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

Tempe Video

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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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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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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