It’s perhaps not surprising that a renowned fictional detective like Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc has a circle of famous friends he plays murder mystery games with. But who director Rian Johnson was able to secure as part of the famed sleuth’s inner (gaming) circle for his Knives Out follow-up was a shock to even him.
The Glass Onion director recently revealed how he scored two of the movie’s most notable cameos — late and greats Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury — while speaking to The New York Times. Serving as tributes to two of Johnson’s favorite artists, the cameos were filmed during the movie’s editing process and are featured alongside cameos from Natasha Lyonne and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In the scene, Blanc sits in a bathtub as he plays the 2018 online multiplayer social deduction game Among Us, which grew in popularity during the pandemic as people were confined to their homes due to lockdowns. As he plays, he communicates with his inner circle, including Sondheim and Lansbury, over video through a Zoom-like platform.
Johnson said he filmed Lansbury’s cameo at her L.A. home, with the Glass Onion director adding that the Murder, She Wrote star was perfect for the scene and “couldn’t have been lovelier and more generous.” He also revealed she didn’t quite understand the mechanics of Among Us, adding that the legendary performer was “not a gamer.”
“She was very patient in letting me describe the rules of Among Us, up to a point. At which point she just said, ‘You know what? Just tell me what the lines are. I’ll trust you,’” Johnson recalled.
The cameo for Lansbury, who died in October at 96, was ultimately secured after Sondheim’s, a direct result of the Broadway wordsmith’s existing relationship with the actress, who had appeared in his original Broadway staging of Sweeney Todd. “I mentioned to him that we were trying to get Angela Lansbury,” Johnson said. “And he said, ‘Oh, Angie — I’m friends with her. Tell her I’m doing it. She’ll do it.’”
Sondheim, who died at the age of 91 in December 2021, had his appearance recorded via Zoom call. Johnson and his producing partner Ram Bergman were “working every connection they had,” according to the Times, to reach him. “I wasn’t really sure how to get to him. But then I was on a call with Bryan Lourd, our agent, and it somehow came up,” Bergman recalled. “I said, ‘We really would love Stephen to do this.’ And I swear, five minutes later, he emailed me: he’s going to do it.”
“Rian was in heaven, and I was in heaven because I knew how much he meant for Rian,” Bergman added.
Both industry legends are artists the Glass Onion director says he loved and respected, with Johnson expressing sadness over their passing ahead of the film’s release. “It’s sad because as a fan, I wish they were still around and making stuff,” he told the Times. “I hope they would have enjoyed the little scene and gotten a laugh out of it.”
As for Johnson, the experience was not just an incredible moment to fawn over and celebrate two artists who influenced his work, but one he said taught him a lesson about cherishing time with fellow creatives. “One thing I’ve learned is that every moment you get with somebody that you respect, savor that time and put yourself in that situation as often as possible.”