Andy Kaufman, God Told Me To (1976): Stunt casting is a genre unto itself, with a special section reserved for comedians hired to do the opposite of make people laugh. When lo-fi huckster Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) erected this horror-thriller about a wave of religious cult murders, Andy Kaufman had only recently made his first appearance on Saturday Night Live. So, it would take a hip audience to spot his cameo as a cop who suddenly opens fire into the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Perhaps Cohen was less interested in casting a budding star than exploiting Kaufman’s creepy boyish quality, turning what’s otherwise amusingly deranged into simply deranged.
Rodney Dangerfield, Natural Born Killers (1994): In Oliver Stone’s delightful valentine to serial killers, the pre-spree homelife of Juliette Lewis’ Mallory is depicted as a sick All in the Family-style sitcom, with a laugh track kicking in whenever her father (Dangerfield, as a demented version of “himself”) gropes her ass and calls her a crazy bitch. Witty!
Steve Martin, The Spanish Prisoner (1997): Martin has never been above playing it straight—one of his first vehicles was the wonderfully depressing meta-musical Pennies From Heaven —but it took David Mamet to realize that he could be full-on intimidating. As a mysterious businessman who embroils Campbell Scott’s inventor in a conspiracy, he radiates such cool, narrow-eyed dispassion that Scott must be a fool for ever trusting him.
George Lopez, Bread and Roses (2000): Some of us are lucky to only know Lopez as the bone-chillingly heartless boss in Ken Loach’s drama about illegal workers in Los Angeles. Apparently he does other things, too.
Mo’Nique, Precious, etc. (2009): In which the star of Phat Girlz made a strong volley for cinema’s worst mother, and probably won.
Albert Brooks, Drive (2011): The “Albert Brooks” character is essentially a sociopath anyway, so it’s not wildly shocking to see the maker of Modern Romance and Lost in America issuing genuinely chilling threats and stabbing people in the eye. Still, this is the best stunt casting since Once Upon a Time in the West had Henry Fonda gun down a ginger kid. ■
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely