5 Good Directorial Debuts by Actors-Turned-Directors
It’s amazing how many directors are also actors. Big acting names like Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Tommy Lee Jones, Angelina Jolie, and Mel Gibson have directorial credits in their filmography. In other cases, some directors – Ron Howard, J.J. Abrams, and Peter Berg – are better known for directing than their previous acting gigs.
Either way, there is a big connection between acting and directing.
With Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon releasing in theaters this weekend, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to list five of the best directorial debuts by actors-turned-directors. There’s also another connection to this year (as you’ll see later). As I found out while I was researching this list, I haven’t seen a lot of the older films by legendary actors (basically all the names I mentioned above). However, I did scrape together five great debuts.
Without further ado, here we go:
Liev Schreiber, most recently seen on Showtime’s new show Ray Donovan, turned heads back in 2005 with an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel (the first of two novels he’s had brought to the big screen). Schreiber’s directorial debut, titled Everything is Illuminated, is a very interesting movie for multiple reasons. It starts as a lighter-looking film, but the dramedy explores the Holocaust in a quirkier way than you could ever imagine. It’s too bad the film didn’t do much financially, especially given Elijah Wood’s (who is the main star) name.
Thomas McCarthy isn’t a household name – both as an actor or director. As far as filmography, the small-named actor made his debut way back in 1992 before he took over the director’s chair. His first film was The Station Agent, which has an interesting cast (in retrospect) with Peter Dinklage (HBO’s Game of Thrones) and Bobby Cannavale (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire). Like Everything is Illuminated, Station Agent is a quirky dramedy about a misfit group of friends. This time, though, the main character is a self-centered dwarf (Dinklage) who finds himself living in New Jersey. If this movie isn’t good enough, I’d urge you to continue on with McCarthy’s filmography because The Visitor and Win, Win are both fabulous (better in my opinion) than his first.
Technically co-directed by Seth Rogen, This is the End is one of the biggest surprises from this year. It’s potentially the funniest movie of the year (although the other apocalypse comedy The World’s End gives it a run for its money), and Rogen deserves credit both as an actor and director. For those unaware, This is the End is a meta-comedy about a group of celebrities trying to survive a bizarre apocalypse following a party at James Franco’s house. You can check out my full review here.
Quentin Tarantino definitely fits into the director-first category because it’s easy to forget he tried acting first. Tarantino definitely garners recognition as a director more often (and for good reason). His first film, Reservoir Dogs, is arguably his best (a debate worth having another time). Whether it is the amazing opening scene or the bloody climax, Reservoir Dogs sets both the violent tone of Tarantino’s works and his amazing use of dialogue. Plus, it features Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Steve Buscemi, so you can’t go wrong there.
As his casting as the next Batman showed, Ben Affleck is a lightning rod for criticism. He’s been the butt of plenty of acting jokes given his roles in Daredevil and Gigili, but I have nothing but respect for his directing skills. Affleck’s directing career took off with the suspenseful crime drama Gone Baby Gone, where Ben left himself out of the movie and let brother Casey take over. When all is said and done, Gone Baby Gone is more thematically-rich than the follow-up The Town (which admittedly has better action scenes), and set the stage for his Oscar-winning drama Argo. Affleck is one of today’s fastest rising directors and could pretty much direct anything he wanted to.
As for honorable mentions, I wanted to fit in Richard Ayoade’s (The Watch) coming-of-age drama Submarine. However, that can’t be the only one worth mentioning. Which movies would you add to this list?
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