Top Ten Actors Who Played Themselves

There’s a special place in Heaven* for actors who have the guts to play themselves. To look that deeply into your own navel and actually come out with something interesting and/or hilarious is a rare gift.

Here’s my list of ten (or thirteen) souls have pulled it off in style.

10. Billy Zane – Zoolander

Billy Zane had it pretty easy… he got a lot of mileage out of other folks saying “listen to your friend Billy Zane, he’s a cool dude.” Still, he comported himself in style.

9. Oprah – 30 Rock

Playing yourself as a hallucination takes a special sort of talent. Luckily, Oprah is all-talented.

8. Elizabeth Shue – Hamlet II

In my heart, I’d like to believe that this is a true story, and that Elizabeth Shue only returned to acting to reenact the true story of how she left acting forever to become a nurse. If that IS the case, this gets an immediate bump to #1.

7. Tom Jones – Mars Attacks

It’s easy to forget about this sublime, laser-filled performance from Mr. Jones, because Mars Attacks is not a movie one thinks about very often (unfortunately). The above clip is ok… but the best part is when an eagle lands on his arm, and he doesn’t even flinch.

6. Adam West – Family Guy

For the past few years, he’s played himself… as a cartoon mayor. Well done, Mr. West… I thought your career had peaked after the pilot of Lookwell, but I was wrong.

6a. Neal Patrick Harris – The Harold and Kumar Cycle

(Thanks Peter, I forgot about this one, but it deserves a place of honor)

5. Garey Busey – Entourage

Garey Busey gets a lifetime achievement award in this category. He is always playing himself, and always doing an amazing job.

4. Larry David – Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David has played himself as a total jackass for seven seasons of TV. Though he often veers into uncomfortable amounts of douchery, he just as often makes it work. Highly respectable.

3. Peter Falk – Wings of Desire

This is the only actor-as-himself dramatic role I’ve ever seen work. Yes, it’s a little obscure, and a lot German… but Peter Falk steals the show, simply by being a slightly more ethereal version of Peter Falk. Apologies, Youtube came up a little light on this movie… all I have is the “companero” scene dubbed in Italian.

2. John Malkovich – Being John Malkovich

Come on, you knew this one was coming.

1. Bill Murray – Zombieland

In my mind, though, despite the joy of Being John Malkovich, it’s Zombieland that nailed the perfect as-themselves cameo. This scene takes everything you could possibly want from Bill, concentrates it into four minutes of bliss, and ends it with some mothafuckin Gravitas:



Ricky Gervais’s Extras is the gold standard for the as-themselves cameo… it’s the entire bread and butter of the show. It wasn’t fair to include it with the rest… but here are some sweet sweet highlights:

Kate Winslet:

Ian McKellen:

Patrick Stewart:

(At least 100,000 of the 600,000 views on that last one are probably mine)

And there you have it… as-themselves at their finest. Did I miss any gems? If so, drop ’em in the comments.

Jamie Antonisse

I was born on a Tuesday.

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4 Responses

  1. Matt Ellsworth says:

    How have I never seen, nor even heard of, this Extras thing? I really need to start watching a lot more TV.

  2. #6 Adam West ~ shouldn’t forget that he started playing himself in The Simpsons… Pure. West.

    Agreed on Bill Murray, and how his death is exactly how you’d wish/expect it to go.

    I’d take Carrie Fisher’s 30 Rock bit part over Oprah though.

  3. Jamie Antonisse says:

    Agreed, Leia’s cameo definitely top the O… but she didn’t (technically) play herself, so I had to disqualify it. And I can’t believe I forgot Adam West’s Simpsony beginnings… it’s the foundation Pure West is built on! Perhaps an update later tonight.

  4. Peter Brauer says:

    I am going with Neal Patrick Harris in Harrold and Kumar 1 and 2. Especially #2

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