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It's no secret that many actors want to become directors and that many do. But, what drives actors to direct? Of course, the answer to the question is highly individual and depends on each actor, but the reasons why many actors strive to direct do have some common threads. Inspiration from a certain story that he or she feels should be made into a film, the feeling of having more creative control in a production and career growth are some of the common reasons that make actors want to become directors.
Often, an actor becomes personally involved in having a story made into a film and to overseeing the direction of that project to tell the story. This was the case with acclaimed actor, Sean Penn. After reading Jon Krakauer's 1996 best-selling book, Into the Wild, about Christopher McCandless' real adventures in the Alaskan wilderness, Penn both wrote and directed the film of the same title. Christopher McCandless was a 24 year old East Coast honors graduate who realized his dream of living simply and alone in the Alaskan wilderness. McCandless didn't survive the journey, but left journals of his adventures that inspired both Krakauer and Penn to tell his story.
Directors ultimately have the most creative control in film making because they're responsible for directing actors in the production of the movie. Actor Tommy Lee Jones has noted that some actors want to become directors to have creative control in order to satisfy a type of artistic greed. Robert DeNiro is an example of an actor who wanted some creative control earlier on in his career, and he was noted for multiple collaborations with top directors such as Martin Scorsese. DeNiro later went on to direct his own projects that include A Bronx Tale (1993) and The Good Shepherd (2006).
Actors who have been acting for many years often gain a good understanding of the field of directing, both from their own relationship with the director and from watching the director interact with the other actors and crew on set. It can be argued that actors have a unique understanding for directing fellow actors. When actors want to become directors, providing leadership to other actors can result in a great sense of career accomplishment and growth. Television and film actress, Helen Hunt, has commented that she likes to direct because she appreciates the talents of actors and feels protective of them.
There are some actors out there who have become better known as directors, especially in television. I think of Penny Marshall, who played Laverne on "Laverne and Shirley" but didn't do much acting after that show ended. Former actor Michael Lembeck had a decent career playing small roles in sitcoms, but turned out to be a much more successful television director. I think some people with the goal of becoming directors will start out as actors just to get the experience. When they finally get a chance to direct, they'll understand how actors work and how to motivate them.
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