actors Actors Known for Roles Most Similar to Who They Are in Real Life

Lisa Waugh
3.3k votes 52k views 19 items Embed

List Rules Vote up the actors who seem most similar IRL to the characters they play.

Sure, it’s cool if an actor transcends their own identity and become someone else. It’s amazing to witness. But sometimes, you just want Bill Murray to show up and be Bill Murray. He doesn’t need to sleep inside a bear and keep himself up for days to please an audience, because he’s one of those actors who are the same as their characters, or at least pretty darn close.

Some actors disappear into a role. Actors who are a lot like their characters prefer to lay a foundation from a familiar place. Larry David usually performs a slightly demented spin on his real life self. Robert Downey Jr. could probably morph into a whole other guy (Tropic Thunder, anyone?), but who doesn't like RDJ just as he is?

No one is saying these actors don’t have chops. It’s just that audiences want to see Morgan Freeman doing Morgan Freeman. Let Walken be Walken. Jared Leto may have the time to live as his character for months on end, but Bruce Willis has sh*t to do. He ain’t got no time for that. Or for memorizing lines, apparently.

Who are some of those actors known for roles similar to their real personalities? Matthew McConaughey, Zach Galifianakis, Bruce Willis...keep reading, if you really wanna know.

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8 people just voted on Christopher Walken


Christopher Walken is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Actors Known for Roles Most Similar to Who They Are in Real Life
Photo: NBC/CBS Films

In real life: If Christopher Walken isn’t, you know, Christopher Walken, does anyone really want to know? He certainly comes across as being the same on screen in interviews"More cowbell." You did your Walken impression as you read that, didn’t you?   
 
In film and TV roles: Walken is the king of kooky, playing offbeat characters that fill audiences (and other characters) with dread and wonder (usually at the same time). And they're always drenched in Walkenness. He's...you know, just...kind of...wee-erd.    
 
Notable quote: “You know, there's nothing you can do about your public image. It is what it is. I just try to do things honestly. I guess honesty is what you would call subjective: if you feel good about what you're doing, yourself, if you figure you're doing the right thing.”

Also Ranked

#22 on The Best Actors Working Today

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#19 on The Best Living American Actors

#24 on The Best Actors in Film History

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7 people just voted on Bill Murray


Bill Murray is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Actors Known for Roles Most Similar to Who They Are in Real Life
Photo: CBS/Columbia Pictures

In real life: Capable of anything, Bill Murray is living his best life. He’s crashed a kickball game and bachelor parties, done the dishes at a stranger’s house, bartended, eaten random people's French fries, conducted a school marching band, read poetry to construction workers, and sang karaoke with people he just met. 
 
In film and TV roles: Bill Murray always seems to be playing slightly altered versions of himself.
 Lost in Translation (an aging movie star) and Zombieland (himself as a zombie) are obvious examples, but there's always some Bill poking out in any role he's playing. Even if he’s morphed into the skin of a former president and is getting a handy from his cousin, he’s still Bill Murray. He's especially Bill Murray.   
 
Notable quote: “There aren't many downsides to being rich, other than paying taxes and having relatives asking for money. But being famous, that's a 24-hour job right there.”

Also Ranked

#30 on The Best Actors Working Today

#60 on The Greatest Actors & Actresses in Entertainment History

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#13 on The Greatest Actors Who Have Never Won an Oscar (for Acting)

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Morgan Freeman


Morgan Freeman is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Actors Known for Roles Most Similar to Who They Are in Real Life
Photo: NBC/Universal

In real life: He's wise, funny, kind, chock full of style, and intelligent. Please let Morgan Freeman actually turn out to be God. Also, he always talks like he's prophesying divine truth, even if he's having a normal conversation. 
 
In film and TV roles: Same. Like, more or less exactly the same, whether the movie is a cynical, grotesque treatise against humanity (Se7en), a superhero blockbuster (The Dark Knight), or a goofball comedy (RED). 

 
Notable quote: “People need to start to think about the messages that they send in the movies.”

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#3 on The Best Actors Working Today

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#6 on The Best Living American Actors

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Robert Downey Jr.


Robert Downey Jr. is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Actors Known for Roles Most Similar to Who They Are in Real Life
Photo: Disney/ABC

In real life: (Formerly) Reckless, suave, and charmingly irreverent. Robery Downey Jr. is a smart, smartass motor mouth who is as quick to be your friend as he is to shut you down being a dick. 
 
In film and TV roles: Same. Downey is known for bringing himself to the role, with some minor tweaks. Although Downey is capable of disappearing into his part (see Chaplin), he’s mostly asked to play roles that mirror his snarky charm. Tony Stark is Downey is Tony Stark.   
 
Notable quote: “I think I've been lucky, being my frequent appearances on Court TV have brought to me another level than just the actor guy.” 

Also Ranked

#14 on The Best Actors Working Today

#45 on The Greatest Actors & Actresses in Entertainment History

#40 on The Best Living American Actors

#7 on The Greatest Actors Who Have Never Won an Oscar (for Acting)

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Adam Sandler


Adam Sandler is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Actors Known for Roles Most Similar to Who They Are in Real Life
Photo: NBC/Netflix

In real life: Adam Sandler has made a career playing a regular, uncomplicated guy, because he’s never forgotten his roots. He came from a working class family and set his sights on being a comedian. Once he achieved his goals, he’s been content with maintaining a career playing regular Joes. He just wants to make people laugh.  
 
In film and TV roles: Uncomplicated and not impressed with the trappings of fame, Sandler is just fine making one silly film after the other. Audiences love them. The box office proves it at a collective revenue of $2 billion and counting. He’s had his moments of playing opposite of his usual lovable schlubs in Reign Over Me and Punch Drunk Love, but it seems as though he’s still just playing a more existentially fraught version of himself. Exhibit A: Funny People.  
 
Notable quote: “My name is Adam Sandler. I'm not particularly talented. I'm not particularly good-looking. And yet I'm a multi-millionaire.”

Also Ranked

#83 on The Most Trustworthy Celebrities in the World

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Jack Nicholson


Jack Nicholson is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Actors Known for Roles Most Similar to Who They Are in Real Life
Photo: NBC/Columbia Pictures

In real life: Born to a showgirl, raised by his grandparents while his real mother had to pretend to be his sister, and blessed with movie star good looks, Jack Nicholson was made for the silver screen. Until he was cast in Easy Rider, Nicholson struggled to find his place as an actor and writer. The role of George Hanson was the beginning of a long career playing iconic anti-heroes.  
 
In film and TV roles: No matter the role, Jack is still Jack. Whether he’s busting out of an asylum or hacking down a door with an axe, Nicholson can be counted on for that oh- so-Nicholson essence. He has skittered off the path with some surprising performances, such as About Schmidt, but the Jackness is strong with this one.  
 
Notable quote: “When I come up against a director who has a concept that I don't agree with, or maybe I just haven't thought of it or whatever, I'd be more prone to go with them than my own because I want to be out of control as an actor, I want them to have the control, otherwise it's going to become predictably my work, and that's not fun.” 

Also Ranked

#8 on The Best Actors Working Today

#2 on The Greatest Actors & Actresses in Entertainment History

#3 on The Best Living American Actors

#2 on The Best Actors in Film History

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Matthew McConaughey


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Video: YouTube

In real life: Let’s put it this way - naked bongo playing is the one of the more normal things Matthew McConaughey has done. He’s dancing to his own beat, played by Martian ghosts surfing the debris of comets. Or he's smoking a boatload of weed.
 
In film and TV roles: There hasn't been a role yet that can make Matthew McConaughey disappear completely. He may lose tons of weight or slip on a bald cap, but he can’t mask who he is. All right all right all right. 
 
Notable quote: “There aren't many things that are universally cool, and it's cool not to litter. I'd never do it.”

Also Ranked

#31 on The Best Actors Working Today

#21 on The Best Living American Actors

#80 on The Best Actors in Film History

#51 on The Coolest Actors Ever

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John Malkovich


John Malkovich is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Actors Known for Roles Most Similar to Who They Are in Real Life
Photo: BBC/USA

In real life: Learned, sharp, wry, and dry, John Malkovich is a serious man who is not afraid to lay down some serious comedy on the way to a point.   
 
In film and TV roles: Malkovich is so Malkovich it’s difficult for him not to be Malkovich. Case in point, Being John Malkovich, an entire movie based on the premise that Malkovich basically is in real life who he is in movies. As much as he delves into a character, there’s no getting away from his Malkovichness.
 
Notable quote: “Some directors expect you to do everything; write, be producer, psychiatrist. Some just want you to die in a tragic accident during the shooting so they can get the insurance.”

Also Ranked

#84 on The Greatest Actors & Actresses in Entertainment History

#30 on The Greatest Actors Who Have Never Won an Oscar (for Acting)

#68 on The Best Actors in Film History

#57 on The Coolest Actors Ever

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