Actors' directorial debuts

Actors' directorial debuts


Many celebrities have found success in front of the camera, but only a few have taken their knowledge to the director’s chair. That group now includes Halle Berry, who makes her directorial debut with the MMA film “Bruised,” in which she also stars: It debuts on Netflix on Nov. 24, 2021. While chatting with filmmaker Ava DuVernay during a “Bruised” Q&A, Halle spoke about the difficulties she had when she was initially looking for a director for the job. “All of the filmmakers that I spoke to, they didn’t see the story that I saw in my head, they couldn’t quite understand all the elements of this,” she explained. Thanks to the encouragement of her friend, producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Halle decided to direct the project herself. “It’s hard to say what will actually be in my future but I will say this. I know that women of colour have to keep telling their stories because we have a definitive point of view,” she said of staying in the director’s chair. “And for so long, our stories have been told by men or white men or even white women. And I think it’s really important that we continue to tell our own stories through our own lens and make them valuable… So for whether I’ll do it or not, I hope so. I hope I’ll be afforded another opportunity to get behind the camera and tell another story that I’m passionate about.”

Keep reading to see more stars who transitioned from in front of to behind the camera.

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Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart”

From “House” to “The Lazarus Effect,” Olivia Wilde has demonstrated her acting prowess on TV and in film. But in 2019, she took her skills behind the camera when she directed the coming-of-age comedy “Booksmart” starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. “I always wanted to make movies and be a part of the moviemaking process,” she told Variety. “I always assumed acting was the way in, because for many young women… they’re told, ‘You love movies — you should be a movie star.’ No one tells a little girl, ‘Why don’t you become a director?’ It’s just not a part of the conversation. But if a little boy says he loves movies, it’s like, ‘Maybe one day you’ll direct. Maybe you’ll be the next Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese.'” Olivia went on to win the 2020 Independent Spirit Award for best first feature. Her second directorial effort, “Don’t Worry Darling,” is out in 2022.

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Zach Braff’s “Garden State”

Back in 2004, Zach Braff directed and starred in “Garden State,” an indie rom-com that also featured Natalie Portman. It earned universal praise from critics and soon built a cult following. “I always wanted to direct movies. That’s what I set out to do. When I was a little kid I just dreamed of making movies, and I went to film school [at Northwestern University], and in a roundabout way I ended up on ‘Scrubs.’ But as soon as I could, my dream was to go back and direct,” Zach told Indiewire.

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Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born”

In 2018, another celebrated actor — Bradley Cooper — presented his work behind the camera to the world when “A Star is Born” hit theaters. “I always knew, god—-it, I’m gonna have to at some point put it out there, [a] directorial debut. And then I was like, when am I gonna have the guts to do it?” Bradley — who also starred in, co-wrote and produced the movie — mused to Entertainment Weekly. “And I also knew I could only direct something that I had a point of view about. And I always wanted to tell a love story. I thought, there’s nothing better for me cinematically to able to tell a love story, like a real love story, a broken love story.” “A Star is Born,” which also starred Lady Gaga, went on to earn Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for best picture.

Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone”

In 2007, Ben Affleck made his directorial debut with “Gone Baby Gone.” Initially, the actor wanted to star in it and not direct. But in time, he became interested. “I thought maybe I should direct it, and then I thought I can’t direct and act in it,” he explained to Collider. “So it just sort of shifted because I was terrified of acting and directing… the thought was completely daunting. The idea of directing, alone, was terrifying.” He’s since directed “The Town,” “Argo” and “Live by Night” too.

Elizabeth Banks’ “Pitch Perfect 2”

For the 2015 sequel to “Pitch Perfect,” Elizabeth Banks went from actress to actress-director. “It’s a very risky move for an actress to become a director. I could have ended my career,” she told ELLE of “Pitch Perfect 2.” “I’m so happy to have done it and be representative of the possibilities for other people. I’m really happy if I’m inspiring other women to take the reins or to take control in any way.” She went on to direct 2019’s “Charlie’s Angels” reboot.

Clint Eastwood’s “Play Misty for Me”

Clint Eastwood started his career as a director with the 1971 film “Play Misty for Me.” The move turned out to be a good one, as he’s been nominated for four Academy Awards for best director since, winning for “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby.” Having so much experience as an actor gave Clint perspective on how to make things better for the actors when he was in the director’s chair. “For me, it’s very important to have a comfortable and calm environment on set,” he wrote in “FilmCraft: Directing,” a compilation book by Mike Goodridge featuring the world’s biggest directors. “It’s important that the actors are submerging themselves into the character to the greatest degree and the best way to do that is to give them full confidence and ensure they don’t feel like they’re riding a ship that’s on the brink of disaster.” Clint most recently directed (and starred in) 2021’s “Cry Macho.”

Ben Stiller’s “Reality Bites”

Ben Stiller’s directorial debut was 1994’s “Reality Bites,” which starred Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder. Twenty years later, directing still remains a top priority for the actor, who has since helmed others films he also starred in like “Zoolander,” “Tropic Thunder” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” “Directing is the most important thing. It’s what I want to be able to do. I want to be able to direct different kinds of movies, different genres,” he told “I’d love to act in other people’s projects if the work is there. But for me directing is really the focus — directing movies.”

Jodie Foster’s “Little Man Tate”

Directing was very stressful for Jodie Foster, who made her debut with 1991’s “Little Man Tate.” “I quit [smoking] for many years, and then I started directing this movie. I get nervous,” she told The New York Times. She decided to get into directing after winning the Academy Award for best actress for her performance in 1989’s “The Accused.” “You have three options when you win an Oscar,” she explained to the Times. “You either go for a juicy performance piece and another nomination; you use it to make a big movie that makes millions of dollars and you get paid a lot of money; or you use it to get you into something that normally you wouldn’t have access to. So… I guess that’s what I did.”

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”

While Jordan Peele is now primarily known as a talented director in Hollywood, from 2012 to 2015, he starred on the Comedy Central sketch show “Key & Peele” alongside longtime collaborator Keegan-Michael Key. Releasing the social thriller flick “Get Out” in 2017, however, drastically changed his career. “I wanted to be Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Hitchcock,” Jordan told Deadline. “I’d wanted to be a director since 13, and horror and the suspense thriller were the most powerful genres to me. They always scared everything out of me, but it wasn’t until then that I got mature enough to mentally separate myself, and look at these films as powerful artistry.” It took Jordan eight years to complete the movie, from conceptualizing to writing to filming, a journey that has certainly paid off: He won the 2018 Academy Award for best original screenplay. In 2019, Jordan directed his second film, “Us.” His third feature film, “Nope,” is due in 2022.

George Clooney’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”

George Clooney began his foray into directing with 2002’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” in which he also starred. He went on to direct seven more (and a TV mini-series) including 2005’s “Good Night, and Good Luck,” for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. George has starred in all of the movies he’s directed with the exception of 2017’s “Suburbicon” and 2021’s “The Tender Bar.”

Denzel Washington’s “Antwone Fisher”

Denzel Washington gave directing a try with the 2002 movie “Antwone Fisher.” Since then he’s directed two other films, “The Great Debaters” in 2007 and “Fences” in 2016, in which he also starred. “Fences” was a critical favorite, with Denzel nominated for best actor and the film nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. Denzel’s next directorial effort, the drama “A Journal for Jordan” starring Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Williams, hits theaters on Dec. 25, 2021.

Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird”

2017’s critically acclaimed “Lady Bird” was the first movie Greta Gerwig wrote and directed. In creating the movie, she surprised herself by falling in love with directing. “It’s simultaneously something that’s in your control and utterly not in your control,” she explained to Variety. “And that paradox is very appealing to me. The illogical nature of making movies is appealing to me as well. It’s a reverse magic show. It’s so much time and weight and money and people and you’re taking all this stuff and you’re reducing it to flickering light, making it disappear into a dream. That feels satisfyingly strange.” 2019 marked the year in which the second film Greta directed, an adaptation of Louise May Alcott’s “Little Women,” hit theaters. The film went on to become a major success during the 2020 award show season, having earned six Academy Award nominations including best adapted screenplay.

Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People”

Robert Redford made his directorial debut in 1980 with the release of “Ordinary People.” The drama flick, which starred Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton, garnered critical acclaim and went on to win four Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. “I was producing things I was acting in, but I had never directed and I felt it was time. I was looking for a piece of material that was about behavior and feelings. When I read Judith Guest’s book, I thought, ‘This is it,'” Robert told Entertainment Weekly of the film.

John Krasinski’s “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”

In 2009, John Krasinski took a break from “The Office” to premiere the first movie he directed, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.” “I never had the directing bug,” he confessed to AMC. “I wasn’t trying to be a director or a writer. But the book is so good, and I wanted people to know about this world that they were missing.”

Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade”

Before releasing his critically acclaimed 2021 Netflix comedy special, “Bo Burnham: Inside,” Bo Burnham tried his hand at directing. The coming-of-age drama-comedy film “Eighth Grade,” which Bo wrote and directed, came out in 2018. “It just felt right to me,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought, ‘Uh-oh, am I going to make a movie about a 13-year-old girl?’ But it wasn’t really a choice. If you want to be stuck in your own head worrying about your image and how the world perceives you, you either have to be a 25-year-old male comedian or any 13-year-old girl, you know?” In 2019, Bo took home the Directors Guild of America Award for outstanding first-time feature film (not to mention the Writers Guild Award for best original screenplay).

Sofia Coppola ‘s “The Virgin Suicides”

Sofia Coppola began her career as an actress in movies like “The Godfather: Part III,” but her passion was really directing. She wrote and directed 1999’s “The Virgin Suicides” starring Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett. Her directorial debut received critical acclaim and established Sofia as an in-demand director. “What does ‘The Virgin Suicides’ mean to me now? It makes me remember shooting in Toronto with Kirsten and all the cast. Also, I have fond memories of it just not being a total disaster,” Sofia told The Guardian. “I think I was just wandering in my 20s, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, trying different things and having that angst of not feeling comfortable in your own skin yet. It was scary directing a film, but I was so connected with the material I felt like I had no choice. ‘The Virgin Suicides’ made me a filmmaker.” She’s gone on to direct many more projects including “Lost in Translation” (for which she earned best director and best picture Oscars nods and a best original screenplay Academy Award), “Marie Antoinette,” “The Bling Ring,” “The Beguiled,” “On the Rocks” and more.

James Franco’s “The Ape”

James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” brought him tons of recognition for directing, but he’d actually been directing long before the 2017 film was released. His debut directorial effort, “The Ape,” premiered in 2005. The movie, which James also wrote, executive produced and starred in, was a flop and received poor reviews from critics, but it didn’t keep James from directing. Since then, he’s directed more than 15 films.

Angelina Jolie’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey”

In 2011, Angelina Jolie premiered her directorial debut, the war film “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” which she also wrote and produced. “I didn’t set out to become a director. It wasn’t, ‘I want to direct something, so I’m going to write something.’ I wrote it because I wanted to think about these issues,” she explained to Collider of the movie, which is about a love story that takes place during the Bosnian War. “Then the cast came together and things started to happen and somehow it became real. I couldn’t let it go, and I ended up directing. But because I’m not from the region, in many ways, they directed me,” she said of the cast, which was made up entirely of local actors.

Ron Howard’s “Grand Theft Auto”

Ron Howard’s illustrious directing career began with 1977’s “Grand Theft Auto.” The “Happy Days” star began directing the film the day after he turned 23. “I thought I was going to be fired by lunchtime,” Ron told The Associated Press. “The second day felt more comfortable. By the wrap party, it had fulfilled all my expectations for how the job would energize me and satisfy me.” His latest directorial effort, “Hillbilly Elegy,” debuted in 2020.

Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman”

Emerald Fennell had acted in notable films like “Anna Karenina” and “The Danish Girl” but was better known for her roles on the television series “Call the Midwife” and the critically acclaimed historical drama series “The Crown.” In 2020, Emerald made her directorial debut with the Carey Mulligan-led thriller film “Promising Young Woman,” for which she earned the Academy Award for best original screenplay plus nods for best picture and best director. “I always wanted to make a film, I think, that people would really enjoy and emotionally connect to and find gripping and romantic and all of those things, but [that’s] also not a film that lets anyone off the hook,” she told NPR. “That’s a really interesting position for a filmmaker: to make an audience feel that they’re in familiar territory when they’re not.”

Eddie Murphy’s “Harlem Nights”

Eddie Murphy was on top of the world when he made his directorial debut with 1989’s “Harlem Nights,” in which he also starred. However, the movie was not so well-received: Eddie received a nomination for worst director from the Golden Raspberry Awards (also known as the Razzies).

Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves”

Kevin Costner achieved a major win with his directorial debut “Dances with Wolves.” The 1990 film — which he also produced and starred in — was a massive box office success, earning over $424 million. The movie was also a critical darling that won seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. “Yeah, I think maybe I’d like to direct the second half of my career so I appreciate what you said,” Kevin told Risen Magazine about his directing success in 2015. “I love ‘Postman,’ I love everything about it. And ‘Open Range’ was a thrill for me to direct, and obviously ‘Dances’ was my first movie I ever directed.”

Natalie Portman’s “A Tale of Love and Darkness”

In 2015, Natalie Portman’s film “A Tale of Love and Darkness” premiered. Natalie, who also starred in the movie, was reluctant to direct herself. “I was afraid of appearing vain. I remember as a kid reading about Barbra Streisand directing herself in movies and people would write that they were just vanity projects. But then I realized that was something they would never say about men directing themselves,” she told The Guardian. “It’s a very female thing of being afraid to say, ‘I’m the boss, and this is how I want it.'”

Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do!”

Tom Hanks is best known for his amazing acting performances but the A-lister has also dabbled in directing. In 1996, he wrote, directed and starred in the musical-comedy film “That Thing You Do!” His directorial debut was a modest success that earned more than $34 million and received rave reviews from critics. Tom opened up about “That Thing You Do!” while speaking at a BAFTA event in 2013, explaining that he wrote the film during the global press tour for “Forrest Gump.” “I had talked about myself for a year straight so I started writing to maintain some sort of creative sanity,” he said, adding that he still “loves” the movie.

Sean Penn’s “The Indian Runner”

Sean Penn both directed and wrote the 1991 movie “The Indian Runner.” The movie was produced by Steve Bannon, the former White House adviser to President Trump. On a 2018 episode of Conan O’Brien’s late-night show, Sean recalled working with the political strategist, telling the host, “I would say he exerted the same level of charm he does today… My first sense of him [was] that he was other than the C word, charming, he was a crook, I think is what I thought.” The latest film Sean helmed, “Flag Day” — in which he appears alongside daughter Dylan Penn — was released in 2021.

Drew Barrymore’s “Whip It”

After years of acting, Drew Barrymore switched to a role behind the camera for 2009’s “Whip It.” She explained to Marie Claire magazine that she had wanted to be a director since she was 6 years old, which is when she turned in her first script to Steven Spielberg, her godfather. Drew gave herself a small role in the film about a roller derby team so that she could understand the actors. “I wanted to understand the pain that comes from falling, the fear of the brain telling you ‘Don’t do this, don’t do this, but the body forcing you to,” she explained. “It was so important for me to be in their skates, pun intended.”

Amy Poehler’s “Wine Country”

Amy Poehler has long been a comedy darling — fans loved her on “Saturday Night Live” and “Parks and Recreation.” The comedienne, however, has since dabbled in directing. In 2019, Amy made her directorial debut with “Wine Country,” in which she starred alongside longtime friends including “SNL” alumni Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer and Paula Pell. “I like to brag that we had 20 years of rehearsal basically,” Amy told The Hollywood Reporter of the cast’s chemistry.

Seth Rogen’s “This is the End”

2013’s “This is the End” marked Seth Rogen’s directorial debut. The comedic actor, who directed alongside Evan Goldberg, starred in the movie with pals like James Franco and Jonah Hill. Seth has continued to direct with Evan, working with him on the controversial 2014 comedy “The Interview” and the short film “Bananas Town.” Seth’s also directed several episodes of TV’s “Preacher” and “Future Man.”

Mel Gibson’s “The Man Without a Face”

Like many actors, Mel Gibson acted in his directorial debut — 1993’s “The Man Without a Face.” “The biggest single problem you have with that situation is time management,” he recalled to Venice Magazine in 2000. “There just isn’t time for anything else. In fact, there’s hardly time for time management, and that’s a problem because if you don’t have enough time to let something incubate, sometimes it doesn’t come out as well as it should, so you try to find ways to make all that work in a way you feel secure with.”

David Schwimmer’s “Run Fatboy Run”

After years of playing Ross Geller on “Friends,” David Schwimmer was ready to try something new, which he did with the 2007 movie “Run Fatboy Run.” “I’ve always wanted to direct a feature film. I’ve directed a lot of theater and then some episodes of ‘Friends,'” he explained to Indie London. “I’d always wanted to direct a feature but it takes more than a year of your life, so I kind of had to wait until the show was over. So I started looking for scripts and read many, many, many of them and this was the funniest thing I read. But I was also surprisingly moved by it. I was really excited by the challenge of trying to capture the tone of that script on film.”

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