15 Directors Who Moonlight As Actors (How Do They Fare In Front Of The Cameras)

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While most filmmakers tend to keep their talent strictly behind the camera, there is a growing movement of them willing to juggle directing and performing their own material. Not only that, there are several who are being cast as performers in other director's films. Here are 15 directors who are known for occasionally slipping on their acting shoes.

David Cronenberg

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The Eastern Promises and A History of Violence director has used his past reputation as a horror filmmaker to garner the chilling role of a serial killer in Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. The part has received solid cult acclaim and would lead to supporting roles in such projects as Jason X and the TV show Alias. Before you raise an eyebrow, let me assure you there are Academy Award-nominated directors who are willing to co-star in Friday the 13th films. Just ask Mr. Cronenberg...

Kevin Smith

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Clerks director Kevin Smith is known for acting in many of his own films, albeit in the largely mute role of "Silent Bob." Smith would branch out into more legitimate acting (replete with dialogue) with supporting roles in Live Free Or Die Hard and Catch & Release.

David Lynch

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Experimental filmmaker David Lynch has solidified his reputation for the weird as the mastermind behind Dune, Blue Velvet, and The Elephant Man. The filmmaker has made several detours into acting on his iconic show, Twin Peaks, and is a recurring fixture on Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, and Louie.

Richard Ayoade

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This one's sort of a cheat, but is worth noting for the talent in question. British comedian Richard Ayoade was known as a performer in the UK before he made a major dent on the American independent film scene. His directorial debut,  Submarine, would be judged in the U.S. without the stigma of his comedic onscreen resume. He would return the favor of this North American intro to the film's producer, Ben Stiller, by co-starring  in this year’s sci-fi comedy The Watch.

Roman Polanski

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The controversial director of Rosemary’s Baby and The Ghost Writer has starred in several of his directorial projects, including The Tenant and Chinatown. In the strangest entry on his resume, he also acted in a small role in Rush Hour 3.

M. Night Shyamalan

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Director M. Night Shyamalan is worth noting on this list for casting himself in increasingly larger roles as his film career progressed. Though he starred in his debut, the largely forgotten Praying with Anger, he relegated himself to cameo appearances in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Things changed with Signs and Lady in the Water, which placed him in prominent supporting roles opposite actors like Mel Gibson and Paul Giamatti. After a getting a lot of critical scorn over these performances, Shyamalan has yet to cast himself in his subsequent directorial efforts.

Lena Dunham

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Dena Lunham is the rising indie star behind Tiny Furniture and the HBO series Girls, two projects that she also stars in. She can next be seen acting in Judd Apatow’s This Is 40.

Peter Berg

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Peter Berg was an actor known for Chicago Hope and The Last Seduction before he became the director of such huge films as Battleship and The Rundown. Though he’s one of the most bankable directors working today, Berg continues working as an actor in his own films, including Battleship, as well as in other filmmakers efforts, like Michael Mann’s Collateral and Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs.

Sarah Polley

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Sarah Polley has garnered rave reviews as a director for Take This Waltz and Away From Her. Much like Berg, she also comes from an acting background also continues to act in films. She can be seen in such hits as Dawn of the Dead (2004), Splice, and Go.

Eli Roth

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Eli Roth gained fame as the writer and director behind such splattery horror films as Cabin Fever, Hostel, and Hostel 2. He gained even more recognition for his performances in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds. The latter film helped earn him a SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Werner Herzog

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The legendary, fearless director behind such films as Aguirre: Wrath of God and Rescue Dawn used his ultra-serious persona to great comedic effect in such films as The Grand, Incident At Loch Ness, and the Adult Swim TV series Metalocalypse. He’ll be playing the lead villain in this December’s Tom Cruise actioner Jack Reacher.

Woody Allen

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Woody Allen is known for acting , writing and directing such famous films as Annie Hall and Manhattan. He’s known for acting in other director’s films as well, including Alfonso Arau’s Picking Up The Pieces, Paul Mazursky’s Scenes From A Mall, and the highly successful Dreamworks Animated film Antz.

Spike Lee

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Spike Lee isn’t known for starring in anyone else’s films, but that’s okay. In his own films he fares quite well, creating an effect directly opposite that of M. Night Shyamalan. Lee has gotten mostly solid reviews for the roles he creates for himself, especially in Malcolm X and Do The Right Thing. He would reprise his character from the latter film, Mookie, in his latest film Red Hook Summer.

Quentin Tarantino

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Tarantino would garner some comparisons to Spike Lee during the 90s (and vice-versa) for also writing himself into his own movies. Unlike Lee, Tarantino’s acting career was more ambitious and often met with mixed reviews. While critics and fans seem to welcome his performances in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the cinematic boy wonder would receive drubbings for his work leading films like From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado and Destiny Turns On The Radio. Since then he’s mostly relegated his acting to bit parts in his own films, such as Death Proof, with the sole exception of a four episode guest spot on Alias.

Martin Scorsese

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Scorsese, an admitted idol of both Lee and Tarantino, has been putting himself into his own films since 1967. His brief performance in Taxi Driver as a passenger plotting the death of his wife is easily the pique of his self-directed performances. He mostly cameos in his contemporary fare, though he’s always been willing to appear in other director’s works, such as Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, Robert Redford’s Quiz Show and the Dreamworks animated film Shark’s Tale.

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  • Charles M

    Richard Attenborough, who won the Best Director Oscar for Gandhi, starred in Jurassic Park and the remake of Miracle on 34th Street. The great French director, Francois Truffaut, starred in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Apparently, Spielberg had a thing for casting directors he admired.