Gravel-voiced, versatile singer/songwriter Tom Waits has composed and played music in a variety of films, ranging from Francis Ford Coppola's One From the Heart (1982) to Jean-Luc Godard's First Name: Carmen (1983). On or off camera, Waits has been a colorful, quirky character noted for his surreal humor. Many of his songs reflect his interest in movies with either direct references or sly musical suggestions. During the late '70s, he became more directly involved in film, composing songs and even playing piano onscreen in Paradise Alley (1978). In the early '80s, Waits teamed up with Coppola, first with the Greek choir-like narration for One From the Heart and then as an actor in several of his films. At first, Waits had a one-line role as Buck Merrill in The Outsiders (1983). Coppola next gave Waits a bigger part as Benny in Rumble Fish (1983), and then dressed the rangy singer in a tuxedo and cast him as the MC in The Cotton Club (1984).
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Although he has often been offered the roles of nutcases and psychos in commercial films, Waits has preferred to work in independent productions such as Down by Law (1986). He entered mainstream film with 1987's offbeat drama Ironweed, and played himself in the concert film Big Time (1988), in which he performed his stage musical Frank's Wild Years and played the roles of a bored box-office manager, usher, and lighting grip. Waits also appeared in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). He continued to make acting a regular element of his career throughout the 90s and 2000s with supporting roles in films like 12 Monkeys (1995) and Mystery Men (1999), and playing himself in a vignette featuring fellow musician Iggy Pop in Jim Jarmuche's Coffee and Cigarettes (2003). Waits then went on to appear in the movie Domino (2005), which he also provided music for, and Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi