A Moment to Shine

Our Favorite Directors’ Cameos in Their Own Films

Some directors are simply unable to resist making cameo appearances––a kind of physical signature––in their own work. No one did this more memorably than Alfred Hitchcock. Whether he was getting off the bus in North By Northwest, riding alongside Robie in To Catch a Thief, or boarding the passenger car in Strangers On a Train, Hitch’s 30-odd walk-ons were, ahem, notorious, and lent his movies a vaguely “Where’s Waldo” aspect, with the audience gleefully anticipating the auteur’s inevitable, if fleeting, face time. In celebration of the master of suspense’s birthday, we put together a list of our favorite cameos by directors in their own work.

Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now (1979)

The mastermind behind The Godfather and American Graffiti breezes into Apocalypse Now as a television director, filming a segment of the war for the newsreels back home. Delightfully self-referential, Coppola shouts to the passing soldiers (who are themselves actors playing soldiers in his movie), “Don't look at the camera! Just go by like you're fighting. Like you're fighting. Don't look at the camera! This is for television. Just go through, go through."

Roman Polanski, Chinatown (1974)

Polanski plays brutally with metaphor, appearing as a gangster who slashes the schnoz of “nosy” Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson). “You're a very nosy fellow, kitty-cat, huh?” he says. “You know what happens to nosy fellows? Huh, no? Want to guess? Huh, no? OK. They lose their noses.”

Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–2003)

Not only the Hobbit-heads are hip to the fact that director Peter Jackson made cameo appearances in each installment of his Oscar-behemoth trilogy adaptation of JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. He apoears as a wino munching a carrot in The Fellowship of the Ring, as one of a trillion warriors at the battle of Helms deep in The Two Towers and as a pirate captain in The Return of The King. He wasn't going to let everyone else have all the fun of those costumes without taking them for a spin himself.

Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction (1994)

The great cinema geek has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of director walk-ons, and hits it out of the park as a suburban ninny roped into covering up a murder in Pulp Fiction. His epithet-laden Jimmy is somewhere between funny and loathsome and wonderfully memorable.

John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Huston was of course a titanic actor and his appearance in Chinatown might be the best ever of a director showing up in someone else’s film (if it weren’t for Orsen Welles’s Harry Lime in The Third Man). His cameo in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as a rich, white-suited gentlemen who fends off and then gives into Humphrey Bogart’s panhandling, is a treat.

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