Actor to DirectorWhile it’s been a long time since the thought of an actor working behind the camera instead of in front of it was considered shocking, it’s worth thinking about what attracts a performer to an outwardly less glamorous role. Here are three examples of how an actor can change his career path in favour of working behind the camera.

One Time Directors

The list of actors with only a debut directing credit on their resume is almost endless. While the films they create are at times fascinating, entertaining and even self-indulgent,  what’s equally interesting is the reason the actors never created a follow up. For some, like Edward Norton who directed Keeping the Faith, it was just a case of feeling personally connected to the material.

The experience can be far from difficult; the notoriously challenging Norton commented that the experience was quite heartening. On the other side of the spectrum is Marlon Brando’s sole directing credit. Brando’s reputation for being a hard personality to control will more than likely out-live us all, and this was made apparent when he walked away from One Eyed Jacks in the editing stage due to studio interference over the level of violence in the film. Brando always had an almost masochistic work ethic and outlook, and so it’s hard not to sympathise with him. If he had had his way with the material his film may have aged better.

The Veterans

The quintessential actor directors are of course Woody Allen, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. Each has become an iconic of the American culture through creating cinematic snapshots of life in the United States of America. The most prolific of these auteurs, Woody Allen averages a film a year, but he was originally a screenwriter who only decided to become a director, actor and screenwriter to maintain creative control, promoted by a bad experience in his first film What’s New Pussycat? Since then he has been at the forefront of American comedy. Robert Redford on the other hand is an altogether more serious character. With his debut film Ordinary People, Redford focused on themes of grief and the mental instability of a typical American family.

This approach bagged him an Oscar for Best Director, beating favourite Martin Scorsese who was nominated that same year for Raging Bull. This obsession with the grey area of American culture continued with satirical comedy Quiz Show and Lions for Lambs: about the relationship the government and the public have with American soldiers in the Middle East. Clint Eastwood has spent his career portraying the three symbols of American authority: cop, cowboy and soldier, and his own films are no different. Perhaps his most famous film, Unforgiven, shows Eastwood deliberately taking apart the character he had been playing for years and in doing so finding new dimensions within the Western genre. It’s this self-awareness that keeps Eastwood’s work relevant and in some cases timeless.

New recruits

So who’s included in the next batch of talented young actors to go behind the camera? First up is Joseph Gordon Levitt, who builds upon a reputation earned by films such as Looper and The Dark Knight Rises with his directorial debut Don Jon’s Addiction. Having premiered at Sundance, early reviews of the film are extremely positive; Mr Levitt is truly a man of many talents. Next up is Ryan Gosling’s debut How to Catch a Monster. Described as an American neo-noir fantasy, Gosling is currently shooting the film which stars Christina Hendricks and Doctor Who’s Matt Smith.

With a long and varied list of actors turned directors, it’sclear that the key factor in their decision is artistic ambition. With classic films like Annie Hall, Unforgiven and Nil by Mouth already acting in example, let’s hope this desire never goes away.