|Into the director’s chair
By Christy Lemire
It is the ultimate cliche among actors desperate to be taken seriously: “What I really want to do is direct.”
But many have made the transition to the other side of the camera so skill fully, you almost forget they were ever actors in the first place.
Ben Affleck’s second film as a director, The Town, hits theatres this week following his powerful 2007 debut, Gone Baby Gone. Also this week is the first movie Philip Seymour Hoffman has directed, Jack Goes Boating. And Affleck’s younger brother, Casey, is out there with I’m Still Here, which may or may not truly be a documentary about Joaquin Phoenix’s fledgling rap career.
Either way, it’s got people talking. Here’s a look at some other actors who have made their mark behind the lens:
For nearly 40 years, his films have run the gamut — from his 1971 directing debut, the thriller Play Misty for Me, to the Westerns in which he’s starred including The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider and one of his absolute best, Unforgiven, to the World War II companion pieces Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. He’s even allowed a little self-deprecation in some of these films, including The Bridges of Madison County and the rare comedy Space Cowboys. Million Dollar Baby earned him his most recent Academy Awards, for best picture and best director, but Mystic River stands for me as his masterpiece.
He used his acting experience as adeptly behind the camera as he did in front of it. Pollack won Oscars for best picture and best director for the epic Out of Africa, but the former student of legendary acting teacher Sanford Meisner also turned up on screen in everything from his own productions to television’s The Sopranos and Will & Grace. He was a scene stealer in Tootsie, which he also directed, a rare comedy for a filmmaker who clearly had heady ideas. But he always had a knack for provoking, whether with thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and Absence of Malice, romances like The Way We Were and Out of Africa, or dramas like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Granted, some of Howard’s films can be a bit mawkish (Cocoon, Backdraft, Parenthoo). And his adaptations of the Dan Brown best sellers The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons were laughably over the top. Still, he is prolific, and when he is on, he is on. He also is versatile. His early comedies Night Shift and Splash still hold up well today. The Paper is one of the more amusing depictions of journalism you’ll see on screen. Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind couldn’t be more different but they’re equally effective. And one of his most recent films, Frost/Nixon, is his best: a great example of letting strong writing and acting shine through.
She was universally ridiculed for her supporting role as Mary Corleone in her father Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part III. But Coppola has since established herself as a director of great vision and sensitivity. Her debut, The Virgin Suicides, was gorgeous and insightful. The melancholy Lost in Translation earned her an Oscar nomination for best director, making her one of only four women ever to achieve that honour. The historical mash-up Marie Antoinette was a visual feast, and her latest, Somewhere, just took the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, the Golden Lion. And she is only 39 years old; that is pretty exciting.
His work both in front of and behind the camera keeps getting better. In 2007, he directed Into the Wild, a devastating look at the meaning of survival featuring a killer performance from Emile Hirsch; the next year, he starred as slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk in Milk, and won his second best-actor Oscar. One of the hallmarks of the films Penn has directed, including 1995’s The Crossing Guard and 2001’s The Pledge, both with Jack Nicholson, is that he never shies away from the bleaker aspects of the story. It is as if he has taken his own formidable ability to portray the raw humanity of his characters and honed it into a similar intensity when he directs others. And in doing so, he’s truly found the best of both worlds.