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Directors as Actors

There are times when Actors turn Directors and make wonderful movies while casting themselves, but how many times does it happens that a Director gets in the shoes of an Actor for someone else’s movie.

There are some directors who are also good actors and in most cases these artists started their career as actors and then went on to become great directors.

Orson Welles, Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Robert Redford and Mel Gibson are a few classic examples.

Another such example is Richard Attenborough, though Attenborough should be considered as a Great Actor first and then a Great Director, but nevertheless a Great Director indeed. I always remember Attenborough as ‘Big X’ the leader of the POWs from ‘The Great Escape’, but at the same time how can I forget the biographical masterpiece that he created on the life of Gandhi.

Richard Attenborough as General Outram in Satyajit Ray's 'The Chess Players'

It quite struck me when I saw the Oscar winning director of Gandhi as General Outram in Satyajit Ray’s ‘The Chess Players’. And I wondered how would it be for a great director to be directed by another great director, how would they discuss the scene, would the director turned actor give any suggestions to the actual director, or would he just play his part, and would these two great director minds be able to work together without any creative differences?

Though I don’t remember many such instances but whenever such an instance has occurred where a great director has acted for another great director, the ultimate product has often come out great.

Martin Scorcese as Vincent Van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa's 'Dreams'

One such fantastic instance is from Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. I didn’t hear much about this film expect that it was based upon actual dreams of director Akira Kurosawa. The film basically comprised of these bizarre short tales (Kurosawa’s dreams) that portrayed not only the Japanese culture and folklore but also global concerns like the nuclear threat. And one of these dreams was called ‘Crows’ and it was about this art student (a character dressed like Kurosawa) who while looking at a painting by Vincent Van Gogh, actually gets inside the painting and meets the artist himself. And I was quite surprised to find Martin Scorsese playing the obsessive Van Gogh; it was fun to watch a great director like Scorsese acting for a legend like Kurosawa and in although a short role nonetheless a fantastic one. I felt Scorsese’s portrayal (though only for a few minutes)  as Vincent Van Gogh was as good as (if not better than)  Kirk Douglas’ Oscar nominated portrayal of the same character from the movie ‘Lust for Life’.

John Huston as Noah Cross in Roman Polanski's 'Chinatown'

I have watched many movies directed by John Huston and my favourite being ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ but never had actually seen him as an actor before. It was Roman Polanski’s masterpiece that actually brought out the revelation for me. And there is absolutely no doubt that John Huston is as effective an actor as he is a director. In fact Robert Towne the screenwriter of the movie even praised him for his portrayal of the villain Noah Cross and this is what he had to say “Huston was, after Nicholson, the second-best-cast actor in the film, and he made the Cross character evil through his charming and courtly performance”

Francois Truffaut as Claude Lacombe in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters with the Third Kind’

As an ending note I’d like to mention a couple of more such similar instances which I like (though not as much as Attenborough’s, Scorcese’s or Huston’s) and that are Francois Truffaut playing Claude Lacombe, a UFO scientist in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters with the Third Kind’ and Orson Welles playing Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s ‘The Third Man’. And I hope that I get to see more such instances ’cause when two great minds work together, miracles are bound to happen.

Orson Welles as Harry Lime in Carol Reed's 'The Third Man'


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