A cameo role or cameo appearance (//; often shortened to just cameo) is a brief appearance or voice part of a known person in a work of the performing arts, typically unnamed or appearing as themselves. These roles are generally small, many of them non-speaking ones, and are commonly either appearances in a work in which they hold some special significance (such as actors from an original movie appearing in its remake), or renowned people making uncredited appearances. Short appearances by celebrities, film directors, politicians, athletes or musicians are common. A crew member of the show or movie playing a minor role can be referred to as a cameo as well, such as Alfred Hitchcock's frequently performed cameos.
Originally "cameo role" meant "a small character part that stands out from the other minor parts". The Oxford English Dictionary connects this with the meaning "a short literary sketch or portrait", which is based on the literal meaning of "cameo". More recently, "cameo" has come to refer to any short appearances, whether as a character or as oneself, such as the examples below.
Cameos are generally not credited because of their brevity, or a perceived mismatch between the celebrity's stature and the film or TV show in which he or she is appearing. Many are publicity stunts. Others are acknowledgments of an actor's contribution to an earlier work, as in the case of many film adaptations of TV series, or of remakes of earlier films. Others honour artists or celebrities known for work in a particular field.
Cameos also occur in novels and other literary works. “Literary cameos” usually involve an established character from another work who makes a brief appearance to establish a shared universe setting, to make a point, or to offer homage. Balzac often employed this practice, as in his Comédie humaine. Sometimes a cameo features a historical person who "drops in" on fictional characters in a historical novel, as when Benjamin Franklin shares a beer with Phillipe Charboneau in The Bastard by John Jakes.
A cameo appearance can be made by the author of a work to put a sort of personal "signature" on a story. Vladimir Nabokov often put himself in his novels; for instance, the very minor character Vivian Darkbloom (an anagram of the author's name) in Lolita.
Early appearances are often mistakenly considered as cameos. Sylvester Stallone appears in Woody Allen's Bananas credited only as "Subway Thug #1," five years before his breakout role in 1976's Rocky. Other examples would be Elijah Wood in Back to the Future Part II and Samuel L. Jackson in The Exorcist III. These are early appearances of non-established actors.
Likewise, Peter Jackson has made brief cameos in all of his movies, except for his first feature-length movie Bad Taste in which he plays a main character, as well as The Battle of the Five Armies. For example, he plays a peasant eating a carrot in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Desolation of Smaug; a Rohan warrior in The Two Towers and a pirate boatswain in The Return of the King. All four were non-speaking "blink and you miss him" appearances, although in the Extended Release of The Return of the King, his character was given more screen time and his reprise of the carrot eating peasant in The Desolation of Smaug was featured in the foreground in reference to The Fellowship of the Ring - last seen twelve years earlier.
Director Martin Scorsese appears in the background of his films as a bystander or an unseen character. In Who's That Knocking at My Door, he appears as one of the gangsters; he is a lighting crew man in After Hours and a passenger in Taxi Driver. He opens up his 1986 film The Color of Money with a monologue on the art of playing pool. In addition, he appears with his wife and daughter as wealthy New Yorkers in Gangs of New York, and he appears as a theatre-goer and is heard as a movie projectionist in The Aviator.
Actors and writers
Directors sometimes cast well-known lead actors with whom they have worked in the past in other films. Mike Todd's film Around the World in 80 Days (1956) was filled with cameo roles: (John Gielgud as an English butler, Frank Sinatra playing piano in a saloon), and others. The stars in cameo roles were pictured in oval insets in posters for the film, and gave the term wide circulation outside the theatrical profession.
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), an "epic comedy", also features cameos from nearly every popular American comedian alive at the time, including the Three Stooges, a silent appearance by Buster Keaton and a voice-only cameo by Selma Diamond.
Among the many cameos featured in the film Maverick, (directed by Richard Donner), actor Danny Glover (Mel Gibson's co-star in the Lethal Weapon franchise of films also directed by Donner) appears as the lead bank robber. He and Maverick (Gibson) share a scene where they look as if they knew each other, but then shake it off. As Glover makes his escape with the money, he mutters "I'm too old for this shit", his character's catchphrase in the Lethal Weapon film series. In addition, a strain of the main theme from Lethal Weapon plays in the score when Glover is revealed. Actress Margot Kidder made a cameo appearance in the same film as a robbed villager, and the actress previously starred as Lois Lane in one of Donner's earlier films Superman.
Actors Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, and Will Ferrell have made appearances in so many of the same films (whether as lead characters or cameos) USA Today coined the term the "Frat Pack" to name the group. Actor Adam Sandler is also known for frequently casting fellow Saturday Night Live performers (including Rob Schneider and David Spade) in various roles in his films (as well as making cameo appearances of his own in theirs, most of which he co-produces). Sam Raimi frequently uses his brother Ted and Bruce Campbell in his films.
An Adventure in Space and Time, a drama about how the Doctor Who began, features many actors from the show's past, including two past companions in a party scene, another as a mother calling her children in for dinner and a fourth in a car park at the BBC.
Films based on actual events occasionally include cameo guest appearances by the people portrayed in them. In the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness Chris Gardner makes a cameo in the end. 24 Hour Party People, a film about Tony Wilson, has a cameo by the real Tony Wilson and many other notable people. In the film Apollo 13, James Lovell (the real commander of that flight) and his wife Marilyn appear next to the actors playing them (Tom Hanks and Kathleen Quinlan respectively). Domino Harvey makes a short appearance in the credits of Domino, while the real Erin Brockovich has a cameo appearance as a waitress named Julia in the eponymous movie (where her role is played by actress Julia Roberts).
- Oxford English Dictionary, "Cameo".
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- Its so last century: Mika