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On the QT

A Guide to Quentin Tarantino’s Best and Worst Acting Roles

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By Brian Steele and Nick Nadel

If you’re a fan of film director Quentin Tarantino, you’ve likely wondered why he keeps hiring a quirky actor named Quentin Tarantino to be in all his movies. Heck, he’s a cornerstone of the Tarantino canon, having appeared in everything from Reservoir Dog to Django Unchained, where his shaky Australian accent nearly derailed the movie. Unlike other actors in his films, Tarantino isn’t a major star. He’s not a reclamation project from the ’70s. He’s got a certain manic charm to him, but he always seems a bit overmatched in the acting department. The reason Tarantino keeps appearing in Tarantino movies is simple — he IS Quentin Tarantino.

Okay, I guess we all knew that, but it’s a little more complicated. Tarantino started his career as a video clerk with a dream. That dream, to be an…actor? Wait, what? Apparently, Tarantino has said he only fell into writing and directing because he needed scenes to perform in acting class. Finding that he had a gift, he kept going, but never gave up on his first dream, which has sometimes led him to appear in some unlikely places. Here’s a look at the bizarre wonderful, confusing, and admirably stubborn acting career of Quentin Tarantino. (Warning: Some clips are NSFW.)

Best: My Best Friend’s Birthday, Clarence Pool

Quentin Tarantino has been casting himself from the very beginning. His first on-screen role came in this unfinished film, which he co-wrote with another video store clerk, Craig Hamann, and directed over four years. While a lab accident destroyed portions of film, leaving the movie unfinished, what remains is classic Tarantino. His manic delivery style is evident from the get-go, as he delivers a monologue about being a suicidal three-year-old obsessed with the Partridge Family.


Best: The Golden Girls, Elvis Impersonator

Tarantino’s first professional acting gig was also one of his most bizarre. Having lucked into a new manager through a video store friend, he booked the first part he went out for. It didn’t hurt that the manager billed him as “Elvis meets Charlie Manson.” The part was as an Elvis impersonator on an episode of The Golden Girls, and Tarantino even wore his own clothes, saying he was “the Sun Records Elvis. I was the hillbilly cat Elvis. I was the real Elvis; everyone else was Elvis after he sold out.” He claims to have lived off the residuals from the episode for a year.


Best: Eddie Presley, Asylum Attendant

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Tarantino’s next role oddly dovetails with his previous one. In a movie about an Elvis impersonator suffering a nervous breakdown, Tarantino wasn’t the one doing the hip swinging. Instead, he played the small part of an attendant at an insane asylum. The other attendant? None other than Bruce Campbell. Talk about two great tastes that go great together.


Best: Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Brown

The same year that Tarantino appeared in Eddie Presley, he also released a little crime caper that forever changed the world of independent film. His role as a “Like a Virgin”-obsessed crook immediately introduced Tarantino’s distinctive dialogue to the world and inspired a generation of filmmakers to cast themselves in their magnum opuses.


Best: Pulp Fiction, Jimmie

1994 was a big year for Tarantino. Pulp Fiction became a box office and cultural sensation, with the cowriter/director himself playing a memorable role as Jimmie, the coffee snob who lets Vincent and Jules clean up a dead body at his house provided that they leave before his wife Bonnie gets home from work.


Best: Sleep With Me, Sid

This 1994 indie rom-com wasn’t a big hit, but it is notable for one reason: unlike many of the other movies on this list, this film is perhaps most famous for the iconoclast director’s passionate performance. Sure, there was probably a bit of typecasting here. If ever Tarantino knew how to play a part to perfection, it’s this one, as a manic loudmouth who corners you at a party and screams about movies. Still, in just under three minutes Tarantino makes an impression that has kept the film relevant for the last 20 years.


Best: Somebody to Love, Bartender

This forgotten indie romance features a star-studded cast of acting greats like Harvey Keitel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Quinn, and Steve Buscemi as a drag queen. Oh, and Tarantino as a bartender. The film’s director, Alexandre Rockwell, would reteam with Tarantino a few years later for Four Rooms.


Worst: All-American Girl, Desmond

How many directors, at the height of their powers, take a one-off part on a cheesy ABC sitcom? This 1995 episode, the second to last of the series, played as an extended parody of Tarantino’s films. He agreed to appear because he was friends with the show’s creator and lead, comedian Margaret Cho. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is like Scorsese following up Taxi Driver by doing a cameo on Welcome Back, Kotter.


Worst: Destiny Turns on the Radio, Johnny Destiny

The late ’90s saw a rash of Tarantino knock-offs. Suddenly, every movie was full of pop culture-quoting criminals, mixed with retro music and dark comedy. They were everywhere, and by and large, they were awful. (Do yourself a favor and never see Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.) What separated Destiny Turns on the Radio from the bunch is that, for some reason, Quentin Tarantino stars in it, as a possibly supernatural weirdo who pops in and out of the other characters’ lives. You’ve got to admire his commitment to booking parts, even if they’re blatant rip-offs of his own work.


Best: Desperado, Pick-up Guy

By 1995, filmmakers started to figure out how to best use Tarantino’s acting abilities. Have him show up, deliver a singular, weird moment, and then disappear. Don’t give him too much of a character, or responsibility to the plot. Here, his good friend Robert Rodriguez has Quentin tell a joke, and then disappear. And he nails it, in his own unique way.


Worst: Four Rooms, Chester

Four directors (including Tarantino) teamed up for this uneven anthology film set during one wacky night at a hotel featuring various unsavory characters. Tarantino’s segment is basically an extended riff on the Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that itself was an adaptation of the Roald Dahl story “Man from the South.” Basically, it involves Tarantino giving a long, hammy monologue before Tim Roth’s butler character chops off some dude’s finger. And Bruce Willis and Jennifer Beals hang out in the background because, hey, it’s the ’90s. Fun fact: Bruce Willis went uncredited in the film since he broke SAG rules by doing the role for free as a favor to Tarantino.


Best: From Dusk Till Dawn, Richard Gecko

Many fans still consider Tarantino’s trigger-happy psycho Richard Gecko to be his best performance. We really can’t argue with that. It’s one of the few times he plays an actual character and not Quentin Tarantino.


Worst: Girl 6, “QT”

The feud between Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino has been well documented. Spike has taken exception to Quentin’s liberal use of the “N-word.” Quentin has mostly ignored him, continuing his bizarre quest to be viewed as a cartoon black man. But for one shining moment, the two men came together, in Lee’s satire of the phone sex industry. (Again, it was the ’90s.) Here, Tarantino plays an over-the-top (even for him) director of a modern blaxploitation flick who tries to take advantage of the film’s lead. You have to wonder if this whole part was a middle finger to Tarantino, and that he just didn’t pick up on it.


Best: Curdled, Richard Gecko

Tarantino produced this 1996 dark comedy, which holds an interesting place in his filmography. Angela Jones, who played the murder-obsessed cab driver in Pulp Fiction, stars here as a murder-obsessed crime scene cleaner who encounters a serial killer played by ’90s charmer William Baldwin. Tarantino has a brief cameo when the Gecko Brothers’ mugshots turn up on a fake true crime show called Miami D.O.A. Yet another example of how all of Tarantino’s movies are connected.


Worst: Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair, Jack Cavello

In 1996, Tarantino starred in a Steven Spielberg co-directed drama as a convict facing execution who must rely on his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) to prove his innocence. Also, Penn and Teller star as killer magicians. What, you’ve never heard of it? Well, anyone who played the interactive movie game Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair has seen it and experienced Tarantino delivering a performance that could be best described as Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking meets The Three Stooges. It’s begging to be rediscovered as a lost classic from the era when Tarantino would say yes to any acting role he was offered.


Worst: Little Nicky, Deacon

Except for a voice cameo on an answering machine in Jackie Brown, Tarantino stayed off the screen for much of the late ’90s. But in 2000, he turned up in this Adam Sandler bomb, in which the famous director went full-on Rob Schneider, as a (possibly) Southern preacher whose life turns into a series of pratfalls once the titular Little Nicky shows up. Tarantino is clearly giving it his all here, which you have to admire, considering he’s an Oscar-winning writer, and this movie’s script was the result of a stoned chimpanzee and a copy of Final Draft having a baby.


Best: Alias, McKenas Cole

And now we get to Quentin Tarantino the actor’s big break. After a cameo-filled career, he finally got to dig into a real character that he didn’t write himself. Tarantino is comfortably quirky as this recurring Alias villain, and you can almost picture him parlaying it into bad guy roles on 24 and Heroes if his work as a successful filmmaker hadn’t gotten in the way.


Best: Duck Dodgers, Master Moloch

Tarantino voices a martial arts master who trains Duck Dodgers and his Space Cadet in this clearly Kill Bill-inspired episode.


Best: Grindhouse, Rapist (Planet Terror)/Warren (Death Proof)

Tarantino plays one of his signature creep roles in Robert Rodriguez’s segment of Grindhouse. (You definitely want to cheer when Cherry Darling stabs him in the eye with her wooden leg.) In Death Proof, Tarantino directs himself as Warren, the guy that the ladies do shots of chartreuse with. (Stealing from himself, Tarantino comments on the “tasty beverage” in a nod to Samuel L. Jackson’s famous line from Pulp Fiction.)


Best: Sukiyaki Western Django, Piringo

Tarantino appears to be having a blast in this Japanese spin on the Spaghetti Western, directed by his friend Takashi Miike. He gets to play the Clint Eastwood part in this high camp affair, delivering an intense monologue before slaughtering a bunch of colorful bad guys. Why he was the perfect person for this role isn’t entirely clear, but this cameo seems to have helped spark Tarantino’s current love of Westerns, so we can be grateful for that. And let’s all remember, Tarantino is still a young man. Sure, he’s got a lot of great movies left in him, but he’s also got years and years to pop up in distracting cameos, full bad accents and hyper line delivery. You be you, Quentin. We wouldn’t want it any other way.


Best: Inglourious Basterds, Scalped Nazi/American Soldier in Nation’s Pride

Eagle-eyed viewers might have noticed Tarantino’s two brief cameos in his World War II epic. First, the director is visible as a Nazi soldier who gets scalped by Aldo’s crew. He then switches sides, playing an American soldier in the propaganda film Nation’s Pride.


Best and Worst: Django Unchained, LeQuint Dickey Mining Co. Employee

We’re not sure what’s most memorable about Tarantino’s role in Django Unchained — his explosive exit or his Crocodile Dundee-esque Australian accent.

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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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