Some directors know what works for them, whether it be a signature style, working within a certain genre, hiring the same crew or, in the case of a certain few, relying on the same group of actors for the majority of their films.
It is not difficult to understand why a director might reuse actors for different features. Understanding an actor and what they are capable of offers a massive advantage in writing characters. It allows you from the start to envision the practical application of dialogue, mannerisms and character arcs on the person who will be performing it.
Directors build relationships with talented actors who have already proven their worth and their range, knowing that there is no risk involved if they recast that actor. Yet despite this, it is a rarity to see a director use the same actors, or group of actors, for the majority of the films they make. These directors build a community of working professionals who they know are competent and talented enough to understand and realize the director’s vision.
It is important to note that there is a certain amount of directors who have used the same cast multiple times but have also had very long careers. What this means is that there are certain filmmakers who have spent half of their career (which may span decades) working with the same actors and the other half working with a more varied cast.
Martin Scorsese is one filmmaker who would fall into this category. His films can essentially be divided by his time working with Robert De Niro and his time working with Leonardo DiCaprio and the many faces that have dressed the scenery of Scorsese’s films in each period respectively.
We have compiled a list of 10 great directors who have constantly used the same cast throughout their career.
1. The Coen Brothers
Joel and Ethan Coen have built a career off variety. They have conquered a vast array of genres, tones, and styles, in an accomplished oeuvre. The brothers are two of the most unpredictable filmmakers working in the industry and are on a par with the likes of Stanley Kubrick in terms of there being no limits to what they can create.
However, despite the ever-shifting nature of the content they produce, there is one consistent thread throughout their work: the reappearance of familiar faces. The brothers have a particular set of actors they like to bring onto each project. Whilst the actors portraying the protagonists of their films may change (and often do), the supporting cast tends to always contain the same faces.
Frances McDormand, perhaps unsurprisingly given she is married to Joel, has appeared in the most Coen Brothers films having featured, credited and uncredited, in eight of their productions. Other regular collaborators include: John Goodman (six films), Steve Buscemi (six films), John Polito (five films) and many more.
2. Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson is one the most consistent filmmakers working today. He has a consistent style through all of his work, one which can be defined by its use of symmetrical misé-en-scene and photography, the use of tracking and panning shots, and the use of slow motion moments kick-started by a pop song. One frame or scene from his films is usually enough to recognize that it is his work.
Another consistent thread through his work is the characters he creates. Anderson’s worlds are inhabited by kooky characters that speak with honesty, often have some deep sadness to them, and are always completely original. Anderson’s films and characters are so unique and strange that it takes a certain actor to fulfill the role. And it is perhaps because of this that Anderson regularly reuses the same actors in all his films.
Once he has established that the sensibilities of an actor fit perfectly with the characters and worlds he creates, he cleverly reuses them knowing that they will be able to deliver the kind of oddball performance required to make his films work.
Of course, Bill Murray has collaborated the most with Anderson, having featured in all but one of Anderson’s films (eight out of nine). The two began working together on Anderson’s second feature, Rushmore, where it became apparent that Murray’s unique persona was the perfect compliment to Anderson’s signature style. Murray is followed closely by Owen Wilson (six films), who also co-writes most of Anderson’s films, Jason Schwartzman (five films) and Kumar Pallana (four films).
3. Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan’s success has put him in the position to be able to work with any actor he wants. His undisputed success rate, with hit after hit, has meant that he is the kind of filmmaker that has actors jumping at the chance to work with him. However, despite his huge casts, he often chooses to work with the same actors again and again.
Nolan’s films are often littered with the same faces, and more often than not these actors are some of the best working today. It is with this formula and the frequent collaboration with his writer brother Jonathan that has lead to such a consistently brilliant body of work.
Michael Caine serves as Nolan’s main collaborator, having worked on every film the director has made since Batman Begins in 2005, making the total seven films. Next up are Cillian Murphy with five films and Christian Bale with four. Add in Tom Hardy’s three-film team-up and you have four of the most talented actors working today frequently working with one of the most gifted filmmakers of his generation. We’d say that was a match made in heaven!
4. Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino is widely known for his postmodernist, pulp-heralding cinema. He made indie cinema popular, changed the way films were made and endeared himself to every film student forever.
Part of Tarantino’s success has been as a result of his brilliant casting decisions. He rejuvenated John Travolta’s career with Pulp Fiction, made Samuel L. Jackson an icon and created a feminist hero out of Uma Thurman. His casting choices are also bolstered by the frequent reuse of actors who have delivered great performances in his previous films and. like the other directors on this list, this has lead to consistently great characters throughout his films.
Of the actors Tarantino continually reuses, Jackson stands as his most frequent muse, having starred in six of Tarantino’s productions to date – and being utterly entertaining in every single one of them. James and Michael Parks, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen, who have all appeared in four films each, follow Jackson.
5. Wong Kar-wai
One of the lesser-known directors on this list, Wong Kar-wai is a Chinese director emerging from the second phase of the Hong Kong New Wave in the late 1980s. He is a western influenced director who, along with his peers, changed Hong Kong cinema forever.
His films carry with them a signature style that can be described as the kinetically beautiful. His frequent partnership with maverick cinematography Christopher Doyle has given his films a consistent look whilst his reuse of actors he has previously cast has secured consistently brilliant performances throughout his work.
He frequently works with two of Hong Kong cinema’s most talented performers in Tony Leung Chiu-wai (seven films) and Maggie Cheung (five films), who have both delivered some of their best work with Kar-wai. Other collaborators include: Leslie Cheung (three films) and Jack Cheung (three films) amongst many. So apparently if your surname ends in “eung” you have pretty good chance of getting cast in a Kar-wai film.