6 Hilarious Times Actors Played Themselves In Movies

Six times that actors went so meta they played themselves.

By Robert Scucci | Updated

zombie virus

Method acting is all the rage these days, and for good reason. To truly deliver the goods on the big screen requires a lot of research, and training for a role if an actor wants to be convincing. And in a way, actors playing themselves in movies is the ultimate form of method acting. Think about it, if you’re tasked with acting like yourself, then you’ve been preparing for the part for your entire life!

Though of course there is plenty of room for exaggeration and creative liberties for the sake of great storytelling. While some of our favorite actors have had memorable roles as themselves, a self-referential role is really more like a caricature than anything else. And we wanted to talk about some of our favorite examples when an actor gets to have a little fun, and lean into their inner weirdness to get us looking at their lives from a slightly different angle.

Being John Malkovich (1999) – John Malkovich

If you’re a fan of surreal comedy, then Being John Malkovich is about as surreal as it gets. The film stars John Cusack as an unemployed puppeteer named Craig Schwartz, who finds out that he can inhabit the body of John Malkovich when he crawls through a hidden door in his office building.

Schwartz tells his coworker, and romantic interest, Maxine Lund, about his experience, and the two decide that they can turn a profit by letting people pay to inhabit Malkovich.

But things start to get a little bit screwy when John Malkovich realizes he’s not fully in control of himself while others are inhabiting him. Entering the portal himself, he finds himself surrounded by doppelgangers that can only say the word “Malkovich” before he’s ejected.

If you thought Nicolas Cage playing himself after switching bodies with John Travolta in Face/Off was a wild ride, then you’ll want to take a trip through the John Malkovich portal.

Think of Being John Malkovich as a game of musical chairs, but if Jon Malkovich himself is the chair.

This Is the End (2013) – James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride

This Is the End is a legendary buddy comedy about the world coming to an end like in the Book of Revelations. We find ourselves witnessing hilarity ensue as James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride play versions of themselves that we’ve seen in previous films and shows. We even get a chance to see Emma Watson beat the heck out of Seth Rogen with the blunt end of an ax once she feels like her safety is at risk. 

And you could tell they had a whole lot of fun making This is the End because they’re able to portray the most loathsome versions of themselves. One of the more notable scenes was when Danny McBride channels his inner Kenny Powers (Eastbound & Down) during a heated debate with James Franco about his cavalier use, or misuse, of the latter’s nudie magazines. 

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) – Bill Murray

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For those of you who remember the end of 2009’s Zombieland, you may recall that Bill Murray was shot in the chest by Columbus after a botched attempt to startle him and Little Rock while they were watching Ghostbusters in his home theater. Though it was just an innocent prank on Murray’s part, he probably should have thought it through a little better, considering he was made up to look like a zombie to blend in with hoards of the undead. When asked if he had any regrets, he said, “Garfield, maybe,” referring to the critically panned live-action adaptation of the Jim Davis comic he starred in.

But if you’re not one to stick and take a look at the credits, you may have missed his brief cameo during a mid-credit scene for 2019’s Zombieland: Double Tap, which takes place before the events of the first film. The scene is brief as it is hilarious, and references our favorite fat feline once again while Murray is interviewing Al Roker about his role in Garfield 3 before Roker turns into a zombie himself. After making his escape from the hotel he was staying at, now full of flesh-eating zombies, Murray flatly says that he hates Mondays.

Space Jam (1996) – Michael Jordan

For those of you who grew up in the 90s, you know all too well that Michael Jordan was literally everywhere. Not only was he the absolute goat when it came to basketball, but he also had a short-lived baseball career when he first retired from shooting hoops. Not only did Jordan dominate sports television, 1996’s Space Jam found him dominating the box office as well.

Space Jam expertly blended live action and animation in a way that was reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit but takes place on Moron Mountain, a soon-to-be-defunct outer space amusement park. He forms a team with Tweety Bird, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sniffles the Mouse, Yosemite Sam, Road Runner, Porky Pig, Sylvester, Lola Bunny, and Wile E., aptly named the Toon Squad to play the game of the century.

If you thought that Jordan was a beast on the court in real life, it pales in comparison to what he’s capable of when he uses cartoon physics to rain down dunks on the Monstars.

Ocean’s Twelve (2004) – Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis’ appearance in Ocean’s Twelve has some meta layers to it, but it works so well that we have to talk about it. The scene in question involves Bruce Willis approaching who he thinks is Julia Roberts, but it’s actually Danny’s wife, Tess. The humor in this scene comes from the fact that Tess is actually portrayed by Julia Roberts in the film, which is why this bit of mistaken identity is so funny.

The scene takes place in the Galleria D’Arte di Roma, and the museum director is absolutely star-struck when he encounters Willis. But he rubs Willis the wrong way when he tells him that he knew the twist to The Sixth Sense before the actual reveal was made at the end of the film. In the classic Bruce Willis fashion, he asks, “If everybody’s so freaking smart, how come the movie did $675 million worldwide, theatrical?”

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) – Neil Patrick Harris

From 2005-2014, Neil Patrick Harris was most well known for portraying the wealthy, womanizing, Scotch-drinking playboy Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. And if you think that he was born for this part, he actually had a bit of practice in 2004’s Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, where he played a fictionalized version of himself! In fact, the casting director from How I Met Your Mother was a fan of what Harris delivered in Harold & Kumar and encouraged him to audition for the part. 

And the casting director was right to give Harris the heads up. Neil Patrick Harris, as portrayed in Harold and Kumar, is a far cry from his real-life persona, but he’s able to dial in the grime so well that you’d never know he was putting up a front. And rest assured, if he ever steals your car while high on ecstasy, he’ll gladly fork over the cash to get the love stains cleaned out of your back seat.