A cameo role or cameo appearance (//; often shortened to just cameo) is a brief appearance or voice part of a known person in a work of the performing arts, typically unnamed or appearing as themselves. These roles are generally small, many of them non-speaking ones, and are commonly either appearances in a work in which they hold some special significance (such as actors from an original movie appearing in its remake), or renowned people making uncredited appearances. Short appearances by celebrities, film directors, politicians, athletes or musicians are common. A crew member of the show or movie playing a minor role can be referred to as a cameo as well, such as Alfred Hitchcock‘s cameos.
History, uses and examples[edit source | edit]
Originally “cameo role” meant “a small character part that stands out from the other minor parts”. The Oxford English Dictionary connects this with the meaning “a short literary sketch or portrait”, which is based on the literal meaning of “cameo“. More recently, “cameo” has come to refer to any short appearances, whether as a character or as oneself, such as the examples below.
Cameos are generally not credited because of their brevity, or a perceived mismatch between the celebrity’s stature and the film or TV show in which he or she is appearing. Many are publicity stunts. Others are acknowledgments of an actor’s contribution to an earlier work, as in the case of many film adaptations of TV series, or of remakes of earlier films. Others honour artists or celebrities known for work in a particular field.
A cameo can establish a character as being important without having much screen time. Examples of such cameos are Sean Connery in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Ted Danson in Saving Private Ryan, Hugh Jackman in X-Men: First Class, Anthony Hopkins in Mission: Impossible II, George Clooney in The Thin Red Line, Sigourney Weaver in The Cabin in the Woods, and Michael Bay in “Bad Boys 2“. Jason Robards’ uncredited appearance at the opening of Enemy of the State was brief but a key element of the plot.
Possibly the best-known series of cameos was by the director Alfred Hitchcock, who made very brief appearances in most of his films.
Cameos also occur in novels and other literary works. “Literary cameos” usually involve an established character from another work who makes a brief appearance to establish a shared universe setting, to make a point, or to offer homage. Balzac often employed this practice, as in his Comédie humaine. Sometimes a cameo features a historical person who “drops in” on fictional characters in a historical novel, as when Benjamin Franklin shares a beer with Phillipe Charboneau in The Bastard by John Jakes.
A cameo appearance can be made by the author of a work to put a sort of personal “signature” on a story. Clive Cussler made appearances in his own thriller novels as a “rough old man” who advised action hero Dirk Pitt. Vladimir Nabokov often put himself in his novels; for instance, the very minor character Vivian Darkbloom (an anagram of the author’s name) in Lolita. An example in comics is John Byrne‘s Iron Fist #8, which features appearances by Byrne himself, Howard the Duck (on a poster), Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, Sam McCloud, Fu Manchu, and Wolverine.
Early appearances are often mistakenly considered as cameos. Sylvester Stallone appears in Woody Allen‘s Bananas credited only as “Subway Thug #1,” five years before his breakout role in 1976’s Rocky. Other examples would be Elijah Wood in Back to the Future Part II and Samuel L. Jackson in The Exorcist III. These are early appearances of non-established actors.
Film directors[edit source | edit]
Quentin Tarantino provides cameos or small roles in some of his movies.
Likewise, Peter Jackson has made brief cameos in all of his movies, except for his first feature length movie Bad Taste in which he plays a main character. For example, he plays a peasant eating a carrot in The Fellowship of the Ring; a Rohan warrior in The Two Towers and a pirate boatswain in The Return of the King. All three were non-speaking “blink and you miss him” appearances, although in the Extended Release of The Return of the King, his character was given more screen time. He also appears in his 2005 remake of King Kong as the gunner on a biplane in the finale.
Director Martin Scorsese appears in the background of his films as a bystander or an unseen character. In Who’s That Knocking at My Door, he appears as one of the gangsters, a passenger in Taxi Driver. He opens up his 1986 film The Color of Money with a monologue on the art of playing pool. In addition, he appears with his wife and daughter as wealthy New Yorkers in Gangs of New York, and he appears as a theatre-goer and is heard as a movie projectionist in The Aviator.
In a same way, Roman Polanski appears as a hired hoodlum in his film Chinatown, slitting Jack Nicholson’s nose with the blade of his clasp knife, as Denys Arcand portrays a judge in his film Jesus of Montreal. (Note that, as an actor, he also portrays regular characters in several Canadian movies.)
Actors and writers[edit source | edit]
In the film version of Hunter S. Thompson‘s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas starring Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke, Hunter S. Thompson’s alter-ego, Thompson can be seen quickly as an older version of Depp’s character in a flashback scene at a San Francisco nightclub. Similarly, Arthur C. Clarke makes a brief cameo appearance in the film adaptation of his book 2010: Odyssey Two. S. E. Hinton played a nurse in the film adaptation of her novel, The Outsiders. Stephenie Meyer appears eating at a diner in the film adaptation of her novel, Twilight.
In the 2009 film The Invention of Lying, there were cameos from Edward Norton as a cop, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a bartender, Christopher Guest, Stephen Merchant and Shaun Williamson (Barry from Eastenders). In the recent film adaptation of author Sapphire’s 1996 novel Push, (renamed Precious so as not to be confused with the 2009 action film of the same name), Sapphire appears in one of the end scenes as the woman running the daycare.
Remakes and sequels occasionally feature actors from the original films. The 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers featured a cameo by Kevin McCarthy, who starred in the 1956 original. In the 2003 version of Willard, the framed picture of Willard’s father is a picture of Bruce Davison, who played Willard in the 1971 version of the film. The 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead features cameos by Ken Foree, and Scott Reiniger. The original stars of Starsky and Hutch appeared at the end of the 2004 film, and Bernie Kopell, who portrayed Siegfried in the original show appeared in the 2008 film version of Get Smart. Vin Diesel made a short appearance at the end of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift where he challenges to race Shawn (Lucas Black), the then Drift king.
In the same vein as the remake and sequel, actors can also make appearances in completely different films directed by or starring another actor they are friendly with. Actors Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, and Will Ferrell have made appearances in so many of the same films (whether as lead characters or cameos) USA Today coined the term the “Frat Pack” to name the group. Actor Adam Sandler is also known for frequently casting fellow Saturday Night Live performers (including Rob Schneider and David Spade) in various roles in his films (as well as making cameo appearances of his own in theirs, most of which he co-produces). Sam Raimi frequently uses his brother Ted and Bruce Campbell in his films. Sylvester Stallone gave Arnold Schwarzenegger a cameo in Stallone’s 2010 action film The Expendables.
Directors can also be known to cast well-known lead actors with whom they have worked in the past in other films. Among the many cameos featured in the film Maverick, (directed by Richard Donner), actor Danny Glover (Mel Gibson‘s co-star in the Lethal Weapon franchise of films also directed by Donner) appears as the lead bank robber. He and Maverick (Gibson) share a scene where they look as if they knew each other, but then shake it off. As Glover makes his escape with the money, he mutters “I’m too old for this shit”, his character’s catchphrase in the Lethal Weapon film series. In addition, a strain of the main theme from Lethal Weapon plays in the score when Glover is revealed. Actress Margot Kidder made a cameo appearance in the same film as a robbed villager, and the actress previously starred as Lois Lane in one of Donner’s earlier films Superman.
In the 2003 film Holes, Louis Sachar, the author of the original novel, makes a cameo appearance as Mr. Collingwood, the bald man whom Sam (Dule Hill) gives a supposed hair tonic made from onions. The last dialog of the 1993 film The Music of Chance is between the escaping hero and a providential rescuer portrayed by Paul Auster, notorious author of the original novel. James Dickey plays the Sherriff at the end of the 1972 film of his novel “Deliverance.”
In the movie Run Ronnie Run with David Cross, there are cameos from a variety of famous performers from the worlds of comedy, acting and even music: (Scott Thompson, Scott Ian and Jeff Goldblum just to name a few).
Real-life people[edit source | edit]
Films based on actual events occasionally include cameo roles of the people portrayed in them. In the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness Chris Gardner makes a cameo in the end. 24 Hour Party People, a film about Tony Wilson, has a cameo by the real Tony Wilson and many other notable people. In the film Apollo 13, James Lovell (the real commander of that flight) and his wife Marilyn appear next to the actors playing them (Tom Hanks and Kathleen Quinlan respectively). Domino Harvey makes a short appearance in the credits of Domino. The real Erin Brockovich has a cameo appearance as a waitress named Julia in the eponymous movie (where her role is played by actress Julia Roberts). The 2000 film Almost Famous featured Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner as a passenger in a New York City taxicab. Chuck Yeager has a cameo as “Fred”, a bartender at “Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club”, in The Right Stuff. Likewise, several associates of Harvey Milk appear in the 2008 film Milk. In the 2008 film 21 Jeff Ma, the character the film is based on, plays a blackjack dealer at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. His character in the movie calls him “my brother from another mother”.
In a similar vein, cameos sometimes feature persons noted for accomplishments outside the film industry, usually in ways related to the subject or setting of the film. In the 2011 film Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Buzz Aldrin appeared as himself whereby he reveals certain details as to what really happened (although fictional) during the Apollo 11 space mission. October Sky (1999), set in 1950s Appalachia, featured photographer O. Winston Link in a brief appearance portraying a steam locomotive engineer. Link became famous in the 1950s for chronicling the last days of regular steam locomotives service in the region. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), set in Depression-era rural South, featured cameos by country “roots” music notables such as Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch, The Whites and the Fairfield Four. In the film The Last Mimzy, noted string theorist Brian Greene has a cameo as the Intel scientist. In Dr. Dolittle 2 a cameo appearance was made by Steve Irwin. Stan Lee, the creator of many Marvel Comics characters has appeared in the film versions of the comics, including The Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four and Thor. Skateboarder Tony Hawk makes a cameo as a dead body in an episode of CSI: Miami. In Men in Black II, Biz Markie (a hip hop artist) appears as an alien who uses beatboxing to communicate, also Michael Jackson appeared as Agent M.
Mike Todd‘s film Around the World in 80 Days (1956) was filled with cameo roles: (John Gielgud as an English butler, Frank Sinatra playing piano in a saloon), and others. The stars in cameo roles were pictured in oval insets in posters for the film, and gave the term wide circulation outside the theatrical profession. Notably the 1983 television adaptation and 2004 film version of the story also feature a large number of cameos.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), an “epic comedy”, also features cameos from nearly every popular American comedian alive at the time, including the Three Stooges, a silent appearance by Buster Keaton and a voice-only cameo by Selma Diamond. Bill Murray made a cameo as himself in the 2009 movie Zombieland with featured Ghostbusters antics.
In the ongoing TV-series The Big Bang Theory, figures notorious especially to the main characters’ type regularly appear as themselves. Though their screen time is kept to a minimum, they do have dialog, and a whole episode’s plot then tends to revolve around them. Aside from science-fiction actors such as Summer Glau, Katee Sackhoff, or some of the cast from Star Trek The Next Generation, renowned people such as physicist Stephen Hawking or astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson also appear in the series. While some of these appearances remain cameos, others become recurring.
In 2010 when Charlie Sheen made media news history, he was known for the cameo performance in the independent film, She Wants Me starring Josh Gad, Kristen Ruhlin and Hilary Duff which he also executive produced. This was weeks before his departure from the hit series Two and a Half Men.
Also some members of royalty have made cameos: Carl XVI Gustaf, king of Sweden, was in children’s program “Mika” (Mika och renen Ossian på äventyr) when Mika was in Stockholm with his reindeer. Another royal is the present king of Jordan Abdullah II, who appeared briefly in Star Trek: Voyager (“Investigations“) while still a prince.
See also[edit source | edit]
- Bit part
- Crossover fiction
- List of directors who appear in their own films
- List of Hitchcock cameo appearances
References[edit source | edit]
- Oxford English Dictionary, “cameo”.
- Wloszczyna, Susan (2004-06-15). “Wilson and Vaughn: Leaders of the ‘Frat Pack'”. USA Today.
- Its so last century: Mika
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