Dave Karger
March 08, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

Thank Robert Altman, if thanks are in order. Ever since his Tanner ’88 made hay by weaving real politicians into its scripts — and half the fun of The Player proved to be the stars who were acting as if they weren’t acting — filmmakers have run with the cameo concept, and in every possible direction. Where a cameo once meant a pivotal turn by a respected actor (think Sir Alec Guinness in Star Wars), the term now embraces all manner of showy or secret casting coups, as this survey of current and coming distractions illustrates.

The benefits go both ways, to the auteur who lands the star and to the actor who’s important enough to matter. Spike Lee hooked up with Madonna (cast as a strip-club owner), Homicide‘s Richard Belzer, and Lee veteran John Turturro for Girl 6, his phone sexcapade due March 22. The cooler the walk-on, the more likely it’s unbilled (as in ”That’s Wesley Snipes with Angela Bassett in Waiting to Exhale!”).

They’re rarely adept actors even when playing themselves, yet celebs from all walks get film work. Yes, that was Spiderman creator Stan Lee in Mallrats. Yes, that’s golf great Lee Trevino lurking in Happy Gilmore. The Price Is Right‘s Bob Barker says he read Gilmore‘s script, which has him punch out Adam Sandler, and thought, ”I can’t miss this opportunity.” Ed Koch plays his TV commentator self in City Hall, while Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) plays a senator. Afghan Whigs‘ Greg Dulli sings in Beautiful Girls. And Quentin Tarantino is kinda convincing as an obnoxious director in Girl 6. Of course, he is an actor.

Director Mike Figgis not only composed and performed music for Leaving Las Vegas, he also wrote fleeting parts for musicians Julian Lennon (a bartender) and Lou Rawls (a cabbie). Supermodel Naomi Campbell puts a slim toe into acting in Girl 6. Coming as a prosecutor in Oliver Stone’s production of The People vs. Larry Flynt is political consultant James Carville.

From Dusk Till Dawn features such cult faves as blaxploitation star Fred Williamson and 1990’s Night of the Living Dead director Tom Savini, who’s also a horror-makeup meister. Those in the know will notice that director Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces) gets a scene with Nicolas Cage at a mall in Las Vegas, and that Figgis, à la Hitchcock, appears in a wordless role. Even novice screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, who snuck into his current films, Beautiful Girls and Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, knew enough about being an insider to skip writing himself any memorable lines.

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