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Spoiler alert: the top 8 unadvertised film cameos of 2014

Those turning up to see Into the Woods when it’s released in Australian cinemas early next year would feel entitled to expect a prominent appearance from Johnny Depp, given his name is plastered across the top of posters for the film. If you’re one of those people, I wouldn’t hold your breath expecting Depp to play a substantial role. If this THR article is to believed, Depp’s appearance in the film is an example of what’s called ‘boarding,’ where an actor is parachuted in for a handful of days (and a million dollars) to provide the film necessary marketing heft. Ten days of filming, one million dollars and, I assume, only a few minutes of usable footage.

These sorts of high profile cameos are not especially uncommon, with producers/actors/directors exploiting their friendships (or wallets) to drag moviegoers to the cinema with the promise of big names. This sort of marketing strategy is comparatively versatile. There’s the ‘blind the audience with the star wattage and hope they don’t notice the mediocre movie’ option, as seen in Movie 43 and Muppets Most Wanted (the latter spending a solid chunk of its trailer with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it montage of its cameos). Then there’re the more substantial cameos that can be advertised without guilt and filmed in no time at all, like the aforementioned Depp appearance (“as the wolf”) or the lower-profile inclusion of Charlotte Rampling in the closing scenes of this year’s Young & Beautiful.

I don’t intend to imply that these appearances are necessarily a bad thing. Take Alec Baldwin’s single scene in Glengarry Glen Ross, for example; I doubt anyone was going to complain about his prominent poster placement for a single scene given how fucking amazing that scene was. And anyone expecting a substantial role for every character actor featured in The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Guess Who-inspired poster could benefit from a slightly more critical approach to marketing.

The reasoning behind these brief appearances is entirely transparent. People like Johnny Depp (apparently). He was that funny pirate guy, why shouldn’t we go see him in this new-fangled musical? This is how cinema marketing has operated for over a century now; stars get people in the door. But now we come to a trend that’s not as easy to explain – uncredited cameos. I’m not referring to Depp’s (simultaneously expected and awesome) cameo in 21 Jump Street or Jordan Belfort popping up at the end of The Wolf of Wall Street with that smug fucking smile here. Nor am I referring to, say, Kevin Spacey’s uncredited role in Se7en.

Rather, I’m referring to casting decisions that seem, on the surface, like they’re perfectly calibrated to give a movie a slight uptick in their income, encouraging tentative filmgoers to make the trip because of ‘that funny pirate guy.’ About the only explanation I can think of for the absence of these actors’ names from there is imagining a circle of besuited executives around a polished wood table. One leans forward, carefully interlocking their fingers. “Two words,” they intone. “Social. Media.” Much with, say, the veil of secrecy that made The One I Love seem ever-so-intriguing, there’s nothing like opaque tweets along the lines of “You’ll never BELIEVE the cameo in Interstellar!” to get bums on seats. Apparently.

So, without further ado, here are the 8 top (not necessarily best) uncredited cameos of 2014.
Be prepared to encounter spoilers:

I’ll Take Your Word For It

James Franco in Veronica Mars
Will Smith in A Winter’s Tale

Full disclosure: I haven’t seen either of these movies, but I’m pretty confident they qualify based on what I’ve heard from fellow critics and on social media. It’s debateable whether or not James Franco’s appearance in the Veronica Mars movie qualifies as ‘uncredited’ – there are a bunch of trailers on YouTube that feature his name prominently, but he’s absent from the poster – but it sure didn’t seem interesting enough to investigate. James Franco making fun of his public persona but playing an exaggerated version of himself is decidedly old hat by now. We’ve seen This is the End. We’ve seen 30 Rock. We’ve seen practically everything Franco’s done over the past half-decade. We’ll pass.

Will Smith’s cameo is way more interesting (and can be viewed via the io9 link above), even if the movie it’s in sounds so dire I couldn’t bring myself to watch it (see also: A Million Ways to Die in the West, which has a bunch of cameos but it’s also, you know, a film by Seth MacFarlane). I have no idea who (a) thought getting Will Smith in to play Lucifer, uncredited, was a good idea and (b) managed to get Smith to actually agree to do it. I’m assuming someone has some particularly juicy photographs with which to blackmail the Fresh Prince, his half-assed performance perfectly encapsulated by lines of dialogue like “…let’s get this over with,” and “Embarassing, no?” Yes, it is.

D-List In-Jokes

Danny Pudi in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Nathan Fillion in Guardians of the Galaxy
Donald Faison in Wish I Was Here

Fair cop: these three gentlemen (and all of these cameos are men, it seems) would be unlikely to drag unexcited folks to the cinema. Danny Pudi is not a household name (more’s the pity). The two Marvel cameos here are pretty well in line with the studio’s kinda-irreverent-but-not-really approach to filmmaking, as demonstrated by the ubiquitous appearances of Stan Lee. The Russo brothers, having leapfrogged from Community to major motion pictures, throw Pudi – better known as ‘Abed’ or ‘who the hell was that?’ – a bone with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Fillion’s cameo, meanwhile, is eminently missable even if you’re eyes are stapled open, as it’s a voice cameo; pretty much what you’d expect from James Gunn (who worked with Fillion on Slither).

Donald Faison is best and, sadly, pretty well only known for his role as Turk in Scrubs. Where Zach Braff has inexplicably gone to semi-stardom (I’m not sure whether you count as B-list when you need to use Kickstarter to finance your second film, but whatever), Faison still has “Scrubs (2001)” appearing below his name when you look him up on IMDB. Anyway, he appears as a Aston Martin salesman in an extended bit of product placement in Braff’s forgettable Wish I Was Here, the title presumably referring to Faison’s wish for a more substantial role in the film (or any film, really).

A-List In-Joke

Seth Rogen in 22 Jump Street

This appearance is so brief to barely even qualify as a cameo but it’s great, dammit. 22 Jump Street didn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but it did have some killer credits, cycling through an impossible number of sequel iterations. Seth Rogen made a brief appearance as “Jonah Hill,” which is possibly a reference to Hill playing the role intended for Rogen in Superbad (which also has an amazing credits sequence). Or maybe it was just because everybody loves Seth Rogen (even Kanye!).

Marketing Mix-Up

Matt Damon in Interstellar

This is a weird one. It stands to reason that Nolan’s unwieldy blockbuster would use every weapon its arsenal to appeal to audiences; after all, Matthew McConaughey And The Kit-Kat Robot is not the easiest sell. And initial reports on the film seemed to skew that way. Damon conducted interviews back in January, talking about how happy he was to work with Nolan in a mall role. Then, gradually, the tide shifted, the movie marketing proper omitting Damon’s name entirely. Matt Damon was no longer playing a small role in Interstellar; he was a ‘surprise’ cameo. A.O. Scott even obliquely referred to the nondisclosure agreements he signed preventing him from talking about Damon’s appearance in his review.

Damon’s role isn’t large, but it’s way more substantial than a glorified cameo. He does good work in a pretty silly part, so it’s a shame that the discussion around it is muted by the marketing strategy. The fact that studios concealed his position in the film – in one of the most expensive films of the year, even – suggests there must be a method to this madness.

Just …No

Johnny Depp in Tusk

The distributors of Tusk didn’t want people to know about Depp’s surprise third act appearance in Kevin Smith’s dire passion project, Tusk – a distributor friend of mine mentioned that they weren’t allowed to mention his name at all when publicising the film. Even the film itself goes out of its way to conceal Depp’s involvement, with thick make-up, prosthetics, fake hair and a silly accent. It’s hard to understand Hollywood sometimes; one film pays a million dollars for, essentially, the opportunity to use Johnny Depp’s name while a three million dollar film hides him away. Then again, given that Depp’s ridiculous mugging led me to walk out of the film – the first and only time I’ve ever walked out of a cinema – perhaps they knew what they were doing.

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