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10 Directors with Major Roles in Other Directors’ Films

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A movie director’s job usually takes place behind the camera, but sometimes, they get in front of the lens. Some directors, like Woody Allen, are involved in the majority of that process, and write, direct, and star in their own films. Others, like Alfred Hitchcock or John Landis, add playful little cameos—sometimes themselves, or sometimes other filmmakers who happened to be on set that day. But what happens when well-known movie directors don’t do any directing at all, and star in other directors’ films in major roles that are more than simple cameos? Here are a few examples.

1. Werner Herzog in Jack Reacher

The first director on the list is German weirdo-auteur Werner Herzog, responsible for films like Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Fitzcarraldo; and the documentary Grizzly Man. Herzog has done his fair share of acting over the years, playing a fictional version of himself in the mockumentary Incident at Loch Ness or the father in the equally weird auteur Harmony Korine’s 1999 film Julien Donkey-Boy, but his most recent acting stint as the villain in last year's Jack Reacher is his most devious role yet.

Herzog plays a shadowy and sadistic Siberian baddie called “The Zec” who has one ominously cloudy eye and, as explained by the character, is missing multiple fingers that he chewed off while in captivity to avoid gangrene from complications of frostbite. If that doesn’t win you over, the villain's ridiculous lines—delivered in Herzog’s iconic accent—definitely steal some scenes.

2. François Truffaut in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Nouvelle Vague pioneer François Truffaut had helmed 15 films of his own—and starred in two—before he stepped into the role of Claude Lacombe, the scientist trying to get to the bottom of all the UFO activity in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 blockbuster Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Though he was the lead in his own directorial efforts The Wild Child and Day for Night, Truffaut had never acted in an American film, and had a tough time with his lines in English while filming. When he was to deliver the line “They belong here more than we,” his thick French accent confused Spielberg and costar Bob Balaban into thinking he said “They belong here Mozambique.” The two then had shirts made with the Mozambique line and distributed them to the crew as a prank on the 400 Blows director. His performance, however, was no joke; it would earn Truffaut a BAFTA nomination for best supporting actor.

3. Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries

Swedish director Victor Sjöström worked primarily in the silent era, making early cinema classics like The Phantom Carriage—with himself in the lead role—and The Wind—starring notable silent film star Lillian Gish—that influenced such directors as Stanley Kubrick and David Lean.

Despite his long and storied career, perhaps his best effort in front of the camera is as the aging college professor Isak Borg, who ponders the beauty of life and death while travelling through Sweden to receive an honorary degree in director Ingmar Bergman’s heartbreaking 1957 film Wild Strawberries. Though it wasn’t the first time the two worked together—Sjöström appeared as a good-natured orchestra conductor in Bergman’s little-seen 1949 film To Joy—Bergman sought to truly immortalize his mentor with his role as Borg. The two first met when the Swedish production company Svensk Filmindustri brought on the veteran to oversee the young Bergman’s 1946 debut film Crisis, and the two hit it off so well that Sjöström would remain a father figure to Bergman for the rest of his life.

4. John Cassavetes in Rosemary’s Baby

Cassavetes was revered as the father of American independent cinema for directing groundbreaking films like Shadows and Faces, but he was also a fine actor in his own right. He cut his teeth in smaller acting roles for other directors, including Don Siegel’s version of The Killers and Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen—which garnered him an Academy Award nom for best supporting actor—and would later feature in quite the explosive role in Brian DePalma’s The Fury (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll get the joke). But his leading man status was cleverly tested as Mia Farrow’s husband Guy in Roman Polanski’s 1968 creep-out film Rosemary’s Baby.

The character was originally meant for a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, all-American à la Robert Redford, but Polanski—who himself has acted in his own films, including Chinatown and The Tenant—intentionally cast against type with the shifty looking Cassavetes. The film ended up a rousing and terrifying success, but the two apparently never got along on set. Polanski questioned Cassavetes’ acting ability, saying, “He knows how to play himself best,” while Cassavetes slyly called into question Polanski’s merit with the retort, “You can’t dispute the fact that he’s an artist, but yet you have to say Rosemary’s Baby is not art.” 

5. John Huston in Chinatown

Six years after Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski continued the practice of casting directors as actors in his films by giving the devious role of wealthy land baron Noah Cross to the legendary John Huston. Like the other directors on this list, Huston dabbled in bit parts in other films prior to Chinatown, including a role in Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal or as “The Lawgiver” in 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes, but, in terms of his acting, the director of The African Queen is best known for this neo-noir classic.

Though he appears in only three scenes in the entire film, his unforgettable performance is the glue that holds the shocking mysteries of the film together. At the time of filming, star Jack Nicholson was in a relationship with Huston’s real life daughter Angelica, which must have given some added tension to the scene where Huston as Cross asks Nicholson as sleuth Jake Gittes “Are you sleeping with her?” in regards to his onscreen daughter Evelyn, played by Faye Dunaway.

6. Spike Jonze in Three Kings

Before he was twice nominated for Best Director for his films The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell made the underrated 1999 satirical war film Three Kings. He recruited A-list talent like George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg and off-the-beaten-path stars like rapper Ice Cube for the film, but he rounded out the cast with an unorthodox choice—Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze. Since Being John Malkovich and Three Kings were both released in October of 1999, Jonze was primarily known at the time as the genius behind music videos like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” Weezer’s “Buddy Holly,” Björk’s “It’s Oh So Quiet,” and more, but his role as the naive man-child Conrad Vig in Russell’s film added acting to his unique legacy. Jonze would go on to direct three more films—including Her, which will be released this year—and act in smaller parts in films like Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, but never in as major a role as in Three Kings.  

7. Orson Welles in The Third Man

The renowned director of Citizen Kane eventually went on to have a long and storied acting career—he even had a particularly memorable turn as the voice of the planet-sized robot Unicron in the 1986 animated film The Transformers: The Movie—but his most indelible appearance in another director’s film was as the enigmatic character Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s 1949 film The Third Man.

Much like John Huston’s Noah Cross, Welles’ character only appears in a few scenes in the entire film, yet his character is the driving force behind the overall plot. His most famous scene, where Harry Lime meets Joseph Cotten’s character Holly Martins on the Wiener Riesenrad in Vienna’s Prater amusement park, includes the famous “Swiss cuckoo clock speech” that was largely improvised by Welles: “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Unfortunately for Welles, cuckoo clocks are, in fact, from Germany.

8. Sydney Pollack in Eyes Wide Shut

Prior to Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Tootsie director Sydney Pollack’s feature acting credits included a rarely-seen 1962 war film called War Hunt and as the rational best friend of Woody Allen’s usual neurotic lead character in 1992’s Husbands and Wives. But the director's most haunting and complex character was the intimidating Dr. Victor Ziegler in Eyes Wide Shut, a role that was originally meant for Harvey Keitel until Pollack stepped in to replace him at Stanley Kubrick’s request.

Despite his friend Kubrick’s notorious reputation for demanding numerous takes when shooting ostensibly easy scenes, Pollack estimated that he would be able to complete his own scenes within one week. His first scene wrapped in mere hours but his second scene, which required him to simply walk across a room and answer a door, went on for two days of takes without satisfying Kubrick. When Pollack finally finished a take that was accepted by the director, Kubrick cryptically told him, “I wondered how much longer it would take you.”    

9. Quentin Tarantino in From Dusk till Dawn

In 1994, director Quentin Tarantino rewrote the book on American independent cinema with his modern classic, Pulp Fiction. Despite dabbling in acting in his own films before—he played Mr. Brown in his first feature, Reservoir Dogs, and was the frantic husband Jimmie in “The Bonnie Situation” chapter of Pulp Fiction—his first major role in another director’s film was in his friend Robert Rodriguez’s 1996 horror flick, From Dusk till Dawn, which Tarantino also wrote.

Tarantino and George Clooney starred as the Gecko Brothers, two crooks on the lam who seek refuge with their hostages in a strip club populated by vampires. The film was originally supposed to be his directorial follow up to Pulp Fiction, but Tarantino instead decided to focus on the screenplay and perfecting his acting chops for his role.

10. Fritz Lang in Contempt

Almost all of director Jean-Luc Godard’s movies are self-contained film schools, each playing with the ideas of what a movie itself can be. Godard was always eager to put his heroes in his films (American hard-boiled director Samuel Fuller had a brief cameo in Godard’s 1965 flick Pierrot le Fou, for example), but in his 1963 film Contempt, he decided to go bigger. Godard cast one of his idols, Austrian director Fritz Lang, who played a version of himself—a film director torn between adapting Homer’s The Odyssey from a small art film to an overblown studio epic.

Lang was the director of such masterpieces as Metropolis and M, and was allegedly the only person that the cantankerous Godard got along with on set. Actor Jack Palance, who played the pompous studio producer who hires a new screenwriter to rework Lang’s Odyssey adaptation, was so miserable working with Godard that he continually called his agent to get him out of his contract for the picture. But Lang, whom Godard worshipped, was made to feel right at home.  

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The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
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Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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