D.W. Griffith wanted to be a director. But when he showed up knocking at film studio Biograph’s doorsteps, all they could offer him was a role as an actor, something Griffith already had plenty of experience with on the stage. He was happy with the work, as he remembered the days when he had to shovel coal or pick hops to make a living all too well. While his ultimate dream was to become a playwright, his dire financial situation made him decide to have a go at film screenwriting and directing as well, and it was in this that he would achieve tremendous fame with The Birth of a Nation. Not that this came easily; it was only when a last-minute cancellation by house director Wallace McCutcheon left Biograph bosses scrambling for a replacement that Griffith got his break. In 1908, his first film titled The Adventures of Dollie made its New York debut. The twelve-minute film about a kidnapped young girl floating down the river in a barrel sold twenty five copies, and Biograph offered Griffith a contract. The rest is history.
One hundred years later, not all that much has changed. Aspiring actors and actresses wait tables or take on other odd jobs awaiting that one crucial callback. And once one has a foot in the door on screen, the established networks come in quite handy when thinking about a career behind the cameras. This week, Ryan Phillippe became the latest actor to express an interest in taking on a more active role behind the scenes. The appeal is obvious. Directing is more prestigious, it allows one express his or her creative vision in ways that acting never could, is interesting financially, plus it offers better long-term prospectives when looks start waning or when one is ready for a more private existence. Numerous blogs have been written about actors who have successfully (or not so) made the transition—the undisputed number one being Clint Eastwood, while Ben Affleck is turning out to be quite the talent as well—but notably absent from the lists are actresses who did the same. However, this certainly does not mean that there have been no actresses who have demonstrated considerable talent behind the cameras. I have chosen to focus on directors rather than producers, meaning that Mary Pickford is left out—even though she remains the most powerful woman behind the screens up until this day in her role as a producer and founder. Here are six actresses who have taken the leap: