Are Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass the top actor/director pairing?
In a development that feels more inevitable than surprising, Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass are in talks to get back into the Bourne business. The two had sent mixed messages over the years, ever since Jason Bourne disappeared in the murky East River at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, with the major roadblock being Damon’s insistence that a reluctant Greenglass direct, while Universal handed the franchise over to writer-turned-director Tony Gilroy. But with Gilroy’s Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner, failing to live up to the original three Bourne films at the box office, and Damon’s recent non-Bourne projects, like Elysium, also failing to catch fire (or Oscar buzz), a reunion seemed to be in everyone’s best interests—and maybe sooner rather than later.
Damon and Greengrass are kindred spirits, with a similar artistic and political outlook that’s been on display in their two Bourne films and Green Zone, the 2010 action movie that poked the Bush Administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Greengrass, a former TV journalist, directed Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips last year, and had been contemplating tackling a Martin Luther King biopic. But Damon and Bourne seem to be calling now, and Universal is ready to slot their next adventure together into summer 2016.
Directors and actors have a mystical way of finding each other, and when something clicks, they often seek that comfort zone again and again. The most frequently cited example of an actor and director who’ve repeatedly brought out the best in each other are Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, who collaborated on eight films, beginning with 1973’s Mean Streets. Frequently, such relationships are between peers of the same generation, with the actor becoming the director’s on-screen stand-in. Other times, an older director takes an actor under his or her wing, as either an apprentice or a muse. (Think Woody Allen and Scarlett Johansson.)
But who are the most compelling actor/director pairings working today? Whose films become immediate must-sees when their names line up on the same movie poster? EW ranked the 20 most interesting and exciting actor/director collaborators today, with Damon and Greengrass in the mix.
20. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Key projects: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End
Pegg’s other go-to auteurs: J.J. Abrams
Wright’s speed dial also includes: Nick Frost
Pegg and Wright practically share a brain, fused together during their days of writing and directing the British TV shows, Asylum and Spaced. Pegg now has his foot planted securely in two blockbuster franchises, and Wright nearly had his own—before backing out of directing Ant-Man. Still, they’re never better than when they’re on the same page, and if the Cornetto trilogy is complete, here’s hoping they find something else to work on together—with Nick Frost, of course—soon.
19. Catherine Keener and Nicole Holofcener
Key projects: Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing, Friends With Money, Please Give, Enough Said
Keener’s other go-to auteurs: Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze
Research shows that men who watch Keener’s performances in Holofcener’s films are 47 percent smarter and stay married 26 percent longer than men who do not. Or maybe I just made those figures up. But anecdotally, Holofcener’s films about comically flawed women beleaguered by overbearing mothers, nosy sisters, and intransigent husbands are honest, insightful, and ultimately sweet. Keener is always wonderful, but Holofcener’s characters seem to let her just play herself.
18. Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott
Key projects: Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, Robin Hood
Crowe’s other go-to auteur: Ron Howard
Scott’s speed-dial also includes: Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom
Gladiator made Crowe a superstar and stands as one of the three best movies Scott ever made. In the mid-2000s, they reunited for four consecutive movies that never quite clicked, though American Gangster had its moments. Initially, Crowe reportedly wanted to play the Denzel Washington part in that crime film, an eyebrow-raising notion that may or may not have been the inspiration for Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder. But I digress. Scott’s brand of intelligent, high-concept action requires actors at their Adonis-like physical peak—Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Exodus—and that torch may have been passed to the Bales and Fassbenders of the world. But their history and the echoes of Gladiator would make another collaboration compelling viewing.
17. Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino
Key projects: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vols. 1-2
Tarantino’s speed dial also includes: Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth
Tabloids are reporting again that Tarantino and Thurman are dating—rumors they’ve fielded over the years whenever one of them was not in a relationship. Clearly, though, the director adores her, casting her in the two roles for which she is most famous. “Uma Thurman is a different species,” he told TIME magazine in 2003. “She’s up there with Garbo and Dietrich in goddess territory.” Of course, you only hurt the ones you love, and Thurman’s Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill characters get stabbed and sliced in the process of becoming cinematic icons. If and when Tarantino builds another film around Thurman, fans will line up.
16. Michael Shannon and Jeff Nichols
Key projects: Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud, upcoming Midnight Special
Shannon’s other go-to auteurs: Werner Herzog, Curtis Hanson
Nichols’ speed-dial also includes: Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks
Though none of their films have crushed the box office, the pair has built a solid creative partnership in the indie world. Shannon’s intense performances, frequently wielded as a spare weapon in bigger studio pictures, is spread more evenly across the canvas in Nichols’ films without losing any of their electricity. Though Shannon is already a Hollywood commodity, both men will step up in class with Midnight Special, a sci-fi film that Nichols is wrapping up for Warner Bros.
15. Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater
Key projects: Before Sunrise, The Newton Boys, Before Sunset, Waking Life, Before Midnight, Boyhood
Hawke’s other go-to auteurs: Andrew Niccol, Antoine Fuqua
Linklater’s speed dial also includes: Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black
Hawke and Linklater can probably finish each other’s sentences at this point, after working with Julie Delpy on the Before trilogy (which doesn’t have to be over, does it?). The trio was nominated for Oscars for co-writing the last two Before films, and that was while Linklater and Hawke were putting together their most ambitious work yet, the 12-year experiment that became Boyhood, this year’s most fawned-over film.
14. Penélope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar
Key projects: Live Flesh, All About My Mother, Volver, Broken Embraces, I’m So Excited
Cruz’s other go-to auteurs: Woody Allen, Rob Marshall
Almodóvar’s speed-dial also includes: Antonio Banderas
Cruz credits Almodóvar’s earlier films, like Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, for making her want to be become an actress, but the Spanish beauty has inspired the director as well, since he saw her as a teenager in the movie, Jamón, Jamón. She’s become his Grace Kelly, in a way, and his best films, like All About My Mother and Volver, have celebrated her beauty and serene charisma.
13. Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn
Key projects: Drive, Only God Forgives
Gosling’s other go-to auteur: Derek Cianfrance
Refn’s speed-dial also includes: Mads Mikkelsen
Okay, Only God Forgives was a crazytown misfire. But it was stylish and uncompromising, and combined with the revered Drive, there’s every confidence that another collaboration would prove more successful. Or at least be fascinating for fans of both men. Part of you wants to rein them in, the other part wants to see what they come up with next with no restraints.
12. Denzel Washington and Spike Lee
Key projects: Mo’ Better Blues, Malcolm X, He Got Game, Inside Man
Washington’s other go-to auteurs: Antoine Fuqua, Jonathan Demme, Edward Zwick
Lee’s speed-dial also includes: John Turturro, Delroy Lindo, Giancarlo Esposito
Like so many of the best actor/director relationships, Denzel is the personification of the masculine ideal that Spike aspires to—just as Sydney Pollack had Redford and Scorsese had De Niro. Though it’s been eight years since Inside Man, their shared history makes another collaboration, if and when it happens, essential viewing.
11. Joaquin Phoenix and Paul Thomas Anderson
Key projects: The Master, upcoming Inherent Vice
Phoenix’s other go-to auteurs: James Gray, M. Night Shyamalan
Anderson’s speed-dial also includes: Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly
The four films that Phoenix made with James Gray relied more on his simmering reserve, but Anderson has drawn out the actor’s unnerving “otherness.” He perfectly paired Phoenix opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, and clips of Inherent Vice, which arrives in December, showcase a gonzo 1970s Phoenix sporting porkchop sideburns. Phoenix has flirted with darkness his whole career, and Anderson seems willing and capable of translating that into character and story.
10. Channing Tatum and Steven Soderbergh
Key projects: Haywire, Magic Mike, Side Effects, upcoming Magic Mike XXL
Soderbergh’s speed-dial also includes: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Technically, Soderbergh isn’t directing the Magic Mike sequel; the retired director has handed the project off to his pal Gregory Jacobs, and he’ll just be the cinematographer and editor. But let’s still assume that he’ll have some input on the sequel to the film that elevated Tatum from handsome lug to serious actor, the kind of guy who can hold his own opposite Mark Ruffalo in a Bennett Miller film. “There aren’t a lot of guys like him right now, that are that age, that are men, that are masculine, but not in a bogus way,” Soderbergh told Grantland in 2012. We might be living in the Age of Channing, and Soderbergh has his ear.
9. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
Key projects: Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys
Ferrell’s other go-to auteur: Jay Roach
McKay’s speed-dial also includes: John C. Reilly, Zach Galifianakis
Since teaming up at Saturday Night Live, Ferrell and McKay have emerged as the most reliably funny-or-die team since Bill Murray and Harold Ramis in the 1980s. When McKay directs Ferrell (as opposed to just producing, like Land of the Lost), the laughter typically echoes loudly at the box office.
8. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg
Key projects: Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, upcoming untitled Cold War thriller
Hanks’ other go-to auteurs: Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis
Spielberg’s speed-dial also includes: Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford
The two Baby Boomers have forged a bond over telling their parents’ generation’s most important stories, specifically the price and glory of World War II. Though both may have peaked creatively, they still represent something important to everyone who has watched a movie in the last 35 years, proving their relevance again recently in Captain Phillips and Lincoln, respectively. They’re teaming up again for a 2015 Cold War thriller written by the Coen brothers that tells the story of the secret U.S. negotiations to free Gary Powers, the American U2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960.
7. Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen
Key projects: Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave
Fassbender’s other go-to auteur: Ridley Scott
McQueen has directed three features, and each has starred Fassbender in roles that demanded absolute trust in the man behind the camera. Bobby Sands, Shame‘s Brandon, and Edwin Epps aren’t ego-less performances, but they simply wouldn’t work unless the actor shed his vanity to expose the dark crevices of each character. That Fassbender so willingly goes to those places is a credit to both men, and an advertisement for them to reunite again soon.
6. Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass
Key projects: The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Green Zone
Damon’s other go-to auteurs: Clint Eastwood, Steven Soderbergh
Nothing demonstrates the bond and respect between the two men better than Damon’s refusal to play Jason Bourne again unless Greengrass is behind the camera. Greengrass didn’t direct the first Bourne—Doug Liman did—and that film’s production was a rambling-wreck that narrowly averted disaster. Greengrass came aboard and gave the franchise a P.O.V. and a pulse that was more than just choreographed chaos. Green Zone may have been a misfire, but another Bourne adventure could lead to more promising collaborations as well.
5. Brad Pitt and David Fincher
Key projects: Seven, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Pitt’s other go-to auteurs: Andrew Dominik, Ridley Scott
Fincher’s speed-dial also includes: Rooney Mara, Kevin Spacey
Fincher was known only as the guy who messed up Aliens 3 when he and Pitt teamed up for Seven in 1995, a serial-killer thriller that left its mark on the genre and immediately redeemed Fincher as a creative force. Their subsequent two collaborations were even more ambitious, and both succeeded in different ways: one became a cult classic, the other basked in Oscar love. The two men are tentatively attached to Black Hole, so a creative reunion might not be far off.
4. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton
Key projects: Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows
Depp’s other go-to auteurs: Gore Verbinski, Lasse Hallström, David Koepp
Burton’s speed-dial also includes: Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Helena Bonham-Carter
Dark Shadows demonstrated that there was some growing fatigue towards Depp/Burton’s playground of misfit toys, where the two danced undisturbed before Depp used its magic to make Jack Sparrow a Disney mascot. There is another Alice on the way—Burton is only producing—and it will admittedly be difficult for the two to ever recapture the freshness of Scissorhands or Ed Wood. Here’s hoping they succeed.
3. Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan
Key projects: The Batman trilogy, The Prestige
Bale’s other go-to auteurs: David O. Russell, Terrence Malick
Nolan’s speed-dial also includes: Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe
The marriage of Bale and Nolan’s Batman was extremely fortuitous, as the intense actor resurrected and redeemed the Dark Knight as a seething cauldron of rage after the character had drifted into self-parody. The role made Bale a huge star, rather than just the immensely talented capital-A actor he had proved to be in films like American Psycho. Ditto for Nolan, who went from indie visionary to blockbuster auteur. Both men have turned off the Batsignal—for now. But like Damon, Greengrass, and Bourne, the door is never completely closed.
2. Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell
Key projects: The Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, upcoming Joy
Russell’s speed-dial also includes: Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams,
Russell didn’t discover Lawrence, nor is he in charge of directing her billion-dollar franchise. But in two Oscar-recognized films, they’ve created a pair of signature characters that helped raise her to Hollywood heights unknown since Jodie Foster in her Silence of the Lambs prime. They’re set to work together again, with Lawrence cast as the woman who invented the Miracle Mop.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese
Key projects: Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street
DiCaprio’s other go-to auteur: Baz Luhrmann
Scorsese’s speed-dial also includes: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Daniel Day-Lewis, Harvey Keitel
Three decades after Mean Streets, Scorsese began another beautiful friendship when he made Gangs of New York with DiCaprio. Something clicked between the two men, despite their 32-year age difference, and to see them together now, performing a back-and-forth bit on stage like they did at last year’s National Board of Review banquet, it’s clear that they see themselves as equals, as peers, as fellow students of cinema. The Aviator might stand out as their best collaboration, but Wolf proved that neither man has lost his edge. Scorsese is now working with Andrew Garfield; DiCaprio has paired with Inarritu. But another go is hopefully in the cards—perhaps Scorsese can complete the circle by casting DiCaprio opposite De Niro in his long-in-the-works hitman drama, The Irishman?
[Note: An early version of this story incorrectly credited Ridley Scott with directing Troy. That 2004 film was actually directed by Wolfgang Petersen.]