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When an actor plays himself, who is he really?

February 4, 2011 |  7:09 am

Leblanc In this Sunday's Calendar, I consider some of the ramifications and resonances of actors playing themselves, from the late David Nelson ("The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet") to the very present Matt LeBlanc (Showtime's now-running "Episodes," pictured here). It's an old tradition, with roots in radio and early television, but it has developed a modern ironical flavor: In shows such as "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Extras" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," actors play doubly against type -- setting up a kind of tension both with the sorts of roles they ordinary play and with the people we imagine they are. It can be a liberating move: These negative images, which only seem like self-indictment, are meant to show that one is in on, and therefore above, the joke.

Read more about this collision of the actual with the artificial -- plus a few related thoughts about reality TV -- in the full essay, "Matt LeBlanc gets to be himself, sort of."

--Robert Lloyd

Photo: Matt LeBlanc, Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig in "Episodes." Credit: Colin Hutton / Showtime.