It’s not difficult to find celebrity cameos in modern-day movies and TV programs. From Entourage to Extras, there are lots of shows and films that center around the premise of celebrities playing fictionalized versions of themselves. But while some cameos fall flat, others are completely unforgettable – whether they’re good or bad.
Most successful cameos where actors play larger-than-life versions of themselves fall into two camps: the funny and the unexpected. And the best, most memorable performances fall at the point where these camps bisect. Here are some of the greatest actors who have played themselves.
10 Barry White – The Simpsons
Barry White isn’t strictly an actor – but his turn in the “Whacking Day” episode of The Simpsons is too memorable not to include on this list. As the Whacking Day Grand Marshall, he’s outraged that the people of Springfield are about to kill the town’s snakes. So he uses his trademark dulcet tones to draw them to the Simpsons’ home and protect them from a barbaric whacking.
Barry White sells his role as the snake savior in an inimitable style. Does Barry White like snakes? More than that – he loves “the sexy slither of a lady snake. Oh baby.”
9 Zoë Bell – Death Proof
Zoë Bell has been a stuntwoman in tons of popular Hollywood movies and is particularly well-known for her work with Quentin Tarantino. She played herself in his 2007 film Death Proof, in which she instigates a round of Ship’s Mast – a game which basically involves climbing through the window and hanging off the hood of a car while it’s moving at high speed.
Tarantino uses stunt people in almost all his films, and he pays homage to them in Death Proof. Having Zoë Bell play herself performing such a dangerous stunt is typical Tarantino, and Bell pulls off the role with vigor.
8 Burt Reynolds – Archer
Sterling Archer is famously obsessed with Burt Reynolds films and sickened by the idea of his mother having any kind of romantic relationship. So when Burt shows up and starts dating Mallory, he’s more than a little conflicted.
Burt Reynolds is actually just as awesome as Archer wants him to be – he’s full of wisdom, smooth lines, and insane driving moves. Plus, nobody does a driving scene quite like Burt Reynolds – even an animated version.
7 Carl Weathers – Arrested Development
The cult hit Arrested Development features a number of recognizable faces – but it’s Carl Weathers who steals the show. His tongue-in-cheek role as a thrifty acting coach, which Weathers suggested himself, is a highlight of the early series – and some of his money-saving tips are actually pretty good.
Weathers shamelessly swindles money out of every opportunity, taking advantage of poor Tobias perhaps more than any other character in the show. Tobias may not learn much about acting from Carl, but he does learn how to get a stew going.
6 Daniel Radcliffe – Extras
British sitcom Extras revolves around a number of well-known actors playing fictional versions of themselves – and Radcliffe is one of the top picks from the series. Dressed as a boy scout (with a packet of cigarettes in the pocket), Radcliffe is brilliant as a juvenile, would-be philandering version of himself.
His mortifying idea of flirtation will make anyone cringe, but there’s no doubt that it’s entertaining to watch Harry Potter attempt to shoot his shot with – and be rejected by – every woman he meets.
5 Lauren Bacall – The Sopranos
Lauren Bacall’s no-nonsense cameo on The Sopranos at the age of 80 was one of her most memorable performances – which is saying something, given her illustrious showbiz career.
Bacall is mugged by Christopher Moltisanti, whose attempts to get into the film business have gone awry – and so he ends up punching her right in the mush. It’s a low point for Chris, but an undeniably iconic one for Lauren Bacall – as well as the punch, this scene marks the first time Bacall ever swore on camera.
4 Wanda Sykes – Curb Your Enthusiasm
Comedian and actress Wanda Sykes kills it every time she appears in Larry David’s hit show Curb Your Enthusiasm. Like Richard Lewis and Ted Danson, Wanda returns over a number of series as an irrefutable fan favorite.
Her anti-rapport with Larry is ripe for hostility on both sides. From the time she accuses Larry of having a racist dog, to her relationship with Krazee-Eyez Killa, Wanda’s storylines are always funny, and she always plays her scathing, sardonic faux-self to perfection.
3 Kate Winslet – Extras
Kate Winslet is revered in both Hollywood and indie film circles alike. She’s a truly versatile actor, having dazzled in a range of roles – from her breakout performance as Titanic’s Rose to her recent turn in Mare Of Easttown.
But one of Winslet’s most underrated roles is in Extras. Winslet plays herself playing a nun, one of the leads in a movie about World War 2. It’s surreal seeing Katie Winslet, dressed as a nun, give supporting artist Maggie some pretty explicit advice on how to spice up an erotic phone call – but it’s great.
2 John Malkovich – Being John Malkovich
Spike Jonze’s bizarre-yet-brilliant film Being John Malkovich is perhaps the ultimate example of an actor playing a fictionalized version of himself. In fact, John Malkovich plays lots of versions of himself, from Malkovich-as-famous-puppeteer, to the various Malkoviches inside his own head.
There are also a number of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos by other actors in Being John Malkovich. Brad Pitt and Winona Ryder can be spotted in bit parts throughout the film. But it’s Malkovich, whose mind ultimately ends up torn asunder by the constant occupancy of his head, who puts in the decisive performance as himself here.
1 Larry David – Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David is the undisputed champion of fictionalizing himself for comedic effect. Having written and produced 10 series of Curb Your Enthusiasm – with season 11 reportedly on the way – he seems to have a never-ending stream of ideas for ways the fictional Larry can irritate, amuse, and provoke his friends, family, and strangers.
Curb Your Enthusiasm features tons of great celebrity cameos, with many stars relishing the chance to receive the Larry David treatment. But it’s Larry himself who always steals the show.
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