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Actors Who Have Played Their Own Relatives On Screen

In February 2023, filmmaker Antoine Fuqua's long-gestating biopic of Michael Jackson took a major step forward in its development with the casting of actor Jaafar Jackson as the King of Pop. The last name is no coincidence: Jafaar is the son of former Jackson 5 member Jermaine Jackson, Michael's older brother. An aspiring musician and entertainer, Jackson's resume as an actor is somewhat light, but he comes into the project with the full support of his family and his uncle's estate.

While it is rare for an actor to play their own parent or relative on screen, it is not unheard of. Often these are quick cameos, like Robert Downey Jr.'s son Indio or Tina Fey's daughter Alice as their parent's younger selves in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and "30 Rock," respectively. But other times the person playing their older relative is an actor in their own right, or a celebrity whose own fame works as a stand-in for their parent's notoriety. Sometimes an actor playing their own parent is simply a matter of physical resemblance, and sometimes it is an act of catharsis, mining the depths of a relationship so intimately that it can be uncomfortable to watch. Let's take a look at some of the most notable instances of an actor playing their own relative on screen.

Guri Weinberg - Munich

Steven Spielberg's 2005 thriller "Munich" takes a sharp look (sharper than some at the time were comfortable with) at the morality of the War on Terror through the lens of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics by the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Eric Bana stars as Avner Kaufman, a Mossad agent who leads a covert mission to assassinate the PLO members thought responsible for the attack, but as the bodies pile up, the righteousness of the Israeli cause slips further away. Though the story of Avner and his team's counterterrorism efforts is largely taken from somewhat dodgy source material, Spielberg's take on the murder of the Munich athletes is largely accurate to the historical record. In that harrowing sequence, Olympic wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg is portrayed by his son, Israeli-American actor Guri Weinberg, who was just one month old when his father was killed.

In a 2017 blog post on his website, Weinberg wrote about the ambivalence he felt about the prospect of playing his own father; he eventually accepted the role because of the opportunity to find some emotional closure through fiction, and because he trusted Spielberg to do justice to his father's sacrifice. The set was respectful and emotional; the actor playing the man who killed Weinberg's father "collapsed into [his] arms in tears as Steven yelled, 'Cut!'" After "Munich," Weinberg's acting career received a bump: He had roles in the 2008 Adam Sandler comedy "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" (a very different sort of film about Israeli counterterrorism) and the final installment in the "Twilight" saga, "Breaking Dawn: Part 2."

Vivian Falcone - Thunder Force

Ben Falcone's 2021 Netflix superhero comedy "Thunder Force" imagines a world where a burst of cosmic energy in the 1980s created a breed of super-powered sociopaths called miscreants. 40 years later, former childhood friends Emily (Octavia Spencer), a brilliant scientist, and Lydia (Melissa McCarthy), a blue-collar screw-up, reunite to fight crime when Lydia accidentally injects herself with Emily's superhero serum. The film begins with an extended prologue showing how the two met as kids, became best friends, and eventually grew apart when Emily's ambitions outpaced Lydia's. In this sequence, young Lydia is played by Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy's daughter Vivian.

"Thunder Force" is actually not the first time that Vivian has played her mother onscreen: Five years earlier she pulled the same trick in Falcone and McCarthy's comedy "The Boss." Here, though, Vivian is notable not just for her uncanny resemblance to her Oscar-nominated mother, but her ability to channel McCarthy's blend of Midwestern sweetness and explosive rage, as when she saves young Emily (Bria D. Singleton) from bullies and forces one of them to climb into a dumpster. ("'Cause that's where the garbage goes!") So far the younger Falcone has just appeared in her parents' films, but we'll see if her larger role in "Thunder Force" leads to an acting career of her own.

DeVaughn Nixon - Winning Time

The heady days of 1980s Los Angeles come to vivid life in the 2022 HBO docuseries "Winning Time." Based on Jeff Pearlman's book "Showtime," the Adam McKay-produced series chronicles Dr. Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) and his efforts to transform the Los Angeles Lakers from a laughingstock to the best team in the NBA, largely on the back of a young point guard out of Michigan named Earvin "Magic" Johnson (Quincy Isaiah). Assisting Johnson on and off the court is fellow point guard Norm Nixon, played in the show by his son DeVaughn.

The younger Nixon (whose stepmother is legendary director and choreographer Debbie Allen) has been acting since he was a child, playing Whitney Houston's son in "The Bodyguard" and the son of Skynet architect Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." In the 2010s he appeared on the ABC Family/Freeform series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" for several seasons; Norm (who has a minor acting career of his own) even played DeVaughn's character's father in one episode. To prepare to play his father, Nixon had to train not just his body — losing weight and learning to mimic his father's shooting style — but his voice as well, telling Indiewire that he surreptitiously recorded his father to better reproduce his Georgia accent and vocal inflections.

Melissa Rivers - Joy

David O. Russell's 2015 biopic "Joy" casts Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a Long Island housewife who became a fixture of the home shopping channel QVC in the 1990s thanks to her winning stage presence and her invention, the self-wringing Miracle Mop. While today Mangano is an inventor and entrepreneur, well-known enough to have been the subject of both an Oscar-nominated film and a stage musical, Russell's film shows the hard road of her early days, full of dishonest business partners and many hours spent selling herself as a brand just as much as the Miracle Mop. In one scene, Joy is guided through the process of home shopping by QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), with an assist by comedian and "original seller" Joan Rivers, played here by her daughter Melissa.

Joan Rivers was a television institution for decades as a stand-up comic, talk show host, home shopping pitchwoman, and red carpet correspondent, and in the last decades of her career, Melissa was often her on-screen partner. The two even starred as themselves in a schlocky 1994 TV movie about their lives. Melissa stepped into her mother's wig and shoulder-padded blazer on the set of "Joy" just six months after Joan's death in 2014. She worked with a dialect coach to mimic her mother's well-known voice, but was careful not to sound like she was doing an impression. "I didn't want it to be a caricature," Rivers told the Hollywood Reporter in 2015. "Like, I didn't want anyone to say, 'Oh look, it's a drag queen.' That was my biggest fear."

Dwayne Johnson - That '70s Show

Before he was Dwayne Johnson, he was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. And before that, just "The Rock." And even before that, he was Rocky Johnson's son. Rocky was a Canadian professional wrestler on the regional circuit through the 1960s and 1970s before becoming one of the WWF's earliest stars, pairing with wrestler Tony Atlas as a champion tag team. In the 1990s, Rocky's son Dwayne made a splash in the WWF (soon to be rechristened the WWE), first under the name Rocky Maivia, and then as The Rock. But the younger Johnson had bigger ambitions than just glory within the squared circle, and in 1999 he made his acting debut on a Season 1 episode of the Fox sitcom "That '70s Show," playing his own father. When Wisconsin teen Eric Forman (Topher Grace) and his father Red (Kurtwood Smith) sneak backstage after a match to get Rocky's autograph, Rocky obliges, telling Red, "You know, I got a son. And one day, he's gonna become the most electrifying man in sports entertainment." "Yeah, good luck with that," Red politely replies.

Of course, Johnson did become one of the biggest stars of the so-called "Attitude Era" of the WWE before conquering Hollywood in the 2000s and 2010s with films like "The Rundown," "Gridiron Gang," the revived "Jumanji" franchise, and the back half of the "Fast and Furious" series. In 2021, he returned to the world of family mythologizing with the NBC series "Young Rock," following Johnson's life story at formative moments — actor Joseph Lee Anderson plays Rocky this time around, though.

Mamie Gummer - Evening

Usually when a parent and child share a role in a film, the parent has the larger, or at least more prominent role. But the 2007 drama "Evening" is an exception to that rule. In 1950s Rhode Island, jazz singer Ann (Claire Danes) arrives at the waterfront home of her best friend Lila (Mamie Gummer) for Lila's upcoming wedding. There she gets caught up in a tragic love affair between Lila's brother (Hugh Dancy) and the handsome doctor (Patrick Wilson) who both he and Lila have pined after for years. Decades later, a dying Ann (Vanessa Redgrave) tells the story of that fateful evening to her daughters (played by Toni Collette and Natasha Richardson, Redgrave's real-life daughter). Midway through the film, modern-day Ann is visited by the aged Lila, now played by Gummer's mother Meryl Streep.

Streep's role is decidedly a supporting one — the older version of Gummer's character, rather than Gummer being the younger version of hers. Other than playing Streep's daughter twice, first as an infant in Mike Nichols' "Heartburn" and then later in 2015's "Ricki and the Flash," Gummer's career has very much developed on its own, with roles in the HBO miniseries "John Adams," the atom bomb drama "Manhattan," and the third season of "True Detective." In 2012, she starred as the title character in the short-lived CW medical drama "Emily Owens, MD," and recently appeared opposite Rosario Dawson in the DC comics adaptation "DMZ" on HBO Max.

Christopher Jordan Wallace - Notorious

Actor Christopher Jordan Wallace was less than six months old when his father, hip-hop legend Biggie Smalls, was gunned down in Los Angeles. 12 years later, Wallace played his father as a boy in the 2009 biopic "Notorious." Introduced on the steps of his Catholic school, reading a copy of Right On! Magazine with a friend, young Biggie is a quiet, studious kid, too sensitive for the streets of 1980s Brooklyn. When his friend insists that they will be famous one day, a mean girl sneers that Wallace is too "fat, Black, and ugly" to ever be famous, effectively setting up the insecurities that he had to overcome in order to conquer the hip hop world a decade later.

At that young age, Wallace was the spitting image of his father, though as an adult one can see a bit more of his mother Faith Evans in his features. The year after "Notorious," Wallace co-starred with Will Ferrell in the dramedy "Everything Must Go." More recently, he has had roles in the police drama "Monsters and Men" opposite John David Washington and the neo-Western "She's Missing," as well as several episodes of "Scream: The TV Series." Off-screen, Wallace is the founder of Think Big, a New York-based organization that advocates for cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform.

O'Shea Jackson Jr. - Straight Outta Compton

O'Shea Jackson Jr. gives one of the best performances on this list in the 2015 NWA biopic "Straight Outta Compton," playing his father O'Shea Jackson, AKA Ice Cube, one that's all the more impressive considering that it was Jackson's film debut. Director F. Gary Gray's film is a sturdy, traditional true-life drama, beginning with the meeting of Cube, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) in the mid-1980s and continuing through the development of the NWA sound and the nascent "gangsta rap" sub-genre, the LA riots, the group's dissolution, and Eazy-E's death in 1995.

With his trademark Raiders cap and scowl, Jackson is the very picture of his father, but even if the resemblance weren't so uncanny, it is still a star-making performance that earned an NAACP Image Award. Since the film's release, Jackson has hit the ground running, making a name for himself as more than just a nepo baby in works as varied as the black comedy "Ingrid Goes West," the feel-good legal drama "Just Mercy," and the Disney+ "Star Wars" spin-off "Obi-Wan Kenobi." Later in 2023, he will feature in the meme-ready true story "Cocaine Bear," as well as a sequel to the 2018 bad-cop thriller "Den of Thieves."

Shia LaBeouf - Honey Boy

What are we to make of "Honey Boy," Shia LaBeouf's fictionalized take on his own abusive childhood? Lucas Hedges stars as Otis Lort, a troubled young movie star in 2005 who must enter court-appointed counseling for violence and drug abuse. Meanwhile, we revisit Otis' adolescence ten years earlier, when he was a struggling child actor (Noah Jupe) living in a broken-down motel with his manager father James (LaBeouf), a former rodeo clown and registered sex offender. LaBeouf wrote the script, based on his own upbringing and troubled relationship with his father, while in rehab, and had not seriously considered making it until he sent it to collaborator Anna Har'el, who ended up directing (via the Hollywood Reporter). It is arguably LaBeouf's strongest work as an actor, a full-body performance that is simultaneously monstrous and pathetic, the work of an artist who feared his father as a child but pities him now as an adult.

But is it? Much of the film's publicity and reviews centered on the bravery of LeBeouf's script and performance, however, in August 2022, he recanted much of the film during an interview on actor Jon Bernthal's podcast, calling his depiction of his father "f**king nonsense" and denying the scenes of abuse seen in the film. "He was always there," LaBeouf said of his father, "and I'd done a world press tour about how f**ked he was as a man." For fans of the film and those who had praised LaBeouf, the revelation was a bitter pill to swallow.

Eva Amurri - The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe and Monarch

Much of Eva Amurri's film career has been spent in the projects of her mother Susan Sarandon, from cameos and small roles as a child in films like "Bob Roberts" and "Anywhere but Here," to playing her daughter in the films "The Banger Sisters," "Middle of Nowhere," and "Mothers and Daughters." She and Sarandon have played the same character no less than three times, beginning in 1995 when Amurri had a small role as a young Sister Helen Prejean in the death row drama "Dead Man Walking." Two decades later, they shared the role of Gladys Mortenson, mother of Marilyn Monroe, in the Lifetime miniseries "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe." Centered around Monroe's complicated relationship with her mentally ill mother, the series featured Sarandon as an older Gladys during Monroe's teen and adult years, while Amurri played her in scenes depicting the star's traumatic childhood. In 2022, Sarandon played Dottie Roman, the long-reigning queen of country music, on the short-lived Fox primetime soap "Monarch," and the show's "vintage" photographs of the character used Amurri in her mother's place.

Outside of her projects with Sarandon, Amurri is still best known as goth girl Cassandra in the 2004 Christian satire "Saved!" Over the years, she's proven to be an adept comic actor, with roles on "How I Met Your Mother," "Children's Hospital," and the Adam Sandler/Andy Samberg vehicle "That's My Boy." In recent years her acting career has tapered off as she has focused on her family and her lifestyle blog Happily Eva After.

Mario Van Peebles - Baadasssss!

"Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" is a landmark of Black cinema, and American independent film in general. While the 1971 film often gets lumped in with the "Blaxploitation" crime films of its era like "Shaft" and "Superfly," its incendiary politics and hallucinatory structure really have more in common with the LSD-flavored biker films that came out of the late '60s, or the social satires of Robert Downey, Sr. Writer-director Melvin Van Peebles stars as the eponymous Sweetback, a street hustler whose life is turned upside down when he gets caught between the Black Panthers and the cops. That dry plot description does little justice to the experience of actually watching the film, a no-budget freak-out that is by turns thrilling, baffling, and troubling.

Van Peebles' son Mario plays the young Sweetback at the start of the film, and more than 30 years later Mario flipped that dynamic back on itself, playing his father in the 2003 behind-the-scenes biopic "Baadasssss!" In the film's telling, the production of "Sweet Sweetback" was halfway between a circus, a protest, and a robbery, all of it held together by Van Peebles' single-minded focus. The cast is full of familiar and soon-to-be familiar faces, including Nia Long as Melvin's girlfriend, Rainn Wilson as "Sweet Sweetback's" editor, Terry Crews as a local guy conscripted into production, and comedian T.K. Carter as the film's silent investor Bill Cosby. Mario, who made his own feature directorial debut in 1991 with "New Jack City," clearly admires his father as an artist and a filmmaker, but is not blind to the way that being a father was low on his list of priorities.

Michael Gandolfini - The Many Saints of Newark

It's no exaggeration to say that the 1999 HBO mob series "The Sopranos" changed the landscape of television forever, and a large part of what drew audiences in was James Gandolfini's superlative performance as New Jersey mid-level mobster Tony Soprano. Gandolfini's sudden death in 2013 was deeply felt by his many fans and colleagues, and it made the prospect of returning to the world of "The Sopranos," even in a prequel setting that Gandolfini wouldn't have been a part of, particularly bittersweet. 2021's "The Many Saints of Newark" turns the clock back to the 1960s and '70s, when Newark was a very different place, and the characters we loved from the original series were either much younger or not even born yet. Centered around made men Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) — the "many saints" of the title — and Tony's father "Johnny Boy" Soprano (Jon Bernthal), teenage Tony doesn't figure into the plot all that much. In one sense, any young actor could have played him, but in another, there was only one choice for the role: James' son Michael Gandolfini.

Michael, who had previously appeared in David Simon's Times Square saga "The Deuce" for HBO, was naturally hesitant about stepping into not only his father's most famous role, but one of the most famous roles of the last 25 years. In an interview with Uproxx after the film came out, he spoke about learning to separate his father from the role, to emphasize that he was playing young Tony Soprano and not young James Gandolfini. Even with that intention, though, it's impossible to watch Michael in the film and not see his father reflected back.