Like images in a hall of mirrors, actors appearing as themselves on shows are like an approximation of reality; they look and talk like the real thing, yet the performance also gives them the chance to play with their persona, tweak perceptions and riff on an iconic role.
The latter was the case when James Earl Jones guest-starred as himself on season seven of “The Big Bang Theory.”
“It was a real coup getting this legendary actor who played Darth Vader, and when we first approached him, he said he absolutely loved the idea of discussing ‘Star Wars’ with a fan like Sheldon (Jim Parsons),” says executive producer Steven Molaro. “So we wrote the part specifically for him, and then he brought a somewhat heightened version of himself, and he was truly up for anything.”
When a particularly mean-spirited Jerry Seinfeld appeared in the current season of “Louie” (he also appeared in season three), this time asking Louie to open for him at a Hamptons benefit that turns disastrous, “he again basically just plays himself, but within the set-up circumstances of the plot,” says executive producer Blair Breard. “We don’t write ‘a character’ for him — it’s more just playing off his relationship with Louie and their history together. And he’s the consummate professional. He shows up knowing all his lines, he’s always very punctual, so it goes very smoothly.”
As might be expected, the situation was a lot looser when Adam Sandler guest-starred on the new comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
“Andy Samberg had done (the feature) ‘That’s My Boy’ with Adam, so they already had this relationship, and when he said he’d come on the show, we knew there’d be a lot of improv,” says show co-creator/executive producer Dan Goor. “So we had some lines for him and he came up with a bunch of jokes and ideas that we also used. He also just wore his regular clothes, so we didn’t even have to bother about wardrobe.”
The episode’s set-up — “Andy’s character goes undercover as an auctioneer and Sandler is bidding, as himself” — derives much of its comedy from the movie star’s apparent intense interest in Greek antiquities. “I’m tempted to say he’s even more into Greek antiquities than we showed, but that may not be accurate,” admits Goor.