How Did That ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ Surprise Cameo Happen? Thank a Failed 2005 Fox Sitcom

[Editor’s note: The following story contains spoilers for “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.”]

A good “Dungeons & Dragons” session always features some memorable NPCs (that’s a “non-playable character” for you newbies) and supporting characters for the central party to encounter. In the new film “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” our heroes come across plenty of allies and enemies, but none make quite as immediate an impression as Marlomen, the ex-lover of barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) who is played in an unexpected one-scene cameo by Mr. Jackson Maine himself: Bradley Cooper.

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The scene is a delightful surprise for many reasons, starting with the fact that Marlomen is a diminutive halfling, only reaching the ripped Holga’s belly button (the man clearly has a type; in the time since the two separated, he has shacked up with another barbarian woman). Then there’s a fact that he’s pretty clearly patterned off of the Hobbits from “Lord of the Rings,” living in a cottage that brings The Shire immediately to mind.

But, while there’s definitely a kick from seeing the future Leonard Bernstein take on an even more extreme transformation for a new film, Cooper’s performance is surprisingly touching, playing a sensitive, kind soul who is generous with his ex even as he explains all of the issues that caused their relationship to break in half.

For the film’s co-directors, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, Cooper was the perfect choice for this small but important part. “We always knew that we wanted Marlomen to be this larger than life figure,” Daley told IndieWire in a recent interview. “This incredible actor that’s got vulnerability and humor, but also this earnest dramaticism that I think only Bradley can bring to the role.”

“Honor Among Thieves” is the first film Daley and Cooper have worked on together, but the two met all the way back in 2005, on the set of Fox sitcom “Kitchen Confidential.”

At the time, Cooper was best known as a second-string cast member of ABC’s “Alias,” and was cast in the new series as an Anthony Bourdain stand-in (his character was literally named Jack Bourdain); the series was adapted from the real Bourdain’s 2000 nonfiction book exploring the world of fine dining. Daley, a few years removed from both his breakout role as a dorky ’80s kid in the beloved “Freaks and Geeks” and his eventual pivot to screenwriting with 2011’s “Horrible Bosses,” was only 19 when he joined the series, as Jack’s commis chef Jim.

John Francis Daley and Bradley Cooper with the rest of the “Kitchen Confidential” cast - Credit: ©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection
John Francis Daley and Bradley Cooper with the rest of the “Kitchen Confidential” cast - Credit: ©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Kitchen Confidential” was a short-lived failure; only four episodes of the series were released before Fox pulled the plug, cosigning the rest of the 13-episode season to DVD. But Daley and Cooper remained in touch and friendly after the show’s ending and their careers went on different trajectories; Daley teamed up with Goldstein to become a screenwriting team, and the two eventually made their directorial debut with 2015’s “Vacation.” Cooper became a household name after starring in 2009’s “The Hangover,” and after a string of Oscar-nominated performances, made his own directorial debut in 2018 via his much loved and much memed “A Star Is Born” remake.

“I was such a huge fan of where his career went,” Daley said. “And the fact that he went behind the camera and was directing himself, I had a great admiration for him.”

Before Daley and Goldstein called Cooper up to offer him the part, the two wanted to give the A-lister a taste of the project. So, as Daley describes it, they shot “essentially” the entire film besides the Marlomen scene, and screened a rough cut version with unfinished special effects for Cooper.

“It was still a work in progress and it’s always scary to show an actor something that you haven’t totally finished,” Daley said. “But he’s a filmmaker himself, so he’s going to understand the work in progress nature of it.”

Cooper spoke “highly” of what he saw, and was game to take the part. Filming for his scene took only a day, and then a bit of visual effects wizardry to shrink the 6 foot 1 star down to size.

“What was so great was being able to shrink him down,” Daley said. “See him in this very vulnerable position that you wouldn’t normally see in most of the movies he’s in.”

A Paramount Pictures release, “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is now in theaters.

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