded with scenes from said match; including once with the Heel stapling a five dollar note to his own forehead before going nuts on Randy with the staple gun. Preceding question: "How do you feel about staples?"
    • In a less extreme example, a similar scene with Randy's old 'nemesis' from The '80s, the Ayatollah, showed him to be a quite pleasant and nice man. During the climactic fight, he also shows concern for Randy's health and ends up trying to persuade Randy to just go for the pin. Randy refuses.

  • Lorenzo Gage of Breathing Room plays nothing but sadistic villains who hurt women on screen. In real life, he's still a bad boy, but is generally nice to women and children.
  • Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series includes Emperor Zhark, the Big Bad of a series of deliberately bad but popular novels, an Evil Overlord who has destroyed planets and killed billions in his ruthless quest to conquer the galaxy. Outside the novels, he's a good guy "with his own hopes and worries" and becomes a good friend to Thursday. He's even an informal member of the literature policing society (those who keep order amongst the books from within, that is, not Moral Guardians).
    • Vernham Deane, a kindly and helpful person, portrays the eponymous villain of Daphne Farquitt's The Squire of High Potternews. Deane Double Subverts this trope by pretending to be as villainous as his character as part of a plan to save the world of fiction from UltraWord. As a reward, The Squire of High Potternews is altered so that Deane's character is no longer villainous.
  • Played with in Flann O'Brien's modernist novel At Swim-Two-Birds, where the main character of the book the protagonist is writing, Dermot Trellis, is writing a moralistic novel where all the characters are awful and sinful. A metatextual conceit portrays the fictional characters of Trellis' novel as actors he has hired. We then see what they're doing when off-duty from their jobs as terrible people - mostly having dinner parties, discussing Irish poetry, and being very nice to each other. They then start to rebel against Trellis forcing them to be evil, and as their tormenting their own creator gets more and more genuinely cruel, we start to see Trellis himself - ostensibly set up an unpleasant, self-righteous fool - become more and more sympathetic, pitiable and reasonable as the story mutates further, and we see that the protagonist is using him to portray a villain the same way he is portraying his own characters. Much of the point of this is focused on the narrator's complicated relationship with his uncle (with whom he lives), and his gradual realization that people have more than one side to them.
  • In The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I mean Noel), Newton Pinckney, a television actor who always plays villains, kindly clears up a major confusion that drives the plot, though he was largely responsible for creating it.
  • In Making Money and Unseen Academicals, there's Dr. Hix, an Unseen University professor along these lines. They need someone to act like an evil Necromancer (or rather, Post-Mortem Communicator), and Dr. Hix, despite his talent for dramatic summonings and unpleasant, divisive remarks, and his enjoyment of wearing skull motifs, is actually an affable nerd. This arrangement benefits Unseen University immensely, as they have someone who's "not really into the whole peeled skulls thing" and is on their side and can throw fireballs at unauthorized Post-Mortem Communicators.
  • In Chesterton's Father Brown story The Actor and the Alibi, an actor who is The Watson to Father Brown is described as a kind man who usually plays villains.
  • My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! uses this trope for both comedy and Dramatic Irony. During the Magical Academy Festival, Catarina ends up getting roped in to act out a part in the school play after the original actress became ill. Ironically, Catarina's character in the play is an evil step-sister who bullies the story's main heroine played by Maria, mirroring their original roles in the Fortune Lover game. When Catarina forgets her lines during her character's introduction, she improvises by using some lines from the game. Given that Catarina in this timeline is Loved by All, it's hilarious that pretty much everyone among her admirers, including Maria herself, found the villainous persona that Catarina was putting on to be rather attractive.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: In "Ceremonies Of Light And Dark the vilian Boggs had a scar on his face. It was a real scar that Boggs actor Don Stroud got when intervening after he came across someone being assaulted. He wound up with the scar and he lost the use of his right eye permanently.
  • One episode of The Beverly Hillbillies featured a wrestling match with such an actress playing a brutish woman against a poor country girl (who incidentally, was a Nice Character, Mean Actor). Not knowing that the performance was staged, when Granny saw the country girl lose, she jumped in the ring and whooped her opponent.
  • Parodied on The Chaser's War On Everything. In a send-up of a government TV campaign against domestic violence, which showed still images of men with voiceovers about how they are violent towards women, actors that appeared say now everyone they meet in real life thinks they hit their wives.
    Voiceover: Appearing in Government Ads: Australia says "No."
  • The actor who plays "The Rat" on The Famous Jett Jackson's Show Within a Show, "Silverstone", is shown to be pretty nice off-screen.
  • Sgt. Carter of Hogan's Heroes is a nice, enthusiastic young man. He's also the best at impersonating angry German officers and Adolf Hitler.
  • The final season of How I Met Your Mother has William Zabka in a recurring role playing himself, complete with his real life's struggles as being too notorious for his villainous roles.
  • The Munsters features an episode with a fictional Horror Host named "Zombo", who, to Eddie's disappointment, isn't a blood-thirsty ghoul outside of his television show. The actor playing Zombo is in fact disgusted with the character and the example he sets for children like Eddie.
  • When Heather Locklear appears on Muppets Tonight, the Muppets are terrified of her, fearing that she might be as bad as her character on Melrose Place. Heather assures them it's just an act, and that she's very nice in real life... an assurance that comes to naught when Heather eats some mood-altering snacks. In that same episode, Kermit the Frog plays a vicious monster in one sketch; "This is fun! I never get to play the bad guy!"
  • In one episode of Newhart, guest Don Rickles's character is eventually revealed to be an example of this trope, in an obvious comment on Rickle's "real life" stage persona.
  • M*A*S*H
    • Frank Burns was an all-around nasty character. However, Burns actor Larry Linville was pretty much the complete opposite of Burns and was well-liked by his cast mates. He and Radar actor Gary Burghoff were close. Linville was a highly intelligent man who built an airplane and knew the intricacies of Egyptian pyramids. In interviews, Linville said that people approached him expecting to get a Burns-like reaction and found Linville to be a much kinder man.note 
    • While the Sam Flagg character was not well-liked by the other characters, the Flagg actor Ed Winter was well-liked by the M*A*S*H cast members.note 
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000:
    • Played for laughs: Megaweapon, a spike-encrusted, flame-throwing post-apocalyptic dump truck fielded by the Nazi-esque Omega faction from "Warrior of the Lost World", gets a brief phone call (voiced by future host Michael Nelson) where he's a cheerful, friendly speaker who takes the damage the movie did to his career with good graces and mentions looking after kids.
    • The Phantom of Krankor from Prince of Space (who the characters just call Krankor) shows up in two episodes. In the first place, he's merely there to assist Mike with a good-natured prank. In the second he does act like a villain at first, but is so touched when the characters are pleased to see him that he relents, accepts hugs, cries Tears of Joy, and leaves peacefully
  • Played for Laughs in Parks and Recreation with Howard Tuttleman, the Shock Jock known as "The Douche". One episode shows when he's not being his The Douche personality he's highly educated, well-spoken, and surprisingly polite and reserved, and that he only made up The Douche personality as a comedy act. The problem is he's been playing up that persona for so long that it's made him an asshole since he can no longer keep his two personalities separate.
  • In one episode of Screenwipe, Charlie Brooker makes a fake The Apprentice-pastiche reality show in which he's dressed up in Requisite Royal Regalia and constantly bullies the contestants in order to demonstrate how reality TV is manipulated, his persona during these segments being significantly more Jerkass than his default comic persona. As it goes on he becomes distressed about the effect his bullying is having on the mental health of the contestants and he gives a quick piece to camera using his real-life personality explaining that he feels horrible about doing this.
  • In the French TV series Thierry la Fronde, one of Thierry's outlaw companions is an actor who loves animals, and is one of the gentlest souls in the show. The character he plays on stage when we first meet him? Judas Iscariot.
  • In Young Rock, Dewey and his parents visit his grandmother's apartment, which is filled with heels who cheerfully welcome them and sit down over a friendly game of cards. The only tension comes from André the Giant taking offense to Dewey claiming wrestling is fake, but he promptly brushes it aside and gives the boy a big hug.

  • Eminem loves to play with the distance between his Chaotic Stupid Villain Protagonist Slim Shady persona and the real him, and often uses his lyrics to clarify that he's not like that in real life.
    • In "Stan", Slim's Loony Fan Stan is convinced that Slim endorses everything in his lyrics. Marshall writes a real letter back, in which he expresses his gratitude for Stan as a fan, sends his brother an autograph, and advises him to get some therapy and look after his girlfriend. Unfortunately, the letter is written too late.
    • In "Sing For The Moment", he addresses it directly:
      If I'm such a fuckin' menace, this shit doesn't make sense, B!
      It's all political! If my music is literal,
      and I'm a criminal, how the fuck can I raise a little girl?
      I couldn't, I wouldn't be fit to!

    Print Media 

    Tabletop Games 
  • There's an example of this in the All Flesh Must Be Eaten sourcebook "Zombie Smackdown!", in the section about Mexican Lucha Libre: the rudo premade archetype character is a pious fellow who gives his paycheck to the local church, and butts heads regularly with local gangs out of a sense of justice.
    • Going one further: Professional Wrestler characters can acquire "The Gift", which allows them to use Inspired abilities. These abilities require devotion to a higher power. Out of all the professional wrestlers in the book, the rudo is the only one with the Gift (and the power "The Binding"). He's literally a tool of God.

  • Show Boat:
    Andy: I want y'all to meet Frank Schultz. Mr. Schultz is the villain of our play, but off the stage he's meek as a lamb and wouldn't hurt a fly.

    Video Games 
  • Bug! (1995): The entire game is actually Bug starring in an action movie, so it's not that odd that several enemies and even the Abominable Snowbug boss show up at the ending to cheer Bug's for his movie's success.
  • In Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, both Brycen and Sabrina play villains at least once in Pokéstar Studio movies, and while they're both The Stoic, they're certainly a lot nicer than their movie characters.
  • Sakura Wars: Sumire Kanzaki is a wealthy heiress of a renowned corporate and as such, she's often a snarky Rich Bitch with a mean streak, but she has her heart put in the right place and also occasionally acts supportive. Regardless, she has a distinctive Noblewoman's Laugh which often translates into "Perfect to play the villainess" in the Imperial Theater plays, something that irritates Sumire because she rarely to never lands a heroine part because of it (despite still giving her all for the villainess role), the best she ever pulled off aside of that was Playing a Tree.
  • Idol Singers "Off the Hook" in Splatoon 2. On air, Pearl acts rude, tactless, and a bit dim, while Marina snarks viciously at Pearl's expense. The two play themselves up as Vitriolic Best Buds with a dash of Boke and Tsukkomi Routine. Then the player gets to see how they interact off-air in Octo Expansion, and find that these are exaggerations. Pearl is the rougher of the two, but she's a lot more unreservedly sweet and affectionate than the Jerk with a Heart of Gold persona she adapts, and Marina's snark started out as a coping mechanism for her being a refugee in a strange, foreign land.
  • The entire Super Mario Bros. franchise may be this, as even Miyamoto himself justifies Go-Karting with Bowser as the characters all being Animated Actors (which may explain the "stage show" aesthetic of Super Mario Bros. 3).
    • This is most explicit in Mario Power Tennis, where Bowser, Wario and Waluigi are shown to be joking around and laughing at their mistakes during the "blooper reel".
  • Deconstructed in Twisted Wonderland where Vil, a famous actor, is very frustrated that he's typecast as villains, which even caused him to be bullied in real life.
  • Undertale sets the Player Character up as the "actor" in one scenario. The non-Genocide version of Mettaton EX's boss fight is presented as a TV show, and acting like a Card-Carrying Villain is a good way to gain viewers (other ways include being a Large Ham, using on-brand products, and living up to your boasts). Not only can you play the bad guy and keep your Pacifist Run going so long as you don't actually harm Mettaton, but gaining enough viewers lets you end the fight with minimal violence (well, except to you, since this way requires you to get hit), so you're actually encouraged to play this way.
    • Mettaton himself plays with this trope, as he acts like a Killer Robot and isn't afraid of playing up to it. While he does try to kill you, the real reason behind it is more complicated. His various employees and fans (with the noteworthy exception of Burgerpants) talk about how kind and supportive he is toward them.
  • A side story of Yakuza 0 has Kiryu bump into Krazy Kyo, the frontman of a greaser Yanki band known as the Yokomichi Silvers. They're very popular with the local punks, and they have the image to match. The only problem is that they are terrible at the act. Kyo ends up mixing polite, minced oath-laden apologies with brash (attempted) insults until it becomes clear that Kiryu doesn't know who he is, at which point he drops the act. In fact, the goal of the substory is for the gangster initiate Kiryu to coach the Silvers on their image, given that they've let their music do the talking up until their upcoming Q&A session.
  • In Yo-kai Watch, Sgt. Burly is a personal trainer who adopts a Drill Sergeant Nasty persona during his training sessions, and whose personal style is somewhat harsh. However, he's shown to actually be a very kind Yo-kai who's passionate about helping people get fit, and his strict motivation during training coupled with his kindness afterward has made him extremely popular.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
  • Shining Song Starnova has Kile, who plays the main villain of the Black Opera TV adaptation in Mika's route. Kile's character is a Manipulative Bastard who brainwashes women into becoming his sex slaves and subjects the main heroine to horrible, degrading scenarios. Kile himself is so ashamed of the things his part requires him to say and do to his co-star Mika that he breaks character and runs off the set in tears during a particularly grueling scene.
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, the Stakes of Purgatory are ruthless and very much capable of killing in cold blood. Behind the scenes, they're not so bad - we see Beelzebub and Battler playfully fighting over Ronove's baking early in Episode 4, and let's not get into them gushing and squeeing over cute little Sakutaro.

    Web Animation 
  • In BIGTOP BURGER, while the members of rival foodtruck Zomburger come across as homicidally hostile during their first appearance, it turns out they're all just a bunch of theater majors playing a role, with not a psychopath in the bunch (except maybe their boss).
  • On Dr. Crafty, because of his deep-set insecurities, Colin is the only Crafty Crewmate who feels compelled to put on an act, whether the camera is rolling or not. He's far from perfect, but when acting as Dr. Crafty, he takes some of his worst traits, amplifies them, and adds some new ones to make him seem that much more like a bumbling, jerkish cartoon villain. By contrast, the man behind the act is rather kindhearted, something that continuously grows more apparent as he gradually lets his better qualities shine through his Crafty persona. Eventually, he starts feeling comfortable with dropping the act entirely at key moments.
    • The first time in which Colin outwardly acknowledges this dichotomy is in "Crafty Hearts Re:Grouped." After filming is wrapped up, he takes Nurse aside and breaks character to deliver a genuine apology for bickering with her so much before this episode. It's in response to Nurse's own apology over the matter earlier; he realizes that he too holds some blame over what happened between them, and he's finally ready to hold himself accountable. He's noticeably awkward and deliberate with his words, as though he hasn't opened up to someone like this in a long time.
      Crafty: Nurse, wait a moment.
      Nurse: Hm? Yes, Doctor?
      Crafty: I um... I didn't want to say this on-camera—it's a little embarrassing—but um... I'm... I'm sorry, too. I've... taken you for granted. And I wanted to apologize. You... You're probably the best partner a silly manchild like me could ever ask for. So... Thank you.
      [The two silently, warmly smile at each other before Crafty's nervousness gets the better of him.]
      Crafty: W-Well, um... I'm going to work on next week's art, yes yes, um, talk to you later? Okay?
      [Crafty retreats to his bedroom.]
      Nurse: [softly] Hmhm... I love you.
      [Crafty suddenly returns]
      Crafty: What?
      Nurse: [panicking] NOTHING~~!! GO BACK TO SLEEP!
      [Nurse punches Crafty back into his bedroom and runs off.]
    • In "LoveCrafty," Crafty narrowly misses a chance to see Sasha again and snaps at Nurse far harsher than ever before. The shock of what he had done convinces Crafty to drop all pretense and open up about himself again. Unlike "Crafty Hearts Re:Grouped," he does so during filming, and he reveals more about himself than ever before. Through an art therapy session with Nurse, he candidly elaborates on some personal issues from his past and allows the audience to listen in, not even bothering to maintain his act. From that point forward, Crafty slowly becomes more comfortable expressing his true self beyond basic interests, allowing him to create an even stronger rapport with his crew that transcends his show.
    • When Mindstein goes on a tirade against Nurse for her loyalty to Crafty in "I Need a Hero Academia's" final part, she attacks Crafty for not being a genuine villain, only acting as one for branding purposes. It's all but outright stated that this is the one aspect of Crafty's character she respects the least.
      Mindstein: How DARE you! I. Gave you. EVERYTHING! I birthed you! I raised you! I gave you a form that's powerful beyond comprehension! I spent so many years crafting you, planning to make you my greatest creation! One that would surpass all others! And you're throwing it all away for... for... That wretched waste of skin and bones over there?!?! He's not even a true villain!! Just an ignoramus playing dress-up for his stupid show!

    Web Comics 
  • In Archipelago Kor, one of the heirs, is a professional actor and we first see him on stage, playing a Magnificent Bastard. He himself is a sweet guy, slightly clumsy, bit indecisive, prone to falling in love and terrified of his boss (who, in fairness, is a villain).
    Credenza: He only plays a bad man on stage, Blitz. I'm sure in real life he's very nice! He probably doesn't have a bad bone in his-
    they walk in on Kor feeding his pet birds
    Kor: It's okay, Bridgit, I forgive you for the scratches yesterday, come give Daddy kisses!
    Anansi: Truly, a sight to strike fear into the bravest of hearts.
  • Everyone Is Home:
  • Something*Positive: Davan writes a play in which the villain is very obviously modeled after his own father. When Fred demands to know why he's the bad guy, Davan responds that the villain is usually the most interesting part both to play and to watch, so of course he based the guy off Fred.
  • Certain online porn parody webcomics revolve around actors playing video game characters and the main cast is made of guys who play tiny-veiled copies of Soulcalibur characters. Actors playing the meanest villains (Nightmare's and Astaroth's counterparts) are quite decent guys.
  • Lucy in YU+ME: dream is a sweet young woman who's nice to the protagonists, even if her motivations might be a little more complicated than just that. She's also a dream actress. What character did she play? Sarah, Fiona's former childhood friend and current enemy, in Fiona's dream. The fact that Lucy is a different person than the character she plays is a bit of a surprise.

    Western Animation 
  • Arthur: Deconstructed in "Caught in the Crosswires" where the Crosswires are cast in a reality show and the TV crew gets Muffy to act like a Spoiled Brat who abuses her butler Bailey, whom she is very close to in reality. At first, Muffy is aware it's just an act, but starts to feel uncomfortable with it after being told by her friends what she is coming across as, with Buster saying she's the villain.
  • The Backyardigans occasionally play antagonistic roles (especially Pablo and Tasha), but when it all comes down, each one is as much of a fun-loving kid as each of the others.
  • Bojack Horseman: The fifth season is about the shooting of Bojack's new TV show, and eternal optimistic goofball Mr. Peanutbutter gets cast as the titular detective's shady partner Fritz. Cue the hilarity.
    Mr. Peanutbutter as Fritz: [at the aftermath of a shoot-out] These poor guys. I wonder if they had kids, families who will never know —
    Director: Can you just say the line, please?
    Mr. Peanutbutter as Fritz: Barf me a river, fartbags.
  • The Boondocks episode "The S-Word" suggests this with a parody of Ann Coulter, who actually isn't a fiery provocateur, but is just playing one for ratings, even being on friendly terms with the man she fiercely insulted on-camera.
  • In a related example, on Clone High, Marilyn Manson sings an insanely catchy Broadwayesque tune mostly about the importance of eating properly and paying attention to the food pyramid.
  • On The Critic, Jay got threats from an action star he had panned. He corners Jay in an alley, and just when it looks like it's the end, the actor reveals that he's really a nice guy, and only acts mean in his movies, and the threatening was just an attempt to prove that he really can act.
  • A "Turn Off Your Phone" PSA based off of the DuckTales (2017) intro reveals that the giant scorpion monster is this when he politely asks if they can get on with the filming since he has a 4:00 appointment.
    • The Show Within a Show of Darkwing Duck gets an edgy reboot film, portraying the already gruff and arrogant Darkwing as a terror who "fights darkness with more darkness," (though we don't actually see anything more of him in the trailer than just a smirk). The actor cast in the role (who just so happens to be Drake Mallard) turns out to be a huge dork who has modeled his life on the original (in-universe) portrayal and enjoys roleplaying with Launchpad and has a strong heroic streak of his own.
  • Family Guy: Chris' idol, Marilyn Manson, is revealed to be nothing like his stage persona and encourages Chris to not be a jerk towards his family just because he's gotten into rock music.
    • From the "Hannah Banana" episode:
      Evil Monkey: I mean, Sarah Silverman is just one of the most wonderful people you'll ever meet.
      Peter: Aw, that's so good to hear. I want to like her. She's so funny, I want her to also be nice.
  • In the Hey Arnold! episode "Eugene, Eugene!", Arnold performs as the Big Bad of the titular play. This is a kid who has helped Mr. Hyunh reunite with his long-lost daughter after the two were separated during The Vietnam War. And, despite Mr. Leichliter's coaching, he's still pretty awful at it, mostly out at protest at the play's excessively morbid new ending where the main character, played by Eugene (who is also a huge fan of the original play), is run over.
  • Combined with Animated Actors in House of Mouse. The villains rarely do much of anything villainous when they're "off-duty" in the House of Mouse, and even when they do they Poke the Poodle, like Jafar turning Donald Duck, who's been a Large Ham, into a literal ham.
    • Notably, they take over the House in Mickey's House of Villains, but it doesn't really last for long. The film was more of a compilation of shorts, so when the villains did take over the club, they didn't really change it much aside from having to keep kicking out Mickey and the gang.
    • Donald Duck himself is this in the eyes of his voice actor, Clarence Nash; on his later days, he used to carry a Donald puppet everywhere to play ventriloquism with, and he would make him say that he never got mad; he was merely an actor.
    • Similarly, a Bonkers comic in Disney Adventures had Monstro from Pinocchio as a long-out-of-work Toon actor who was actually pretty friendly (albeit destructive due to his size) off the set.
  • Kappa Mikey:
  • In the Kim Possible episode "Pain King vs. Cleopatra", we meet pro wrestlers Pain King and Steel Toe blustering at each other how the other is "going down", and then see them chatting in a nice friendly fashion in the locker room.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: "Hearth's Warming Eve" sees Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash play three tyrannical tribal leaders (with many but not all of the exact opposite traits) for the historical play.
  • Invoked on Phineas and Ferb, when Candace babysits her boyfriend Jeremy's little sister Susie in one episode. Susie is a holy terror to Candace normally, meaning that the teenager is terrified of this sitting job... only to find out that Susie is actually a pretty sweet kid. She explains to Candace that making her look stupid is something she does to control her brother (Susie has an almost disturbing case of Big Brother Worship combined with Clingy Jealous Girl), but since he's not on hand, "I'm off the clock."
  • Pound Puppies (2010): The Dog of the Week, Pooches the dog actress, stars in the popular sitcom Pippy vs. Pooches, alongside a child actress who plays Pippy, a Bratty Half-Pint who serves as Pooches's Arch-Enemy. Pippy is so selfish and vindictive towards the dog while the cameras are rolling, Pooches believes that's what she's really like. However, she soon finds out that Pippy, whose real name is Amy, is sweet and gentle off-set, and actually adores Pooches.
  • In the Ready Jet Go! episode "Lone Star", Sean plays a Jerkass shopkeeper who doesn't believe Lone Star. However, Sean wouldn't hurt a fly in real life.
  • Similarly, metal band Korn appeared on South Park and their off-stage persona was very goofy and upbeat (they basically were a parody of the Mystery Machine gang).
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Zig-zagged but justified with Angry Jack, a one-shot character in from an episode where SpongeBob accidentally breaks Gary's shell and goes off to buy him another shell from "Angry Jack's Shell Emporium". At first, he is kind enough to let SpongeBob accidentally break one shell without repercussions when trying to find the right shell size for Gary, but the episode's running gag of SpongeBob's clumsiness causing him to break EVERY shell at the Emporium ultimately causes him to revert to his "Angry Jack" persona, where he angrily forces SpongeBob to repay him for every single shell he broke.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "Crisis Point", Mariner, a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, plays an Ax-Crazy phaser-happy villain. Rutherford and Tendi play her henchmen, and they are the nicest characters on the ship.
  • Steven Universe: In the Pro Wrestling Episode "Tiger Millionaire", the lovable and happy-go-lucky Steven gets into professional wrestling as a heel character, the rude and ruthless Corrupt Corporate Executive Tiger Millionaire.
  • The premiere episode of VeggieTales, "Where's God When I'm S-Scared?" reveals that the actor playing FrankenCelery in a horror movie that scared Junior Asparagus is actually a pretty nice guy. His name is Phil Winklestein, and he's from Toledo, Ohio.
    I'm just a regular guy, and I'd never hurt anybody!
  • In the Disney Short, The Goofy Success Story, Goofy tells the audience, unlike his Mr. Wheeler persona in Motor Mania, he doesn't suffer from road rage in his offscreen life.


Video Example(s):


Goofy as Mr. Wheeler

In the 1950 cartoon Motor Mania, Goofy portrays the malevolent motorist Mr. Wheeler. But Goofy's biopic, The Goofy Success Story, makes it clear that Goofy is nothing like Mr. Wheeler.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / MeanCharacterNiceActor

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