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"I wanna spend two weeks with this guy. I wanna eat, sleep, breathe John Moss. If I can taste his world, if I can walk his beat, if I can get under his skin, I will nail this part!"
Nick Lang, The Hard Way

An actor for a Show Within a Show researches the role of a special profession by shadowing his Real Life counterpart. The counterpart is often annoyed at the presence of the actor, whom he feels is getting in the way of his work. Expect This Is Reality lampshading when the shadow realizes that the real job isn't like it is in the movies. Sometimes ends with a promise to change the movie's script to better reflect reality.

Less frequently, the shadow is a writer or a director.

This is a common stock plot on cop shows, where the usual course of action involves the actor overstepping their bounds as an observer, then learning a lesson about how law enforcement is a hard job and shouldn't be attempted by someone who doesn't know what he's doing.


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  • The Hard Way: An action movie from 1991 starring Michael J. Fox and James Woods, in which an action movie star shadows a police detective for research so he will be taken more seriously as an actor.
  • Into The Sun, starring Michael Pare and Anthony Michael Hall, had a Hollywood actor shadowing a fighter pilot stationed in the Middle East to "get a feel" for being a fighter pilot. The actor gets to learn far more than he planned to when the plane he is riding with the fighter pilot in unexpectedly gets into a dogfight and is shot down, forcing the two to help each other survive and escape.
  • In My Favorite Year there's a movie actor who prepares for his roles by imitating real people. In one scene he's sitting in on a discussion between a Mafia don and some movie exec, and the don is getting irritated by the actor constantly imitating his mannerisms.
  • Showtime, starring Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro. This one put a slight twist on it as Eddie Murphy's character was a cop but was more interested in launching an acting career, while De Niro's character was frustrated that Murphy did not take his police duties seriously
  • Southland Tales has action star Boxer researching the role of a racist cop by riding along with Taverner (who is actually pretending to be both racist and a cop).
  • In Tropic Thunder, extreme method actor Kirk Lazarus mentions at one point having prepped for his third Oscar-winning role by working in a Beijing textile factory for 8 months.
  • In Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, when Rob Reiner asks whether he had seen Dickie valet parking at a restaurant (Dickie's "day job"), Dickie confirms he was but claims he was doing research for a role in a movie titled "Valet Parking".


    Live-Action TV 
  • Castle
    • The entire premise of the series, in which mystery writer Richard Castle, author of the Nikki Heat series, follows Detective Kate Beckett around at her job in the NYPD.
    • Also features in the episode "Nikki Heat", where Natalie Rhodes, who will play Nikki in the movie adaptation, shadows Beckett for a case as well.
  • An episode of Martial Law had this. Interestingly, despite the show being a Cliché Storm it more or less deconstructed this trope, with the actor being admonished for doing something heroic (intervening to save them, since he was a civilian) and gets lectured again when he has a breakdown and goes on an I Am Not Spock rant at the victim of the week.
  • One episode of Midsomer Murders had an actor boyfriend of Cully's riding along with Barnaby and Jones to research the role of a detective sergeant. It's a comment of his that gives Barnaby the "Eureka!" Moment.
  • Monk once had an actor following him around. He's such a method actor that he disappears completely into the role of Monk, ultimately attempting to kill a man he's convinced killed Monk's wife.
  • On NewsRadio James Caan meets with Bill to research for a role as a newscaster. Bill tries too hard to suck up to him, while Caan becomes increasingly fascinated with Matthew instead.
  • The Sledge Hammer! episode Hammer gets Nailed had Hammer and Dori being followed not by an actor but by a TV reporter for research.
  • Tequila And Bonetti had one episode with that premise.
  • The X-Files episode "Hollywood A.D." had a movie director instead of actors following Mulder and Scully on an investigation. He was an old buddy of A.D. Skinner from college which explains why he was allowed to follow them and why Mulder and Scully couldn't tell him to get lost.
  • Forever Knight: In "Amateur Night," an actress shadows police detectives Nick and Schanke to research for a movie role. She ends up getting too involved in the case, putting herself and others in danger. In a humorous parallel, Schanke learns more about the movie business and decides he wants to pursue an acting career.
  • Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye: In the two-parter "The Actor" and "Planes, Trains & Automobiles," the movie star Adam Kinsey shadows FBI agents as they investigate a possible terrorist threat. He constantly questions their actions, and the one time they agree to his request (cuffing a suspect's hands in front rather than behind her back) it ends badly (she is now able to take poison and kill herself). Reinforces the show's usual Aesop about how law enforcement knows best and is doing the right thing, even if their reasoning is not readily apparent to an outsider.
  • CSI's "I Like To Watch" had a TV crew following the CSIs. This presented many opportunities to hang some lampshades on the show's familiar tropes; the crew mentions that "beautiful people solving crimes" was a good idea for a show, Hodges bemoans that The CSI Effect makes his job look less difficult (taking something that took him a lot of manhours and compressing into a few moments), and when Grissom makes his usual quip, the crew requests that he say it again, this time to the camera.
  • You're the Worst: In "What Normal People Do" Edgar meets and then hangs out with three friendly veterans. Turned out they were actors doing research for a role.
  • Herman's Head. An actor works with Herman to fulfill this trope. He starts imitating everything Herman does, much to his irritation, so Herman starts to act in an increasingly ridiculous manner, dancing around the room with the actor following, ending with Herman poised in a ballet position. Unfortunately, Herman's boss walks in; the actor quickly pretends to be busy reading a file while the unknowing Herman is still imitating a ballerina.
  • Hill Street Blues had a particularly naive young actor spend most of an episode making a bloody nuisance of himself before trying to talk his way into going along on a stakeout with Detective Belker. Despite being told what a stupid idea this is by Belker and Captain Furillo, he tags along in secret and gets caught in the crossfire and killed when it ends in a shootout.
  • In an episode of Blue Bloods, a famous actor shadows Danny throughout the day. In an aversion of how this trope is typically portrayed, he does not get on Danny's nerves (he's actually more annoyed by his wife, sister, and niece showing up at the police station to meet the guy), nor does he interfere with his work. The real drama comes from the guy being stabbed in what he tries to pass off as a mugging but later admits is the result of an ill-fated anonymous gay hookup.

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    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one episode, James Woods researches the job of a Kwik-E-Mart employee as a reference to The Hard Way.
    • Another episode had Mr. Burns hire Michael Caine to impersonate Homer in order to convince Bart that he (Homer) didn't love him (Bart) anymore. Later in the episode, Homer mentions that Caine had followed him around trying to get a handle on his character.
  • Archer: A Hollywood actress who is going to be playing a spy tags along with ISIS agents to get into character. It turns out she's a Russian sleeper agent and kills some political ambassador while Archer and Lana aren't taking her seriously. She was sad about her movie career but consoled herself with the fact that the Russians had offered her the chance to start directing.

     Real Life 
  • Dustin Hoffman spent a year working with autistic men and their families to understand their complex relationships as a preparation for his role in Rain Man.
  • For the film Ray, Jamie Foxx studied Ray Charles to better mimic him. After a few weeks, he stopped visiting Ray saying that a 73-year-old Ray Charles couldn't help him in portraying a 19-year-old Ray Charles, up until age 49, by the movie's ending.