Small Roles…Big Performances

Small Roles…Big Performances is the title of the latest blogathon from which tasks bloggers to consider their favourite small but significant characters.

Ruth Maramis over at asked fellow bloggers to name a performance from an actor in a short supporting role or cameo that makes a memorable impression on you. The caveat is on the role being small but significant hence the title “Small Roles…Big Performances.”

That got me thinking and quite quickly I began drawing up a shortlist of a number of mini or cameo performances that have left a lasting impression on me. Notable ones include Harvey Keitel and Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction, Salma Hayek in From Dusk Till Dawn, and Kevin Spacey in Seven.

However, while all these are worthy of the “small roles…big performances” tag – particularly the sultry, sexy dance of Hayek as she transforms from Showgirl to Vampire seductress in Robert Rodriguez’s half gangster, half horror movie From Dust Till Dawn – there was one role that stood out above all others.

This role appeared in a film released in the early 1980s. A number of directors took part in its production, filming their own segments in a plot spuriously held together by episodic chapter stops. The actor appears at the beginning of the film – he’s the passenger of a car as it travels along a desolate road late at night. The driver and the man sing to the tune of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s cover of Midnight Special, which plays from the car’s cassette recorder.

Can you guess the role and the actor yet?

After the song finishes the driver teases the passenger by switching off the car’s headlights, saying he likes to play this scary game. The passenger is clearly uncomfortable and the driver switches the bulbs back on. To lighten the mood the pair begin playing a Name The Tune game with television theme songs but the conversation quickly returns to scary pop culture. The passenger asks the driver if he’d like to see something really scary. The driver, intrigued, pulls the car over and listens intently.

The passenger turns away from the driver so that he can only see the back of his head. Suddenly, the passenger reveals himself to be a deformed, bloodthirsty demon, snarling at the driver with fangs laid bare and demonic eyes. He attacks the helpless victim as the camera cuts away to the theme tune of The Twilight Zone and the familiar tones of narrator Burgess Meredith as he says:

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… The Twilight Zone.”

The “small role…big performance” I’m highlighting is one of Dan Aykroyd’s finest cameos as the demonic passenger in Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Written by Daniel Stephens

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.
  1. Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, Daniel and company:

    Very good choice with Dan Aykroyd in ‘Twilight Zone: The Movie’!

    The ambulance passenger should have been leery when Aykroyd smiled and asked, “You wanna see something really scary?”

  2. ruth Reply

    I haven’t seen this one but knowing Aykroyd I’m sure he was as splendid as you mentioned here Dan. Great pick and thanks so much for taking part!

  3. mark Reply

    A possible top 10:

    (1) Chris Walken in Pennies From Heaven (a bunch of people didn’t realise he could dance until the Fatboy Slim video a few years back);

    (2) Bob De Niro in Brazil (he was the key to the film – both in the initial name confusion, and then at the end when he became the start of the dream sequence);

    (3) Gene Hackman in either Young Frankenstein (preferred) or Reds (great actor);

    (4) Val Kilmer in True Romance (really needs no explanation – he was, afterall, Elvis);

    (5) Guy Pearce in The Hurt Locker (nice little cameo at the start);

    (6) Emilio Esteves in Mission Impossible (his early death is kind of tragic);

    (7) The Three Stooges in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (only lasted two or so seconds, but my God it was a funny moment);

    (8) Jack Lemmon in JFK (he summed up the whole film with his dialogue at the racetrack … Jim Garrison really didn’t know what he was chasing – even the mafia were probably happy that he was creating a smokescreen by persecuting Clay Shaw);

    (9) Walter Matthau (under his extended original surname) in Earthquake (Goodness knows the film needed a bit of comic relief);

    (10) James Woods in Chaplin (Jimmy photographed by Nykvist – who could complain?).

  4. Dan Reply

    @Mark: good choices…a couple I did think of for my own contribution, namely Val Kilmer as Elvis in True Romance and De Niro in Brazil.

  5. Evan Crean Reply

    Dusk Til Dawn’s Salma Hayek and Pulp Fiction Tarantino cameo are amazing. Been a long time since I’ve seen the “Twilight Zone Movie” so sadly I don’t remember this Akroyd cameo so much. Agreed with @mark on Val Kilmer in True Romance, so cool.

  6. Mark Walker Reply

    Haha! Excellent choice Dan. I didn’t see that one coming but very memorable indeed.

  7. Colin Biggs Reply

    Thanks for highlighting a performance that I had never come across.

  8. Fogs Reply

    Yeah, I remember that one Dan. LOL. I recognized it from the pic.

    Nice choice, that was a fun way to open that movie! Fits nicely with the theme, too, that role was certainly short but memorable! 😀

  9. Stephanie Reply

    I never saw that movie, but that face is priceless! 🙂

  10. Ron Reply

    Donnie Wahlberg – The Sixth Sense!

  11. Raghav Reply

    Kilmer in True Romance was brilliant and so was Donnie Wahlberg in Sixth Sense as Ron pointed out.

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