It’s a tricky subject…and it’s also an old cliche. Almost every sitcom and story about Hollywood to come out of the maudlin Me Decade of the ‘70s and the Greed is Good era of the ‘80s used the “but what I really want to do is direct” punchline as part of some preconceived preoccupation with the men and women who make/made movies their job. No one was happy unless they could dictate their own filmic fate. Yet as you will see, the notion of a performer taking the reins of their own onscreen showcases is nothing new. Sometimes it was done out of necessity. At other times, it was a question of financial convenience. At the heart of it all is a desire to express oneself, to move beyond playing pretend to actually craft the backdrop and its accompanying believability in which to set such sometimes amazing Method-ology.
Of course, coming up with a list like this is next to impossible. First, we have the question of the core concept. Is someone like Elaine May a worthy addition, considering her limited time onscreen and her equally uneven output as a director? What about Ron Howard, a commercial titan but a critical clown, for the most part? Do we look at confirmed outsiders like Sean Penn as viable inclusions, or is someone like Peter Berg or Jon Favreau too mainstream to make an appearance? Questions… questions. In any case, here are our choices for the 10 (or make that, 11) best actors turned directors in the 100-plus year history of film. Certainly we have forgotten a few important names, but for us, these individuals argue not only for a smooth transition between creative crafts, but the viability of making such a decision, beginning with a pioneer who fell into her future role quite by accident: