“What I really want to do is direct.” Once upon a time, that was a line used to mock the unbridled chutzpah of actors who wanted to helm films of their own, but now, no one’s really laughing at the notion that the pretty people in front of the camera might also possess the talent to handle the responsibilities behind the camera as well. Too many Academy Awards have been won by these thespi-auteurs. Need proof? Here’s a quick rundown of ten actors, in no particular order, who turned director and made good with the switch.
1. Clint Eastwood
Sure, let’s start with the big dog. That oddball performance at the Republican National Convention notwithstanding, and contrary to “The Fall Guy” Colt Seevers’ assertion that he’s responsible for the finery of Clint’s looks, Eastwood blazed a trail to stardom in the classic spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, the mean streets of Dirty Harry’s San Francisco and in army pictures like “Kelly’s Heroes.” He started directing in 1971 with “Play Misty For Me,” he directed himself in classics like “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “High Plains Drifter,” and in 1992, he was the Best Director of the Best Picture of the Year with “Unforgiven,” the dark revisiting of the western genre that made him famous. Since then, he’s directed gems like “A Perfect World” and returned to the Oscar stage with “Mystic River,” and returned to the winner’s circle with “Million Dollar Baby.” The kicker is that, for both of his Best Picture and Best Director wins, he was also nominated for Best Actor, but didn’t pull off the trifecta. That doesn’t matter, though. This is Clint Eastwood.
2. Mel Gibson
After that glowing tribute, the time comes to jump to this beleaguered fellow. Once, there was a time when Mel Gibson was just awesome. He was articulate and hilarious, Mad Max and a Lethal Weapon, a quipmaster who could match wits with Robert Downey Jr. in “Air America” and a guy you believed could charm the knickers off of Jodie Foster in “Maverick.” His directorial debut was 1993’s “Man Without a Face,” but he leapt into the stratosphere with 1995’s “Braveheart,” which became the Best Picture of the Year. It may have played fast and loose with the facts about the life of William Wallace, but it was quite the engrossing movie, landing him the Best Director award as well, although he wasn’t nominated in the acting category. He then transitioned from his successful on-camera work to following his passion – in this case, the “hey, let’s all beat up Jesus in slow motion” film called “The Passion of the Christ.” Things… well, they started to go downhill from there – maybe even a little “Apocalypto,” so to speak. Do you really need a recap of that, sugar tits?
3. Jodie Foster
Speaking of Gibson, one of his few defenders after it became clear that he was kind of nuts was his “Maverick” co-star Foster. As we saw at the Golden Globes, it turns out she might be a smidge damaged as well, as you might expect from someone who began acting at age three, and who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress as a 13-year-old prostitute in “Taxi Driver,” AND who was cited as the motivation for why a guy tried to assassinate the president when she was 19. Things like that gotta mess a woman up a bit. Add to that winning Best Actor awards for a profoundly disturbing graphic rape drama like “The Accused” and the enduringly creepy “The Silence of the Lambs,” and it seemed that the ugly underbelly of humanity is what she thrived on exploring. Perhaps that’s why her feature film directorial debut was with 1991’s “Little Man Tate,” a quiet story about a mother trying to raise her smart but socially-disabled son. Then, a few years later, she followed it up with the ensemble family dysfunction dramedy “Home For The Holidays.” That was it for her in the director’s chair, though, until 2011’s “The Beaver,” starring Gibson as a man having a mental breakdown centered around a hand puppet. For some reason. Perhaps it’s best not to speculate.
4. Robert Redford
Here we go. The erstwhile founder of the Sundance Film Festival made his bones early in his career as a blond, handsome leading man opposite notables such as Natalie Wood and Jane Fonda in “Inside Daisy Clover” and “The Chase,” respectively. He broke out of that mold with the legendary film “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” with Paul Newman. He’d re-team with Newman and get an Oscar nomination out of 1973’s “The Sting,” becoming one of the biggest stars in the world. His first time in the director’s chair came with 1980’s dark family drama “Ordinary People,” and he knocked it out of the park, winning Best Director and Best Picture. He’s continued to produce stellar work behind the camera, with “The Milagro Beanfield War,” “A River Runs Through It” and “Quiz Show.” We’ll just quietly ignore The Fresh Prince Magic Golf Movie.
5. Bobcat Goldthwait
Wait, what? Yes, that “Police Academy” guy who screamed a lot in “One Crazy Summer” dropped that yelling stand-up schtick completely and started making black comedies that explore weird areas that no one else touches. Starting in 1991 with the alcoholic clown cult classic “Shakes The Clown,” and continuing with a pair of Sundance Film Festival entries – 2006’s “Sleeping Dogs Lie” (about a woman hiding the disturbing secret that she once fellated her dog on a whim) and 2009’s “World’s Greatest Dad” (starring Robin Williams as a father who covers up his son’s autoerotic asphyxiation death and writes a best-selling suicide note), he’s managed to tackle these strange subjects that could be broad comedies with a deft dramatic touch and realism. The 2011 Toronto Film Festival entrant “God Bless America” tells the story of a doomed, depressed man who starts a “Bonnie and Clyde” style killing spree against everything that sucks about America with an awful reality-show star. It’s a unique road Bobcat is paving, not for the easily-offended, but it’s a road worth traveling.