The hallowed halls of cinema are littered with iconic and unforgettable director/actor collaborations. The muses that feed the filmmaker, the director that inspires the actor. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Ingmar Bergman and half his repertory including Bibi Anderson, Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow, Werner Herzog and his toxic relationship with Klaus Kinski, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Monica Vitti and Michelangelo Antonioni, Spike Lee and Denzel Washington, Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart—no matter what time period of movies you look at, no matter whether it be high or low art, the classic collaborations are countless.
A new relationship seems to be brewing, one that’s only two movie deep, but feels like it has the potential to go on to develop into something fruitful and potentially classic. It is that of Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn and his muse Ryan Gosling. The two have already worked together on 2011’s taciturn thriller “Drive” and this week sees the release of their second team-up, “Only God Forgives,” a brutal thriller set in Bangkok that makes Gosling’s rather silent stuntman character seem positively chatty in comparison. “I’ve been doing this for twenty years. At a certain point you have to put your trust in somebody if you want to have a different kind of experience other than trying to sort of hijack someone else’s vision in order to realize your own,” Gosling recently told IndieWIRE about the mutual appreciation society thing he has going with the director.
These two violent, style-soaked movies serve as a testament to the power of their working relationship, one that at one point was set to crossover into the mainstream with a glitzy remake of “Logan’s Run,” and one that we’re sure will continue, in some form, in the not-too-distant future (they’ve also discussed the idea of a romantic comedy together and musicals). The pair and their blooming bromance was enough to get us thinking about other great actor/director pairings, in which creative synchronicity gave way to some truly memorable films. As noted, the list of timeless collaborations is utterly endless, staggering and humbling so we thought instead of running down the classic pairings with directors like Michael Curtiz, John Ford, Peter Bogdanovich, Luis Bunuel, Hal Hartley, Sidney Lumet or Sam Peckinpah (the list is utterly impossibly long…), we decided to focus in ten modern examples of what happens when a pretty face and a big brain work in perfect harmony.
Christopher Nolan/Michael Caine
Number Of Films Together: 6 — “Batman Begins” (2005), “The Prestige” (2006), “The Dark Knight” (2008), “Inception” (2010), “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012), “Interstellar” (2014)
History: Even if Michael Caine had retired a decade ago, he’d still stand as a true cinematic legend, who’d had one of the widest ranging and most interesting careers around. Fortunately, he didn’t, and Caine’s found a whole new generation of fans after becoming the frequent collaborator and self-described lucky charm (he told Empire last year “We’re each others’ good luck charms. I always say to him, ‘I’m not your good luck charm, you are mine!’ “) of one of the most acclaimed and successful directors in modern cinema, Christopher Nolan. Caine, as a fan of Nolan’s “Memento,” recalled to Hero Complex his excitement when Nolan turned up at his house with a script for him to read: “My instant thought was, I’m going to be in one of these wonderful little dramas, murder thrillers. I’d love that.” When it emerged that he wanted him to play Alfred in “Batman Begins,” Caine saids he wasn’t keen, “I immediately thought I’ll be spending the entire series saying ‘Dinner is served’ and ‘Would you like a coffee?’ I thought, well, I’ll read it and turn it down.” But instead, Caine was so impressed by both Nolan and his take on the character that he took the role, which proved to be the beating heart of Nolan’s Bat-trilogy. Luckily for us, their association has continued long beyond that; Caine has appeared in every one of Nolan’s films since “Batman Begins,” including stand-alone films “The Prestige” and “Inception,” and will soon feature in sci-fi mind-bender “Interstellar” too. Caine, who’s compared Nolan to David Lean and calls him “the great new director of our time,” says the director hasn’t changed much over the years, telling Empire “It’s always the same… He’s very quiet and he just wanders around looking at everything and then he comes up and whispers something to you and everything is very controlled. Everybody knows exactly what they’re doing.” As for Nolan, he told AMPAS, via the New York Times, that “I think being able to say, ‘My great friend Sir Michael Caine’ is one of the great pleasures of my life.”
Key Film: Caine’s roles haven’t been hugely substantial, in terms of screen time, in any of Nolan’s films (perhaps the biggest role came in “The Prestige,” in which he’s excellent, again as the film’s moral center), but the defining moment of the partnership can be placed down to one scene: Alfred’s tearful exit in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Caine had been a quiet, wisecracking presence throughout the trilogy, but it boils over here, and his paternal love for Bruce Wayne, and the way he’s prepared to burn his bridges for the smallest chance of saving him, is heartbreaking.
Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio
Number of Films Together: 5 — “Gangs of New York” (2002), “The Aviator” (2004), “The Departed” (2006), “Shutter Island” (2010), “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)
History: Scorsese had been trying to get “Gangs of New York,” his epic tale of territorial violence in Civil War-era Manhattan, made for decades (the first draft was written in 1977 and a splashy trade ad for the project emerged in the ’80s that touted Robert De Niro as its star, with an original score by The Clash), but a rejuvenated version of the project only started to gain traction again once Leonardo DiCaprio became interested in it. As far as the foundations of a relationship go, getting your long-delayed dream project off the ground is a pretty good one. While the first part of Scorsese’s career had been defined by his creative partnership with Robert De Niro, the 2000s were firmly Leo’s. In 2006, Scorsese described his relationship with DiCaprio to The Guardian by saying, “I sense something about him. There’s a great deal emotionally going on inside of him. For me it was interesting – I felt comfortable with the emotional process he was going through, and it reminded me very much of De Niro. It was a different frame of reference: I’m 30 years older, but he approached emotional subjects in a very similar way and he also thinks about things in life the way I do.” After ‘Gangs,’ Scorsese cast him as Howard Hughes in his dizzying biopic “The Aviator,” and most famously as a cop pretending to be a criminal in his twisty, Oscar-winning “The Departed.” DiCaprio described his relationship with Scorsese to About.com, admitting that he had wanted to work with Scorsese ever since he did a movie with De Niro and summing up their relationship succinctly. “I don’t have an exciting term for it other than we have a good time working together and we have similar tastes as far as the films we like. He certainly has broadened my spectrum as far as films that are out there and the history of cinema… It really brought me to different levels as an actor. I look at him as a mentor.” DiCaprio was all aboard Scorsese’s brilliantly bizarre horror throwback “Shutter Island” and the upcoming “Wolf of Wall Street,” undoubtedly one of 2013’s most highly anticipated films.
Key Film: “The Aviator,” Scorsese’s underrated (but still Oscar-nominated) biopic that concerned Howard Hughes’ Hollywood years. For many, it was the movie that showcased DiCaprio in a “grown-up” role after years of being defined by his youthful exuberance and “boyish” good looks. With “The Aviator,” Scorsese gave DiCaprio the opportunity to be a man; and not only a man, but a man fraught with obsessions and ambition and psychological ill-health. John Logan‘s razor-sharp script wisely avoids Hughes’ crazier years (although it certainly alludes to them), instead focusing on the time the industrialist and pilot spent as a Hollywood impresario. It’s this framing that makes “The Aviator” one of Scorsese’s most deeply personal works, as his mania and attention to detail are only a couple of degrees off from Hughes’ (the director shot the different sections of “The Aviator” in the film stock that was available at the time, which is why the peas in an early scene have a bluish hue). While their work together on “Gangs of New York” was stunning, it was still very much an ensemble piece, and while the supporting cast of “The Aviator” is jaw-dropping, it’s totally DiCaprio’s movie; he appears in almost every scene and is the eternal focal point, even when he’s not. It proved that DiCaprio could handle a movie of this size and heft all his own and cemented his place as one of Scorsese’s most valued and talented creative collaborators.
Tim Burton/Johnny Depp
Number of Films Together: 8 — “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), “Ed Wood” (1994), “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005), “Corpse Bride” (2005), “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007), “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), “Dark Shadows” (2012)
History: When Tim Burton was working on his highly touted project “Edward Scissorhands” (the follow-up to his smash “Batman“), he chose an unlikely actor to star: Johnny Depp, then still an achingly handsome teen heartthrob from the popular television series “21 Jump Street,” who had been caked in kabuki make-up, given Burton’s trademark mop-top hairstyle, and outfitted with prosthetic gloves to create the titular look. In a 2010 back-and-forth with Esquire, Burton noted that he and Depp formed an instant connection, based on a “suburban white trash-y connective strand.” They both knew (and loved) the one Humphrey Bogart horror movie he made (“The Return of Dr. X“) and had similar childhoods, even though they were miles apart (Burton grew up in sunny California, Depp in the deep south). Super-producer Scott Rudin said that Depp is playing Burton in all of their movies together, something Depp agreed with but Burton refutes. It’s hard not to see it though, from the lonesome outcast in “Edward Scissorhands” to the cheeseball filmmaker in “Ed Wood” (it’s harder to see the analogy in later years, when both actor and director have gone for more fancifully arch material). The years spent apart in between features do not speak to some kind of contentious, volatile relationship between the two. Burton told the Huffington Post last year that, “I can see him every day and then I can not see him for a couple of years. Everyone is gypsy and nomadic in the film world and they have to be right for the part, so nobody takes offense.” With Burton, Depp seems to know that he can push himself into areas of the grotesque more freely than with other filmmakers, both physically—the scissorhands of ‘Scissorhands,’ elongated fingers in “Dark Shadows,” computer-enlarged eyes in “Alice in Wonderland“—and performance-wise (his ‘Sweeney Todd’ was fearless and he has mentioned that Ichabod Crane in “Sleepy Hollow” was partially inspired by Angela Lansbury on “Murder, She Wrote“). Their partnership is also one of the most successful in cinema history; “Alice in Wonderland” alone grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
Key Film: “Ed Wood,” Burton’s R-rated, black-and-white masterpiece from 1994. It’s easily Burton’s most personal film and one in which the Depp-as-Burton reading holds the most water. In telling the story of B-movie icon Ed Wood, whose “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is widely regarded (at least until “The Room” came along) as the worst movie of all time, and his relationship with faded horror icon Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau, in an Oscar-winning performance), Burton was opening up about his own relationship with a horror mainstay: Vincent Price. Price and Burton had been friends since Burton made a short film for Disney about a young boy obsessed with Price called “Vincent,” and scored a coup by getting Price to narrate it. He convinced Price, who was in failing health, to co-star in “Edward Scissorhands” as the inventor who creates the titular character, and at the time of Price’s death, was working on a feature-length documentary about their relationship. (Burton never returned to the project.) “Ed Wood” was Burton’s way of working through that relationship and it amounts to his best, most personal, and most deeply felt movie. Depp, for his part, has never been more electrically alive; his line delivery is absolutely hilarious as he conjures a perfect mixture of wide-eyed optimism and an almost childlike naivete. In omitting some of the darker aspects of Wood’s life, including a perilous relationship with drugs and alcohol, they cemented the film as Burton’s autobiographical fairy tale and elevated the character beyond the usual Burton/Depp oddball outcast.
History: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg‘s relationship started way back in 1996, when Pegg worked with Wright on “Asylum,” a short-lived Paramount Comedy Channel series that combined a narrative with threads of stand-up material (Wright directed and co-created the six episodes). When Pegg and Jessica Stevenson were cooking up their BBC series “Spaced,” they thought of Wright and had him brought aboard. Wright ended up directing all 14 episodes of “Spaced” and the bond between Pegg and Wright was solidified. When it was time to direct his first proper feature, the zombie farce “Shaun of the Dead,” Wright enlisted Pegg not simply as the star, but also as a co-writer. “Shaun of the Dead” feels very much, in that sense, like a feature-length extension of “Spaced,” all of the editorial tics and crackling dialogue that was developed for the series blossomed, beautifully, in the feature film. It was then that Wright and Pegg started talking about it being the first part of a trilogy, something they dubbed “The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy,” named after a popular British ice cream treat that also serves as an effective hangover remedy. (It’s also a reference to the “Three Colors Trilogy” by Krzysztof Kieslowski.) Two more films have followed: the action movie send-up “Hot Fuzz” and next month’s beautifully melancholy sci-fi ode “The World’s End.” Wright also had a hand co-writing Steven Spielberg‘s “Adventures of Tintin,” which featured Pegg and his “Three Flavours” co-star Nick Frost. Their working relationship seems to be based purely on the things that they mutually enjoy; this isn’t something that has been fraught with hardship or creative differences. They’re a particular kind of amiable geek. And it’s very sad that the trilogy is over.
Key Film: While we want to give a shout-out to “The World’s End,” we’re technically not allowed to talk about it yet and anyway “Shaun of the Dead” is still tops. The reason that “Shaun of the Dead” is so powerful is that it was such a surprise. Not only is it scary and funny, but it’s also an effective romantic comedy, and a sharply incisive look at the way that relationships function (or dysfunction), especially when best friends are involved. (The Pegg/Frost dynamic was developed years before the odious “bromance” term was coined.) There’s something so positive and joyful about “Shaun of the Dead;” it really did mark the arrival of a major new talent. And every film that they’ve done subsequently has built upon what was established in “Shaun of the Dead.” Part of what makes their relationship so powerful is that Pegg both stars in and co-writes each movie, which makes them even more personal. It’s hard not to wonder how much of the Pegg/Wright dynamic is built into whatever on-screen friendship unfolds between Pegg and Frost. While the trilogy of films might be over, we hope that it doesn’t mean that Pegg and Wright’s working relationship is through. For two men who have made a tiny collection of excellent comedies, the end of their partnership would be downright tragic.
Steven Soderbergh/Matt Damon
Number Of Films Together: 7 — “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001), “Ocean’s Twelve” (2004), “Ocean’s Thirteen” (2007), “Che: Part Two” (2008), “The Informant!” (2009), “Contagion” (2011), “Behind The Candelabra” (2013)
History: He might be associated more widely with George Clooney, with whom he made six films and ran a production company, but Steven Soderbergh actually hasn’t worked directly with the star since 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen” (a seventh film, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E,” fell apart due to an injury to Clooney). In fact, the filmmaker had another A-list playmate who cropped up more often in the director’s “final” run of movies; namely, Matt Damon. The pair could have ended up never crossing paths: Mark Wahlberg was initially down to play fresh-faced pickpocket Linus Caldwell in “Ocean’s Eleven,” but bailed to star in “Planet Of The Apes,” causing Damon to step in instead. That said, despite Soderbergh initially approaching Damon about “The Informant!” way back in 2001, it took a while for them to sync up; the pair continued to work together on ‘Ocean’s’ sequels (in which Damon was a reliably funny highlight), and with a brief cameo in “Che: Part Two,” but their major collaborations all came quite late: 2009’s “The Informant!,” Damon’s touching regular turn in ensemble disaster piece “Contagion,” and, most recently, a near-career best, vanity-free performance in “Behind The Candelabra.” Soderbergh said to the Huffington Post recently that he was drawn to Damon from “a combination of intelligence, integrity and fearlessness,” expanding on the latter to add, “One of the things I think people will appreciate about Matt’s performance [in ‘Candelabra’] is his absolute commitment to jumping off the cliff and not looking back. There aren’t a lot of actors of his age and caliber who would read this and say yes without hesitating.” Damon, meanwhile, who broke the news of Soderbergh’s retirement, knows more than most how much he’ll be missed. “After I worked with Clint [Eastwood],” he told the LA TImes, “I went back and said, ‘Look, Clint is having a blast and he’s going to be 80 years old.’ And Steven says back, ‘Yeah, but he’s a storyteller and I’m not,’” Damon recounted. “If you’re an actor or a writer or someone working in film, it’s such a waste. For me, I’m going to spend the next 40 years trying to become a great director and I will never reach what he’s reached. And he’s walking away from it.”
Key Film: Damon is terrific in “Behind The Candelabra,” but he’s equally great in “The Informant!,” which is much more of a one-man show. Soderbergh’s absolutely working in service of the actor’s performance, without which the film simply wouldn’t work; Damon’s mix of integrity and pathological fibbing is both hilarious and deeply tragic.
Wes Anderson/Bill Murray
Number Of Films Together: 7 — “Rushmore” (1998), “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001), “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” (2004), “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007), “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012), “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)
History: Wes Anderson‘s another director who’s been steadily building an ever-growing repertory company over the years, but while the likes of Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are undeniably associated with the filmmakers’ works, it’s Bill Murray who marks the defining relationship of the director’s career. Anderson, inspired by the work that the comic star had been doing in films like “Mad Dog and Glory” and “Ed Wood,” reluctantly approached Murray for his sophomore film, despite feeling that he didn’t have a shot. Anderson told Deadline, “I didn’t want to send him the script because I understood that it was futile, that he would not respond at all and that it would be impossible to get him.” Fortunately, the notoriously picky actor’s agent (back when he had one) had been a big fan of “Bottle Rocket,” passed the “Rushmore” script onto Murray, and the actor agreed to work for scale to play the besotted, regressing millionaire Herman Blume in the picture. The two got on famously—Murray even wrote a blank check to Anderson to fund a scene that was being cut for budgetary reasons—and Murray’s the only actor to have featured in every one of Anderson’s subsequent films. Sometimes it’s a significant part, sometimes a mere cameo (as with his clever framing appearances in “The Darjeeling Limited“), but an Anderson film simply wouldn’t be the same without Murray’s avuncular hangdog charms cropping up somewhere. Anderson’s been upfront about wanting to work with his regular collaborators, telling The Guardian last year “there’s an energy that comes from people who are friends. Whatever chemistry is on set is going to be there in the movie, and you want some electricity that you don’t really control.” And clearly, the two continue to be great friends, with Murray saying, self-deprecatingly, at a Cannes press conference “Sometimes, when you work with a director you know you not only may never see him again, sometimes you hope you never seen him again. And that goes for the director as well. They can’t wait for you to leave. They drive you to the airport to make sure you leave. That happens. With Wes, I’ve never gotten a ride to the airport. I’m just so happy with how Wes just gets better.” The two will be reunited once more on the upcoming “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Key Film: “Rushmore” might be their finest hour together, but the defining Anderson/Murray film has to be “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.” It’s arguably the director’s weakest, or at least most unruly and indulgent effort, but it’s the one that centers most on Murray’s character, an egotistical, self-absorbed marine biologist. And for all the film’s flaws, Murray gives a textured and, eventually, deeply moving performance as a selfish asshole who borders on being too irredeemable to like.
Pedro Almodóvar / Penélope Cruz
Number Of Films Together: 5 — “Live Flesh” (1997), “All About My Mother” (1999), “Volver” (2007), “Broken Embraces” (2009), “I’m So Excited” (2013)
History: Having fallen out with previous muse Carmen Maura in the early 1990s, there was certainly something of a void in the work of Pedro Almodóvar, one of the great directors of women of the modern age. Fortunately, soon after, the filmmaker watched Bigas Luna‘s “Jamon Jamon,” which starred a 17-year-old actress called Penélope Cruz. The actress had been a fan of his work since childhood (saying once, “He changed the way I looked at the world before I even knew him”), so an offer to audition was a dream came true, but he couldn’t initially find a role for her, telling The Guardian in 2009 that “She was always too young for my characters.” But after five years, the stars aligned, and briefly featured in 1997’s “Live Flesh” as a teenage prostitute who gives birth on a bus. Two years later, came a far more substantial part, as the young HIV-positive nun pregnant by the now-deceased Lola, in “All About My Mother.” The film was perhaps Almodóvar’s finest up to that point, and Cruz cemented the rising star status she’d had for a few years. Hollywood came calling, and so the two were separated for a few years, but they were soon reunited swiftly, for 2007’s “Volver” and 2009’s “Broken Embraces.” Cruz turned down the chance to star in Almodóvar’s “The Skin I Live In” in order to appear in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” but there are clearly no hard feelings; she has a fun cameo in Almodóvar’s latest, “I’m So Excited!” The two clearly have an incredibly close bond—Almodóvar has discussed how the two had an almost sexual chemistry, telling GQ, “The desire was controllable in the sense that I don’t usually have sexual relationships with women. But we did both feel that the desire was present. Penélope was aware of it and we talked about it,” and describing their relationship to the Guardian as “a couple who don’t sleep together.” And Cruz is unrestrained in her praise for the director, saying, “In terms of personal experience, being in his films have been some of the best times in my life. Growing and learning. I don’t just see them as movies. I feel he could give his life for a movie, and so could I.”
Key Film: “Volver,” is still, in our minds, just about Almodóvar’s finest hour. Notably, the film also unites his two muses: Cruz and Carmen Maura, with whom he was reunited after eighteen years of estrangement. Maura’s terrific, but it’s very much Cruz’s film—for the first time, he wrote the role, of a woman who stabs her abusive husband who ends up accidentally opening a restaurant and seemingly encountering her mother’s ghost, specifically for the actress. He was right to do so; it’s still her greatest performance, and she shared Best Actress at Cannes with the rest of the ensemble, and was rightly Oscar nominated for the turn.
History: Over his first few films, Paul Thomas Anderson built up something of a repertory company—John C Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Melora Walters et al.—but the greatest constant across the director’s career has been Philip Seymour Hoffman. The theater veteran started out with a small role in “Hard Eight“/”Sydney,” but soon graduated to a scene-stealing turn in “Boogie Nights,” playing Scotty, the poor lovelorn boom operator in unrequited lust with Mark Wahlberg‘s Dirk Diggler; a funny and heartbreaking turn that’s one of the best things in the movie. Hoffman returned again to join the ensemble of “Magnolia,” with a very different turn, dedicated nurse Phil Pharma, a generous, unshowy performance that exists mostly to serve Jason Robards‘s titanic effort. Another change in direction followed with “Punch-Drunk Love,” in which Hoffman plays the mattress-store owning phone-sex line operator harrassing Adam Sandler‘s Barry, before the pair took a decade long break before reuniting for “The Master,” in which Hoffman finally took center stage with the title role. As Anderson says, that film was written for Hoffman, the director telling QuickFlix, “the biggest reason for this film, for me, was to make something with Phil that we built from the ground up. Like you said, we’d worked together before, and it was a couple weeks here, or ten days. It never felt satisfying enough. I wanted to work with him on a larger scale and in a deeper way. I would just start sharing pages with him and showing what I was up to. It was a great way to work.” The admiration is clearly mutual, with Hoffman saying that he enjoy both the director’s unpredictability, telling the New York Times, “Every time I work with him, I’m always surprised, he’s allowed himself to go further and not to always think he has the answer,” and his truthfulness, saying to Esquire, “I think Paul’s honest about who humans are. I think you gotta have an honesty and a humility about human nature and that it’s not about you at the end of the day. He knows what he’s good at. That’s the thing about Paul. And what he’s good at he’s better at than probably anybody.” Ultimately, though, Hoffman says their friendship is more important to him than their working relationship, telling Little White Lies last year, “I get concerned when we don’t talk for a few months, not when we don’t make a movie together for a few years. I make sure that we stay close as friends and that’s what we concern ourselves with. In his meanderings of trying to put stories and scripts together – because he writes all the time – if he comes upon something that he decides suits me then we’ll talk about it, but otherwise I’m not constantly looking to work with him. I’ve already worked with him enough for a lifetime, in a lot of ways. But I hope we keep working together, I hope I’m still a part of his stories. But if not then that’s okay.”
Key Film: Unquestionably “The Master,” last year’s extraordinary film that saw Hoffman as author/religion-founder Lancaster Dodd, one half of an unlikely friendship/platonic romance with Joaquin Phoenix‘s Freddy Quell. Hoffman might give his very best performance in the film, showing both the charisma of a self-appointed leader like Dodd, and more subtly, the flaws and weaknesses too.
History: It might be one of the youngest partnerships on the list, but Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon have swiftly formed a potent cinematic partnership that we’re always happy to see more of, even if they’re only three films in (with a fourth on the way). The two first came together on Nichols’ debut “Shotgun Stories,” though interestingly, the director says that Shannon was the only person in the cast he didn’t know at the time, telling Indiewire back in the day, “The casting for this film was made up mostly of people I knew. Michael Shannon, our lead, was the one exception. I knew his work and had written the part for him, but I didn’t know him personally. I did however have a connection to him through a friend. This is how he got my script and eventually came on board.” But come on board he did, and the actor gives an unforgettable performance in the still-underseen 2008 picture as the appropriately-named Son, who instigates a feud with his half-brothers. The two became friends during the shoot, but interestingly, Nichols didn’t write the lead in his next film, “Take Shelter,” with Shannon in mind. The actor told Cinema Blend, “The first time I read the script was just as a friend. As Jeff was saying, it was a very personal story for him, and he just wanted someone to read it and see if it translated” before the director realized, as he says “at the end of the day, I happened to be friends with this amazing actor. I had his cell phone number.” Fortunately, the two did work together on that picture, as well as on Nichols’ follow-up “Mud,” in which Shannon has a smaller supporting role, but still proves to be one of the highlights of the picture. Shannon says that Nichols was nervous when they first worked together, telling In Contention “Jeff would do a lot of ‘What do you think we should do? Should we rehearse?’,” but adding that “we’ve always had a kind of unspoken understanding.” And with a fourth film on the way—a sci-fi film at Warner Bros. to co-star Joel Edgerton—the pair look to work together for a long time to come, Shannon joking to Cinema Blend, “As long as he keeps paying me more each time I work with him,” and Nichols promising “I’ll keep writing stuff for Mike and giving it to him.”
Key Film: It has to be “Take Shelter”—while the film’s not quite a one-man show (Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham are also excellent in it), Shannon gives his very best turn to date as a family man who thinks he’s losing his grip on his sanity and is terrified at what that might mean for his wife and child.
Back in 2008, Steve McQueen was a well-known British artist, but
virtually an unknown in the wider world of filmmaking, while Michael
Fassbender was an actor who’d been tipped for a while, but was best
known for a small role in “300” and a British ‘Buffy’ rip-off called
“Hex.” Now, the former is a lauded filmmaker and the latter is a legitimate
star. While their partnership is still young, the duo are imminently
teaming up for a third time on “12 Years A Slave,” which looks to be
a serious awards contender this fall. McQueen had never worked with
actors before he made “Hunger,” about the IRA hunger-striker Bobby
Sands, and must have felt spoiled to have cast Fassbender, telling The Guardian
of the actor, who fasted for 10 weeks during the filming to reach his
gaunt frame in the film’s final third, “He committed himself totally to
the part, and I think it changed him somehow. He became very inward,
very philosophical. At one point, he became like Bob Marley in a way,
philosophising about the meaning of life and shit. I was like, what the
fuck is going on here?'” That it was their first film seemed to bond the
pair, with Fassbender later telling Collider “Together,
we were experiencing a lot. I could see, on Steve’s face, the passion
and wanting to get it right, and I wanted to get it right, too. We just
formed a language, very quickly.” McQueen designed his next film,
“Shame,” about a sex addict in New York, with the intention of
Fassbender playing the lead, and by the time they came to shoot it, an almost wordless telepathy had
developed in their process. When we spoke
to McQueen at NYFF two years ago, he told us,”He
would do a take, and it would be not exactly what I wanted, and I’d
walk up to him, and as soon as I walked up, he’d be ‘Yeah, I know.’ We’d
grunt and groan a lot, it’s like falling in love, it’s shocking and
surprising. When it happens, you hold on to it, and it’s something I’m
grateful to have.” They’re clearly still incredibly close, and McQueen
calls it “one of the most important relationships I’ve had in my life.
My mother, my sister, my wife, my twin children, further friends, and
Michael. That’s how deep it is, really,” in an interview with the AV Club. So even after the release of “12 Years A Slave,” we’re sure we’ll see the two continue to work together; Fassbender said at the release of “Shame,”
“When I was seventeen and I started off doing this, my dream was to
meet a director, and to have a relationship with a director, like
Scorsese/De Niro, Lumet/Pacino. That would be the ultimate, to have a
collaboration like that, and to be on a wavelength that powerful with
somebody, and that’s what I was so lucky to find with Steve with
Film: With Fassbender in a supporting role in “12 Years A Slave,” we’d
still likely go with “Hunger,” not just for the actor’s alarming physical
commitment, but for his absolute dedication to the role on
every level, and not least in the amazing 22-minute sequence with Liam
Honorable Mentions: Like we said, we’ve tried to stick with active and current partnerships, in part because the wealth of options from classic cinema is so great. That said, there were still some others that are worth mentioning. The Coens, for instance, have long-standing relationships with the likes of John Goodman and Frances McDormand, while James Gray and Joaquin Phoenix have a major double-act that continues with this year’s “The Immigrant.” Similarly, Wong Kar-Wai and long-time leading man Tony Leung Chiu-Wai have teamed up again for this year’s “The Grandmasters”
Other notables also include Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor, David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen, Mike Leigh and Timothy Spall, Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke, Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon, Guy Ritchie and Mark Strong, Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Duntst (yes, she recently popped up in “The Bling Ring” in a cameo), Dennis Dugan and Adam Sandler, and the inspiration for this feature, Nicolas Winding Refn, who also has a long-standing relationship with Mads Mikkelsen. Plus, there are plenty of newer but promising collaborations that we hope will continue: people like Kelly Reichardt and Michelle Williams, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, and Lars Von Trier and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The list, as usual, goes on and on. If there are any pairs you love that we’ve omitted, please let us know in the comments section below.