In a recent interview with Dujor, Angelina Jolie stated that she hopes to revamp her career from actress to director. After directing the Golden-Globe nominated Bosnian war film In the Land of Blood and Honey, Jolie realized that she preferred telling stories behind the camera over acting in front of it. This Christmas, Jolie's newest film, Unbroken, will be released in hopes of securing Jolie a more high-profile directing career.
In the past, countless directors have expressed a want to desire. In some cases, an acclaimed actor can develop an equally praised directing career. In others, a widely criticized actor can turn his/her career around with a film that shows his/her knack for directing. An example of the former is Clint Eastwood.
Though his more recent films have arguably been disappointing, Clint Eastwood is perhaps the best example of a successful actor becoming a successful director. In the 1960s, Eastwood was the ultimate western movie star. After starring in high-profile movies like A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Hang 'Em High, Eastwood sought to take up the director's chair.
Though his official directorial debut was in 1971 with the psychological thriller: Play Misty for Me, his career as a director more notably took off with 1976's The Outlaw Josey Wales. Using his immense experience in the western genre to his advantage, The Outlaw Josey Wales is known to this day as a thrilling, beautifully shot Civil War epic. It's portrayal of the Civil War and overall quality led to it's preservation in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1996.
His crowning achievement as a director eventually came in 1992, with the western classic: Unforgiven. Though he lost the award of Best Actor to Al Pacino, he won for Best Director and Unforgiven itself won best picture. Since then, Eastwood was nominated for Best Director three more times, winning once again for Million Dollar Baby in 2004.
Once again, most of his recent films (Hereafter, J. Edgar, Jersey Boys) haven't been received that well, but the success of Eastwood's venture into directing is undeniable. With all the hype for his newest film, American Sniper, I wouldn't be surprised if that film gets a nomination at next year's Oscars. Indeed, his story is one of a well regarded actor becoming a well regarded director. Madonna, however, is another story.
Unlike Eastwood, Madonna wasn't really a well regarded actress to begin with. Sure, her music career has been absolutely legendary, but her big-screen endeavors were quite the opposite. Madonna currently holds the infamous record of winning more Razzie Awards than any other actress. She won Worst Actress five times and won Worst Supporting Actress twice. The movie Swept Away was especially infamous, as it literally ended her acting career. With the exception of a voice-over role in Arthur and the Invisibles, Madonna has never acted in a movie since 2002. It was no surprise that her directing career was also a failure.
In addition to the obscure 2008 film Filth and Wisdom, Madonna directed W.E., a movie about King Edward VIII that many initially thought would receive Oscar Buzz. Though it did eventually receive a nomination for Best Costume Design, W.E. was labeled by many critics as a disappointingly dull period piece. Even worse, it absolutely tanked at the box office, earning about a 30th of its $30 million budget. Since then, Madonna has focused on her music career, and it is unlikely she will be hired to direct any time soon. So it's clear that Madonna's directing career was parallel to her acting one: wonky and fruitless. On the other hand, some unsuccessful actors find a new knack in directing, and use it to jumpstart their careers.
In the late 90's and early 2000's, Ben Affleck was one of the most derided A-list actors in Hollywood. His performances in commercially successful but critically panned films like Armageddon and Pearl Harbor became the subject of ridicule and parody. Even South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker lampooned Affleck's acting in Team America: World Police.
In many ways, Affleck was known as that pretty boy actor that lacked talent and got his roles based on his looks alone. In 2003, Affleck starred in the infamous film Gigli with his then-fiance Jennifer Lopez. Gigli not was not only a total failure at the box office, but it went on to be dubbed as one of the worst movies ever made. After Gigli, his career only seemed to be getting worse with films such as Paycheck, Jersey Girl, and the universally-panned Surviving Christmas. It indeed seemed like doomsday for Ben Affleck's career, and there was little hope of resurrecting it...until 2007.
After several years of nearly constant failure, Ben Affleck set his ambitions on directing with Gone Baby Gone. To everybody's surprise, the film received rave reviews from critics and audiences. Affleck's gritty approach to directing proved that his career in Hollywood was far from dead, and that even the most criticized actors can turn their careers around.
As a director, Ben Affleck found his muse, and ended up directing equally acclaimed pictures like The Town and, Argo, with the latter winning an Academy Award for Best picture. More recently, Affleck took a break from directing to star in Dave Fincher's widely praised Gone Girl. His performance was said by many to be his best ever, and gave a new burst of hope to his acting career. It is clear to see that Affleck's success as a director gave his acting career a breath of life. Conversely, the desire to direct gave Sidney Poitier's movie career the kiss of death.
Sidney Poitier made a name for himself in the late sixties for movies with racial motifs. During the civil rights period, Sidney's honest and progressive performances won him universal praise from critics. He was nominated for multiple Academy Awards in the 1960s, and won Best Actor for Lilies of the Field in 1963. In 1967, he took up the famous role of Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night and was declared the top box-office star of that year.
The following decade saw Poitier taking up directing. Initially, it was a moderately successful venture. For the most part, his directorial efforts involved collaborations with comedian Bill Cosby. Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action were all received well at the box-office, and Poitier seemed to have a bright future in directing. Of course, this was before the release of Ghost Dad.
To this day, Ghost Dad remains Poitier's last directorial effort. Considering how infamous it is, it's clear to see why. The film was vehemently received by critics, and Roger Ebert himself famously gave it a mere half-star out of five, saying:
How could Sidney Poitier, a skilled filmmaker with an actor's sense of timing, have been the director of this mess?
Ghost Dad centered around a father who supposedly dies (it isn't really clear with the movie's sloppy logic) and turns into a ghost. The film itself involves awkward dialogue, cringe-worthy jokes, and a strangely convoluted plot for a comedy. Needless to say, the movie was a box-office tragedy, and it cut short the directing career of Sidney Poitier. Considering his position as Bahamian ambassador to Japan, it is unlikely that he will direct another movie, which makes Ghost Dad an unfortunate sour note to end on.
At the end of the day, actors who become directors have varying levels of success. Whether is makes their career, breaks it, or does nothing at all to it, there's really no way to predict one's directorial success based on their acting career. As for Jolie, it seems as of right now that her directorial undertakings have been a mixed bag overall. However, it seems from what I've read that the flaws in her movies are mostly with the screenplays, and that her directing is well-intentioned and professional. So will Jolie rise to the occasion as a fully acclaimed director in the future? As the old saying goes: only time will tell.