With a plethora of stars competing for the leading role, actors have always been on the search to find a feature, a distinction, or a skill that sets them apart from the rest. For some, this has included portraying an iconic character that has spawned its own franchise, for others, it has been building relationships with certain directors who keep casting them as characters throughout their filmography. But other actors have taken the challenge into their own hands, choosing to learn from the directors they have worked with to fill the position themselves.
Actors turned directors have always been prevalent in the industry, from Charlie Chaplin to Orson Welles. But recently, several other major players have taken the same path. Some have been successful, while others have bombed in their efforts. Regardless, they have taken the knowledge imparted on them from the previous generations of Hollywood filmmakers and contributed to the conversation of cinema in a way that has provided new insight, new visions, and new techniques to the industry.
Not only is this transition an artistic change, but a financial jump. By opening a new stream of revenue, these stars ensure long-time possibilities to a stable (and enviable) net worth.
Natalie Portman began her career as an actress at the age of 11. She had auditioned to star in the 1992 off-broadway production of Ruthless!. She was cast as an understudy alongside another future icon, Britney Spears.
Instead of music, Portman continued to pursue acting and when she was 12, she was cast in Luc Besson’s cult classic film Leon: The Professional. In addition to starring alongside legendary actors Jean Reno and Gary Oldman, Portman also spoke frequently with director Besson who went on to make cinematic hits like The Fifth Element and Lucy.
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Portman capitalized on the experience and began starring in a wide range of feature films including Heat, Mars Attacks!, and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. She quickly became a staple in Hollywood for directors and producers looking to add a youthful energy and star power to their films. This eventually culminated in her 2010 appearance in Black Swan which earned her her first Academy Award for Best Actress.
Looking to expand on her career and carry the knowledge she developed from working with some of the top directors in Hollywood, she chose to make the leap into directing herself. Her directorial debut was the 2008 short film Eve. In 2015, she performed the Hollywood Hattrick and wrote, directed, and starred in the feature film A Tale of Love and Darkness. Portman isn’t the only recent actor to make the same transition from star to filmmaker either.
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Jonah Hill started his acting career at a young age as well. His feature film debut came in 2004 when he starred alongside Hollywood legends Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, and Dustin Hoffman in the critically acclaimed I Heart Huckabees. He quickly established himself as a top comedic actor by appearing in a series of Judd Apatow films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad.
Venturing away from his pigeonholed comedic relief supporting roles, Hill proved himself as a dramatic actor through his powerful performances in Cyrus, Moneyball, and The Wolf of Wall Street, the later two of which earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Actor. Choosing to leverage what he learned from legends such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen brothers, Hill too chose to try his hand at directing.
In 2018, Hill released his feature film directorial debut Mid90s. The personal film reflected his passion for skating and the subculture it provided him growing up. The film featured real life skaters like Sunny Suljic and Na-kel Smith whose Hollywood careers Hill was able to launch. The film won several awards and led to additional directorial efforts from Hill including a music video for Travis Scott’s single “Wake Up” as well as the television series Un-filtered. With Hill paving the way for several other actors who chose to pursue the same trajectory, another woman stands out as the latest major achievement of actor turned filmmaker.
Greta Gerwig started her career as an actress appearing in several independent feature films that became known as the ‘mumblecore’ genre. They featured lengthy conversations with a wide range of substance that focused more on the characters than plot points. She gained attention through the Duplass Brother’s film Baghead, Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs, and Ti West’s 80’s inspired horror film The House of the Devil. Before long, she was appearing in films with some of the most stylistically-centered filmmakers in Hollywood including Woody Allen, Ivan Reitman, and Noah Baumbach, her future partner who would go on to become parents together.
After writing several screenplays that turned into successful films, Gerwig chose to pursue filmmaking on her own. The decision was met with instant success. Her first feature film by herself, Ladybird, earned her a Best Director and Best Screenplay nomination at the Academy Awards. To prove this was something beyond good fortune, she followed the film with an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women. Featuring performances from some of the most acclaimed stars like Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Saoirse Ronan, she earned several Academy Award nominations including Best Screenplay and Best Feature Film.
With several successful films under her belt and a great deal of trust from top Hollywood executives, she was trusted with one of the most valuable franchises in entertainment. In 2019, it was announced that Greta Gerwig would be directing, alongside her partner and collaborator Noah Baumbach the Barbie feature film. The franchise film will star Margot Robbie in the leading role and is expected to be released in late 2022.
Sources: IndieWire, InThatMovie, Collider, BackStage, ScreenRant, Metacritic, LATimes, Paste, Elle, IMDb, NYTimes, TheGuardian, StudioBinder, Time, TimeOut, FilmAffinity
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