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Watch actors playing actors acting

Birdman, Lost in Translation, Synecdoche, New York and more

Christopher Hooton
Thursday 07 January 2016 15:34 GMT
Edward Norton in Birdman
Edward Norton in Birdman

There’s something endlessly fascinating about plays within plays and films within films, and seeing actors try and authentically give an inauthentic performance as their character’s character - often an intentionally bad one.

Hollywood is prone to self-indulgence and self-reference, so they crop up pretty often in cinema, as evidenced by this nicely-edited supercut of some of the most famous ‘actors playing actors’ scenes.

Creator Phil Whitehead was inspired by a Sight and Sound piece by Nick James on the meta quirk, who wrote that “no film could be more focused on the intimacy of acting than Iñárritu’s riveting Birdman (…) you’ve got an actor (briefly) playing bad acting, a superhero movie star reaching towards a high-tone stage performance, and a Method actor who’s brilliant and an asshole; they’re all switching between playing themselves and playing their stage roles. When you think of how complicated the registers at play here are, it’s astonishing anyone tried to pull it off.”

Birdman, which did it so skillfully and earned a Best Picture Oscar in the process, features heavily, alongside Mill Murray in Lost in Translation and several scenes from Ricky Gervais’ Extras.

One particularly interesting case is Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

“We have Jerry Seinfeld playing Jerry Seinfeld playing Jerry Seinfeld in the Seinfeld clip,” Whitehead notes, “and then during the Curb clip, Jerry Seinfeld playing a different Jerry Seinfeld playing the Jerry Seinfeld from…. Seinfeld (if that makes sense).”

The video does however omit perhaps the most staggering example, Joaquin Phoenix playing a false version of himself for the best part of a year in I'm Still Here.

Full list of actors in order of appearance:

Sienna Miller and Toby Jones (playing Hitchcock): The Girl

Julia Roberts: Notting Hill

Matt LeBlanc: Friends (The Pilot)

Richard E Grant: Withnail and I

Kenneth Connor and Hugh Paddick: Blackadder III (Sense and Senility)

Michael Keaton: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Robin Williams: Mrs Doubtfire

Dustin Hoffman: Tootsie

Dick Shawn: The Producers

Jim Carrey: Man on the Moon

Eddie Murphy: Bowfinger

Chris Lilley: Summer Heights High: Episode 1

Larry Hankin: Seinfeld (The Pilot)

Laura Linney: The Truman Show

Gene Kelley and Donald O Connor: Singin’ in the Rain

Philip Seymour Hoffman (playing a director): Synecdoche, New York

Paul McGann: Withnail and I

Catherine Zeta Jones and John Cusack: America’s Sweethearts

Julianne Moore and Mark Wahlberg: Boogie Nights

Steve Martin (playing a director): Bowfinger

Martin Landau: Ed Wood

Ricky Gervais: Extras (Sir Ian Mckellan)

Dustin Hoffman: Tootsie

Christine Baranski and Eddie Murphy (technically not ‘acting’): Bowfinger

Michael Shannon: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?

Kate Winslet: Extras (Kate Winslet)

Hugh Paddick: Blackadder III (Sense and Senility)

Jeremy Irons (playing a director): Inland Empire

Edward Norton: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Richard Griffiths: About Time

Rowan Atkinson (in here for fun): Blackadder III (Sense and Senility)

Heather Graham (auditioning not rehearsing, I know): Bowfinger

John Cassavetes: Rosemary’s Baby

Miguel Ángel Silvestre: Sense* (Limbic Resonance)

Dustin Hoffman: Tootsie

Jeremy Piven, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry Hankin: Seinfeld (The Pilot)

Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander: Curb Your Enthusiasm (Seinfeld)

Keith Chegwin: Extras (Orlando Bloom)

Gary Oldman and Matt Le Blanc: Friends (The One with Monica and Chandler’s Wedding)

Naomi Watts and Laura Harring: Mulholland Drive

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche: Clouds of Sils Maria

Sir Ian McKellan: Extras (Sir Ian McKellan)

Matt LeBlanc: Friends (The One with the Butt)

Richard Dreyfuss: The Goodbye Girl

Mark Whalberg, John C. Reilly and Luis Guzmán: Boogie Nights

Adrian Grenier: Entourage (Aquamom)

Gloria Swanson: Sunset Boulevard

Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen: Singin’ in the Rain

Willem Dafoe: Shadow of the Vampire

Jean Dujardin: The Artist

Beryl Reid and Susannah York: The Killing of Sister George

Robert Downey Jr.: Chaplin

Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen: Singin’ in the Rain

Johnny Depp (playing Ed Wood): Ed Wood

Vincent Price: Theatre of Blood

Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow: Shakespeare in Love

Brian Cox: Deadwood (Amateur Night)

Mark Williams: Shakespeare in Love

Alan Mowbray: My Darling Clementine

Vincent Price: Theatre of Blood

Richard Dreyfuss: The Goodbye Girl

Victor Mature (not playing an actor but still performing): My Darling Clementine

Charlton Heston: Hamlet

Gwyneth Paltrow: Shakespeare in Love

Robert De Niro: Hi Mom

Dominic West and Helena Bonham-Carter: Burton and Taylor

Orlando Bloom: Extras (Orlando Bloom)

Ellen Burstyn: The Exorcist

Chloë Grace Mortez: Clouds of Sils Maria

Heath Ledger: I’m Not There

Barbra Streisand: Funny Girl

Laura Dern: Inland Empire

Noah Emmerich: The Truman Show

Adrian Grenier: Entourage (Neighbors)

Bill Murray: Lost in Translation

Bette Davis: All About Eve

Clapping and ‘cut’ shots from:

For Your Consideration

I’m Not There

Ed Wood

Mulholland Drive

Blackadder III (Sense and Senility) w/ Hugh Laurie

Burton and Taylor


Shakespeare in Love

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