With Spike Jonze cropping up in the final episode of the latest season of Girls, the HBO-watching world was reminded that very occasionally film directors are willing to slum it as actors on good ol’ TV. Here, then, are 12 of the weirdest from elsewhere in television’s illustrious history, plus a collection of our favourites from the director cameo super-magnet, Entourage. Any we missed? Let us know in the comment box below.
Director: James Cameron
Notable films directed: Aliens (1986), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), True Lies (1994), Titanic (1997)
TV show: Mad About You (1992-1999)
James Cameron has never been afraid of taking the mick out of himself – as our Entourage cameo round-up at the end of this list also proves – but this relatively unknown appearance on the Paul Reiser / Helen Hunt sitcom Mad About You is the finest mickey-taking fodder from the Avatar overseer. Where else will you see the legendary director pick his nose, scratch his bum and fail to order a salad? Actually, if you can find another example of James Cameron doing an Austin Powers impersonation on camera, we’ll send a T-800 round your house to congratulate you (in a good way).
Director: Werner Herzog
Notable films directed: Aguirre, The Wrath Of God (1972), Fitzcarraldo (1982), Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (2009)
TV show: Parks And Recreation (2009-2015)
As: Keg Jeggings
As a man trying to sell a spooky old house with “no kitchens” and a “staircase to nowhere”, Werner Herzog sets the Disconcerting knob on his voice box to 11 and tells Andy (Chris Pratt) and April (Aubrey Plaza) about how his “haunted and disgusting” house is the right property for them. After recording his appearance, Herzog said, “I’ve never seen the show, but I hope they kept some of it.” They did. As a side note, the words “Disney World” have never been pronounced as wonderfully as they were in this cameo. Never ever.
Director: David Lynch
Notable films directed: Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Mulholland Drive (2001)
TV show: Louie (2010-)
As: Mr Dahl
Of course, Lynch had a bigger role in his own TV show Twin Peaks, where he played FBI director Gordon Cole. There, his defining quirk was deafness, with Gordon requiring everyone – except Shelly Johnson, a waitress at the Double R diner – to shout VERY LOUDLY to actually keep up a conversation. A more surprising TV cameo comes in the form of this Louie appearance, where he plays an entertainment industry old-timer who trains Louie for a fateful audition to replace David Letterman on The Late Show. Cantankerous and distinctly… Lynchian, Mr Dahl was a role the director made his own, stepping into a part first earmarked for one of Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino and Jerry Lewis.
Director: Wes Craven
Notable films directed: The Hills Have Eyes (1977), A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), Scream (1996)
TV show: Castle (2009-)
Nathan Fillion’s Castle is a crime writer who works with a police officer to solve crimes and come up with ideas for possible new books. Wes Craven’s Wes Craven is a horror movie icon who in this particular fictional universe is one of Castle’s mates, and in this undeniably pointless cameo, someone who’s willing to talk about the ghastly and the ghoulish at his desk over the phone after midnight. Informing Castle of the patently obvious – if there’s a DVD that’s causing people to die three days after watching it, maybe there are clues on the DVD – it’s essentially just a nice opportunity to include one of the genre’s biggest names on screen next to a poster of Scream 4 (not the one-sheet we’d have picked, but still).
Director: David Cronenberg
Notable films directed: Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986)
TV show: Alias (2001-2006)
As: Dr. Brezzel
There is no TV cameo more suited to any film director than David Cronenberg’s in Alias. As Dr. Brezzel, a neuroscientist with an experimental method for recovering lost memories through the use of drugs and lucid dreaming, an entire episode is dedicated to Sydney (Jennifer Garner) undergoing his techniques, and in the process a whole host of Cronenbergian themes and ideas crop up. Illogical logic, layered realities, simulation, postmodernism, lucid dreaming and fake bacon – it’s all there, as well as a student called Kaya who likes to hug people.
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Notable films directed: The Last Picture Show (1971), What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Paper Moon (1973)
TV show: The Good Wife (2007-)
There’s an ongoing joke / worrying idea in Season 5 of The Good Wife: could the once-disgraced-but-now-Illinois-Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) be the father of ever-so-sultry ethics official Marilyn Garbanza’s (Melissa George) baby? The tension reaches boiling point when Marilyn casually reveals that she’s naming her child after the dad: “Peter”. Cue a glorious spit-take from campaign strategist and crisis manager Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) and much gnashing of teeth. Of course, this is all a ruse, and the real father is revealed: Peter Bogdanovich. The real Peter Bogdanovich. It’s a ten-second scene, and nothing in comparison to his work in The Sopranos as Dr. Melfi's psychotherapist, but in the “What the hell?” stakes, it can’t be beaten.
Director: Jon Favreau
Notable films directed: Elf (2003), Iron Man (2008), Chef (2014)
TV show: The Sopranos
Jon Favreau hadn’t directed all that much when he appeared on The Sopranos in 2000, but he deserves a tip of the hat all the same for his stellar work screwing over Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli). Encouraging the film-obsessed minor mobster – who’d definitely be a big fan of Sopranos if he wasn’t actually in it – where encouragement may not have been the best idea, Favreau’s earnest, duplicitous, patronising yet likeable take on his own persona really is a cut above your average one-episode appearance. He’s also pulls a truly terrified face when Christopher mimes shooting him with his gun. For that alone, he deserves a coke and a slice.
Director: Mel Brooks
Notable films directed: The Producers (1967), Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974)
TV show: Curb Your Enthusiasm
In a level of meta that rivals the entries on our list of Cinema’s Most Meta Moments, season four of Curb Your Enthusiasm revolves around Mel Brooks’ Broadway production of The Producers and how he’s desperate to make it close down, as it’s just too popular. In comes his secret weapon, Larry David, a whirlwind of accidents and offensiveness who’s bound to bring the house down (in the right way). Unfortunately, he brings the house down (in the wrong way), and it’s a roaring success. Before all that though, Ben Stiller is hired and fired, and Mel Brooks hits Larry on the head. That’s comedy, folks!
Director: Martin Scorsese
Notable films directed: Mean Streets (1972), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), GoodFellas (1990)
TV Show: Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David plays a mob boss in Martin Scorsese’s Mob Boss, a film about a mob boss which is, unfortunately, not a real film. In the Curb Your Enthusiasm universe, however, it is a real film, and Larry David is really bad in it. This isn’t down to Scorsese’s direction which, as you can see from this clip, really is top drawer. His thoughts on how hard to slap a goon are superb, and if he’d managed to actually see what was going on, he might have had even more illuminating titbits. “Don’t cough all the time!”, perhaps?
Director: Richard Donner
Notable films directed: The Omen (1976), Superman (1978), The Goonies (1985), Lethal Weapon (1987)
TV show: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968)
Soon to be seen on the big screen thanks to Guy Ritchie, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, the original spy-vs-spy TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was something of a ‘60s classic, with many of the early episodes directed by Richard Donner. In one Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin adventure, the show begins and ends with a swinging party involving chess and booze, and one of the guests just so happens to be Donner himself, in a tartan blazer and big glasses, desperate for another tipple.
Director: Ron Howard
Notable films directed: Cocoon (1985) Apollo 13 (1995), A Beautiful Mind (2001)
TV show: Arrested Development (2003–06, 2013)
Narrator, producer and kinda-sorta co-creator (alongside the impossibly funny Mitch Hurwitz, seen above on the right), Ron Howard was part of Arrested Development from the very start, blessed with some of the best gags – once saying “Now that's a clear cut situation with the promise of comedy. Tell your friends!” after Fox’s cancellation announcement – and the task of actually explaining the insanity as it unfolded. There’s a cheeky cameo at the end of season three, but it wasn’t until season four when Howard actually crops up as a character, playing a fictional version of himself who actually, genuinely, really does want to make a movie about the Bluth family, honest. His daughter is played by Isla Fisher, and Imagine Entertainment co-founder Brian Glazer gets involved, and the lifts don’t work properly, and there’s a space shuttle, and… it’s Arrested Development.
As a show about a fictional movie star set among non-fictional Hollywood celebrities, so many directors crop up so often it’s no real surprise when, say, Peter Berg says hello or Gus Van Sant shakes E by the hand. Still, some of them are so good, there’s no avoiding them. Here, then, are links to just six of our favourites, including serial cameo-ers Martin Scorsese and James Cameron.