Audiences know Clint Eastwood for his role as Dirty Harry, but his directing career should be considered just as noteworthy. Actors and actresses like Sofia Coppola, George Clooney, and Ben Affleck have an undeniable presence on the silver screen, but they are also powerhouses behind the scenes in the director’s chair. While it may seem that these two skills may go hand in hand, it requires actors to draw from a different wheelhouse to successfully direct a film.
So why do all these actors turn to directing?
The quick answer for some actors: control. Although they may be captivating on screen, some want the ability to take their films in different directions that go beyond conventional. Crispin Glover, who played the loveable George McFly character in Back to the Future, explored different avenues of his creativity by moving to writing, music, and directing after establishing himself as an actor. His debut film in 2005 titled What is It? pushed the envelope by including racist tropes and went far beyond what is considered to be a mainstream film.
Other actors who have a significant following, may naturally make the shift to directing because they are such a success in the entertainment industry already. Stars like Mel Gibson and Ben Affleck had national fan bases and prestigious accolades before moving to filmmaking, having accrued years of experience working on sets of movies. The move to directing was natural and fans from around the world were eager to see what they were able to create, and they proved themselves to be incredibly talented both on and off the screen.
Moving to directing could also give an actor the boost he or she needs to jettison their acting career to the next level in the industry. Proving that they have talent in filmmaking can give them more notoriety and increase the number of future opportunities they have. Billy Bob Thornton had appeared in several films in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, but it wasn’t until he directed Sling Blade in 1996 that his acting career took off. Following his directorial debut and after receiving an Oscar for the best-adapted screenplay, Thornton began starring in blockbuster films, and he has ever since.
Some actors turn to directing because they prescribe to the adage, “if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself.” One such actor is Sofia Coppola, who made her debut as a baby in her father’s film The Godfather. Sofia prospered as an actor and even directed a short film, but it wasn’t until she heard that The Virgin Suicides was to be adapted to film that she took on directing a full-length movie. Since it was one of her favorite books, she couldn’t bear the thought this book not being translated to the big screen correctly. She has proven to be a powerhouse director in her projects since, having won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, Academy Awards, and Golden Globes.
While there’s no guarantee that a great actor will make a great director, and there are certainly cases of ones who fail, actors are already familiar with the process of being on set. They have had an opportunity to absorb knowledge from being a working actor and an advantage to those who have recently graduated from film school.