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Sometimes an actor is so iconic, famous, or interesting that their celebrity casts a shadow over the roles they play. That's not Hancock in skin tight leather flying around saving people; that's Will Smith! In Hitch, that's Will Smith giving dating advice. And Independence Day has Will Smith as a fighter pilot! Audiences are unable to commit to a Willing Suspension of Disbelief and simply see the actor on screen rather than his character.

Sometimes this occurs because the actor is a media darling or tabloid punching bag, constantly in the news. After a while, audiences become so familiar with the actor's personal life that they can no longer see him or her as another person. Other times this is the result of movie stars becoming typecast or having limited range. Audiences come to expect the actor to play the same role over and over again, which becomes part of the actor's larger-than-life persona.

For an actor's career, this can be a double-edged sword. If people like the actor they'll stay loyal to him and see his movies regardless of what they're about. On the other hand, if audiences turn against the actor, they won't be able to appreciate his work no matter how good the material is. And if they really want to be taken seriously and play Hamlet, it's a real (but not impossible) obstacle to overcome.

The complete opposite of this trope is I Am Not Spock, where an actor is unable to step out of the shadow of their most famous role. See also Typecasting and Adam Westing, when an actor falls into this and cultivates it willingly.

Examples of I Am Not Leonard Nimoy include:


Actors

  • John Wayne was famous for "playing himself" in almost all of his films. His personality was so larger than life that his characters were ultimately just different names for the same man in different circumstances. Wayne himself admitted as much, though he did at least find his role as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers so unique that he named his son after the character. When Wayne tried to branch out too far, such as by playing Genghis Khan, the results were predictably disastrous.
  • Samuel L. Jackson is generally perceived to be "Samuel L. Motherfuckin' Jackson" in any role he played after Pulp Fiction. Even as a fucking Jedi, he was still Samuel L. Jackson, and yes, the "L" is important. Other movies you may have seen recently are "Samuel L. Jackson hates motherfuckin' reptiles", "Samuel L. Jackson is cool even in a motherfuckin' family film", and "Samuel L. Jackson coordinates motherfuckin' superheroes".
  • Clint Eastwood's roles in westerns are always seen as simply the "Clint Eastwood Gunfighter" character. Beginning with his role as "The Man With No Name" in the Dollars Trilogy with Sergio Leone, any future western with Eastwood would undoubtedly be seen as that character in a different setting, regardless of any actual backstories. The character has even come out of retirement twice, once after having become a priest in Pale Rider and once after having settled down as a farmer in Unforgiven. However, Eastwood has gone on record as saying that as far as he's concerned, William Munny from Unforgiven is the Man With No Name, and that it's the end of his story.
    • On the other hand, he's also Dirty Harry half the time, to the extent that Gran Torino has been called "the sixth Dirty Harry film". Arguably, though, Gran Torino is more successful for it.
  • Humphrey Bogart was an extremely popular actor who played characters with very similar personalities, encouraging this trope.
  • Edward G. Robinson did the same.
  • Jackie Chan's films are well... Jackie Chan films. People watch them to see Jackie get up to crazy action hijinks. His characters are even called "Jackie" in many dubs.
    • The Rush Hour blooper reels have multiple instances of his co-star addressing him as "Jackie" instead of his character's name. Realizing the take was wasted already, he often responded in kind.

 Don Cheadle: His name is Lee, god damn it!

 Hall: He's a <profession>. He's a pretty good <profession>. Until he has a crisis of confidence and he can't be a <profession> anymore. Until he meets a good-looking woman who talks him into being a better <profession>.

 Stephen Fry: My role in this film as a gay, intelligent man with a sense of humor and appreciation for high culture is a real stretch for me.

  • Robin Williams, with the exceptions of One Hour Photo and Law and Order Special Victims Unit. Although even in his SVU appearance, his penchant for doing funny voices is specifically made into a plot point.
  • Bruce Willis, unless he's playing John McClane.
  • Colin Firth is always playing a stuffy Brit.
  • Rob Schneider is... a carrot!
  • This one's an odd case... Elton John is best known for being a musician, and whenever he does do an occasional acting bit, he almost always plays himself. However, when he was talked into taking up a part in The Movie version of Tommy, a Concept Album turned Rock Opera by The Who, he ended up not playing himself, but rather a character called the Local Lad, also known as The Champ (though the character's often called the Pinball Wizard by mistake because of the song he sings). Even though it's not Elton, the character seems to oddly have his fashion sense and style (and there's even a keyboard built into his pinball machine), thus people seem to easily confuse the character for Elton himself, which has not happened to any of the other performers in that movie (save for the previously-mentioned Jack Nicholson). It also doesn't help that a lot of people don't know the character's real name since it was never really said by anyone...Or the fact that he got to keep the boots afterwards...


Actresses

  • Marilyn Monroe is such an iconic sex symbol, even back when she was still in movies, that it's nearly impossible for a viewer to see her as anything but.
  • Paris Hilton, to such a degree that "See Paris Hilton being gruesomely murdered!" was the unique selling point for the 2005 version of House of Wax. The album of John Ottman's score for the film calls the cue for that scene "Paris Gets It" - even though Miss Hilton's character is called Paige.
  • Julia Roberts tends to be Type Cast in a narrow range of roles, in which she is so consistently a Love It or Hate It personality that "Julie Roberts movie" is almost a genre.
    • Like Tom Cruise, she seems to have crossed some event horizon into whatever is beyond acting. She is the entity called Julia Roberts. Sometimes this entity makes a film. The advertising posters will declare Julia Roberts to be in a film. The public will base their decision on whether or not to see this film solely on this fact...eerie.
  • Angelina Jolie is the premiere--some say only--action heroine of Hollywood. Any film she is in (e.g., Tomb Raider, Beowulf, Salt, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) are more about watching Angelina play the part of sexy action hero then watching sexy action heroes.
    • Then again, half her movies are dramatic... which fit more with her real life persona!
  • At one point, Jennifer Aniston wanted to appear on one of her favorite shows, 24. The producers refused, saying that she was so well known, it would kill the effect, instead of seeing the character, they'd see Jennifer.
  • Jodie Foster is always an unassuming woman that'll put up with a bit of abuse before kicking some ass. Whether it be a man that makes suits out of human skin, a terrorist kidnapping her daughter or shooting a man in the face to get her dog back. It just doesn't matter.
  • Dakota Fanning is always Dakota Fanning. Tom Cruise being in this trope as well had a weird effect on The War of the Worlds. Essentially, the central characters are Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, and Robbie. And while everyone else in Twilight is in I Am Not Spock mode, Jane might just as well be named Evil Dakota Fanning.
  • Speaking of child stars, Shirley Temple is always a Cheerful Heartwarming Orphan who sings and dances. Four of her characters were actually named "Shirley". Like Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts, Shirley Temple has passed the event horizon into the realm beyond acting. The real Shirley Temple went on to do some grown-up roles which no one remembers, retired from acting, become a diplomat, and is still living in her eighties. But the pop culture entity of Shirley Temple is forever locked in time to her twee 1930s child self.
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