Observing an action activates the same representations as does the actual performance of the action. Here we show for the first time that the action system can also be activated in the complete absence of action perception. When the participants had to identify the faces of famous athletes, the responses were influenced by their similarity to the motor skills of the athletes. Thus, the motor skills of the viewed athletes were retrieved automatically during person identification and had a direct influence on the action system of the observer. However, our results also indicated that motor behaviours that are implicit characteristics of other people are represented differently from when actions are directly observed. That is, unlike the facilitatory effects reported when actions were seen, the embodiment of the motor behaviour that is not concurrently perceived gave rise to contrast effects where responses similar to the behaviour of the athletes were inhibited.