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Starring a Star as a Star

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A Cast the Expert subtrope of Meta Casting, this is where a famous actor — the kind of person the average person would recognize on the street — is cast to play the part of a fictional similarly famous actor (or a fictionalized version of an historically famous actor), i.e. an actor that the average person in the fictional universe of the story would recognize on the street.

The fictional actor is probably somewhat different in both personal characteristics and acting predilections from the real-life actor playing the part. And so, the actor playing the part really has to carry a doubled acting load, playing the fictional actor engaging in the factional actor's 'off-screen' behavior, and portraying the fictional actor's 'acting.'


There are a couple of things going on in these roles. Firstly, it's easy to buy the idea that the character is a famous actor because we look at the screen and see, hey, famous actor (though it'd be interesting to catalogue examples of relatively unknown actors playing the role of a famous actor). Secondly, there's always great opportunity for some wry Actor Allusion to the actual career of the portrayer. Thirdly, the roles themselves are usually trope storms, either of the actors falling into out-of-bounds wackiness detached from the reality of normal people, or the counter-trope of actors being normal people trying to live normal lives amidst the glare of fame and unusual work pressures.

Some disconcertment may arise when a famous actor plays a famous actor alongside another famous actor playing an average person — for example, in The Hard Way, Michael J. Fox is paired up with James Woods, with Fox playing a famous actor and Woods playing the typical rogue action cop. In Notting Hill, Julia Roberts plays a star who trysts with an average bookseller — played by Hugh Grant.


Where the star played by the star is the star himself (albeit a comically overplayed version of themself), then you have Adam Westing.


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     Film — Fictional 
  • My Favorite Year — the legendary Peter O'Toole plays fictional legendary early era action hero Alan Swann (though Swann is more of an actioner, and more than a bit of a lush).
  • Notting Hill — megastar Julia Roberts plays fictional megastar Anna Scott (though Scott is more of a corset-wearing period-piece type actress).
  • Tropic Thunder — movie stars Jack Black, Ben Stiller, and Robert Downey Jr.. play fictional movie stars Jeff Portnoy, Tugg Speedman, and Kirk Lazarus (with Portnoy as more of a wacky fart-joke comedy guy, Speedman as a monosyllabic actioner, and Lazarus as an Oscar-obsessed intensive method actor).
  • The Artist — Jean Dujardin, best known for spy parody films, plays silent film star George Valentin.
  • The Hard Way — comedy actor Michael J. Fox plays famous action movie star Nick Lang.
  • Go West Young Man — saucy movie star Mae West plays saucy movie star Mavis Arden.
    • West's final film, Sextette had her essentially playing herself - an ageing movie star.
  • In & Out — big star Matt Dillon plays actor Cameron Drake, who kicks off the story by winning an Oscar for his role as a homosexual soldier, and declaring his inspiration to be his regular-guy drama teacher (played by Kevin Kline), who Drake announces is gay; Dillon himself has never won an Oscar, but got his first nom a few years later.
  • Bowfinger — occasional action star (and comedy superstar) Eddie Murphy plays action superstar Kit Ramsey, who happens to hew to a Scientology-like religion.
  • Get Shorty — instantly recognizable star Danny DeVito plays Oscar-winning superstar Martin Weir (a step up from DeVito's actual, if not ignominious, career).
  • ¡Three Amigos! — comedy stars Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Chevy Chase play silent film western stars Lucky Day, Ned Nederlander, and Dusty Bottoms.
  • California Suite — Dame Maggie Smith, who had previously won an Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, plays Diana Barrie, an actress who has been nominated for an Oscar; ironically, Dame Smith won her second Oscar for this performance.
  • Inside Daisy Clover — 1960s child movie star Natalie Wood plays 1930s teen movie star Daisy Clover.
  • Spider-Man 2 — movie star Kirsten Dunst plays Mary Jane Watson as a rising Broadway star (in the comics, Mary Jane is a soap star for a time, so this character development was probably on the producers' minds when she was cast in the first film).
  • Sunset Boulevard — silent film era star Gloria Swanson plays all-but-forgotten silent film ere star Norma Desmond (and silent film actor and director Erich von Stroheim plays Desmond's butler Max, also her former silent film director).
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? — famed actress Blanche Hudson was played by famed actress Joan Crawford (in the 1962 adaptation) and famed actress Vanessa Redgrave (in the 1991 adaptation); her fictional sister, famed (and then forgotten) vaudeville star Baby Jane Hudson was played by famed-and-never-forgotten Bette Davis in the original, and by real-life sister Lynn Redgrave in the remake.
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall — the eponymous title character is a famous for being an actress in weekly tv crime drama, played by Kristen Bell, who became famous for being an actress in the weekly tv crime drama Veronica Mars.
  • Lost in Translation — aging American movie star Bob Harris us played by aging American movie star Bill Murray.
  • Galaxy Quest — former episodic TV star Tim Allen plays former episodic TV star Jason Nesmith (though Allen was a sitcom star and Nesmith was a sci-fi series star).
  • No Strings Attached — former sit-com star Alvin Franklin is played by movie (and occasional TV) star Kevin Kline.
  • Blazing Saddles, Broadway musical star Madeline Kahn plays the famous stage performer Lili von Shtupp, aka the "Teutonic Titwillow."
  • In the movie version of Bewitched big star Will Ferrell stars as (washed-up, but still famous) movie star Jack Wyatt, who is looking to revitalize his career, which is why he's starring as Darrin in a revival of Bewitched. Highly lauded actress Shirley MacLaine also plays Iris Smythson, one of the world's greatest actresses of all time, who is also co-starring in the new series as the new Endora.
  • Birdman — famous actor Michael Keaton (well-known for having twice played Batman in the 90s) portrays Riggan Thomson, a famous actor well-known for having twice played in-universe superhero Birdman).
    • Edward Norton plays an actor who is brilliant, yet a pain in the ass to work with.
  • S1m0ne — Director Victor Taransky, played by Al Pacino, after falling out with famous actress Nicola Anders (played by Winona Ryder), finds and casts a Virtual Celebrity named "Simone".
  • Repo! The Genetic OperaParis Hilton plays Amber Sweet, a bratty, surgery-addicted opera singer and Inadequate Inheritor to the CEO of GeneCo.
  • V for Vendetta — Gordon Dietrich, beloved talk show host, is played by Stephen Fry, beloved panel show host. They even changed many aspects of his character compared to the comic to make them more in line with Fry.
  • Hail, Caesar!George Clooney, Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson play Classic-Hollywood movie stars - Clooney as a Robert Taylor-type leading man in a Sword and Sandals epic, Tatum as song-and-dance man and Johansson as an Esther Williams-type starlet appearing in a musical.
  • Singin' in the RainGene Kelly played a song-and-dance man turned stuntman turned silent movie star who must adapt to the coming of sound.
  • The RocketeerTimothy Dalton plays the main villain, an Errol Flynn-inspired swashbuckling movie star.
  • A Star Is Born — all four versions have done this - Fredric March, James Mason, Kris Kristoffersen, and Bradley Cooper played washed-up movie stars/rock stars, while Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Lady Gaga played the up-and-coming stars.
  • America's SweetheartsJohn Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones play a Hollywood power couple.
  • DreamgirlsBeyoncé is a Diana Ross-inspired singer and Eddie Murphy is a James Brown-inspired soul singer.

     Film — Biographical 

     Live Action TV - Fictional 
  • Entourage — B-list actor Adrian Grenier plays sometimes A-lister Vincent Chase (and, to a lesser extent, B-list actor Kevin Dillon plays C-list actor Johnny "Drama" Chase)
  • Veronica Mars — once hugely famous star Harry Hamlin plays hugely famous movie star Aaron Echolls
  • In the Friends two-parter The One with Monica and Chandler's Wedding, lauded character actor Gary Oldman plays lauded character actor Richard Crosby (and teaches Joey Tribiani to increase his dramatic range by spitting while speaking)
  • 30 Rock — the stars of the show-within-the-show, TGS with Tracy Jordan, SNL alum Tracy Morgan plays Tracy Jordan, while Jane Krakowski plays Jenna Maroney; both characters are somewhat detached from reality due to their stardom
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show — TV star Carl Reiner, well known from his appearances in variety shows, plays well known variety show host Alan Brady.
  • Gilligan's Island — knockout movie star Tina Louise played knockout movie star Ginger Grant; although ultimately four actresses played Ginger — a different one in the pilot (for which the character was not identified as a movie star), Louise throughout the series, and two others in later made-for-TV-movies, only Louise was already a genuine movie star when she took the part — and is generally regarded by fans as the real Ginger.
  • Californication — movie star Rob Lowe plays Eddie Nero, a deviant Brad Pitt expy.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Conscience of the King", longtime Broadway character actor Arnold Moss played Shakespearean troupe-leader Anton Karidian (who is in fact the disguised genocidal Governor Kodos of Tarsus IV).
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Day of the Dead", celebrity magicians Penn & Teller guest star as "Rebo and Zooty", who are basically expys of themselves. (Also, Harlan Ellison provided the "voice" for Zooty.)
  • Hot in Cleveland invoked this in their promos for the series when it premiered; Wendie Malick certainly isn't a big A-lister or anything, but in promos, she acted like one, because the character she played was an egotistical and diva-ish former television star (much like Malick herself, and pretty much all of the cast members of this show).
  • In Extras, all the celebrity guest stars in play fictionalised versions of themselves, while sitcom star Ricky Gervais plays a fictional character, Andy Millman, who becomes famous as the star of the Show Within a Show When The Whistle Blows.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, famous sitcom star Bob Newhart guests as Arthur Jeffries, Ph.D. (aka Professor Proton), a famous former host of a children's science show.
  • In an episode of McCloud "McCloud Meets Dracula" John Carradine, an actor with a long history of appearing in horror films, plays Loren Belasco, an actor with a long history of appearing in horror films who has become convinced he's Dracula.
  • Davy Jones appears in an episode of My Two Dads as a famous musician.
  • The Frasier episode "The Show Must Go Off" cast acclaimed thespian Derek Jacobi as a Shakespearean actor famous for starring in a science-fiction series.
  • This Is Us casts Justin Hartley as popular TV actor Kevin Pearson.
  • Jessica Jones (2015) has Rachael Taylor as Former Child Star and current popular radio talk show host Trish Walker.

     Live Action TV - Biographical 

     Western Animation