The air is crisp, the pumpkin spice is brewing, and the Oscar campaigns are getting underway. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to EW’s first Awardist column of the upcoming awards season, as we get settled in to track the glitziest race in Hollywood for the next four months.
This year sees a bumper crop of first-time actors-turned-directors taking on personal, passionate stories. Just this past week, Jonah Hill’s Mid90s and Paul Dano’s Wildlife, the directorial debuts of both actors, performed strongly in limited theaters ahead of each film’s expanded theatrical release.
It’s a strategy that often pays off when it comes to awards as voters have in the past taken shine to an A-lister who can translate their talents to the craft of filmmaking; take Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Angelina Jolie, Mel Gibson, Robert Redford, and Jodie Foster, all of whom have parlayed their vast acting careers into successful directing gigs.
There’s also a natural fusion of skillsets when actors go behind the lens. Hill, 34, whose sharply comedic performances have earned him two Oscar nominations, hones his experience from playing characters in prolonged adolescence into a nostalgic love letter in Mid90s, directing a group of young teen actors in a world where video games and skateboarding take precedent.
Indie darling Paul Dano, 34, who consistently wins praise for portraying often intimate, introspective characters, captures a crumbling suburban marriage in the dream-like Wildlife, directing lead stars Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ed Oxenbould. “He’s such an incredible actor,” Mulligan told EW. “I always knew he would bring all of that truth and integrity to whatever he did … I think that as a director, that it weirdly felt like we were all acting together in some way.”
It’s Bradley Cooper, 43, who leads the pack of actor-auteurs this year into awards season as he showcases his filmmaking chops while acting, directing and producing his ambitious ambition tale A Star is Born. Cooper channels those baby blues behind the camera to retell (for the fourth time), the classic Hollywood ballad of a fading musician finding hope as he mentors a bright, young ingenue, this time captured by bonafide diva Lady Gaga.
“I have this like feeling or sixth sense about people who have talent — when they are working on breaking into a new medium that they have been dreaming of doing for a long time, as directing was for Bradley, I just knew that whatever he was going to do was going be an explosion of his talent,” Gaga told EW ahead of the film’s release. A Star is Born has earned warm praise from critics and more than $200 million at the worldwide box office, poising it as a frontrunner in the key Oscar races.
This year also saw some actor-directors returning with their follow-up directorial efforts, breaking into the awards race for the first time.
After writing and directing 2016’s post-World War II drama The Childhood of a Leader, Brady Corbet, 30, known for roles in Thirteen and HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, returns this year as director of the surreal Vox Lux (out Dec. 7). It’s an intense tale of a teen girl who survives a bloody school shooting and is left with a severe spinal injury, and through a strange sequence of events, becomes a pop phenomenon. John Krasinski, 39, who directed 2009’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men and 2016’s The Hollars, broke through as a filmmaker in 2018 with the powerful thriller A Quiet Place, costarring alongside his wife Emily Blunt to play a family forced to live in silence as they are hunted by monsters drawn to sound. And then there’s Joel Edgerton, 44, who directed 2015’s thriller The Gift and who assembled a powerhouse cast to bring the moving tale of Boy Erased to the screen this year. He writes, directs, and stars alongside Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe in the real-life story of a teen forced to attend gay conversion therapy camp.
But directing has proven to be an overwhelmingly white, male club.
An inclusion study published in July found only 43 female directors out of 1,100 films between 2007 and 2017. Kathryn Bigelow became the first, and to date, the only woman to win the best directing Oscar in 2010. This year, actress-filmmaker Greta Gerwig could have become the second woman to win the category with Lady Bird, but lost out to Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water.
In June, Back to the Future actress Lea Thompson, 57, made her feature film directorial debut a family affair with The Year of Spectacular Men, directing her two daughters Zoey and Madelyn Deutch in a story written by the latter and in a film produced by Zoey and her husband, Howard Deutch.
Karen Gillan, 30, best known as Nebula in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers franchises and fighting video game jungle monsters in Jumanji, also made her directorial debut this year with The Party’s Just Beginning, a story about a woman dealing with the suicide of her best friend.
“Growing up, I thought directing was man’s job, and that’s so strange to me now,” Gillan, who also wrote and starred in the film, told EW earlier this year.
She said she didn’t even consider becoming a director as she had never seen a woman in that role. But, she added, the industry is changing.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the voting body of the Oscars, invited almost 1,000 new members to join this year, almost half of whom are women and minorities. With new voters such as Mindy Kaling, Tiffany Haddish, Emilia Clarke, and Amandla Stenberg helping pick this year’s best film achievements, change is indeed on the horizon for the future of filmmaking and the doors are definitely opening for more actors to make their mark behind the camera.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Vox Lux was Brady Corbet’s directorial debut. The article has been updated to reflect Corbet’s previous directorial works, and also includes John Krasinski and Joel Edgerton as actors returning to directing this year.