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10 Great Modern Day Actor/Director Collaborations

by The Playlist Staff
July 17, 2013 2:17 PM
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Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg
Number of Films Together: 3 — "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), "Hot Fuzz" (2007) and "The World's End" (2013)

History: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's relationship started way back in 1996, when Pegg worked with Wright on "Asylum," a short-lived Paramount Comedy Channel series that combined a narrative with threads of stand-up material (Wright directed and co-created the six episodes). When Pegg and Jessica Stevenson were cooking up their BBC series "Spaced," they thought of Wright and had him brought aboard. Wright ended up directing all 14 episodes of "Spaced" and the bond between Pegg and Wright was solidified. When it was time to direct his first proper feature, the zombie farce "Shaun of the Dead," Wright enlisted Pegg not simply as the star, but also as a co-writer. "Shaun of the Dead" feels very much, in that sense, like a feature-length extension of "Spaced," all of the editorial tics and crackling dialogue that was developed for the series blossomed, beautifully, in the feature film. It was then that Wright and Pegg started talking about it being the first part of a trilogy, something they dubbed "The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy," named after a popular British ice cream treat that also serves as an effective hangover remedy. (It's also a reference to the "Three Colors Trilogy" by Krzysztof Kieslowski.) Two more films have followed: the action movie send-up "Hot Fuzz" and next month's beautifully melancholy sci-fi ode "The World's End." Wright also had a hand co-writing Steven Spielberg's "Adventures of Tintin," which featured Pegg and his "Three Flavours" co-star Nick Frost. Their working relationship seems to be based purely on the things that they mutually enjoy; this isn't something that has been fraught with hardship or creative differences. They're a particular kind of amiable geek. And it's very sad that the trilogy is over. 

Key Film: While we want to give a shout-out to "The World's End," we're technically not allowed to talk about it yet and anyway "Shaun of the Dead" is still tops. The reason that "Shaun of the Dead" is so powerful is that it was such a surprise. Not only is it scary and funny, but it's also an effective romantic comedy, and a sharply incisive look at the way that relationships function (or dysfunction), especially when best friends are involved. (The Pegg/Frost dynamic was developed years before the odious "bromance" term was coined.) There's something so positive and joyful about "Shaun of the Dead;" it really did mark the arrival of a major new talent. And every film that they've done subsequently has built upon what was established in "Shaun of the Dead." Part of what makes their relationship so powerful is that Pegg both stars in and co-writes each movie, which makes them even more personal. It's hard not to wonder how much of the Pegg/Wright dynamic is built into whatever on-screen friendship unfolds between Pegg and Frost. While the trilogy of films might be over, we hope that it doesn't mean that Pegg and Wright's working relationship is through. For two men who have made a tiny collection of excellent comedies, the end of their partnership would be downright tragic.

Steven Soderbergh/Matt Damon
Number Of Films Together: 7 — "Ocean's Eleven" (2001), "Ocean's Twelve" (2004), "Ocean's Thirteen" (2007), "Che: Part Two" (2008), "The Informant!" (2009), "Contagion" (2011), "Behind The Candelabra" (2013)

History: He might be associated more widely with George Clooney, with whom he made six films and ran a production company, but Steven Soderbergh actually hasn't worked directly with the star since 2007's "Ocean's Thirteen" (a seventh film, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E," fell apart due to an injury to Clooney). In fact, the filmmaker had another A-list playmate who cropped up more often in the director's "final" run of movies; namely, Matt Damon. The pair could have ended up never crossing paths: Mark Wahlberg was initially down to play fresh-faced pickpocket Linus Caldwell in "Ocean's Eleven," but bailed to star in "Planet Of The Apes," causing Damon to step in instead. That said, despite Soderbergh initially approaching Damon about “The Informant!” way back in 2001, it took a while for them to sync up; the pair continued to work together on 'Ocean's' sequels (in which Damon was a reliably funny highlight), and with a brief cameo in "Che: Part Two," but their major collaborations all came quite late: 2009's "The Informant!," Damon's touching regular turn in ensemble disaster piece "Contagion," and, most recently, a near-career best, vanity-free performance in "Behind The Candelabra." Soderbergh said to the Huffington Post recently that he was drawn to Damon from "a combination of intelligence, integrity and fearlessness," expanding on the latter to add, "One of the things I think people will appreciate about Matt's performance [in 'Candelabra'] is his absolute commitment to jumping off the cliff and not looking back. There aren't a lot of actors of his age and caliber who would read this and say yes without hesitating." Damon, meanwhile, who broke the news of Soderbergh's retirement, knows more than most how much he'll be missed. "After I worked with Clint [Eastwood]," he told the LA TImes, "I went back and said, ‘Look, Clint is having a blast and he's going to be 80 years old.’ And Steven says back, ‘Yeah, but he’s a storyteller and I’m not,’” Damon recounted. "If you're an actor or a writer or someone working in film, it's such a waste. For me, I'm going to spend the next 40 years trying to become a great director and I will never reach what he's reached. And he's walking away from it."

Key Film: Damon is terrific in "Behind The Candelabra," but he's equally great in "The Informant!," which is much more of a one-man show. Soderbergh's absolutely working in service of the actor's performance, without which the film simply wouldn't work; Damon's mix of integrity and pathological fibbing is both hilarious and deeply tragic.

Wes Anderson/Bill Murray
Number Of Films Together: 7 — "Rushmore" (1998), "The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001), "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" (2004), "The Darjeeling Limited" (2007), "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009), "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012), "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (2014)

History: Wes Anderson's another director who's been steadily building an ever-growing repertory company over the years, but while the likes of Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are undeniably associated with the filmmakers' works, it's Bill Murray who marks the defining relationship of the director's career. Anderson, inspired by the work that the comic star had been doing in films like "Mad Dog and Glory" and "Ed Wood," reluctantly approached Murray for his sophomore film, despite feeling that he didn't have a shot. Anderson told Deadline, "I didn’t want to send him the script because I understood that it was futile, that he would not respond at all and that it would be impossible to get him." Fortunately, the notoriously picky actor's agent (back when he had one) had been a big fan of "Bottle Rocket," passed the "Rushmore" script onto Murray, and the actor agreed to work for scale to play the besotted, regressing millionaire Herman Blume in the picture. The two got on famously—Murray even wrote a blank check to Anderson to fund a scene that was being cut for budgetary reasons—and Murray's the only actor to have featured in every one of Anderson's subsequent films. Sometimes it's a significant part, sometimes a mere cameo (as with his clever framing appearances in "The Darjeeling Limited"), but an Anderson film simply wouldn't be the same without Murray's avuncular hangdog charms cropping up somewhere. Anderson's been upfront about wanting to work with his regular collaborators, telling The Guardian last year "there's an energy that comes from people who are friends. Whatever chemistry is on set is going to be there in the movie, and you want some electricity that you don't really control." And clearly, the two continue to be great friends, with Murray saying, self-deprecatingly, at a Cannes press conference "Sometimes, when you work with a director you know you not only may never see him again, sometimes you hope you never seen him again. And that goes for the director as well. They can't wait for you to leave. They drive you to the airport to make sure you leave. That happens. With Wes, I've never gotten a ride to the airport. I'm just so happy with how Wes just gets better." The two will be reunited once more on the upcoming "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Key Film: "Rushmore" might be their finest hour together, but the defining Anderson/Murray film has to be "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou." It's arguably the director's weakest, or at least most unruly and indulgent effort, but it's the one that centers most on Murray's character, an egotistical, self-absorbed marine biologist. And for all the film's flaws, Murray gives a textured and, eventually, deeply moving performance as a selfish asshole who borders on being too irredeemable to like.

Pedro Almodóvar / Penélope Cruz
Number Of Films Together: 5 — "Live Flesh" (1997), "All About My Mother" (1999), "Volver" (2007), "Broken Embraces" (2009), "I'm So Excited" (2013)

History: Having fallen out with previous muse Carmen Maura in the early 1990s, there was certainly something of a void in the work of Pedro Almodóvar, one of the great directors of women of the modern age. Fortunately, soon after, the filmmaker watched Bigas Luna's "Jamon Jamon," which starred a 17-year-old actress called Penélope Cruz. The actress had been a fan of his work since childhood (saying once, "He changed the way I looked at the world before I even knew him"), so an offer to audition was a dream came true, but he couldn't initially find a role for her, telling The Guardian in 2009 that "She was always too young for my characters." But after five years, the stars aligned, and briefly featured in 1997's "Live Flesh" as a teenage prostitute who gives birth on a bus. Two years later, came a far more substantial part, as the young HIV-positive nun pregnant by the now-deceased Lola, in "All About My Mother." The film was perhaps Almodóvar's finest up to that point, and Cruz cemented the rising star status she'd had for a few years. Hollywood came calling, and so the two were separated for a few years, but they were soon reunited swiftly, for 2007's "Volver" and 2009's "Broken Embraces." Cruz turned down the chance to star in Almodóvar's "The Skin I Live In" in order to appear in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," but there are clearly no hard feelings; she has a fun cameo in Almodóvar's latest, "I'm So Excited!" The two clearly have an incredibly close bond—Almodóvar has discussed how the two had an almost sexual chemistry, telling GQ, "The desire was controllable in the sense that I don't usually have sexual relationships with women. But we did both feel that the desire was present. Penélope was aware of it and we talked about it," and describing their relationship to the Guardian as "a couple who don't sleep together." And Cruz is unrestrained in her praise for the director, saying, "In terms of personal experience, being in his films have been some of the best times in my life. Growing and learning. I don't just see them as movies. I feel he could give his life for a movie, and so could I."

Key Film: "Volver," is still, in our minds, just about Almodóvar's finest hour. Notably, the film also unites his two muses: Cruz and Carmen Maura, with whom he was reunited after eighteen years of estrangement. Maura's terrific, but it's very much Cruz's film—for the first time, he wrote the role, of a woman who stabs her abusive husband who ends up accidentally opening a restaurant and seemingly encountering her mother's ghost, specifically for the actress. He was right to do so; it's still her greatest performance, and she shared Best Actress at Cannes with the rest of the ensemble, and was rightly Oscar nominated for the turn.

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  • Paul | July 29, 2013 3:33 AMReply

    John Ratzenberger and Pixar... Anyone?

  • John | July 27, 2013 2:57 PMReply

    I just...don't understand why this list is so heavily skewed male. There are so many notable director/female actor collaborations. It's not surprising, but no less disappointing to see it represented this way.

  • Manuel | July 23, 2013 10:10 AMReply

    Charlotte Rampling - Francois Ozon ( Swimming pool, Sous le sable, and Angel)
    Christian Bale - Christopher Nolan ( Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises)
    Uma Thurman - Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill 1, Kill Bill 2 + Kill Bill 3)
    Brad Pitt - David Fincher ( Se7en, Fight Club, TCC of BB)
    Tony Leung - Wong Kar Wai ( Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood For Love, 2046, The Grandmaster)
    Park Chan-wook - Song Kang-ho ( J.S.A.: Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengance, Thirst)
    Bong Joon-ho - Song Kang-ho ( Memories of Murder, The Host and upcoming Snowpiercer)
    Meryl Streep - Mike Nichols (Silkwood, Heartburn, Postcards from the Edge, Angels in America)

  • Philip Concannon | July 18, 2013 5:14 PMReply

    If we needed any more proof that Nicole Holofcener is the most underrated filmmaker working today, the fact that her collaboration with Catherine Keener has been totally ignored by this article (which somehow finds room to mention Denis Dugan and Adam Sandler) surely confirms it.

  • Rada | July 18, 2013 1:40 PMReply

    Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are also starting to blossom. Both young talents I'm looking forward to seeing more from for a long time to come.

  • Drew | July 18, 2013 11:22 AMReply

    Interesting list and arrangement. I would have thought that McKay and Ferrel would be on it, so I was happy to see them in the afterword. Great job!

  • Sean | July 18, 2013 12:51 AMReply

    Blomkamp and Copley is starting to blossom. I'm sure they'll stick together for a while.

  • Duddi | July 17, 2013 7:08 PMReply

    Is there any particular reason why Fincher-Pitt collaboration is not included on the list ??? - To my knowledge they've made 3 marvelous movies, starting back on 1995 with "Se7en", than came "Fight CLub" and than on 2008 "The C.C. of B.B.". IMO this is truly one of the strongest collaboration of all times... I'm looking forward to the "slow" developement of "20.000 Leagues Under the Sea", and hoping that Pitt will step in, after he declined the role once, but since the production of the movie has been pushed, there is still hope that he will be available. Also to not include Cronenberg-Mortensen on the main article makes this list a little bit weaker. Anyway, other picks were fantastic !!!

  • Bill Murray | July 23, 2013 7:24 AM

    Right? But Christopher Nolan/Michael Caine is included?

    Christopher Nolan/Michael Caine is a serious fucking stretch.

  • kris | July 17, 2013 6:51 PMReply

    Samuel L. Jackson / tarantino
    apatow crew : franco , rogen , segel ,rudd
    J.K. Simmons /jason reitman
    laura dern / david lynch
    tom hanks /ron howard - spielberg
    bruce campbell/sam raimi

  • kris | July 17, 2013 6:58 PM

    +scarlett johansson - woody allen

  • Mary | July 17, 2013 6:21 PMReply

    Also just 1 actress on here w/ Penelope Cruz. What about Uma/Tarantino? Now with 4 movies (including Waking Life) Delpy/Linklater? Only 2 movies but Moore/Haynes are pretty dynamic as well. McDormand/Coens? After Raising Arizona and Fargo alone her collabs are better than half this list. Maggie Cheung/Wong Kar-Wai? Soon to be Lawrence/David O. Russell too if they keep going after American Hustle.

    (another overlooked male combo Denis Levant/Leos Carax)

  • Mary | July 18, 2013 3:08 PM

    Yup them too. Well there's already a PTA up there and arguably his collaborations with PSH are greater just because of the number of great roles. But the Moore and PTA combo is just as dynamic. Really PTA and any of his early crew of actors works. Reilly, Baker Hall, Melora Walters.

  • Anton | July 18, 2013 6:09 AM

    how about Julianne Moore and PTA ??? Boogie Nights and Magnolia

  • yer | July 17, 2013 5:22 PMReply

    This title should be changed to "A List of 10 Modern Day Actor/Director collaborations". You guys literally just looked for the 10 most prominent you could find and put a list together regardless of "greatness".

  • Rod | July 17, 2013 6:09 PM

    Agreed. This list is lame-o. Mostly the mainstream actor/director duos. Goodman/Coens or Buscemi/Coens, or Turturro/Coens combos take most of these others out but you can't go against the mainstream enough to put them on the list only an 'honorable mention'. Jackson/Tarantino? Hawke/Linklater............A very "safe" list from the Playlist.

  • G-Man | July 17, 2013 4:31 PMReply

    Good list! You all highlighted the ones I would have.

  • Fred | July 17, 2013 4:30 PMReply

    Funny that you use the term bromance straight up in the intro and then have it tagged "odious" in the Wright/Pegg section.

  • Alessandra | July 17, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    What about Joe Wright and Keira Knightley? You totally forgot about them!

  • Mike | July 18, 2013 7:36 PM

    Agree. Plus all 3 of their collaboration have Keira in a leading role which seems Wright trust her so much.

  • marshmeli | July 17, 2013 3:39 PMReply

    No David Fincher/Brad Pitt?

  • Nolan ZZZ Late Scorsese ZZZ Burton ZZZ | July 17, 2013 3:33 PMReply

    Nolan and Caine can't be a great combo because all those moview they did together (except for maybe Prestige) stink. Don't get me wrong Caine rocks, Nolan not so much.

    The movies Scorsese and diCaprio have done together have been pale in comparison to Scorsese's earlier work. Shutter Island terrible. Departed best one. Aviator alright, certainly not underrated as many like to say. Dicaprio/Scorsese will never come close to De Niro/Scorsese.

    Burton zzz. Always making Depp into the intolerable quirky eccentric dude. give me a break. Sleepy Hollow one of worst all time movies.

  • Kent | July 21, 2013 6:57 PM

    There's a film made for $11 shot in a puddle. You'll love it.

  • cornersumsi | July 20, 2013 8:50 AM

    the hongkong original of the departed is much better than the scorsese movie....and shutter island was disappointing too. but gangs of new york is awesome. and the batman trilogy rocks!!

  • Skywater | July 18, 2013 9:28 AM

    Actually, Nolan is excellent. And Shutter Island was great.

  • Helluva | July 17, 2013 10:01 PM

    Funny but I actually agree with you on most of this except for your disdain for "Sleepy Hollow," loved that flick. Thought it was actually the height of the Depp/Burton collaboration. It's been downhill ever since (for me).

  • Jen | July 17, 2013 3:13 PMReply

    Zoe Bell & Tarantino? Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglorious Baterds, and Django Unchained

  • yod | July 18, 2013 12:10 AM

    stunt double lol

  • moviefan | July 17, 2013 3:11 PMReply

    God! Sorry about the repeats, you need an edit button. Got the Spinning Ball hiccup.

  • moviefan | July 17, 2013 3:10 PMReply

    God! Sorry about the repeats, you need an edit button. Got the Spinning Ball hiccup.

  • moviefan | July 17, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe: 5 movies: Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, Robin Hood

    Ron Howard and Russell Crowe: Only two movies but two stellar movies: A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. Would love to see what they could do with a third pairing.

  • moviefan | July 17, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe: 5 movies: Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, Robin Hood

    Ron Howard and Russell Crowe: Only two movies but two stellar movies: A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. Would love to see what they could do with a third pairing.

  • moviefan | July 17, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe: 5 movies: Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, Robin Hood

    Ron Howard and Russell Crowe: Only two movies but two stellar movies: A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. Would love to see what they could do with a third pairing.

  • moviefan | July 17, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe: 5 movies: Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, Robin Hood

    Ron Howard and Russell Crowe: Only two movies but two stellar movies: A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. Would love to see what they could do with a third pairing.

  • moviefan | July 17, 2013 3:07 PMReply

    Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe: 5 movies: Gladiator, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, Robin Hood

    Ron Howard and Russell Crowe: Only two movies but two stellar movies: A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. Would love to see what they could with a third pairing.

  • owdl114 | July 17, 2013 3:02 PMReply

    I find myself constantly updating this page. It upsets me (Yes, I don't have much of a life) when someone uploads a collaboration of only 2 films. Surely, it should only count once it's 3+:

  • Nick | July 17, 2013 3:01 PMReply

    Still pretty young, but Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon Levitt!

  • Rob | July 17, 2013 2:59 PMReply

    Wicked Teams.

  • AddictedAICN | July 17, 2013 2:57 PMReply

    What about Ron Perlman and GDT

  • lola | July 17, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    umm Joe Wright/Keira Knightley?

  • Hilarious | July 23, 2013 7:29 AM

    Christopher Nolan/Michael Caine is almost funnier than your comment.

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