Although sometimes seen as a self-indulgent, the move from actor to director can have all sorts of benefits. Their experience allows them to wring great performances from other actors who’re naturally more likely to trust someone who has been where they are. It also lets them push their own performances when directing themselves.
Charlie Chaplin is an early example of an actor who saw the potential of films to connect with audiences as a performer more intimately than the stage could. Faced with the limited imagination of his directors and producers, he trusted his instincts and crafted a beloved lasting character with the ‘Little Tramp’ persona, knowing from experience what would resonate with audiences.
Since then, many famous faces have succeeded in garnering critical and popular acclaim as directors. Gene Kelly crafted exceptional musicals by knowing exactly what he could do and pushing himself and the choreography to the limits. Ida Lupino used her unique perspective as the only female director in Hollywood to get acclaimed performances from her actresses.
At the height of his career, Clint Eastwood turned his frustrations as an actor dealing with perfectionist directors into a passion for efficient, spare directing, avoiding rehearsals and shooting as few takes as possible. His style not only resonated with audiences but also earned him a reputation for coming in under budget and made him one of the most successful directors to this day.
One of the most distinctive voices in the field, Quentin Tarantino has kept one foot in each side of the line. Although he started out as a director, he delivered trademark quirky performances for other directors as well as memorable turns in his own films. His willingness to put himself out there has made him a popular director with a loyal stable of returning actors who trust him to know how to handle him. George Clooney likewise used his charm and rapport with fellow actors to pursue passion projects like ‘Good Night and Good Luck‘.
For some actors, directing is a chance for a good but not perhaps great performer to show his full potential. During a career downturn, Ben Affleck saw a chance to reinvent himself with his acclaimed dramas ‘Gone Baby Gone‘ and ‘Argo‘, both of which cleverly made use of his low key screen persona to its best effect and leveraged his experience as a writer. Ben Stiller used his comedic success and history in improvisation and ensemble comedy into a directing career that includes such hits as ‘Tropic Thunder‘.
Heck, even in the world of television, Jonathan Frakes evolved from a solid but limited career as an actor into one of the most popular genre directors on the scene by tapping into his experience working in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The trend is unlikely to slow down, the industry is more open than ever and the particular sensibility that an actor can bring to handling a project has taught audiences that they can trust a star they know from the screen to handle the job behind the camera as well.