The 10 Greatest Modern-Day Director-Actor Collaborations

5. Wes Anderson & Bill Murray

As an example of a modern yet longer partnership between a director and an actor, come the 7 films in which Wes Anderson and Bill Murray collaborated on. Starting just before the 2000s and up until 2014, this duo has surpassed many of the other famously usual collaborations of the director (say, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston).

Just after Anderson’s first full-length film “Bottle Rocket” (1996), he sent a script to Murray’s agent to get him to participate in his sophomore project “Rushmore” (1998).

Despite having said that he never expected the actor to read it, Murray actually did. Furthermore, he agreed to work on a very low budget, only to play the lovable millionaire Herman Blume, and apparently even helped with some production costs. Murray’s the only actor to have acted in all of Anderson’s subsequent films, even if sometimes just for a mere cameo.

His finest hour in an Anderson film might’ve been his first one, but Murray can’t help but fall perfectly in chemistry with the director’s auteurship every single time. A defining moment for them was “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”, where the actor gives a deeply moving performance of a selfish, flawed and irredeemable marine biologist, and where Anderson does his job well enough to make it a highly enjoyable viewing experience.


4. Nicolas Winding Refn & Ryan Gosling

Much like PTA and Phoenix’s recent partnership, Refn found his muse in 2011, and is now two-movie deep with Ryan Gosling. The actor, formerly best known for his lead in romantic film “The Notebook” (2004), has recently proven himself worthy of real acknowledgement, having participated in lesser-known indie gems such as “Half Nelson” (2006), “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007) and the heartbreaking “Blue Valentine” (2010).

Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn elegantly fills his work with style, color, and strong expressions. There’s little talk in “Drive” (2011), the film that put the two together, but it’s infinitely mysterious and inspiring. As an action film trying to find love, it becomes impossible to imagine another actor taking Gosling’s role in this one. Refn argues that Drive’s foundation is in fairy tale in its thematic of a character’s discovery of his own heroism – which he finds when he protects a girl he cares about.

Becoming an instant cult hit comes with its perks, and their second team-up was born with “Only God Forgives” (2013), a thriller set in Bangkok. Gosling plays a quiet (yet not nearly as quiet as in the first film), drug-dealing fight promoter in Bangkok who attempts to seek revenge for his brother’s murder.

These two memorable, violent and peculiar films are a testament to how well Refn and Gosling work together, and they have assured the partnership will continue – maybe even in the form of a romantic comedy or musical.


3. Paul Thomas Anderson & Joaquin Phoenix

While speaking of this director would usually recall for the lasting collaboration he had with the great Philip Seymour Hoffman (with whom he made 5 of his best films to date), more recently we’ve seen Anderson pair with one of the best American actors in modern times. They took the first steps with “The Master” (2012), where Seymour Hoffman plays religion-founder Lancaster Dodd and forms an unlikely friendship with Phoenix’s Freddy Quell.

Set in a postwar landscape, Freddie’s character was a gift for the actor to portray in his raw self. As an auteur filmmaker, PTA crafted the film with focus and carefulness – which resulted in his most sophisticated visual opus yet – while also conducting a narrative with heart and depth. Phoenix disappeared completely in his role.

This, of course, raised curiosity for their following and latest collaboration “Inherent Vice” (2014). The film is an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s psychedelic detective novel with the same name, and intriguing choice for a director who has made a habit out of re-examining the 20th century through cinema.

As for Phoenix, playing a stoner private detective in 1970 southern California was a triumph. As much as the previous collaborations with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman were on their own incredible, these two have recently stood out and it’s just too much potential to ignore.


2. Steve McQueen & Michael FassbenderThe historical drama “12 Years a Slave”, albeit being the most well-known collaboration of the two, is only the latest installment in a collaboration that started in 2008. Upon first meeting, in an audition for McQueen’s first full-length film, “Hunger”, the director thought Fassbender “was a bit cocky.”

When they met again later, they clicked. The film won the Camera d’Or at Cannes and sent Fassbender on a stroll to success in Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds”. In 2011, the British filmmaker and actor reconnected to make the drama “Shame,” where Fassbender portrayed a sex addict.

Although the actor has been called to participate on many high grossing projects and other very interesting choices, such as “Prometheus”, “Haywire”, “Frank” and a role as Magneto in the most recent X-Men saga, he came back in 2013 for the cast of “12 Years a Slave”.

The film, which received widespread critical acclaim and was considered the best film of 2013 by several media outlets, took home the Best Picture award, along with two others, and Fassbender got the nod for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. As only three full-length films have been made by this director, and Fassbender acted in all of them, there’s no reason to believe the next one won’t have the same working formula.


1. Martin Scorsese & Leonardo DiCaprio

This partnership started with a solid film, “Gangs of New York” (2002), which director Martin Scorsese had been trying to get made for decades (originally with Robert DeNiro as its star) and eventually got a rejuvenated version that interested Leonardo DiCaprio. Although this director had a previous and longer relationship with DeNiro, the 2000s surely belong to Leo. After the first step, came “The Aviator” (2004), which earned 5 Academy Awards and a nomination for the lead actor.

Their masterpiece came in 2006 with “The Departed”, a remake of the Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs, and marked the return and new form of the director. As a cop pretending to be a criminal, DiCaprio won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Scorsese finally got the Oscar for Best Director.

The acknowledgement was enough to put them through another two milestones: “Shutter Island” (2010) was the director’s highest grossing film to date, and the latest “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) was considered by many their best collaboration yet. DiCaprio has mentioned in an interview “I look at him as a mentor”, and that’s reason enough to expect another interesting collaboration in the future.

Author Bio: Alex Gandra is a Portuguese writer and filmmaker.She graduated this year in New Communication Technologies from the University of Aveiro and is currently in a master’s degree in Digital Audiovisual. She spends too much time in cafés writing scripts and other kinds of texts you can find at She’s also writing a book she hopes to finish some day.