“But what I really want to do is direct.” This has been said by actors since the movie business began and many A-listers have gone on to do so with great success. Bradley Cooper famously directed the 2018 incarnation of A Star Is Born starring Lady Gaga as well as himself. Three-peat director Ben Affleck made his debut with Gone Baby Gone, moved onto The Town, then brought home a Best Picture Oscar for Argo. And heavy-hitters Peter Berg, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Tyler Perry, and Barbra Streisand have gained acclaim flexing their artistic muscles writing, starring in as well as directing award-winning, high-profile films.
But there are others who shine on-screen who have also commanded creative control, except without the fanfare they deserve.
10 David Duchovny, House of D
The X-Files star is a writer as well as a TV and film (The Craft: Legacy, Kalifornia, Return to Me) actor. He has four published books and wrote the script for House of D, which he also helmed when it got produced. He leads the cast as an American artist living in Paris who returns to his Greenwich Village home to reconcile with his past which we relive in flashbacks.
Duchovny has also directed episodic television for shows like The X-Files, Californication, Bones, and Aquarius.
9 Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Anniversary
As a child, she attended the prestigious Stagedoor Manor summer camp, honed her acting chops for five years doing television shows and movies of the week, until her film debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which led to standout roles in Miami Blues, Single White Female, and Dolores Claiborne, to name a few.
“Writing, producing, and directing, is incredibly satisfying and gratifying.” She’d collaborated with her ex-husband Noah Baumbach but went behind the camera to co-direct with fellow actor Alan Cumming. The duo also wrote and starred in the story about how married love is complex and relationships deteriorate.
8 Lake Bell, In a World…
Bell is a familiar face on both television (Bless This Mess, How to Make It in America, Boston Legal) and on the big screen (It’s Complicated, What Happens in Vegas) but she’s also a writer, producer, and director.
Her 7 director credits include two short films, episodes of Bless This Mess, Casual and Childrens Hospital, and the movies I Do…Until I Don’t and most famously In a World about an underachieving voice coach who finds herself competing in the movie-trailer voiceover profession against her arrogant father and his protege.
7 Natalie Portman, A Tale of Love and Darkness
The Academy Award winner for Best Actress in 2010’s Black Swan has been a leading lady in so many major films such as Star Wars: Episode I, II, III, Garden State, No Strings Attached, Jackie, (65 in all) plus she’s a spokesperson for Dior.
Yet, Portman has found the time to executive produce 10 films and direct 3, a short called Eve, one of the 11 stories in the anthology film New York, I Love You, and the 2015 feature A Tale of Love and Darkness–the story of Amos Oz’s youth in the early years of the State of Israel.
6 Ryan Gosling, Lost River
His leading man good looks have charmed us in blockbusters such as Murder by Numbers, Half Nelson, Fracture, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, Drive, Crazy Stupid Love, The Ides of March, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Big Short, The Nice Guys, La La Land, Blade Runner 2049, First Man, (this is the shortlist).
In 2014, he wrote and directed his passion project, the fantasy/thriller Lost River, about a single mother (Christina Hendricks) swept into a dark underworld, while her teenage son discovers a road that leads him to a secret underwater town.
5 Drew Barrymore, Whip It
Hollywood scion. Talk show host. Beauty maven. Actor from age 6 in Steven Spielberg’s beloved sci-fi blockbuster, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Producer of 25 movies and television series. Is it a wonder that this renaissance woman and entrepreneur dipped her toe into directing?
Aside from two shorts, the blonde powerhouse with the childlike voice took on the role of a feature film director in 2009 when she was 34. Whip It takes place in Bodeen, Texas where an indie-rock loving misfit suffering through small-town misery, discovers a roller derby league in nearby Austin that helps her deal.
4 Edward Norton, Motherless Brooklyn
You can’t star in 46 films and not learn a little something about movie-making, so the Yale graduate jumped in and began producing (13 films), writing, and directing.
His foray into calling the shots was back in 2000 with the successful rom-com starring himself, Ben Stiller, and Jenna Elfman called Keeping the Faith about two longtime friends (a priest and a rabbi) who both still love their childhood crush. But his director skills didn’t come into their own until 2019 with Motherless Brooklyn set in 1950s NYC where he plays a private detective with Tourettes who must solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, played by Bruce Willis.
3 Julie Delpy, 2 Days in Paris
Since the 1980s, the multi-talent actress has charmed us by playing the beautiful French woman who shows us how casual chic, sophistication, and confidence is done.
The writer/producer also has been in the director’s chair 10 times with short films, features such as 2 Days in New York, Skylab, The Countess, and the upcoming TV series On the Verge. Her most successful directorial venture to date is 2 Days in Paris about Marion (Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) who are trying to rekindle their love with a visit to The City of Lights.
2 Ethan Hawke, Blaze
From a vulnerable student in Dead Poets Society to his current role as John Brown in the mini-series The Good Lord Bird, the Reality Bites hipster has dazzled us with his innate ability to disappear into his character’s skin. Truly a creative renaissance man, the actor/novelist/ screenwriter/ producer of course rounds out his resume with the addition of director.
Actress Maya Hawke’s dad has helmed 2 shorts, 1 documentary with another in pre-production, and 3 features: Chelsea Walls, The Hottest State based on his novel by the same name, and Blaze, about the life of unsung songwriting legend of the Texas Outlaw Music movement, Blaze Foley.
1 Jason Bateman, Ozark
He was a child star on Little House on the Prairie, transitioned in adolescence to movies like Teen Wolf Too, transitioned again into starring roles in film (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief, Office Christmas Party, Game Night) and television (Arrested Development, Ozark).
Directing isn’t new to Bateman, who took on the challenge as far back as 1989 when he starred in the sitcom Valerie. He’s helmed 4 features (two currently in pre-production, The Family Fang and Bad Words) and 13 television episodes besides 10 episodes of his wildly successful Netflix series Ozark preparing to air the 4th and final season. Bateman not only directs but stars as Marty Byrde, a financial advisor who moves his family to Missouri where he launders money for a drug lord.
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