For some actors the role of a lifetime is . . . becoming a real-life director. The actor-turned-director is a fascinating Hollywood sub-species, of whom only a select few have been particularly successful. In some cases, their directing work has equaled or even surpassed their acting careers. With Ben Affleck’s much-anticipated Argo (in which the actor-director also stars as real-life CIA officer Tony Mendez), hitting theaters October 12, we thought it’d be a perfect time to take a look at some of the most notable actors-turned-directors working today.
After acting in a couple of high profile bombs (Gigli; Jersey Girl; Surviving Christmas), Ben Affleck perhaps thought he should look into another career. Who’d have imagined he’d find his true calling as a director? Though Affleck has, thus far, only made three features, he’s already proven himself a moviemaking force to be reckoned with. Having grown up in the Boston area, Affleck has shown a knack for depicting the lives of lower-class Boston residents in both of his authentically gritty crime films, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. With his latest film, the espionage thriller Argo, receiving fantastic reviews and early Oscar buzz, Affleck’s stock as a director is sure to rise even higher.
As a bona fide movie star, George Clooney could probably coast on a career filled with undemanding parts in mediocre films. Clearly, that’s not on his agenda. Clooney is known for his social activism and humanitarian work, and his film choices display a laudable predilection for quirkier, edgier fare (The American; The Men Who Stare At Goats). With Steven Soderbergh, Clooney co-founded Section Eight Productions, which has produced Insomnia and Far from Heaven, among others. The four movies directed by Clooney thus far have been surprisingly eclectic: He followed the flashy, hyper-stylized Confessions of a Dangerous Mind with the restrained, black-and-white Good Night, and Good Luck. Although Clooney didn’t have much luck with his next film, the lackluster screwball comedy Leatherheads, his latest directorial effort, the political drama The Ides of March (starring a dynamite cast, including Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti), scored with both critics and audiences.
Will the man ever stop? (And no, we don’t mean talking to empty chairs.) Now over 80 years old, Eastwood is giving Woody Allen a run for his money as far as productivity is concerned. After returning to the big screen this year with Trouble with the Curve (he had supposedly “retired” from acting with 2008’s Gran Torino), Eastwood is busier than ever—directing, on average, a film a year for the past decade. He’s also managed to cover a variety of genres, from critically-acclaimed westerns (Best Picture Oscar winner Unforgiven) and sports dramas (Million Dollar Baby; Invictus) to World War II epics (Flags of Our Fathers; Letters from Iwo Jima) and thought-provoking mysteries (Hereafter; Changeling). While Eastwood will always be known as the action movie star of the 1960s and 1970s, with his tough, gruff performances in Sergio Leone westerns and the Dirty Harry movies, it’s his role as a dependable, versatile director that has truly landed him a place in moviemaking history.
Who’d have guessed that hapless, lovelorn Mike from Swingers would, over 15 years later, be one of the most successful big-budget moviemakers on the planet? After helming the hugely successful Christmas comedy Elf, which helped launch Will Ferrell to movie stardom, and the sci-fi kiddie adventure Zathura, Favreau seemed an unexpected choice to direct a big-screen adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Iron Man. As it turned out, Favreau proved to be surprisingly adept at mixing the wise-cracking antics of Robert Downey Jr. with explosive, CGI-laden special effects, leading to what many deem one of the best superhero movies ever made. Favreau also helmed the sequel, Iron Man 2, as well as the tepidly received sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens. Most recently, he directed the pilot episode of the hit NBC series, “Revolution” (which he also produces), and is currently attached to bringing the long-running Broadway musical, Jersey Boys, to the big screen. Despite his big-budget directing career, Favreau hasn’t left acting behind—witness his hilarious supporting turn in I Love You, Man.
Who would have thought that the super-cute tyke from the 60’s sitcom classic “The Andy Griffith Show” would become one of Hollywood’s most prolific moviemakers? After an acting career spanning over two decades (including a long-running role on another sitcom staple, “Happy Days”), Howard made the unexpected transition into feature directing, helming films in such diverse genres as comedy (Splash; Parenthood; The Dilemma), science fiction and fantasy (Cocoon; Willow) and action-thrillers (Backdraft; Ransom; The Da Vinci Code and its sequel, Angels & Demons). Perhaps most notably, Howard has shown a knack for dramatizing true-story material, helming such award-winning, real-life stories as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon. Howard’s latest film, the racing drama Rush (starring Chris Hemsworth and Olivia Wilde), is due out next year and is based on true events as well. Howard has also achieved much success through his production company Imagine Entertainment, which he co-founded with producer Brian Grazer, and which is responsible for the cult favorite TV series “Arrested Development” and the upcoming, highly-anticipated Lincoln. Thanks to his wide-ranging directing career, Howard has ensured no one will see him as merely “Opie Taylor” or “Richie Cunningham” again.
One of the most intense actors of his generation, Sean Penn has brought a similar volatile energy to the films he’s directed, which include The Indian Runner and The Pledge. Penn’s films are intense, performance-based dramas, brought to life by fantastic actors, including Jack Nicholson, Viggo Mortensen, David Morse, Catherine Keener and Penn’s former wife, Robin Wright. While most of Penn’s films haven’t made it far beyond the art-house circuit, 2007’s Into the Wild, based on the true story of a young man (played by Emile Hirsch) who decides to abandon his possessions and live in the Alaskan wilderness, became one of the most talked-about movies of the year, earning rave reviews and two Oscar nominations.
Redford was one of the first actors to make a successful transition from leading man to accomplished director. His directorial debut, the thoughtfully restrained Ordinary People, became a critical and commercial hit, earning four Oscar wins, including Best Picture and Best Director. Since then, Redford has shown a fondness for period pieces, helming such disparate but passionate films as A River Runs Through It, The Legend of Bagger Vance and the terminally underrated Quiz Show. Redford ‘s political streak has also shown through his work, as in Lions for Lambs, which takes aim at the U.S. government’s prosecution of the wars in the Middle East. Now in his fourth decade of directing, Redford has shown little signs of slowing down—he quickly followed up last year’s The Conspirator, about the conspiracy behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, with the political thriller The Company You Keep, which is currently on the festival circuit and marks Redford’s first acting role in five years.
Have a fave actor-director not included on the list? Let us know below!