When directors act: Werner Herzog and Quentin Tarantino take to the screen

Werner Herzog, Quentin Tarantino (Getty Images)

'Tis the season for filmmakers to appear in front of the camera for a change.

Over the holidays, two very high profile directors will be stepping out from behind the lens to test their acting mettle: eccentric auteur and documentarian Werner Herzog (in Tom Cruise's "Jack Reacher") and cinematic troublemaker Quentin Tarantino (in his own "Django Unchained"). Both Herzog and Tarantino have acted in movies before, but audiences have likely never seen them quite like this.

German art house director Herzog is perhaps best known of this side of the pond for acclaimed documentaries like "Grizzly Man" and "Encounters at the End of the World," and feature film oddities like the harrowing war drama "Rescue Dawn" starring Christian Bale and the outright bizarre cop story "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" starring, of course, Nicolas Cage. The filmmaker has also acted in the past (boasting about 17 acting credits in all), although most of his recent work has been lending his famously droll voice to animated TV shows. That makes his villainous turn in "Jack Reacher" all the more surprising.

The crime thriller sees Tom Cruise's titular hero investigating a string of seemingly random killings, an investigation that eventually brings him face to face with the Zec (Herzog), a mysterious Russian mobster pulling the strings from behind the scenes.  The trailers for the film have showcased Reacher's fighting prowess, but something tells us that with the famously philosophical Herzog as the big bad in the movie, the final confrontation may be more a battle of wits than fists.

The other filmmaker returning to the big screen this holiday is Quentin Tarantino. Unlike Herzog, who fell into directing first, Tarantino actually started off his career in Hollywood as an actor — though his most notable appearance prior to hitting it big appears to have been a brief stint as an Elvis impersonator on an episode of "The Golden Girls."

See also: Quentin Tarantino dishes to Yahoo! Movies Canada about 'Django Unchained'

While Tarantino's role in the upcoming revenge Western "Django Unchained" isn't quite as significant as it has been in his other films (most notably as the ill-fated Mr. Brown in "Reservoir Dogs" and the hilariously off-colour Jimmie in "Pulp Fiction"), the director does get a few moments to shine in the movie. Sporting one of the worst faux-down under accents in the history of cinema, Tarantino's brief appearance in "Django" is marked by a very memorable exit.

Herzog and Tarantino aren't the only filmmakers who've dabbled in acting. Though most directors limit themselves to Alfred Hitchcock style cameos in their own films at most, some have spread their acting wings and appeared in supporting roles in movies made by themselves or others.

Eli Roth, M. Night Shyamalan (Getty Images)

Tarantino pal director Eli Roth ("Hostel") has made a habit of showing up in his own movies (like "Cabin Fever" and the "Hostel" movies), but he's also figured heavily into the proceedings of the former director's previous two films, playing a horny bar patron in "Death Proof" (alongside Tarantino's bartender) and as the Hitler-killing Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz in "Inglourious Basterds."

See also: 'Jack Reacher' premiere cancelled out of respect for Newton massacre victims

Other directors who have made the jump to acting in their own films include Martin Scorsese, whose disturbing bit part in "Taxi Driver" helps send the already unstable Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) on his way, comic director Mel Brooks ("Blazing Saddles," "Space Balls,") who has appeared in some form (sometimes as multiple characters) in almost every movie he's ever made, Sydney Pollack ("Tootsie," "The Firm") who played a large supporting role in Stanley Kubrick's last film "Eyes Wide Shut," M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense," "The Happening"), who shows up in his own films whether audiences want him to or not, and Roman Polanski ("Rosemary's Baby," "Carnage"), who made a brief and violent appearance in his own "Chinatown" and showed up in Brett Ratner's "Rush Hour 3," for some reason.

These director-actors may not work quite as much as their actor-director counterparts (the Mel Gibsons and George Clooneys of the world), but the fact that they only occasionally act on film makes their on-screen appearances all the more memorable.