The Untold Truth Of Christopher Guest

Long known for his iconic role in "This is Spinal Tap," Christopher Guest is one of the funniest men in show business. His filmography is incredibly extensive, and it includes such cult comedies as "A Mighty Wind," "Waiting for Guffman," and "The Princess Bride" (via IMDb). Guest started his career in acting in the mid-1970s, and his television highlights include appearances on "Laverne & Shirley," "The Simpsons," and "SpongeBob SquarePants."

He was born on February 4, 1948, in New York City, and in addition to being an actor, he is also a critically acclaimed director. Recently, he signed on with the rest of the original "Spinal Tap" cast to make the long awaited sequel to the mockumentary, which is set to be released in early 2024 (via Deadline).

Entering his fifth decade in show business, Guest has continued to add to his already substantial body of work, most recently directing a documentary about famous folk singer Loudon Wainwright III in 2018 (per Rotten Tomatoes). More intriguing than the six-fingered man, this is the untold truth of Christopher Guest.

He's married to a famous actor

In 1984, Christopher Guest was a young actor fresh off the success of the recently released film "This is Spinal Tap." That spring, the cast was profiled in an article for Rolling Stone magazine, which happened to catch the eye of Jamie Lee Curtis (via She was just 25 years old at the time (Guest was 36), and had risen to fame through her starring role in the "Halloween" horror film series released a few years earlier. Curtis gave her agent instructions to give Guest her phone number, but she didn't hear back from him for months. After a chance meeting that summer, Guest finally gave her a call, and they immediately started dating.

Within months, they were in love, Curtis shared in an essay for O, The Oprah Magazine in 2004 (via TODAY), and they kept the relationship going even when Guest went to New York City to film a season of "Saturday Night Live." They got married on December 18, 1984, just over five months after their first date. They are well into their third decade of marriage today, and they are still deeply in love.

In a 2021 interview with People magazine, Curtis talked about how strong their relationship was and how calming Guest's presence was for her. She frequently shares tributes on her personal Instagram, and the couple looks poised to add a fourth decade to their already long-lasting marriage.

Many of his movies don't have a script

While Christopher Guest and the cast of "Spinal Tap" are famous for their improvisation skills, it is still pretty surprising to learn that none of the films Guest directs have a script. According to John Kenneth Muir in "Best in Show: The Films of Christopher Guest and Company," the dialogue in all his movies is completely improvised. When he starred in "This is Spinal Tap," which was directed by Rob Reiner, all that was written down beforehand was a four-page outline and no script (per CBS). Yet, they still had over seven hours of film to work from, the fruits of their improvisational genius. Guest continued in the same style as Reiner when he started to direct his own movies and thus has never had a need for an actual script.

Guest innately trusts all his performers, and as evidenced by many of his films' cult-like success, they do a more-than-adequate job of proving him correct. Frequent Guest collaborator, Michael Hitchcock, noted how unique Guest is within Hollywood. He pointed out that "very few studios would give somebody several million dollars without a script," and praised studios like Castle Rock for being willing to take the risk. Needless to say, Guest has more than repaid their faith in him by producing countless high-quality films.

He's served in the British Parliament

Since both Christopher Guest and his wife Jamie Lee Curtis were born in America, it might be a bit shocking to learn they both have British peerage. Yet, they do; they're the Lord and Lady Haden-Guest, and are barons in the British peerage system (per The Guardian). They inherited the titles upon the death of Guest's father in 1996, and for a few years, he briefly held a seat in the House of Lords — one of the houses of the British Parliament. When recalling his first day to The Guardian, Guest claimed, "I walked in and got lost immediately," and one of the men who worked there sarcastically asked "my Lord" if he needed a compass to help him find where he was going.

His wife refers to the time as "the lord thing," and Guest dutifully served for two years until the laws changed in 1999, and hereditary peers, like himself, all lost their seats. In a 2016 interview, again with The Guardian, Guest looked back on his time in the British Parliament fondly and mentioned how much he enjoyed working with his colleagues. He referred to them as "regular people" and not a caricature of "of old men with ear trumpets." He also expressed some apprehension with regard to his nobility, reflecting on an uncomfortable experience he had with an English waiter who was intimidated by his title.

He has an MFA degree and an honorary doctorate

Not only is Christopher Guest an incredible actor and director, but he has the academic credentials to back up his work, too. Growing up in New York City, he attended the prestigious former High School of Music and Art, before eventually getting good enough at music and acting to audition for New York University's Tisch School of the Arts (per The New York Times). He later called his audition "unbelievably stupid" and chided his "arrogance" at the time, and he ended up instead attending Bard College for the year. He eventually made it to Tisch, where he met later "Spinal Tap" co-star Michael McKean. He graduated from Tisch with an MFA, and he met several other actors who would eventually star in his movies, like Fred Willard and Paul Benedict.

In 2008, after many years of making hit films and documentaries, Berklee College of Music gave him an honorary doctorate degree. As part of the ceremony, he held a couple of workshops and played some of his music for a large crowd of people. The event was held at the Berklee Performance Center, and the concert featured scenes from his movies shown on-screen, which he then transitioned into live renditions partway through.

He uses a regular cast of characters in many of his films

You may have heard of the Rat Pack, or if you are younger the Brat Pack or maybe even the Frat Pack, but what about the Guest Pack? While not quite their formal title, Christopher Guest's films often feature a similar and revolving cast of actors. According to John Kenneth Muir's "Best in Show," the regular crew includes such performers as Ed Begley Jr., Jennifer Coolidge, Michael McKean, Catherine O'Hara, and Parker Posey. The group has all worked with each on several films that Guest has directed, which comes in handy considering that almost all of their dialogue is improvised, and they need to play off each other to get the best results.

Guest's longtime writing partner is the famous actor/writer Eugene Levy, and the two collaborated together to write "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show," and "A Mighty Wind" (via The A.V. Club). They also both appeared in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," but as actors and not as co-writers.

His connection to Arlo Guthrie and folk music

Christopher Guest is mainly known for his contributions to the world of film and television, but he's also an accomplished musician. His playing days go back even before his appearance in "Spinal Tap," and he was playing professionally when he was a young man in the mid-1960s (via The Guardian). He even played in a band with Arlo Guthrie, the famous folk musician and son of acclaimed folkie Woody Guthrie. They only played traditional-style bluegrass tunes, eschewing the commercialized junk that was flooding the airwaves at the time. Their repertoire consisted mainly of traditional American folk songs, which they considered the only true and authentic style of bluegrass.

He claimed most of the groups in the bluegrass scene at that time were "terrible snobs," and they were "snooty" toward each other and not very supportive. In addition to Guthrie, Guest is also close friends with Loudon Wainwright III, a folk legend in his own right. In 2018, Guest even directed a documentary about Wainwright, "Loudon Wainwright III: Surviving Twin."

The Beyman Bros

While his college band with Arlo Guthrie might not have worked out long-term, that didn't stop Christopher Guest from continuing to play music. In addition to playing his own guitar parts in "This is Spinal Tap," he played all of his own parts in "A Mighty Wind" (picture above) as well (via NPR). Currently, Guest even has his own band, known as The Beyman Bros. They released one album, "Memories of Summer as a Child" in 2009, and the group features Guest on guitar, mandolin, mandolin cello, and clarinet. The other members are David Nichtern, who plays guitar and composes, as well as CJ Vanston, who plays keyboards in addition to holding producing and composing duties (via The Beyman Bros).

The band is completely serious, unlike most of Guest's movie endeavors, and the trio has been friends since childhood. They've been playing together since they were teenagers, though it was difficult at times because of the distance between them after Guest moved to California. They describe their music as "a feast of textures and colors, utilizing unusual combinations of acoustic and electric string instruments." Their official website features videos of them performing numerous songs and also has updates about the band — though they have been inactive for a while.

He's a former 'Weekend Update' anchor

When "Spinal Tap" was released in 1984, Christopher Guest and the entire main cast became huge stars almost overnight. The movie was featured on many best-of lists at the end of the year, and it led to Guest and co-star Harry Shearer getting roles as "not ready for primetime players" on "Saturday Night Live," according to the book "Best in Show". They also worked with Martin Short and Billy Crystal during their "SNL" season from 1984-1985, and it gave Guest some of his first directing experience. The other member of th iconic "Spinal Tap" trio, Michael McKean, even joined Guest and Shearer to reprise their roles as bandmates for a sketch.

One of his biggest successes was a hilarious bit about a group of male synchronized swimmers. The short film featured Guest, Short, and Shearer, and parodied the choreography behind synchronized swimming. Guest was also a "Weekend Update" anchor during his time on the show, and in one particularly memorable sketch, he interviewed a slimy lawyer for the Tobacco Growers of America — played by Short (pictured above). However, Guest often drew the ire of some of his co-workers. One of the writers, Elliot Ward, referred to him as "an emotional desert." In an interview with Seattle Weekly, Guest expressed mild disdain for his time on the series, and he left after just one season.

He grew up in both America and England

Though he was born in America, many of the characters Christopher Guest plays are of English descent, and he has one of the best British accents of any American actor. Part of the reason his accent is so good is that he spent much of his childhood growing up in the United Kingdom. According to Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Guest's dad was an editorial director at the United Nations in England, and his mother was an executive at the American-based CBS — so he grew up spending time in both countries. Guest can jump in and out of his British accent at will, sometimes catching his friends, or interviewers, off-guard for a moment.

In a 2004 interview, he talked about some of the benefits of growing up in both places. While he spent most of his time as a kid in America and made a lot of friends there, he also developed "a very English sense of humor" from his time abroad. He also has dual citizenship, for both the U.S. and Britain, though he spends most of his time in the states (via The Guardian).

He starred in a stage show with Chevy Chase and John Belushi

When he was just getting his start writing comedy, Christopher Guest worked for National Lampoon Magazine, according to author John Kenneth Muir. Guest worked under Tony Hendra in the early 1970s, and Hendra would later play the role of band manager in "This Is Spinal Tap." In one of Guest's earliest performances with National Lampoon, he appeared in the off-Broadway show "Lemmings." Along with Guest, young actors Chevy Chase, Stockard Channing, and John Belushi also appeared in the show.

The show itself was a parody of the famous Woodstock concert and was part musical and part comedy sketch. Guest wrote much of the music for the show, and it ran for roughly 350 performances. The name was somewhat of a play on the Rolling Stones concert film "Gimme Shelter," which captured the infamous Altamont festival.

In "Lemmings," Guest impersonated both Bob Dylan and James Taylor, and played such parodies as "Positively Wall Street" (instead of Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street"), and he changed the lyrics to "Carolina in My Mind" to reflect having a lobotomy. Guest was nominated for an Obie award for best musical score, and he worked with co-star Chase on the "The Chevy Chase Special" a few years later. The New York Times called Guest "an extremely deft verbal and visual mimic," though it noted the uneven nature of the show.

He's appeared in some of the most famous movies of all time

Many fans know Christopher Guest for his smaller-budget mockumentaries and comedy films, and it might come as a surprise to learn that he has had roles in some of the biggest movies in American history. In addition to his famous work in "This is Spinal Tap," he also had roles in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," "Little Shop of Horrors," and "A Few Good Men" (per Rotten Tomatoes).

His role in "A Few Good Men" is relatively small, but it is by far the highest grossing film he has been a part of. In the film, he plays Commander Stone, a "granite faced" doctor who appeared in just one scene, giving "testimony about poisons and coronaries" — quite a departure from his usual comedic persona, noted John Kenneth Muir in "Best in Show." The all-star cast of "A Few Good Men" also included Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Keifer Sutherland, and Kevin Bacon. His roles in "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Night at the Museum" are also relatively small, but his powerful acting brings an outsized presence to the screen.

Guest has said he's somewhat uncomfortable with the fame that's associated with being such a well-known actor, expressing distaste and a measure of uncomfortableness on being recognized in public (via The New York Times).

He has two adopted children

Christopher Guest and his wife Jamie Lee Curtis are known for being private about their personal lives, so many fans might not know that they actually have two adopted children, Annie and Ruby (per The New York Times). They often travel together as a family, as both Curtis and Guest love to see the world and vacation. In 2020, Ruby came out as transgender to her parents, which she felt comfortable doing because "they had been so accepting of me my entire life," she told People.

According to The Daily Mail, the couple decided on adoption after struggling with infertility for years. They adopted Annie in 1986 and Ruby in 1995. Curtis even wrote a book in 1996, "Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born," which attempted to help start the conversation on normalizing sharing birth stories with adopted children. 

Unfortunately for the family, Guest's relationship with his father-in-law, famous singer Tony Curtis, was strained because of an incident between the actor and Guest's daughter Annie. According to Curtis via the Times, Tony "behaved badly once" on her ninth birthday, and they stopped speaking. Guest is incredibly close with both of his children, and when he used to play with Ruby, the two would create "amalgams of characters from video and computer games," and Guest would do all of the character's voices.

He writes letters to actors he cuts out of his movies

Sentimentality is not one of the characteristics you might immediately associate with Christopher Guest, but his actions have shown him to be an incredibly caring and thoughtful individual. As his wife Jamie Lee Curtis shared with The New York Times, Guest reaches out to all the actors that end up getting cut from his movies. He writes them handwritten letters, no matter how small their part is, to let them know how much he cares about them as professionals. Many bigwig directors might be tempted to ignore the actors who only play small roles or bit parts in their films, but Guest goes out of his way to make sure they know they are valued.

Martin Shafer, the CEO of the company that produces Guest's films, called him "the opposite of egotistical," and noted how much he loved working with him. He called him an "economic filmmaker" who was great at staying on budget and said that even though Guest has total creative control, "he never abuses that" (per the Times).