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What Other Directors Can Learn from Quentin Tarantino’s Acting

When Quentin Tarantino shows up toward the end of Django Unchained for one of his traditional director cameos, it’s important to remember that the man originally wanted to be an actor. (It’s easy to forget this when his mouth opens and his attempt at an Australian accent comes out.) Though early on in his stardom, he ill-fatedly attempted to forge a dual career as a lead actor (From Dusk Till Dawn, Destiny Turns on the Radio), he has then and since mostly capitalized on his value as a guest star or surprise cameo; these guest spots usually come with lots of self-referential dialogue to capitalize on the har-har-in-joke factor. It’s something that should be studied by all directors who could be spending more time in front of the camera. (Looking at you, Ang Lee: Why aren’t you showing up on The Middle?) Below, using a plethora of Tarantino clips as a guide, are lessons for directors who want to grab the spotlight, if only for a few minutes.

Milk a Joke (Desperado): Don’t just tell a joke — sell it. Q.T. takes this simple bar joke and bleeds three and a half minutes of primo screen time out of it. Take notice, directors. Maybe, David O. Russell can appear in Alexander Payne’s next movie, telling a funny anecdote about Steven Soderbergh and a plate of shrimp. Or Todd Solondz could pop up in a Ben Stiller film telling a series of hilarious depressing limericks about a man-child who languishes in Paduka.

Just Be/Play Yourself (Sleep With Me): It might be scary for a director to put on makeup, a wig, and a funny voice. It’s a lot easier for them to just show up in their normal clothes and act naturally. For Q.T., acting naturally means blowharding inches from someone’s face about popular movies, as he does here with his theory on the homosexual subtext in Top Gun. Wes Anderson could probably find a director who’ll allow him to talk about pants cuffs, wallpaper, and fonts for three movie minutes. Is Henry Jaglom still working?

Get a Comedian Friend to Put You in Her Sitcom (All-American Girl)
L.A. is a salad of disparate talents. It isn’t melting-pot level, but the various artists do intermingle. In the nineties, Tarantino found himself hobnobbing with members of L.A.’s alternative comedy scene at places like Un-Cabaret, and he parlayed this into a 1995 episode on his stand-up friend Margaret Cho’s short-lived sitcom. It’s a win-win, as this episode is one long string of references to Pulp Fiction (the hottest movie at the time), with he and Cho dancing at a decade-themed diner (in this case, seventies, opposed to Pulp’s fifties) and Cho’s dad opening up a briefcase with mysterious, unknown, golden shining contents. So, Paul Thomas Anderson, why not show up on your partner Maya Rudolph’s sitcom Up All Night playing a single dad who carts his bastard son around in a basket and is constantly threatening to drink Will Arnett’s milkshake? (References to The Master’s oceanside masturbation scene may be difficult to pull off in the show’s new mulitcamera format.)

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Broad (Little Nicky)
This one won’t be easy for they many stoic directors. However, they have to remember that the stakes are never lower than in terrible movies. So just slap on a dumb voice and put in some weird contacts already, Kathryn Bigelow.

Stand in the Background and Vaguely Look Like Someone Else (Golden Girls)
Quentin Tarantino doesn’t look like Elvis, but he also doesn’t not look like Elvis. The trick is to be so far in the background that it’s hard to realize the shaky resemblance. Take heed, Steven Spielberg; just wait for How I Met Your Mother to need a Grateful Dead tribute band to play in the back of the bar.

Animation Is Your Friend (Duck Dodgers)
You know what’s even less pressure than acting onscreen? Just doing a voice. No one will see it’s you if it ends up going horribly wrong, and the audience will probably be too young to know who you are anyway. If Q.T. can go on Duck Dodgers and do a silly impersonation of Pai Mei from Kill Bill, than David Fincher can do a Mark Zuckerberg impression on Archer.

Elocution Is Overrated (Sukiyaki Western Django)
Acting is hard. Not only do you have to say stuff, but you also have to move around while doing so. One way to lessen that burden, as can be seen in this clip, is just mumble your way through it. Even Terrence Malick could handle that, right?

Be a Real Creep (Planet Terror)
It shouldn’t be that hard for a director to embody the role of a threatening creep. Casting call for Michael Bay!

What Directors Can Learn from Tarantino’s Acting