Article: 10 Actor/Director Collaborations We Want To See More Of

Here are ten actor/director collaborations we'd like to see more of.

In the age of actor and director driven movies dominating the multiplexes, some of the most familiar names in the movie industry launched both the actor’s career as well as establishing the director as a force to be reckoned with. Often, we think of the two as a team, collaborating to create truly exceptional, timeless movies.  For better or worse, these unique pairs have often gone their separate ways or the project simply hasn’t called for their unified talents.  To give an idea of some of the highlights of the joint efforts between a great director and an even greater actor, let us take a look at some of the 10 actor and director collaborations we'd like to see more of.

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro

       When Martin Scorsese hit the film scene in the early 1970s and established his stature as a director the film community absolutely needed to be paying close attention to, a unique working relationship between himself and newcomer (at the time) actor Robert De Niro was born.  Though the duo only produced 8 films together over the next 25 years, the two created timeless classics that forever changed the way we look at both film and the physical devotion an actor can bring to a role.  With both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Scorsese’s leading man didn’t so much play the parts as he lived them inside and out.  At times, the two even coached each other on directing actors, as with the taxicab scene when Scorsese plays a disturbed man in De Niro’s cab.  De Niro’s iconic portrait of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull not only displayed an actor in absolute commitment to the part, but an actor willing to go through incredible lengths for the sake of the film and it’s director.  In recent years though, Scorsese and De Niro seem to have gone their separate ways, with Leonardo DiCaprio replacing De Niro as Scorsese’s leading man and De Niro doing light comedies far beneath his ability.  A shame these two haven’t done anything together for so long.  Scorsese is 71 years old now and De Niro’s not getting any younger.  It would be nice to see them make a film together again.

 David Fincher and Brad Pitt

       While Brad Pitt had already established himself as a heartthrob in the film scene, it goes without saying few actors understood and gave themselves to director David Fincher in the ways Brad Pitt did.  Though the two only made 3 films together, everyone remembers Tyler Durden from Fincher’s adaptation of Fight Club, the troubled cop from Se7en, and the backwards aging protagonist of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Pitt’s slick, clean cut appearance coupled with Fincher’s cold, brooding images announced a new kind of cinema, with a dark, cool edge.  It’s impossible to imagine Tyler Durden being played by anyone else.  Fincher hasn’t been one to work with the same actors more than once, save for some character actors here and there.  Without Pitt, it’s questionable whether or not Fincher would have attained the same degree of success, both commercially and artistically.  As Fincher continues to branch out and try his hand at new genres, Pitt also has continued to grow in terms of working with iconic directors.  While Ben Affleck is an interesting choice for his newest project, it would be an easy sell for these two to make another masterpiece.

 David Lynch and Naomi Watts

       After David Lynch’s comeback in the film scene with his Hollywood satire and fever dream Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watts became a household name in the pantheon of potentially great actresses.  Soon after, she was a Hollywood starlet, appearing in virtually every major film coming out of tinseltown.  Only once more did the fearless actress team up with Lynch, for his online web series Rabbits (later incorporated into Inland Empire).  In recent years, Watts has gone on the record saying she owes her career to Lynch, that the film was her ticket to stardom and respectability in the critical circles.  Outside of Laura Dern and Diane Ladd, Watts was the perfect actress for Lynch, diving head on into the unbridled sexuality and surreal, frightening character shifts his protagonist takes over the course of the film.  While Watts is in a comfortable working spot at the moment, Lynch has unfortunately thrown in the towel, announcing retirement from film altogether save for a few music videos and commercials here and there.  If a miracle happens and he decides retirement isn’t quite for him or the film world, then Watts should absolutely jump on board and give us another great David Lynch performance.  She owes it to him tenfold anyway. 

 David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen

With A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg gave us a Viggo Mortensen we’ve never seen before.  Chameleonic, dedicated and intensely controlled, Viggo Mortensen quickly escalated in stature from being a popular character actor to a leading Hollywood star.  The cold and clinical Cronenberg has always managed to elicit terrific performances out of familiar character actors with untapped greatness, including Jeff Goldblum and Jeremy Irons.  But few could ignore the intense spell cast by Cronenberg and Mortensen with their first collaboration, A History of Violence.  The two created an emotionally complex story of a man in identity crisis with a dark past which catches up to him and his family.  After the critical and commercial success of the film, the two would pair up again with the even more successful Eastern Promises, with Mortensen as a Russian mobster, earning Mortensen his first Academy Award nomination.  His last effort with Cronenberg, though small in screen time but large in context, involved the portrayal of Sigmund Freud in the birth of psychoanalysis film A Dangerous Method.  Although Cronenberg seems to have struck a new working relationship with actor Robert Pattinson, it is common knowledge he struck gold with Mortensen and needs to bring him back into the mines in search of more. 

Brian De Palma and Al Pacino

Although many years have passed between the two and both seem on the verge of retirement, it is hard not to think of the lightning in a bottle the two captured with director Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake of the 1932 gangster epic, Scarface.  While actor Al Pacino introduced the world to The Godfather’s Michael Corleone with his understated gangster, his swan dive into over the top excess as Tony Montana in Scarface created what is often referred to as the ultimate gangster.  Seething with rage, quick to violence and remorseless, Tony Montana is truly a creature of the wild, ready to take what is his.  De Palma’s camera seems to be the only figure not afraid of this man, following close behind and paying special attention to Montana’s eyes which seem to see a constant shade of red.  Exactly 10 years later, Pacino would re-team with De Palma for another, somewhat different kind of gangster epic, Carlito’s Way.  While Tony Montana may have been the devil incarnate, Carlito Brigante is something of a fallen angel, a gangster recently released from prison trying to restart his life and promote good in the world but unable to shake his demons.  Although nowhere near as strong as Scarface, it touches many of the same notes and presents a complex, conflicted man torn between good and evil.  Although De Palma and Pacino only made two films together, they are undoubtedly wholly iconic, timeless, and possibly De Palma’s most commercially successful efforts to date.  With both men receding into mediocrity and eventual permanent leave of the film industry, it behooves them to give the world another foray into the world of crime.  There’s a reason people still watch Scarface.

 Darren Aronofsky and Hugh Jackman

Both Hugh Jackman and Darren Aronofsky have finally hit their stride.  With Hugh Jackman taking on more complex roles and the recent commercial success of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, the two have no doubt peaked with their creative powers.  Still, it’s fair to say Jackman’s success as an actor is due in large part to that little seen collaboration he did with Darren Aronofsky on his 2006 metaphysical epic about death and rebirth, The Fountain. While most people only knew Jackman as Wolverine from the X-Men movies, this was the first time people were allowed to grasp the range Jackman really harbored as an actor.  Playing three seemingly different variations of the same man, Jackman gives us a medieval Spanish conquistador, a modern day oncologist, and a fantastical futurist cosmonaut.  With the role(s), Jackman hits every physical and emotional note demanded of him, and then some.  This is an utterly passionate performance full of raw, naked emotion.  Jackman plays all three parts as separate characters but gradually gives subtle links to connect the three as one character.  Aronofsky fans, of course, initially scoffed at the casting of Jackman, until they saw the finished film.  Jackman practically gives blood to Aronofsky, and the role remains my personal favorite performance of his.  That said, it’s hard not to pine for the next potential unity between Aronofsky and Jackman. These two took audiences to emotional places the movies rarely, if ever, go.

 John Carpenter and Kurt Russell

While John Carpenter may have established himself as a new master of horror with Halloween, his actual personality wasn’t quite captured on film until the arrival of who would become a frequent collaborator on his films, Kurt Russell.  Initially, the two paired up for an unusual Carpenter effort following Halloween, a televised biopic of Elvis Presley aptly named Elvis with Russell in the title role.  Although well received, the notion of how people remembered Kurt Russell wouldn’t become known until the arrival of Escape from New York, an action packed thriller with Kurt Russell’s most memorably character, Snake.  With Russell, Carpenter now had a protagonist audiences could lean on and root for. The two would reteam with Russell as the hero three more times over the course of their respective careers, with The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and a sequel bringing Snake back into the picture, Escape from L.A.  To give an idea of the lasting impression Russell’s work with Carpenter left audiences with, take Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, with Russell more or less playing a villainous version of Snake. After Tarantino’s film came and went, so did Kurt Russell who hasn’t appeared in much of anything notable since. Carpenter himself only recently put out the little seen The Ward with something of a quiet whimper. These guys really need to hit the cameras again before they are lost forever.

Paul Thomas Anderson and  John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly recently and successfully reinvented himself as one of Hollywood’s most popular comedians.  Although he made his debut as a dramatic actor, it took time to show he could also elicit laughs.  It wasn’t until he began working with new (at the time) director Paul Thomas Anderson that audiences saw Reilly tread a fine line between comedy and drama simultaneously.  Although neither actor nor director saw much attention with Anderson’s directorial debut Hard Eight, it was with Boogie Nights that Anderson carved his niche as a formidable filmmaker and Reilly as a dramatic actor with a keen sense of humor.  Boogie Nights possesses, with Reilly as a goofball pornographer, that rare quality of evoking hilarity and delivering brutalizing punches to the senses in equal measure.  The two would pair up one last time with Anderson’s most ambitious and lengthiest film, Magnolia, as a clumsy cop wanting to serve goodness to the world.  You almost get the feeling watching Reilly in Anderson’s films that Anderson is letting him run wild, improvising and inventing new ways to flesh out the character.  While Anderson solidified his stature as a great director with the recent There Will Be Blood and The Master, he hasn’t cast Reilly in any of his pictures for quite some time.  While he wisely may have left Reilly out of There Will Be Blood out of fear that Reilly’s presence would take audiences out of the archaic setting, I can’t help but dream about the moment when the two decide working together again might be a good idea.  I will always quote Reilly’s Star Wars speech from Boogie Nights to the end of my days. It's sheer genius on the parts of both men.

James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger

With Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent return to acting in action pictures, and James Cameron’s recent foray into becoming a multimillion dollar mogul, let’s not forget what mutual project landed the two where they are in the first place.  With the low budget science fiction action thriller The Terminator, Cameron and Schwarzenegger achieved mainstream success and Schwarzenegger became a household name.  The timeless line ‘I’ll be back’ became something of a running gag in nearly all of Schwarzenegger’s films until he paired up with the rising, now expensive filmmaker with Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  With the Terminator films, a bona fide franchise was born, grossing huge sales in both theater showings and video rentals.  Then the two paired up one last time for what is considered Cameron’s one true lark, the action spy thriller True Lies.  While Schwarzenegger and Cameron would try their hands at different genres and roles over the years, the two never seemed more perfectly at home than when they were working together.  Rumor has it the dynamic duo may reteam for a planned sequel to Cameron’s box office smash Avatar.  Given just how far away Cameron has evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view), and how poor box office returns have been with Schwarzenegger’s recent return to the film scene after becoming the Governor of California, I think most of us can’t wait to see them unite again.  They owe it to each other, after all.

Quentin Tarantino and  Uma Thurman

           Ever since Quentin Tarantino burst into the film world with his breakout success Pulp Fiction, actress Uma Thurman went from being the actress in the first NC-17 film Henry and June to a notable mainstream starlet.  Her spunky performance as the local Don’s lady, carrying her own on the dance floor opposite John Travolta, established her as a confident and sexy actress not afraid to get her hands dirty.  Over the years, the two talked about doing another film together, and almost as a gift tailor made for Thurman, Tarantino presented her with Kill Bill, a massive action packed homage to the sword fighter film divided between the East and West.  In both Kill Bill volumes 1 and 2, not since Aliens’ Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has an actress so successfully opened and dominated the action picture.  It’s hard to imagine anyone but Thurman playing the role of The Bride.  Over the end credits, we see the card reading “Quentin & Uma”, suggesting an almost romantic pairing of actress and director.  And yet, Kill Bill Volume 2 remains only their third effort together.  Tarantino has since gone on to make three more pictures and hasn’t managed to find a place for Thurman in them.  Thurman herself had a brief resurgence of major film roles after Kill Bill, but that seems to have slowly died out.  With the forthcoming The Hateful Eight, I think it’s time Tarantino gives Thurman a call and brings her back into the public consciousness. There’s a reason Thurman’s Bride carried the stigma of being the ‘deadliest woman in the world’.

-Andrew Kotwicki