By Scott M. Waldman
An amazing activity that goes on in the film industry is how special guests appear in certain films, whether it be in a short cameo appearance, or as a small reference to previous works via Easter Eggs. Most viewers need to see a film twice to notice a small guest appearance, but the true entertainment comes from how the cameo connects to the director, the writers, or even the actors on set. These presences aren’t just random; they are a callback to times way back whether it was on a small cult classic [Evil Dead (1981)] to a special guest spot in the director’s later work [Spiderman Trilogy (2002-07), any Sam Raimi film; it’s about Bruce Campbell]. It portrays Hollywood as a community of friends rather than a film industry out for money; a lot of directors are having fun out there.
Some of these cameos come as surprises. Did any of you expect (spoiler alert minus 3 years) Johnny Depp to appear in 21 Jump Street (2012)? Captain Jack Sparrow himself was on the series in the late 80’s as a young aspiring actor and appeared to pay homage to his past life before Tim Burton (although his first role with Burton was in 1990 with scissors for hands). It not just pays homage to the show, but to the fan base that has been following the role since the beginning (although it ends in a sum of 2-3 minutes). This cameo procedure is especially fun if the joke is within a group of well-known collaborators. This is The End (2013) did this best by bringing some of the cast of Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000) and previous Judd Apatow films together for a collaboration and endless cameo-fest including that of Channing Tatum, Paul Rudd, and even Michael Cera. These actors and directors enjoy coming together for these types of films, and it encourages a much more positive view away from the drama.
The film industry, with some personalities, is as connected a community as Kevin Bacon’s career colleagues. Another branch off of Apatow’s comedic films is the Will Farrell group made up of John C. Reilly and Co. Anchorman (2004) and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) uses the subject of cameos to its maximum. This results in a battle for coming up with the best one liners which is usually won by Steve Carrell’s nonsense or Jim Carrey apologizing. Those fights show a great community, but overstress the idea of cameos. A cameo should relate to the plot, be unexpected, and maybe be completely unnoticed until the credits (credits roll: “Wow I can’t believe…was in that. Retro”). Used to the right effect, a cameo can change how an entire scene plays out, if used in the right doses.
The king of this department would have to go to Marvel’s own Stan Lee who actually had his first cameo in a Kevin Smith film before appearing in every Marvel movie (except most of the Fox owned properties). It makes perfect sense. This guy wrote/created most of the heroes, and now he gets the opportunity to appear with them on the big screen in the best ways possible [except for The Incredible Hulk (2008) when he is poisoned by radiation]. The cast of Marvel has always seemed like a fun group, and knowing that they allow the aging comic book guru to appear in their action-pack blockbusters is just amazing beyond all of the explosions. Each Marvel film, you can bet on searching for another appearance by Stan Lee.
Cameos show that film has a sense of humor, a soul, and an overall community that wishes to show the viewers that they care and understand our pleas. We, as viewers, can never get everything we want in a film, including the perfect cameos. Most viewers probably want a Bill Murray cameo in their lives like he served up in Zombieland (2009), but unfortunately that’s show business (Fortunately enough, if you work with Wes Anderson, your odds will probably be 100% likely). Even Tarantino does it from time to time when he is either giving a poorly acted monologue about coffee or getting blown up with dynamite and foot fetishes. On set, it’s best to serve you audience, your friends, and yourself the best film experience you can imagine, so why not add a few friends to the cast? Making a film should be as entertaining as the final cut.