A Brief History of Actors Playing Themselves

The pop cultural impact of 30 Rock can be felt in many ways, but the most improbable of them all is that Alec Baldwin is somehow cool all of a sudden. As we reported earlier this week, Baldwin is going to appear in James Toback’s new film — a mockumentary about the Cannes Film Festival — and he’ll be playing himself. Of course, there’s an argument to be made that he plays himself in 30 Rock anyway — but in any case, the news got us thinking about the whole idea of actors playing themselves, which seems to have been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years. Here are a few of the most notable examples, good and bad.

Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD)

Who’d have thought that perhaps the finest “as himself” performance of the last decade would come from Jean-Claude Van Damme? We’re actually pretty big fans of Van Damme’s early martial arts films — Bloodsport is a genre classic — but even so, we’d be lying if we ever expected a performance quite as good as the one he puts in here as down-at-heel aging action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. As in, serious talk of actual Oscar nominations good. Funny old world, etc.