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Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize

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Fraser: No matter what you say, you cannot base an investigation on a theory developed from the casting of a television series.
Ray: You're just mad because I was right.
Due South, "They Eat Horses, Don't They?"

Big-name actors tend to get major roles in media, so when you see a big-name actor in what appears to be a small role, it might be a case of The Cameo or a One-Scene Wonder, but it also might be because the character's role is larger than it first appears. When the plot of the story involves a mystery, this often means that you can deduce at least part of the mystery purely on the star-power of the actors: narrow down the suspect to the guy you recognize.

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Complications can come in when the production is an All-Star Cast, so every suspect is someone you recognize. It can also get confusing when an actor playing a small role gets more famous after the work was filmed.

Sometimes you can narrow it down before you even see the work because the trailers spoiled the big-name actor's appearance. If the big-name actor hasn't shown up by the third act, he'll probably be revealed as the final Hidden Villain.

Sometimes called Chekhov's Guest Star. See also: Traitor Shot, Not-So-Small Role. Compare also to Chekhov's Gunman, where the viewer is made suspicious by the strange irrelevance to the story of an apparently minor character rather than by the casting of a known actor.

Contrast Dead Star Walking, where a well-known actor appears to have a major role but is doomed because they're too expensive to be a regular cast member.

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    Film — Animated 
  • In Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, there are three suspects who are all potential candidates for the identity of Jack The Ripper. They are Harvey Bullock, Harvey Dent, and James Gordon, respectively voiced by John DiMaggio, Yuri Lowenthal, and Scott Patterson. Given that the latter is the only one of the three who's not a professional voice actor, it gives more credence to the idea that James Gordon is the Ripper.
  • The movie Big Hero 6 has this occur in-universe and out since it only has thirteen named characters in its cast, six of which are the titular heroes. There is a masked, unknown villain. Of the seven left several don't fit the physical profile, and two more are dead, easily leaving the heroes themselves to narrow it down to the shady CEO, voiced by Alan Tudyk. Only for it to turn out to be one of the supposedly-dead characters instead. The character happens to be voiced by James Cromwell, who had only had about a dozen lines before his "death".

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Hot Fuzz, all of the supporting cast are famous actors, and all of them did it. Especially well-versed Tropers will note that all of them are also known for playing villains at one point or another, according to the commentary.
  • In Twisted (2004), Samuel L. Jackson is playing the protagonist's foster father and mentor. Naturally, given the types of role Jackson usually plays, he's the killer.
  • Cleverly done in Sleepy Hollow (1999), where the main character, already investigating a crime, is introduced to the town's most important men and the audience is already looking for the guilty among them. They are all played by "vaguely famous" actors: former Maigret (and later Dumbledore) Michael Gambon as the leader, Jeffrey Jones from Amadeus and Beetlejuice as the reverend, Ian "Palpatine" McDiarmid as the doctor; Michael Gough, formerly Batman's butler and a usual in Burtons's films, as the notary; and Richard Griffiths from Naked Gun 2 (and later Uncle Vernon) as the magistrate. The guilty party is... A conspiracy among all of them! But wait: the real villain behind the ghost is the leader's wife, played by Miranda Richardson.
  • While the involvement of Gellert Grindelwald was teased as the marketing for the original Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie wore on, his appearance in the climax leaked when people who saw the press screening noted that Johnny Depp was in the film.
  • Used in character in the movie Last Action Hero. Daniel warns Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jack Slater that he should not trust his friend John Practice because Practice is being played by F. Murray Abraham, notorious for being typecast in bad guy roles, among them the one where "he killed Mozart." So when Practice betrays Slater:
    Jack Slater: Danny told me not to trust you. He said you killed Moe Zart.
    John Practice: Moe who?
    Jack Slater: Zart.
  • The movie P.S. I Love You. Kathy Bates, the dead guy's mother-in-law, agreed to send his letters to his wife after his death. Made somewhat obvious by the fact that she wasn't overly fond of him.
  • In The Bone Collector with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie the killer is the guy played by Leland Orser - a character actor whom you might have seen in several other movies (like Alien: Resurrection, Se7en and Very Bad Things). This makes it easy to peg him as the killer, although his screentime before his big speech is probably around 20 seconds.
  • In Kiss the Girls, sharper viewers probably wondered why did they bother to cast Cary Elwes in such a minor role... until the final reveal.
  • Knives Out is another work that tries to avoid this via All-Star Cast, but the fact that the one member of the family who only gets a few cameos in the initial "Rashomon"-Style flashbacks is played by Chris Evans might set off alarm bells. There's no way they'd hire that actor for a minor role...
  • The Clint Eastwood film Blood Work had this problem; Jeff Daniels got second-place billing on the box and in the posters, yet appeared to be nothing more than a minor comic relief character. It isn't very difficult to figure out that he is the killer.
  • Steve Guttenberg's character turns out to be the killer in Cornered!
  • In Wolf (1994 movie by Mike Nichols), the main character played by Jack Nicholson thinks he's the wolfman behind the murders. The real murderer was James Spader.
  • Partially averted in State of Play (the American film): A number of characters are played by recognizable actors but Ben Affleck is too famous, too good-looking and too underused to not be important in the outcome. Also, he spends the whole plot being way-too-ready to sacrifice his career, mostly because by doing so he expects to avoid jail.
  • Many viewers of the 2011 film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy guessed that the traitor was Bill Haydon on the basis that he was played by Colin Firth, while the other suspects were played merely by recognizable British character actors.
    • Justified in that the book, at least, makes the point that Smiley, Control, all of them knew deep down that Haydon was the traitor all along, but couldn't bear to acknowledge it to themselves explicitly, so the audience's state of knowledge mirrors that of the characters.
  • Nancy Drew features a seemingly jolly lawyer played by Barry Bostwick. It turns out he was the murderer of an actress from the 80s.
  • It doesn't take long to figure out that any character portrayed by Hugo Weaving in Cloud Atlas is a Bad Guy, from the father-in-law that has no problem engaging in the slave trade, to the professional assassin, to even a Witch Doctor version of the devil himself. And then there's the Battleaxe Nurse. Then there's Hugh Grant, who pulls this along with Playing Against The Type.
  • In Oxford Murders you may recognize Burn Gorman from Torchwood and Game of Thrones but that's a red herring to distract you from Dominique Pinon from more successful Delicatessen, Amélie and Mortadelo Y Filemon. He is a second red herring to some extent, anyway.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The Big Bad of the conspiracy is portrayed by the biggest-name actor to be freshly added to the roster. Robert Redford, in case you were curious. There are still a fair few big-name actors besides the spoiler; it's just that most of them were in roles that had been established beforehand, while Redford hadn't really been seen before.
  • Wonder Woman (2017): There's no way they'd hire David Thewlis to play just a minor British commander who disappears after a couple of scenes. Sure enough... (it helps that his most notable roles tend to be either quirky/mysterious mentor figures or Axe-Crazy villains, and he sure wasn't the former in this one).
  • The director of The Alphabet Killer deliberately made use of this trope to make the audience question who the killer might be by casting male actors who have played killers in other films.
  • Veronica Mars: Inverted - the murderer is played by one of the few major cast members who didn't appear on the TV show.
  • Interstellar: The moment Matt Damon makes a cameo, something can be expected to go awry.
  • In Gone Girl, the credits at the beginning include Neil Patrick Harris. Early in the movie, they talk about Amy's ex and show a picture of him. Guess who it is? Yep; Neil Patrick Harris. Gee, I wonder if he'll be involved somehow. Subverted in that he didn't actually do it, but was, in fact, a pawn in Amy's master plan.
  • In Shoot To Kill, a killer on the run whose face we never saw has done a Kill and Replace on an outdoorsman and is hiding among a group of hikers. They're all played by recognizable character actors known for playing villainous or otherwise unpleasant guys in action movies, including Frederick Coffin (Hard to Kill, If Looks Could Kill), Clancy Brown (Highlander), Anthony Robinson (Dirty Harry, Cobra), etc., making it difficult for the audience to guess the villain's identity until about halfway in, with each hiker given subtle clues that could be interpreted as sinister or suspicious. It ends up being Clancy Brown's character.
  • Ride Along subverts this. Laurence Fishburne gets an And Starring nod in the opening credits, and he is a pretty big name actor. That he doesn't appear among the police force is a pretty big give away that he's going to be the main antagonist of the film, a man that no one knows the face of. However, he actually doesn't make any appearance until he reveals himself as the villain, and he has no prior connection to either of the main characters, so there's no real twist to be had.
  • In the 2016 film version of Dad's Army, the plot of which involves a German spy in Walmington-on-Sea, would anyone be really surprised to see that the spy is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who's only the biggest name in the cast? That they are also a Canon Foreigner, and would thus be immediately suspected anyway, makes it feel like the casting is a deliberate wink to the audience.
  • Sidestepped in The List of Adrian Messenger, in which a bunch of big names are unrecognizable in heavy makeup.
  • In Get Out (2017), while those behind the body stealing are never in doubt, it seems fishy that Stephen Root would only show up as a party guest in one scene... and indeed, he's not only in on it, but he's also the one receiving Chris' body
  • In Men in Black: International, with heavyweights Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson playing the leads and Emma Thompson's Agent O firmly established as the series' Big Good, it was pretty much assured that the one remaining big name, Liam Neeson, would at least be involved with the bad guys in some capacity from the moment the first trailer dropped. True enough, Neeson's Agent T turns out to be The Mole in the MIB's London branch and therefore The Man Behind the Man for much of the plot up until the finale where he turns into the Final Boss. Plus the Obviously Evil Jerkass Agent C is far too obvious in his antagonism to be the real enemy, which makes T's role even more blatant from the outset.
  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu: Who do you think the Big Bad is? The obvious Red Herring Jerkass played by a lesser-known actor who doesn’t even have a page on this wiki? Or the guy played by Bill Nighy, one of the biggest stars in the cast.

    Jokes 
  • In an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Dave Chappelle told a story where he was almost on the business end of a real-life version of this trope: he was picked up for a police line-up in LA, and the woman who was brought in to pick out the perp looked at him and said "Well, he looks kind of familiar..." Chappelle said his internal reaction was "I'm about to go to jail because I've been on TELEVISION!"
  • John Mulaney once had a joke on this trope. Where he just wanted the victim on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to say "Is that Dean Cain?" during the line-up as he was playing the rapist in the episode.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • When it comes to the The Blacklist, having James Spader as your main character means your show isn't afraid to throw around some star power. But when the episode centers around unmasking an unhinged Russian criminal, and it just so happens that an actor instantly recognizable for playing unhinged foreign characters shows up in the episode, it's a good bet he's more than the injured prison guard he initially claims to be.
    • The second episode of the series plays it straight with Isabella Rossellini, although she isn't the Blacklister of the week. She plays Floriana Campo, whom we're told is dedicated to combating sex trafficking and is a target of an assassin named The Freelancer. Those things are both technically true; she is a sex trafficker herself and uses her charitable organization to wipe out her competition, and Red hired The Freelancer to kill her because of this.
  • When Brad Dourif's name showed up in the opening credits for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., viewers knew they were about to meet The Clairvoyant face to face. It's a Double Subversion. Dourif's character is the Fall Guy, and the following episode reveals The Clairvoyant to be recurring character John Garrett, played by Bill Paxton.
  • Even Battlestar Galactica is guilty of this, in a roundabout way. Lucy Lawless and Dean Stockwell both appeared as supposedly one-shot characters before being outed as Cylons.
    • In the case of the 1st mentioned character, the reveal was at the end of the initial appearance. The 2nd wasn't actually revealed until a subsequent appearance.
  • In the pilot episode of Blue Bloods, Corey Feldman is there for 30 seconds as a doll reviewer(!) and to create the illusion of 'they caught the bad guy really early' until we realize we've been misled by the Stunt Casting.
  • Bones:
    • An episode featured Thomas F. Wilson as the victim's boss. You best remember him as Biff Tannen from Back to the Future. He turned out to be the killer.
    • Another had Adam Baldwin as an FBI agent looking for a mob killer and protecting Brennan from a hit man. He was the killer and the hitman.
    • Another episode has a "People Who Died On Buffy" reunion where both major lawyers and the lead investigator were all characters who died on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Subverted in the end.
    • Played with in one episode, where the killer was not the mildly famous person (Spencer Breslin); however, he did turn out to be the father of all those babies, including the unborn child of the victim.
    • Subverted fabulously in an episode where Robert Englund, who's famous for playing Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, played a janitor. He also did not do it. Furthermore, the first crime featured the story of a cannibal who killed his victims for their delicious flesh. Robert Englund's character offers Bones and Booth some delicious ribs.
    • As opposed to the Castle ep above, Miss Farrell did do it in "The Man in the Mud" ... but the episode also had Tom Friendly, Delia Fisher, and Joey Lawrence's little brother to choose from.
    • The season 5 episode "The X In the File" featured Dean Haglund, who played a recurring character on The X-Files (Langly, one of The Lone Gunmen). He did it.
    • A more subtle one in the second Gravedigger episode. Fans of The Wire will know Rhonda Pearlman isn't going to show up just to cameo in a couple of lawyer scenes.
  • Breaking Bad, of all shows. Walt and Jesse are going to meet a super-mysterious drug dealer to handle their bulk amount of meth at a fast food restaurant and the manager asks them if they're doing well. Gus Fring's actor is Giancarlo Esposito, not hugely famous, but prolific nonetheless.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • A Season 5 episode features Joel Grey as a demon that could assist Dawn in bringing her mother back from the dead. While the small role probably still had enough significance to justify a big actor, he ended up making a second appearance in the Series Fauxnale as an agent of Glory.
    • And John Ritter guest starring on Buffy? Has to be an evil robot hell-bent on getting Buffy out of the way to get to her mother.
  • Burn Notice
    • One episode had Lucy Lawless play a grieving woman looking for her husband. ...until about halfway through the episode when she's revealed to be a spy looking to kill the man Michael unwittingly guided her to.
    • Subverted in the Season 1 cliff-hanger finale, where Richard Schiff shows up as a guest star, and is killed off after just a couple of minutes of screen time. The DVD commentary says they specifically hired a big name so the audience would see him as the ultimate bad guy—they wouldn't pay a big star like that to be just a one-shot flunky.
    • In the season 5 finale, Michael is running a CIA op with Dean Cain, Kristanna Loken, and Maxwell Terlecki, and one of them is a mole. Dean is still Super-good and Kristinna is aiming to take out the forces of good.
  • CSI:
    • Featured a star from the Canadian TV series Eleventh Hour. His guest shot was overhyped in CTV commercials, making it obvious he was the killer when he failed to show up almost until the end. But then, CTV does this a lot. Cynthia Nixon's appearance on an episode of Law & Order: SVU, for another example.
    • Stephen Baldwin was in the same episode as the lead suspect for the other case, about a serial rape-murderer. He had two scenes, and wasn't guilty, dismissed as a suspect halfway through the story. His first scene didn't even give him dialogue.
    • Also, the celebrity unsubs are sometimes under so much make-up that it takes a few minutes before you realize who they are. Prime example: Jamie Kennedy.
    • Also played with in an episode that guest starred Roger Daltrey. He did it, but his character spent most of the episode disguised as several other people. The guy you would have recognized did it, but he was unrecognizable.
    • Yet another episode featured Jeffrey Combs. As a coroner. He was barely even a suspect.
    • Zachary Quinto was on an episode as a mechanic before Heroes or Star Trek (2009), in the Season 2 episode Anatomy Of A Lye. He didn't do it.
    • CSI is very guilty of casting actors that are go-to TV bad guys as the eventual killer. It's pretty simple to pick out whodunnit if you've watched enough TV (especially 90's dramas like The X-Files. More than once they've cast two "that guy" actors in an episode, and more likely than not they both did it.
    • Pretty much everyone who was in any way interested in iCarly, knew that Nathan Kress' appearance on CSI was as a bad guy.
    • Subverted again in "Rashomama" when Ray Wise, who has played a killer and the Devil himself, was only a suspect for a short time. The same episode also had soap opera actress Rachel Miner and Big Love star Amanda Seyfried. Which, if either of them did it? Well, they both participated, with help from two others.
    • Two episodes with Justin Bieber as a Mad Bomber who really likes Nick. He dies in a shootout.
    • Another episode guest starred Andy Berman. He did it.
    • Aaron Paul was on the show several years before he was Jesse Pinkman. Like Zachary Quinto above, he also appeared in Season 2, though four episodes earlier in Felonious Monk. He didn't do it.
    • Joel Grey as a passenger on a plane where several other passengers are robbed, and one of them later turns up dead. He committed the thefts, but not the murder.
      • On that same plane was Urkel, or Jaleel White, who was also accused of the murder. He didn't do it.
    • The episode Butterflied doesn't even attempt to present any viable suspects besides Kyle Secor.
  • CSI: Miami :
    • Subverted this by having skateboarding (and video game) star Tony Hawk guest starring... as the victim (so naturally his role was in flashbacks).
    • Chris Pine did an episode before he was Captain Kirk. He did it. And had a lip-ring.
    • Michael Westen appears in an episode as part of a convict team fighting fire in the Everglades, while the CSI team is there investigating a different case entirely. He later takes Alexx hostage and escapes.
    • Mark Pellegrino guest-stars as a helpful neighbor giving eyewitness evidence of the killer leaving the scene of the crime, in hopes of getting a reward. He did it, and framed the other guy for a past murder to boot.
  • CSI NY:
    • Played with in an episode where retired tennis champ John McEnroe is accused of murder: the killer turns out to be a guy who looks like him...also played by McEnroe.
    • Another episode featured "magician" and professional poser, Criss Angel. When the team suspected him early on, it seemed obvious he wouldn't be the killer. However, by the end of the episode, he had performed almost all of his signature tricks. Oh, and killed two people.
    • Also played with in an episode that had Kid Rock being suspected of killing an employee who leaked his yet-to-be-released album. He didn't do it, the leak was a Viral Marketing ploy orchestrated by him.
    • "Second Chances" had 2 straight, 1 subversion, 1 aversion - It looked like Pat Monaghan from Train was the killer - it was his car that ran over the vic. It was his girlfriend and the vic's girlfriend (Kim Kardashian and Vanessa Minnillo) taking drug users off the street and insuring them for 2 years, then killing them for the life insurance, Pat was due to be the next vic they also interviewed La La Vazquez as a suspect, wasn't her.
    • In "Some Buried Bones," Nelly Furtado is suspected of killing a store security guard who catches her shoplifting. Turns out to be someone else, but she's still arrested for her crimes.
    • A Hilarious in Hindsight version. Misha Collins appears in the Season 4 opener, which was released a few months before he began Supernatural. While not so obvious at the time, it's pretty easy to guess nowadays that he's the killer.
  • Carnivàle: The plot in Babylon city involved the murder of one Carnie and the others looking for the murderer among the Babylonians. They eventually decided to exact their justice in John Hannah's character (The Mummy; Sliding Doors). Hannah then confesses.
  • Happens so often on Castle that lately they've taken to casting at least two familiar faces an episode, so even though you know one of them did it, they at least keep you guessing between which.
    • Also been subverted quite a bit as Robert Picardo, Debi Mazar, Dan Castellaneta and Phil LaMarr have all popped up as being allies rather than killers.
      • Robert Picardo was also in an episode of Pushing Daisies as a detective. He hadn't committed any crimes there either. Though Ethan Phillips also appeared and WAS the guilty party.
    • "One Man's Treasure": You got Mrs. Ari and Miss Farrell over the corpse of a two-timer. So one of them did it, right? Nope, turns out to be Principal Wood, only slightly unrelated to his two-timing.
    • "Pretty Dead" had Michael McKean, Teri Polo, Sasha Roiz and Jonathan Slavin. One by one they were eliminated as suspects until the last one left was pretty obviously the killer.
    • One episode had Mitch Pileggi play a tough agent who obviously has something to do with the murder. Actually it turns out to be a paid spy-game experience and he is just a regular joe who is very shocked to learn that this isn't part of the game. He gets maybe three minutes of screentime. The guy who did it was just some guy.
      • For the most part Castle seems to enjoy zigzagging this trope.
    • William Mapother himself shows up in "Disciple". He did the killing, but he's not the "disciple"; another recognizable actor (Annie Wersching) takes that spot.
  • The Closer: Philip Stroh. Attorneys are relatively few and far between on this show (mostly because Brenda is very good at convincing the suspects that they don't need one), so when one not only shows up but is also played by Billy Burke, you kind of assume he's gonna be important. Stroh turns out to be his serial raping client's much more evil accomplice, and eventually becomes Brenda's That One Case.
  • Cold Case:
    • An episode had Daveigh Chase (Samara Morgan from The Ring) guest star as one of the suspects. Guess who the killer was?
    • There were Reed Diamond he did it in the season 7 episode "Forensics", Steven Culp who also did it in the episode Jurisprudence, and Loretta Devine in Soul, and yes, she did it too, among others.
    • Another episode had Barry Bostwick as the killer. Also doubles as Stunt Casting, as the original murder took place after a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the late 70s. Though they actually gave away that it was him from the get-go, as he played the aged already-imprisoned serial killer.
    • As soon as Daniel Baldwin showed up, you just knew he was the perp. He was so effective in this role, he stayed on for 7 episodes.
    • Episodes with really, really old cases from the '30s and '40s often had the perp, if they were still alive, played by someone well-known, including Peter Graves, Ralph Waite, Orson Bean, and Piper Laurie.
  • Columbo is actually an inversion of this trope as we almost always see the crime committed before the eponymous detective even shows up. Naturally, there are plenty of famous guest stars on the show, but there's no reason to guess given the suspense is less about "who did it" but rather how Columbo will catch them.
    • Subverted in one Columbo "Last Salute to the Commodore" where we see Robert Vaughn cleaning up a murder scene after the fact, and assume he did it. He didn't. In fact, he turned out to be the next victim.
  • Come on, as if you didn't know that Alan Tudyk would play something better than just an architect]] on Dollhouse.
  • Day Break (2006): Subverted. Mitch Pileggi plays an Inspector Javert-type detective who is made to appear to be The Mole, but later turns out to be a Red Herring Mole.
  • Criminal Minds,
    • "L.D.S.K.", where Detective Lassiter of Psych fame briefly pops up as an ER nurse who gives the agents directions. About eight months before Psych premiered.
    • "Paradise", where 'Wil Wheaton is introduced among a series of hotel workers being interviewed.
    • "Uncanny Valley", if you've paid attention to the credits. Jonathan Frakes was billed to appear in the episode but doesn't appear until the end when the team figures out that he's the one who induced the case's UnSub to kidnap women in the first place because he took away her dolls.
    • Once, it was Jamie Kennedy, except he was nigh-unrecognizable until The Reveal.
    • It's only noticeable if you're a fan of certain franchises but this was in full force for certain viewers in Season 9's "The Black Queen." Oh yeah, I'm sure they got Jeffrey Combs just to be the guy who sticks his head in and comments to Penelope's ex that their servers have been hacked ...
  • Elementary: "Rat Race," Molly Price, who played a large role in Third Watch as well as numerous other tv shows and movies, showed up very early in the episode as a secretary. She did it.
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has a hidden villain, the Power Broker, a powerful crime lord who rules Madripoor with an iron fist. The only other crime lord the heroes encounter (save for a swiftly killed underling) is none other than their old ally Sharon Carter, who's been in the MCU blockbuster films and thus has the prestige to portray a major supervillain.
  • Furuhata Ninzaburo takes this trope Up to Eleven: the criminal is played by a famous face each time, and at least twice Furuhata faces off against actual celebrities: a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of baseball star Ichiro Suzuki (who, BTW, flat out refused to have his character's name changed) and the entire J-Pop band SMAP.
  • Forever spoiled the identity of a killer by casting Emily Kinney (Beth from The Walking Dead), as it would have been strange to hire an actress at the height of her popularity to date to play such a small role if it wasn't that of the killer.
  • Dylan Baker was accused of his wife's murder in an episode of The Good Wife but he was acquitted. At the end, he reveals he did do it.
  • Subverted in Hannibal. You'd think they wouldn't cast Jeremy Davies unless it was as the killer, and the show doesn't usually zig-zag a lot in that respect, but sure enough, he turned out to be a patsy.
  • Hawaii Five-0:
    • Same with the casting of Keith David. On the top of the casting, the character had means and motive; anyone who seems that guilty has to be innocent, so it's presented as a revenge story rather than a mystery until the man who's out to get him realizes he's after the wrong man.
    • And again – apparently Hawaii Five-0 is pretty consistent about sidestepping this trope – with the casting of Summer Glau as the daughter of the murder victim in "Kekoa." You can tell right away that there's got to be something going on behind the scenes, because no one in their right mind would spend money to cast Summer Glau as a genuinely fragile weepy waif and the detectives have a blurry photo of a brunette girl roughly the same height, but the secret turns out to be that her father was teaching her a traditional Hawaiian combat style in defiance of gender restrictions. Naturally, she gets forced into a big dramatic hand-to-hand fight with the real perp by the end of the episode.
    • Played straight with the casting of Nick Jonas as the seemingly-gormless college kid Steve and Grover must pick up for unpaid parking tickets. He's revealed to be a computer genius roped into helping some bank robbers and then, by the end of the episode, he's identified as a criminal mastermind working with terrorists who was merely manipulating the bank robbers to his own ends.
  • In Hot in Cleveland, Betty White is told of a murder, and when she says "Why are you telling me that?" the person telling her says that she always figures out who the killer is in CSI in the first three minutes. Betty White says that it's due to knowing who the guest stars were - you don't hire Tony Danza to play "a hotel concierge with three lines."
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • Not a detective show, but in one episode Ted is given a choice of three women to date - Barney shows him their photos before Ted sees the girls. While the other two are not so familiar, one of the pictures is of Anna Camp, and of course, she gets chosen.
    • Inverted with The Mother herself, where a virtual unknown was cast and all of the bigger names were revealed not to be her.
  • The Inside was pretty bad about this for its short run. William Mapother, Michael Bowen Jenette Goldstein, Hart Boecher and Amber Benson.
  • JAG had Ernest Borgnine in "Yesterday's Heroes", surely he did something...
  • Kamen Rider Fourze cast Kousei Amano (known to Rider fans as Sakuya Tachibana/Garren) as the school's principal Kouhei Hayami, who naturally turns out to be one of the commander-level enemies. Later in the show, Nao Nagasawa of Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger fame joined the cast as a new teacher and heavily implied that she was a villain who would end up joining the commanders. Ultimately subverted; she's innocent, and the actual villain is deliberately trying to frame her out of spite. Nagasawa's character ends up becoming a recurring member of the cast and part of the heroes' support network.
  • Lie to Me had Beecher (Lee Tergesen) as the perp in the second season finale.
  • Life On Mars did this a lot; then again, the week's criminal case was usually the episode's least important plot.
  • Lost loves to play around with this. One good example is the actor Doug Hutchison, most famous for his role as the sadistic guard Percy Wetmore in The Green Mile. He briefly appears in a season 3 episode. Then he briefly appears in a season 4 episode. Then he plays a central role in five episodes in season 5.
  • On Masterpiece Theatre's 2009 adaptation of Agatha Christie's "They Do It With Mirrors," the perpetrator is played by Brian Cox, otherwise known as Stryker from the second X-Men film, or Ward Abbott from The Bourne Series films, or the original Hannibal Lecter.
  • Medium:
    • Ironically, an episode of it seems like Reed Diamond did it, but in the end Allison finds out that the 'victim' is still alive and a few years younger than in her dreams, so she understands he might do it, despite being anything but a killer to this point, and warns him so hopefully he won't do it.
    • Will McCormack raped Devalos' daughter and others.
    • Donna was a serial killer of sex offenders who ended up killing an undercover cop.
  • Frequently used on The Mentalist. If the actor is familiar but playing a bit role, generally they're the murderer or the mastermind of the murder.
  • The Middle: In the episode, "Second Act," Frankie lampshades this.
  • Monk:
    • "Mr. Monk and the Girl Who Cried Wolf" featured Emma Caulfield (Anya from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Sharona's creative writing teacher. She hadn't "done it" yet, but she was about to.
    • Subverted in "Mr. Monk on Wheels," in which Bradley Whitford's character Dr. Dean Berry is not the killer - who is his assistant Sarah Longson (Pamela Adlon). Rather, Whitford's Berry is the
    • "Mr. Monk and the Kid" had a well-known actress in a minor role, and as soon as the audience heard her and said "Hey, that's Shego!" they knew Janet Novak was guilty.
    • "Mr. Monk Goes to a Fashion Show," where Malcolm McDowell is Julian Hodge and gets Special Guest Star billing. In the episode, one of his models is killed. Just do the math once you see his Berserk Button.
    • Played straight with Brad Garrett as "Honest" Jake in "Mr. Monk Buys a House".
    • David Strathairn in "Mr. Monk and the Genius" - whose character we are introduced to before he kills his wife.
    • With Steve Valentine in "Mr. Monk and the Magician", more so since we see that this magician is involved in drug trafficking.
    • Wonderfully subverted in "Mr. Monk Joins a Cult." By this point in the series it was common for the highly-billed guest-star to be the killer, so in the end Howie Mandel's Ralph Roberts actually turns out to not be the murderer in the episode and it's revealed to really be the eyewitness to the murder who appeared at the very beginning.
    • Also subverted in "Mr. Monk and the Bully," where Noah Emmerich's role as Roderick Brody is billed as special guest star, but he instead gets framed up for a stabbing by his wife's evil twin sister played by Julie Bowen. So technically the actress you recognize did it but not the character.
    • Also subverted in "Mr. Monk Makes the Playoffs," which features Bob Costas as himself. He only serves as a plot point and is not involved with the crime in any way.
    • In "Mr. Monk Vs. The Cobra" one of the gravediggers who helps exhume Sonny Chow's body is played by Mark Sheppard. Turns out he's the bad guy. Is he ever anything else?
  • Also frequently seen in Midsomer Murders.
    • The episode with Siân Phillips even alludes coyly to her role as a poisoner in I, Claudius.
    • Sometimes subverted (one episode managed to bring it down to 'Narrowed It Down To The Person I Recognise As Playing Villains by hiring two well-known actors), and sometimes self-subverted through the Retroactive Recognition issue mentioned in the trope description (for example, in one episode Orlando Bloom showed up as 'guy who got run through with a pitchfork in the first few minutes of the episode').
  • The first episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries features Éowyn playing the supposedly heartbroken wife of the victim.
  • William Atherton guest stars in a 1985 episode of Murder, She Wrote. Unsurprisingly, he did it.
    • Eli Wallach guest starred in a season 4 episode, "A Very Good Year for Murder". Again, his character was the culprit, though he intended for himself to be the victim.
    • Played with in an episode guest starring the recognizable Dick Sargent: Jessica began grilling his character during the final six minutes of the episode, which anyone familiar with the show will know means that he is the guilty party. However, in the middle of her questioning, she stopped, explained that she had been prepared to accuse him of the murder but that she suddenly realized that it was his wife who had committed the murder and that he was completely innocent.
  • NCIS had a late first season episode that guest starred Adam Baldwin, Julie Benz, and Doug Savant (albeit this was the season before the later show started). Though Adam Baldwin is never a suspect. Subverted in that NONE of them are guilty - the murder of the week was actually a suicide.
    • Inverted in the episode "Singled Out" with Misha Collins accused of murdering a female navy officer. He's guilty of carjacking her, but not her murder.
    • In another episode, the team got a lead on their case from a bartender played by Claudia Black. Guess who did it?
  • A Nero Wolfe Mystery played with, or possibly completely inverted, this trope: The supporting cast stayed mostly the same from episode to episode, but except for a small core cast the actors played different roles in different stories — so while you can nearly always recognize "the guy" (or "the gal"), it's of no use to you in jumping to the solution of the case, since the murderer one week might be the victim the next week and just some background supporting character the week after that.
  • NUMB3RS often did this.
    • One episode featured two well-known actors. Of course, they had both done it.
    • Exception: an episode with Wil Wheaton (again) and Christopher Lloyd. Neither did it.
    • Another: Bill Nye the Science Guy getting called in as a consultant, and the criminal was someone completely unrelated.
  • Poirot:
    • The adaptation of Sad Cypress seems to be aiming for this, featuring Paul McGann and Rupert Penry-Jones among the guest cast. However, the presence of Phyllis Logan as a character who seems to be a complete non-entity practically screams "She did it!"
  • Parodied in Police Squad! where the guest star shows up for about half a minute and dies in a single, separate scene that's part of the beginning credits Once an Episode.
  • Powers: Wil Wheaton as Conrad Moody is the guy who hired Heavy to murder Retro Girl.
  • Psych
    • The first episode has the father of the kidnapped and then murdered young man played by Don S. Davis — who spent eight years on Stargate SG-1 as Gen. Hammond. He did it.
    • One of the season finales had Alan Ruck (Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) as a bank robber. Turns out he was being forced into it; the real baddies had his wife held hostage.
    • When David Naughton guest-starred in a Halloween episode themed around werewolves, it's easy to guess that he did it. Especially when his character was named after an ''Entertainment Weekly'' TV critic who doesn't particularly like the show.
    • Saul Tigh recently showed up as a grizzled old fisherman and was promptly ignored by the main cast for the majority of the episode. He did it. Although, to be frank, you have to have watched Battlestar Galactica (2003) to get it. Otherwise, he's just another character actor.
    • Surprisingly subverted with Joey McIntyre (yes, that Joey McIntyre) since he played a police officer new to the precinct and Shawn kept going on about how the perpetrator, a vigilante taking down members of a crime syndicate, had to be someone inside the SBPD. To be fair, though, it was a comic book-themed episode and you don't have to be a fan of the genre to realize the reporter in glasses would turn out to be the superhero.
    • Subverted in the season 7 premiere. Jake Busey shows up as one of two security guys (the other one we've seen already in the episode). A few minutes later, Busey shows up pointing a gun at Shawn and Gus. Turns out he's FBI, having infiltrated the company in order to investigate the man he was guarding earlier.
    • In the old west town episode, Jim Beaver is the most noticeable guest star, as he played Bobby Singer on Supernatural for nearly seven years. And he did it.
    • Rob Benedict, also from Supernatural, guest starred as a lawyer who believed his client was innocent. Rob plays God on Supernatural. His client WAS innocent all along.
    • Played with to hell and back on the 100th episode, which was based on Clue. Three guest stars from the Clue movie (Leslie Ann Warren, Christopher Lloyd, and Martin Mull), and three not (Garret Morris, Curt Smith, and Steve Valentine). What made it particularly apt was that no one committed the crime featured in the episode, and the final culprit - who committed a five-year-old cold case - was voted on during the episode, with multiple possible endings filmed. The east coast and west coast saw different killers.
  • The episode "Requiem" of the British series Anna Lee featured Greg Proops, who was just gaining fame in GB, as a slimy music journalist. Guess who was the bad guy. He didn't kill the victim, but drove her to suicide
  • In an adaptation of 'The Secret of Chimneys', the ITV broadcast 'Marple' episode saw Edward Fox cast as the murderous Lord Caterham. The actor in question has a face which is instantly recognizable to most Brits, especially the age-group likely to enjoy Agatha Christie adaptations.
    • The BBC's Marple adaptation of A Pocket Full of Rye cast Peter Davison, fresh off his stints as Tristan Farnon and the Fifth Doctor as the baddie, who starts off quite charming and apparently ill-treated by his father, so this may have been an intentional attempt as misdirection given his previous roles.
  • When Nicholas Hoult suddenly materialises halfway through episode 1 of BBC crime drama Wallander (and starts hogging all the screen time) it was only a matter of time before the bloodied axe shows up under his bed.
  • The ABC series Sleuth 101 is about comedians trying to solve murder mysteries. Dave O'Neil didn't understand any of the clues but managed to solve the first episode's case correctly by working out who the most famous cast member was.
  • Almost everybody in Stag turns out to have some kind of ulterior motive, given there's a Tontine, but Reece Shearsmith's character, Wendy disappears surprisingly early in episode one. He's also the only actor here with a reputation for playing villains, and sure enough he turns up again later.
  • In an episode of Strong Medicine, a flood of patients from a train derailment caused by a car on the track was followed by a frantic and confused young woman coming into the hospital. Nothing special, except that it was Delia Fisher from My So-Called Life. She did it, but she didn't know she did it.
  • The same actress shows up in Rizzoli & Isles as an assistant of the body of the week. A short cameo at the beginning, and then nothing until Rizzles realizes that the name of the killer's video game alter ego translates to "underling" or "assistant" in a Scandinavian language.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode, "Think Tank" has Jason Alexander as a guest star. Although his role isn't insignificant from the start, it's still good cause to be suspicious of the character.
  • Supernatural:
    • In the episode "Clap Your Hands If You Believe...", a red flag went up as soon as Robert Picardo came on screen, acting all lame and insignificant. Obviously, he was the villain.
    • Charisma Carpenter and James Masters guest star in the episode "Shut Up, Dr. Phil" together and of course they did it.
    • Mitch Pileggi, Billy Drago, Mark Sheppard, Mark Pellegrino... the list could go on. At least half of the truly recognizable names on Supernatural are involved or responsible for some black and white or gray areas of evil.
  • Played for Laughs on 30 Rock when Liz convinces Jack to "Mamma Mia!" the three men Jack's private detective has come up with who could potentially be his father. They lure the men to New York under the pretense of having won a contest, and when they get there, instead of hijinks ensuing, we immediately find out that one of them is Korean and another had his genitals blown off in World War II. The third is Alan Alda.
  • Veronica Mars, the first two cases during the overarching Story Arc of their respective seasons:
    • In the first season, the murderer was the character played by Harry Hamlin, of L.A. Law and Clash of the Titans fame—only a recurrent character. Though you might be sidetracked by thinking that they just hired a famous actor to play a famous actor, for verisimilitude.
    • Another episode had Kristen Cavaleri as a lesbian cheerleader in an episode where gay students were being outed. Turns out she was the outer but it was really just a scam because she only outed her girlfriend who she wanted to come out.
  • The West Wing had Glenn Close show up during a search for a Supreme Court Justice.
    • Semi-subversion in that Close's character was up against Bill Fichtner for the job. The twist was that the White House staff found a way to hire both of them.
  • Season 2 of True Detective leaves you spoiled for choice here, but James Frain as a seemingly token background character? Please. Subverted: Despite suggestions the killer may be a cop, and despite wearing the same suit as the killer, and despite having the same build as the killer (and even somewhat resembling the mask the killer wears, impressive considering it's a huge black raven mask), James Frain is in fact not the killer, but is one of many other killers central to the plot.
  • This is referred to on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Titus's acting rival Coriolanus boasts of having appeared on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as "the guy who, at the end, turned out to have done it".

    Professional Wrestling 
  • It was an example of this that led many to believe that WWE NXT might be rigged. Of the six rookie Divas, only two were given any kind of storyline outside of competing for NXT, Kaitlyn and Aksana. (Interestingly, these two are most often considered the two worst of the six.) Aksana, who was born in Lithuania, was given an angle where she had to marry her pro Goldust to obtain a green card, and Kaitlyn was in a love triangle with her pro, Vickie Guerrero, and Vickie's boyfriend, Dolph Ziggler. Aksana stayed in the competition until her storyline marriage with Goldust was over, then was eliminated almost immediately after. This left Kaitlyn as the only Rookie with any type of storyline. When she eventually won the competition, it appeared that WWE forced Kaitlyn into becoming the Girl I Recognize, making her the only one visible outside of NXT (which is a web-only show) and thereby leading fans to vote for her (since she was the only one they probably knew anything about).

    Theater 
  • Ironically used in Les Luthiers ' show Mastropiero Que Nunca, for "El Asesino Misterioso" (The Mysterious Murderer), a mockumentary trailer for the movie. The characters are introduced, then the cast is said out loud with made-up names. An actor's name is pronounced as if he's a well-known star (Garyyyyyy Baldi), and is revealed to be the murderer (Yes, they spoil their own movie in their own trailer as a part of the joke).

    Video Games 
  • Persona 4: Johnny Yong Bosch as an insignificant bumbling rookie detective? American fans of Japanese media didn't buy it. Yep, he did it.
    • A kind of double subversion: Johnny Yong Bosch was also playing the protagonist, meaning that getting him to play an insignificant character would be making more use of him rather than wasting him. However, the protagonist is almost a Heroic Mime, so having him play another important character would make sure that he wasn't wasted.
  • Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney makes an effort to hide this. In the second case, you have to question a whole mob of witnesses at once. One of them happens to be voiced by Carina Reeves, who played Fiora in Xenoblade, and they did it. However, said character only starts having fully-voiced dialogue once it becomes clear they're the murderer, before they only had slight Voice Grunting, making this harder to spot.
  • Xenoblade begins with you in control of three characters: The Hero with the Sword of Plot Advancement, one of his closest friends... and an Obviously Evil Dirty Coward who abandons you to save his own skin within the first five minutes. Predictably, he ends up fleeing into a horde of enemies, cue scream and fade to black. But upon realizing that his Japanese voice actor is the Norio Wakamoto, it should be obvious his part in the plot isn't over yet...
  • Played with in Until Dawn. It is possible to get Sam killed, but she and Mike are the only playable characters to wear Plot Armor until the final chapter. They weren't going to cast Hayden Panettiere as Sam just to risk her leaving the game early. Retroactive Recognition does create a straight example with Rami Malek as Josh, who turns out to be the villain after being the one character who you never get to play as, but this was a couple of years before he got his big break with Mr. Robot.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • Lampshaded on The Simpsons:
    Grampa: I say we call Matlock. He'll find the culprit. It's probably that evil Gavin MacLeod or George "Goober" Lindsay.
  • Family Guy blatantly points out this trope when they have an episode of a random crime drama playing. With the main characters questioning who committed a crime, then nodding and pointing to the "With Special Guest Star Jimmy Smits" part when it pops up in the opening credits.


Alternative Title(s): Narrowed It Down To The Guy I Recognise

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