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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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Tempe Video

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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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