Getting in the Act: 11 Novelists Who Found Their Way Into the Script

Getting in the Act: 11 Novelists Who Found Their Way Into the Script (photo)

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Rock stars want to be movie stars and movie stars want to be rock stars; models want to be designers and designers want to tooth-tug Keira Knightley’s ear on the cover of Vanity Fair. These are known facts, demonstrable often to a shudder-inducing degree. What to make, though, of the latent career ambitions suggested by the humble novelist’s propensity for cameos? Do they all want to be comedians? Professional winkers? Or just slightly richer?

From Saul Bellow playing the “Man in Hallway” in an adaptation of his novel “Seize the Day” 30 years after it had been first published to Michael Chabon taking abuse in a bookstore in the upcoming adaptation of his 1988 novel, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” many authors can’t resist the idea of essentially walking into their own novel when put to celluloid. Below are a few of those, and a few more whose motivations are more elusive.

02162009_twilight.jpgFilm: “Twilight” (2008)
Author Appearance: Stephenie Meyer

In this information-obsessed era, much of the appeal of a cameo — its element of surprise — has been lost to the need to know now, before, first. And so well before the film came out — days after the scene was shot, in fact — news of crazy-selling author Stephenie Meyer’s cameo in the adaptation of the first installment in her vampire chronicles was all over the internet. Early reports suggested that Meyer’s cameo would consist of the author ordering a vegetarian plate in a coffee shop scene (in her books, there are also vegetarian vampires) and that set off a “controversy” that no doubt lit up a thousand Tumblrs, but by the time it hit theaters, her screen time was reduced to a silent sit at a lunch counter. Too shy to go along with director Catherine Hardwicke’s wish that she have a line, Meyer regrets doing it at all: “It was not my idea to do the cameo,” she said in retrospect. “They talked me into it. They thought it would be, you know, cute for the fans because most of them would recognize me. I was thinking it was going to be more like a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ thing. Like I walk by for one second in a crowd and if they can find me, cool. That’s the one scene in the movie I would happily cut — the first five seconds, and the one that I had to watch like, I mean like this [covering her eyes], ‘Ah, is it over yet?’ It was really hard for me.”

02192009_AnnieHall_TrumanCa.jpgFilm: “Annie Hall” (1977)
Author Appearance: Truman Capote

“Oh, there goes the winner of the Truman Capote contest,” Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) says to Annie (Diane Keaton) during a Central Park-set scene in “Annie Hall.” However, this being Central Park, it really was Truman Capote, just passing through, in an uncredited cameo. By 1977, the literary set had all but abandoned Capote — “Answered Prayers,” his long-awaited follow-up to “In Cold Blood” was excerpted in Esquire, in 1975 and 76, to disappointing reviews. But the Studio 54 crowd embraced him for what he was: a gadfly par excellence. Late in life, Capote was best known for knowing everyone, and seemingly being everywhere; that he should wander through an Allen film seems like a knowing nod in ubiquity’s direction. In the ’60s, Capote was close with it-girl Mia Farrow, who attended his famous Black and White Ball, but the Allen connect may have come through Keaton, whose Hollywood home she rented in 1976. “She never bothered to change her number,” Capote said. “I would have the most intimate conversations with the people who called her. ‘Well, Diane’s not here right now, would you like to leave a message?’ Then the person would go into a deep psychoanalysis of Woody Allen. Ho, ho, ho.”

02192009_Backtoschool_KurtV.jpgFilm: “Back to School” (1986)
Author Appearance: Kurt Vonnegut

Taking the cameo to its most comfortable register — the absurd — is Kurt Vonnegut’s appearance in the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield comedy “Back to School.” As nouveau riche buffoon Thornton Melon, Dangerfield is, well, back at school, and when he is assigned an English paper on Vonnegut, he hires the man himself to help him with it. Vonnegut has just one line of introduction, although when the resultant paper gets an F (shades of the famous Marshall McLuhan cameo in “Annie Hall”) with his teacher (Sally Kellerman) fuming, “Whoever did write this doesn’t know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut,” the “Slaughterhouse Five” author gets an irate call from Dangerfield, who threatens to go with Robert Ludlum next time. Interestingly, Keith Gordon, who played Dangerfield’s son in the film, went on to direct a number of films, including “The Singing Detective,” “A Midnight Clear,” and an adaptation of Vonnegut’s novel “Mother Night” in 1996.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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