Michael Stuhlbarg and the art of the Oscar-worthy cameo

Sunday, March 11, 2018 - 6:28pm

Michael Stuhlbarg in "Call Me By Your Name"

Michael Stuhlbarg in "Call Me By Your Name" Buy this photo
Sony Pictures Classic

Remember the name Michael Stuhlbarg. Since starring as Larry Gopnik in the Coen Brothers’s 2009 Best Picture nominee, “A Serious Man,” Stuhlbarg has made more of a face than a name for himself. He is the guy that people can point to as looking vaguely familiar, but that’s the extent of it. Since starring as an intellectual, neurotic Jew in the Coen brothers’ drama, Stuhlbarg has been type-cast as a character actor with a knack for filling the archetype of the intellectual, neurotic Jew. He is great actor who exemplifies what my high school theatre teacher constantly reminded me: There are no small roles, only small actors. Stuhlbarg certainly proves that no role is too small. He moved viewers (including Frank Ocean) as Professor Perlman in the Oscar-winning film “Call Me by Your Name,” with his emotional and expertly delivered monologue. In a way, Michael Stuhlbarg is to Oscar-bait movies as Judy Greer (“13 Going on 30”) is to rom-coms: Essential, familiar and under-utilized. 

Yet, in the nine short years since Stuhlbarg has entered Hollywood’s pearly white gates, he has been in seven Best Picture nominees. I mean, wow.  The actor is the second person to have appeared in three Best Picture nominees of the same year. The first to do so was John C. Reilly (“Kong: Skull Island”) who appeared in three out of the five 2003 Best Picture nominees: “Chicago,” “Gangs of New York” and “The Hours” (all three were produced by Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax). Reilly was nominated for his supporting role in “Chicago,” which won Best Picture in 2003. Stuhlbarg appeared in 2018’s Best Picture winner, “The Shape of Water,” as a Soviet spy, brought audiences to tears in “Call Me by Your Name” and made a minor but crucial appearance in “The Post” as New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal. 

However, Stuhlbarg is not the only actor this year to make appearances in several Oscar-nominated films. His on-screen son, Timothée Chalamet, starred in two Best Picture nominees (“Lady Bird” and “Call Me by Your Name”), putting his beautiful face on the map. Chalamet’s co-star in “Lady Bird,” Lucas Hedges, played Frances McDormand’s son in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Hedges’s fellow ginger in “Three Billboards,” Red, played by Caleb Landry Jones, also starred in multiple nominated films. Before he got the shit kicked out of him in Best Picture nominee “Three Billboards” by Sam Rockwell, he got the shit kicked out him in Best Picture nominee “Get Out” by Daniel Kaluuya (not to mention a brief appearance alongside Willem Defoe in the colossal Oscar snub, “The Florida Project”). Bradley Whitford and Tracy Letts both appeared in “The Post” in addition to their fatherly performances in “Get Out” and “Lady Bird,” respectively. Alison Brie and Bob Odenkirk also had starring roles in “The Post,” in addition to their minor roles in Best Adapted Screenplay nominee “The Disaster Artist.” Lily James starred in Best Picture nominee “Darkest Hour,” as well as the fast-paced, action-packed Edgar Wright film “Baby Driver,” which was nominated for Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. 

Hollywood is not afraid to reduce, reuse and recycle actors when it comes to awards season. Perhaps the good actors in Hollywood today are too few to spread the wealth or maybe these guys just have really good agents. Regardless, Michael Stuhlbarg is but one Kevin Bacon in the massive web of degrees of separation that is Hollywood. Therefore, the art of the cameo is no longer reserved for the Hitchcock’s and the Stan Lee’s of the world, actors can cameo as well. So, keep your eyes peeled for the new star of cinema, the supporting, supporting role; the cameo.