A sure measure of stardom is getting your name above the movie title. But there’s another, subtler way to show you’re a heavyweight: no credit at all.
The cameo appearance, preferably unbilled, is a Hollywood tradition that seems especially hot these days.
Among those who have teased audiences with brief turns recently: Mel Gibson playing a tattooed, pierced heavy metal fan in “Fathers’ Day”; Robert Duvall as a lowdown dad in “Sling Blade”; and Carrie Fisher as a therapist in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”
Wesley Snipes in “Waiting to Exhale,” Sean Connery in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” Keanu Reeves in “The Last Time I Committed Suicide,” and Marisa Tomei in “A Brother’s Kiss” are others who’ve done eye-blink roles.
Cameos aren’t new, of course. Bing Crosby dropped in on road partner Bob Hope’s solo movies and “Around the World in Eighty Days” (1956) got publicity mileage out of more than 40 pop-in visitors ranging from George Raft to newsman Edward R. Murrow.
Explaining the cameo’s appeal is easy, say those in the industry.
“It’s an opportunity for a movie star to act without any of the pressure of carrying a movie,” said Erwin Stoff, a partner in 3 Arts Entertainment, a talent management firm.
“They can get some juicy little role, come and go as they please, and the weight of the picture is not on them,” Stoff said. “So all they have to think about is acting.”
Cameos are a boon for films and filmgoers, as well.
“You can have someone come in for one afternoon and add a certain splash to your cast,” said director Wes Craven, who used Linda Blair and Henry Winkler in his hit horror spoof “Scream.”
“The audience will go home and talk about seeing them. It’s just part of the fun of it,” Craven said.
Cameos can enrich a film by adding layers. Blair’s appearance, because of her role in “The Exorcist,” was a nod to the whole horror genre, he said.
“With Henry, there seemed to be something very subversive about killing the Fonz,” Craven said, referring to Winkler’s role on TV’s “Happy Days.”
The director even squeezed in the tiny bit for himself: In one scene, school principal Winkler yells at students and then says “Sorry, Fred, not you” to a nearby janitor.
“I dressed in the original wardrobe of Freddie from the first ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ that I’d had in a box for 12 years,” Craven said. “That was one of those tip of the hats to those in the audience who would notice.”
Not everyone is candid about their bit players. Asked about rumors that Demi Moore and Bruce Willis are heard in the animated “Beavis and Butt-head do America,” director Mike Judge stonewalled.
“I’m officially not supposed to say. But we did have some big stars in the movie that did uncredited performances … which you might speculate” were the husband and wife actors.
David Letterman also did an uncredited turn, giving voice to one of the motorcycle bums the cartoon duo meets.
“These people that we had were great to work with; they were fans of the show and they wanted to do it for fun,” Judge said. And they were willing to do it for little money - as long as they stayed incognito.
“An agent said, and rightfully so, that if you want to promote it (the movie) with their names, you’ve got to pay the price,” Judge said.
Often, such appearances represent a commodity thought to be in short supply in Hollywood: friendship.
Fisher, who made her screen mark as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” films but is primarily known now as a writer, appeared in “Austin Powers” as a favor to the film’s producer.
“Carrie does stuff like that for fun, when friends ask her. As long as she’s not stuck in the middle of a script or book, she’s game,” said Fisher’s assistant Cristina Colissimo.