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Dean Norris, who plays DEA agent Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad, offers personalized videos on Cameo. For about $500, you can pay him to record a personalized video message. He donates the proceeds to charity. Fans of the show often book him on the site to read memes and perform skits in-character as Hank.

This got me thinking: Certain characters that only exist in live-action and have always been played by one actor are inextricably associated with that actor, and some celebrities like Dean Norris or the cast of The Office frequently interact with their fans through Cameo, podcasts, etc... in that light.

Let's say a studio (or other copyright holder) wakes up and decides they want to be mean and restrict an actor's association with their character within whatever legal means they have.

To what extent could they prevent an actor from:

  • Making personalized videos in character? (Whether implied or directly stated)
  • Dressing like the character? (Assuming the character has a distinct, but realistic style)
  • Billing themselves as having played the character? (e.g. when signing autographs at a convention)
  • Re-enacting iconic moments from the media they're in? (e.g. a dance or an iconic quote)
  • Discussing their experiences and the process behind playing the character?

In general, what rights does an actor have to associate their personal identity with their character outside of when they're acting?

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    Presumably this is covered by Norris's contract with the studio. Norris (or his agent) and the studio are both well-resourced, legally sophisticated entities, and it's not like actors making appearances in character is a new thing, so I'd expect that the contract would address it explicitly. May 26, 2023 at 23:38

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Generally, an actor's use of a character they've played outside the work is decided by their specific contract with the IP rights holder. Contracts can vary widely, and the answer to all your individual questions - making personalised videos in character, dressing like the character (assuming distinct enough), billing themselves as having played the character, reenacting iconic moments from the work, and discussing their experiences - will be decided by the specifics of an actor's contract for a work.

However, typical (rule-of-thumb) answers would be:

  • Discussing their experiences and the process behind playing the character: Actors generally won't be barred from sharing their own experiences, but may be limited in the amount of behind-the-scenes details they can disclose.

  • Billing themselves as having played the character is similar - referencing past roles in advertising, appearances, and the like, are typically allowed.

  • Reenacting iconic moments could potentially be seen as derivative works, requiring permission from the IP rights holder. Enforcement may vary.

  • Dressing like the character would likely be decided by how distinct the character's style is. If the character's style is not distinctive enough, this might be hard to enforce.

  • Personalised videos in character are likely the only one where it's hard to provide a general answer. Sometimes, they're actually used by the rights holder for promotions. Sometimes, they're forbidden.

To reiterate, please note that these are general answers, and individual contracts may be more or less restrictive.

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