Actors who played themselves

19 June 2024
Sheen, Bowie, Malkovich, and more!
man holding fist in hand standing at cliff by seaside

If you’ve watched any American sitcoms in the past thirty years or so, there’s a good chance you’ve watched a Chuck Lorre creation. The co-creator behind shows like The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Two and a Half Men, Lorre is a big part of the comedy show scene. His latest co-creation is Bookie, which features Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen. What stands out about his performance is that Sheen plays himself. However, the actor has done this multiple times before, but since he’s at it again, we figured we’d look at other actors who have done the same.

David Bowie in Zoolander

Zoolander is a film chock-full of actors, musicians, and designers playing themselves. One of the most memorable appearances comes courtesy of the late, great David Bowie. The musician was no stranger to film, having appeared in The Man Who Fell to Earth, Labyrinth, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and Basquiat, amongst many others. But his Zoolander cameo wasn’t only impactful because he was a major music and film star. Bowie was, and remains, a major style icon, so his appearance in Zoolander was a stroke of genius. The icon made the most of it, appearing as the judge in the film’s famous “walk-off” scene between Derek and Hansel.

John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich

This trippy film written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze not only features John Malkovich as himself, but even has his name in the title. Following a puppeteer who finds a portal into Malkovich’s mind, it features several people who appear as themselves including Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, and the man who kicked off this article, Charlie Sheen.

Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick

A popular trope in comedy is that of comedians playing themselves (or at least a version of themselves) in sitcoms, often created and written by them too. Think Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Drew Carey Show, The Bernie Mac Show … we could go on, but we’d be here forever. Even shows like The Goldbergs and Scrubs are sort of autobiographical. The Goldbergs was created by Adam F Goldberg (although he’s played by a young actor in the show, since it’s set in the 1980s) and Scrubs is based on the experiences of creator Bill Lawrence’s college friend (whose initials, like the main character’s, are JD) and his experiences as a resident at Brown Medical School. The Big Sick follows this tradition, taking as its inspiration the life and career of comedian Kumail Nanjiani. He plays a version of himself in the film, which he co-wrote with his wife, Emily V Gordon.

Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

While Nanjiani’s film focuses on his burgeoning career, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent does the opposite, focusing on a film star’s decline in the form of Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalised version of himself. Cage is both a successful, talented actor and an eccentric oddity, making him the perfect person for the part.

Margot Robbie in The Big Short

A film about the housing market doesn’t sound particularly thrilling, right? So, to make it more entertaining, and to explain financial humdrum like subprime mortgages and synthetic collateralised debt obligation, the film makes use of big names to explain these concepts, by breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. These people include chef Anthony Bourdain, singer and actor Selena Gomez, economist Richard Thaler, and Margot Robbie, who just two years prior to The Big Short had appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street, a finance-focused film that saw her cast as the wife of real-life corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Watch Charlie Sheen as Charlie Sheen in Bookie season 1, starting Thursday 20 June at 21:00 on M-Net channel 101. You can also watch on DStv Stream. Join the conversation on Facebook, X, Instagram, and TikTok using #MNet101.

Feature image: Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Alamy)