TIFF: 9 Actors Who Directed Films Playing at This Year’s Festival

TIFF: 9 Actors Who Directed Films Playing at This Year's Festival
TIFF: 9 Actors Who Directed Films Playing This Year's Festival

From trailblazers such as Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles, to the fiercely independent John Cassavetes, to award favorites like Clint Eastwood and Ben Affleck, actors directing films is nothing new. It does however feel like the festival circuit has increasingly become where actors go to be directors and showcase their diverse talents. Last year, the Toronto International Film Festival had notable directorial debuts from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Don Jon”), Jason Bateman (“Bad Words”), Keanu Reeves (“Man of Tai Chi”) and Mike Myers (“Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon”). As this year’s lineup proves, the trend of thespians taking their turn calling the shots is not a dying one. Most of these are personal projects that tend to fly under the radar, but you never know who will make the next “Gandhi” or “Argo”.  

Jon Stewart – “Rosewater”

Perhaps the most talked about actor making his directorial debut is Jon Stewart. After years of reminding people that “The Daily Show” is not meant to be taken as actual political news, he dives head first into the politically heated “Rosewater.” Following an appearance on Stewart’s show in 2009, Iranian Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was imprisoned for five months by Iranian authorities who did not appreciate the joke. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Bahari in what will surely be one of the festival’s hottest tickets. 

Chris Evans – “Before We Go”

A project that not many know about yet is the first film from the ‘First Avenger,’ Chris Evans. “Before We Go” is a romance starring Evans and Alice Eve as two strangers who spend a night together in New York City after missing the last train out of Grand Central Station. It always adds an extra challenge when actors decide to star in their directorial debut, it will be interesting to see if Evans can pull it off. Perhaps he’ll pave the way for handsome directors like Woody Allen did for funny looking movie stars. 

Paul Bettany – “Shelter”

“Shelter” not only marks Paul Bettany’s directorial debut, he can now add ‘screenwriter’ to his resume as well. The Brit moved to New York City about a decade ago when he married Jennifer Connell and the poverty he has observed there led him to write this film about homeless New Yorkers. Connelly and Anthony Mackie play very different people drawn together by circumstance in a film with sensitive subject matter that we can only hope Bettany handles well. It’s interesting to note that Connelly and Bettany met because of another very well known actor turned director, Ron Howard, who directed them in “A Beautiful Mind.”

Chris Rock -“Top Five”

Now we’re getting into a few actors who have a little more experience behind the camera. “Top Five” marks Chris Rock’s third feature film as a director. As with the other two (“Head of State” and “I Think I Love My Wife”) he wrote and starred in this one as well. It’s no surprise that when comedians get to a certain point in their career they like to maintain complete control over their projects. A good comedian knows the beats they want their comedy to hit, whether it’s in a stand up act or a 90-minute story. Speaking of which, Rock plays a comedian turned movie star in this one, sounds like it could be his most autobiographical film to date. I’m looking forward to appearances from a slew of his comedian buddies, including Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove and many more. 

Ethan Hawke – “Seymour: An Introduction”

Ethan Hawke has had a good year, snagging an Oscar nomination for co-writing “Before Midnight,” playing a prominent role in the fawned over “Boyhood,” and starring in “Good Kill,” the new film by Andrew Niccol also premiering at TIFF. He still found time to direct “Seymour: An Introduction,” his third feature. While his first two were fiction films, this is Hawke’s first attempt at documentary, painting a portrait of classical pianist, composer and author Seymour Bernstein. Let’s hope the rest of his directorial choices are better than inexplicably borrowing a title from a famous J.D. Salinger story. 

James Franco – “The Sound and the Fury”

What list of busy bodies would be complete without James Franco? This is the second book of William Faulkner’s that Franco has adapted for the screen in as many years. While we all know James Franco literally can not stop, it’s shocking to note he already has 24 directing credits on IMDB, most of which have only screened on the festival circuit. 

Mélanie Laurent – “Breathe”

Perhaps best known for playing the cinephile theater owner Shosanna in “Inglourious Basterds,”, Mélanie Laurent does more than pretend to know about film, she also writes, directs, produces, edits, and… you get the idea. Her second feature film focuses on an intense and potentially dangerous relationship between two teenaged girls and is already high on many critics’ festival watch list. 

Thomas McCarthy -“The Cobbler”

Thomas McCarthy almost doesn’t belong on this list as he is now more established as a director than he ever was as an actor. Despite supporting yet memorable roles in hits such as “Meet The Parents,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and season 5 of “The Wire,” McCarthy is now better known as the writer/ director of the 1-2-3 punch that was “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Win Win,” not to mention co-writing “Up” for which he received an Oscar nomination. His acting credits still far outnumber his directing credits even though he hasn’t acted in anything in the last four years, but the transition is all but complete. “The Cobbler,” starring Adam Sandler and Dustin Hoffman, is a whimsical story that could signify McCarthy’s graduation from indie darling to an ‘A’ list mainstream director. 

Alan Rickman – “A Little Chaos”

Alan Rickman’s “A Little Chaos” already shows promise by being given the prestigious closing slot at the festival. The film is a historical drama wherein Kate Winslet plays a landscape designer commissioned to construct Louis XIV’s garden in Versailles. Rickman took a 17 year hiatus from directing after making his first feature, one can only assume that he would only return for a project that he felt passionate about, hopefully we’ll see that passion on the screen. 

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.