5 Incredible Debuts For Actors Turned Director

So, there are many reasons an actor may decide to step behind the lens. Maybe they’re a control freak or a raging egomaniac that can’t stand someone else telling them what to do. They might get the whole movie thing but can’t even believably play dead. Or maybe it’s just something they’ve always wanted to try. Once in a while they come up with something unique that stands out from the crowd.

The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter

Charles Laughton was a very well respected actor of stage and screen, but in 1955 he decided to give directing a shot. What we got was The Night of the Hunter, one of the most unique movies of the 50′s, and Laughton’s only directorial effort. It tells the story of two children who are terrorized by the maniacal self-ordained preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum). Before being killed before their eyes, the children’s father entrusts them with the location of money he stole. Powell knows the children know the location of the money, and he does all he can to get it form them, including marrying and murdering their mother. The movie still holds up very well today, but when viewed in the context of being released in 1955, it’s not hard to see why it got such a tepid reception- there weren’t a lot of expressionistic, perverse, violent movies featuring children at that time. The movie has garnered more respect over the years and is now viewed as an influential classic.

Play Misty for Me

Play Misty for Me

Clint Eastwood is a bonafide Hollywood legend. He still acts, but he’s getting most of his praise nowadays for his deft directing. The first time he got behind the camera was for Play Misty for Me. It tells the story of radio disc jockey Dave Garver (Eastwood) and obsessed fan Evelyn Draper, who always calls in asking him to play the song “Misty.” Unaware of her obsession, Dave meets her in a bar and a one night stand ensues. Rather than satiating Evelyn’s desire, she begins stalking Garver, eventually trying to tear his life apart. It’s notable for featuring a psychotic female antagonist, which, while commonplace today, was unusual at the time. It was later ripped off under the moniker Fatal Attraction.

Frailty

Frailty

Bill Paxton has had a prolific career as an actor, working in everything from personal independent movies to overwrought Hollywood blockbusters. The first time he scratched the directing itch was for Frailty. Fenton Meiks walks into a Texas FBI office and confesses his brother is the God’s Hand serial killer. He then tells the story of his family’s murderous history and how they’ve been doing God’s work- disposing of the demons (evil people) living among us. Murder committed in the name of God is an interesting subject to tackle for an actor not known for being very controversial. It’s a very well made movie that didn’t initially get much recognition, but has developed somewhat of a cult following. This was the only movie I ever saw by myself at the theater, as the subject didn’t really interest anyone. I saw it on the opening weekend and there were two other people in the theater when the movie started. I was all alone before the credits rolled.

Sling Blade

Sling Blade

Billy Bob Thornton had carved out a nice little career for himself as a character actor, always hanging out in the background and popping up and getting noticed every once in a while. In 1996 he directed and starred in Sling Blade, the tale of a mentally challenged man who is more full of love and understanding that anyone could guess. After he’s released from the mental hospital to which he was sentenced for murdering his mother and her lover when he was twelve, Karl Tilders (Thornton) befriends a young boy and his mother, eventually leading to a confrontation with the mother’s abusive boyfriend (Dwight Yoakam). The movie is universally praised for it’s acting, in particular Thornton and Yoakam, but it’s Thornton steady, reassuring direction that allows the performances to flourish.

Ordinary People

Ordinary People

Robert Redford was one of Hollywood’s great leading men. He made his directorial debut with Ordinary People, a movie about a well-to-do family trying to deal with life in the wake of the oldest son’s death. The movie was a financial and critical success, winning the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actor. Mary Tyler Moore‘s performance as the cold, facade-wearing mother gained particular attention as it was her first big departure from comedy.

8 comments to 5 Incredible Debuts For Actors Turned Director

  • Nice article on directors, and I had forgotten Night The Hunter. I need to watch it again. it was a good movie.

  • Furious

    Thanks. It’s too bad Laughton never directed another movie, but it probably wasn’t too encouraging with how poorly it was received.

  • That’s right, the commercial failure of Night of the Hunter was very discouraging, also, it meant the end of his partnership with the producer, Paul Gregory had bought the rights of Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead”, so with the split, he took the adaptation of the novel, in which laughton, along with some crew members of “hunter”(including cinematographer Stanley Cortez) was already working: therefore, laughton fell off the project, and “The Naked and the Dead” was eventually directed by Raoul Walsh

    (BTW; I have a number of related posts at my Laughton blog, feel free to check)

  • Furious

    Thanks for the info, Gloria. I didn’t realize he had another project in the works. There’s lots of great stuff on your blog, too bad I didn’t come across it earlier, but I went ahead and added a link to one of your posts.

  • I’m predicting Ben Affleck will be in that category as well eventually.
    His directorial debut GONE BABY GONE was impressive.

  • Furious

    Yeah, I think Affleck surprised a lot of people (including me). I was down to Gone Baby Gone and Ordinary People, but I gave it to Redford for all the Oscars. Thanks for the comment.

  • [...] without more details, but it sounds ambitious for a first movie and not exactly mainstream, kind of like Charles Laughton and The Night of the Hunter. My favorite line is “the supernatural with the [...]

  • Clint Eastwood is my role model. I think it’s fascinating to see how this transition occurs.

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