SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses an unannounced cameo in the film “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” which is currently playing in theaters.
For “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” writer-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley pulled from the expansive trove of creatures and lore created over the 50-year history of the Dungeons & Dragons role playing game. There are paladins and sorcerers, red wizards and owlbears, bards and barbarians — all of them written by Goldstein and Daley and performed by Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Hugh Grant, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis and Daisy Head with the same good-natured pluck that has imbued the countless campaigns waged by the game’s players.
Throughout the film, the roguish bard, Edgin (Pine), talks with the gruff warrior, Holga (Rodriguez), about Holga’s ex, Mariamin, for whom she’s still harboring feelings. At one point in the characters’ journey, Holga decides to stop by the village where she and Mariamin used to live to see him again.
When he comes to the door, the audience realizes two things: One, he’s a halfling, a D&D race that look like full-grown humans but stand roughly three feet tall; and two, he’s played by Bradley Cooper.
What follows is a tender scene between Holga and Mariamin in which they sit inside Mariamin’s cottage and discuss their failed relationship, as Goldstein and Daley make the most of the visual juxtaposition of Rodriguez’s sturdy warrior sitting opposite a diminutive Cooper, one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
In their interview with Variety about the making of the movie, Goldstein and Daley explain how Daley’s previous career as an actor in shows like “Freaks and Geeks” and “Bones” played a major role both in convincing Cooper to do the role, and in how Cooper filmed it.
So how did you get Bradley Cooper to sign on to play Mariamin?
John Francis Daley: I did a show [in 2005] called “Kitchen Confidential” with Bradley that only lasted 13 episodes. We had so much fun on that show because the stakes were so low. We all kind of assumed that we were going to be canceled. And, you know, he became a massive, prolific, incredible movie star-slash-filmmaker.
We had thought about a really fun cameo for this part. It was sent to his agent, but I sent him a letter saying like, “It’d be fun to play again.” I got a text from him from a number I didn’t recognize saying, “Yo, is this still John?” And I said, “Who’s this?” Because I’ve gotten weird texts before from strangers. He said, “BC from KC.” I’m like, “What?” “‘Kitchen Confidential!’” I’m like, “Oh, shit!” I immediately called him. He had just seen the film. He called it a triumph, which almost made me cry, because it had been a real long process working on this thing. And he was like, “I’m on board. Sign me up.”
So you had already shot everything with Michelle Rodriguez?
Daley: We’d shot everything. I read the Michelle part with him.
Jonathan Goldstein: I think because we were shrinking him down to be a halfling, three-foot tall man, it was easy enough to recreate, do the blue screens behind him.
Daley: So we rebuilt the chair, which was massive. Then I acclimated myself to Holga’s performance. We didn’t want to change too many takes on her side, because we’re really happy with how she played it. But we also wanted there to be some chemistry and rapport between them. And so it was Bradley’s idea that I’d read with him for old times sake. So that’s what I did.
Was there an actor in that part before?
Daley: It was a really tricky situation, getting that part. We always wanted it to be not just recognizable, but someone that would bring the gravitas that we wanted to that role.
Goldstein: Also the shock of like, “Oh my god, that’s a movie star and he’s three feet tall,” you know?
Daley: But then the reality sunk in. We were in COVID, shooting under strict lockdown, especially in the U.K. And so all of the actors that we wanted to bring out, we would have had to quarantine for 10 days.
Goldstein: For a one day shoot.
Daley: So no one wanted to. It was really hard. There was a filmmaker that was a friend of the court at Paramount, who had been an actor as well and was down to do it.
Would you say who that was?
Daley: For his sake, no. He was great.
Goldstein: He did so well.
Daley: I don’t want to embarrass him. He gave an amazing performance. He was really good and nuanced. But there was always, in the back of our mind, this lingering desire to bring in that sort of dream casting.
Goldstein: Had it not been for COVID, we would have done that in the first place.
This interview has been edited and condensed.