Although the late John Cassavetes set a sterling example of a director who also acted in films that he didn’t direct, and Alfred Hitchcock set the bar for directors who stubbornly insisted upon making cameos in their own movies, today’s living directors seldom hit such heights in their own attempts to make a tidy living from an acting side gig. For purposes of this list, I’ll be discussing a handful of directors who think they can act rather than actors who have subsequently progressed to directing. The latter are in plentiful supply, but the former make up a short list of men who, for better (and mostly worse) have decided that the camera just can’t spare their visual presence.
Woody Allen: For quite a lengthy run, Allen has starred within his own movies to great effect from Annie Hall to Manhattan to Husbands and Wives and Mighty Aphrodite. However, the damn near flawless track record went to hell when Woody chose to act alongside the clueless Scarlett Johansson in Scoop, otherwise known as the second entry in the ScarJo Trilogy of Zaftig Boobery. For her part, ScarJo (who Woody describes as “criminally sexy”) appreciates these roles so much that she would “sew the hem of his pants if he asked me to.” Uh, Woody? Wake up.
Mel Brooks: Oh, this man is such a novelty that it’s difficult to hate on Mr. Brooks for any reason at all. From earlier appearances in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein to Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, no one would ever accuse Brooks of being a wonderful actor. He may have indeed won an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (The Producers), but his acting is pure fluff.
Tyler Perry: Let’s just assume that, for whatever reason, Madea has some overarching and ultimately significant cultural value. Even if that is the case, I still can’t help but superimpose the wig, boobs, and muumuu dress on Perry’s non-drag character from the Why Did I Get Married? movies. Then again, Perry’s audience loves him and, even more inexplicably, they love Madea. It’s difficult to reconcile such a visually jarring presence with such a long string of hit movies.
Roman Polanski: Honestly, it’s impossible for me to put aside the entire “admitted rapist” aspect of Polanski, but the man is seriously creepy beyond his extracurricular interests. During one particularly sketchy scene of The Pianist, Polanski inserted his own self as a rubber-gloved cop making ready for a body-cavity search. And even worse … Rush Hour 3?
Quentin Tarantino: This one is pretty damn simple — Tarantino is a fantastic director, but he is one bloody awful actor. The puzzling aspect of this phenomenon is that Tarantino seems genuinely unaware of his stilted, unchanging appearance on camera. He’s certainly never been one to disappear in any role — whether as one of the Gecko brothers in From Dusk Till Dawn, the bartender from Somebody to Love, the rapist of Planet Terror, or whatever the hell he was doing in Sukiyaki Western Django. For the love of all that is decent and holy, the man just needs to stop.
Eli Roth: Legend has it that Roth’s own history of cameos within his own movies began during Cabin Fever when the actor hired to play Grim didn’t show up for work. Later in the Hostel movies, his physical presence became more nondescript and noticeable only to his hard-core fans, but Roth has notoriously appeared in a string of films directed by his own buddies. First, he reprised the Grim role for Tim Sullivan’s 1001 Maniacs, cameo’d in Fruit Chan’s Don’t Look Up, died on a toilet in Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, and met a fittingly grisly end in Piranha 3D. Most notoriously, he portrayed the Bear Jew in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Roth has his fair share of haters, but it’s difficult to deny that he embarrasses himself at least slightly less than the rest of the directors on this list.
M. Night Shyamalan: Not only has this guy seen fit to incrementally destroy his own career with every film he directs, but he also generally inserts a kindly reminder of his physical self within each of these movies as well (another Shyamalan twist, if you will). Honestly, we should’ve known he was a danger to himself after appearing as “Confused Jewelry Store Patron” in The Sixth Sense, but I do believe that this moment from Signs is the only time that I have ever identified with one of Mel Gibson’s facial expressions.
In summary, none of these directors should ever dream of quitting their so-called day jobs to commence an acting career. Except for Shyamalan — he should quit both.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.