Last Friday, my sister and I took a break from our backwards run-through of Wes Anderson’s filmography to watch a film about roller derby. Because Ellen Page.
That film was Whip It, and it’s really more than a movie about roller derby. It’s also about being a teenager and feeling trapped in your hometown and feeling burdened by parental expectations and finding something you love and a place to belong. It’s really a fun movie. But none of that is the subject of this post. No, what interested me most about Whip It is that it was directed by Drew Barrymore, who also plays a role in the film.
This got me thinking about directors who also act (or actors who also direct, whichever you prefer). There’s a history of this happening way back through the timeline of filmmaking, and it doesn’t just stop at one person taking on two professional roles, there are also directors who make fun little cameos in their movies. That’s actually one of my earliest memories about film.
So, when I was a kid, family movie night was a thing we did. It occurred…whenever we felt like watching a movie together. Probably every weekend for a good stretch of time. A few of those movies were Alfred Hitchcock movies. I have a very clear memory of my parents explaining to me, while we were watching North by Northwest, that Alfred Hitchcock — the director — liked to make small cameos in his films. And then they pointed out the cameo in North by Northwest. And I thought that was the coolest thing.
It added a whole new dimension to appreciating film for the first time for me! It was like this cool, little connection between the production side of the film and the film as a world, or the story that you perceive. It was this fun little in-joke between the audience and the production that you would only get if you knew what you were looking at, but that wouldn’t affect your viewing experience if you didn’t see it. This memory was probably one of the formative moments in the development of my love for film as a medium and an industry. I kind of just realized that as I wrote it. Whoa.
So there are tons of examples of this throughout the history of film. And I like it because of the connection between art and production that it forces you to recognize. So here are some examples of directors who make cameos in their films, or directors who act, or — because I had to include him — Stan Lee.
Here is Alfred Hitchcock in North By Northwest, just missing his bus.
Peter Jackson Made a very minor cameo in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Quentin Tarantino appears in a number of his own films, often in a speaking role. Here he is in Django Unchained as a member of the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company.
And, of course, the Generalissimo himself. Stan Lee has appeared in a majority of the most recent Marvel movies, playing everything from a truck driver to a general.
I know cameos aren’t the same thing as acting, but I mainly wanted to showcase this cool connection between directors and their art. And this is my blog. So I do what I like.
I hope you enjoyed these examples, and maybe saw some new ones you hadn’t seen before! And I hope this made you think about the connections between the production of a film and the final product you see on the screen. It’s a lot of fun when the person working so hard to suspend your disbelief in a fictional world steps into that world themselves, as if to remind the audience to enjoy themselves. Because they sure are.
— Mike Egan, Film Blogger