15 One-Time Director-Actor Collaborations We’d Like to See More of

8. Lenny Abrahamson and Brie Larson
Film they collaborated on: Room (2015)

Coming off of the mild success of his quirky modern Brit Rock comedy Frank, Lenny Abrahamson shocked the world with his 2015 hit Room.

Paralleling Abrahamson’s transition to the mainstream film world, Brie Larson starred in Room as a victim of kidnapping and sexual abuse, beautifully conveying the pain of loving a child only made possible by her trauma. This put her on the map just as much.

Abrahamson’s masterful handling of sensitive subject matters in Room was made possible by the empathy exercised by Larson. Their partnership was incredibly beneficial to both of their careers and highlighted in each other talent that most of the world had yet to witness.


9. Alejandro Iñárritu and Michael Keaton
Film they collaborated on: Birdman: or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)


Iñárritu’s most playful feature is one of his best, and the biting irony of casting Michael Keaton as a man making his dramatic comeback piggybacking on his legacy of staring in a superhero franchise seems all too typical.

But Keaton was no prop – his layered performance as the conniving, ambitious Riggan Thompson guided the film and proved a force to be reckoned with.

Since the success of Birdman, Keaton has drawn regular awards season speculation and Iñárritu became the third person in history to win the Oscar for best director two years in a row.

Both of them are more than willing to tackle a range of subjects and themes, wistful and/or dark. It would be interesting for them to work on a project that returned to Iñarritu’s typically darker style, but as philosophically rich as Birdman.


10. Cary Fukunaga and Idris Elba
Film they collaborated on: Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Netflix’s first big venture in film proved not too successful, sadly.

The man behind the brilliant season 1 of True Detective wrote, directed, and shot a film based on Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name about a boy living in an unnamed African country plagued by civil guerilla warfare.

The child at the center of this all, Agu, is played wonderfully by breakout star Abraham Attah. But Attah’s chops seem small in the shadow of the unnamed Commandant, one of many of Idris Elba’s tour-de-force roles.

The intensity and dark themes of this film were embraced perfectly by both Fukunaga and Elba, masters of their respective fields. It would be tragic to see the pair never work together again.


11. Nicolas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning
Film they collaborated on: The Neon Demon (2016)

While Refn’s latest feature drew mixed reviews and was often criticized of heightened style and diminished substance, one thing was clear – Elle Fanning was a perfect fit in his horrifying take on the fashion industry and westernized ideas of beauty.

Fanning, 19 years old, perfectly captured the innocence of the protagonist of Refn’s film, and her delicate features and the role her youth plays on her technique worked harmoniously with the ideas Refn wanted to explore.

Her symmetrical features and aesthetic beauty enveloped her young wisdom and prowess as an actress; her physicality would maybe be of advantage in the modeling industry, but her own pensiveness as an actress would be nonconventional. Refn capitalizes on this; he preys on it.

Everything from her silky voice to her minimized movements make Fanning a perfect match for Refn, and due to his habit of frequently collaborating with actors like Ryan Gossling and Christina Hendricks, more collaborations between the two seem inevitable.


12. Bill Pohland and Paul Dano
Film they collaborated on: Love and Mercy (2014)

Paul Dano - Love and Mercy

Bill Pohland’s 2014 Brian Wilson biopic is another film on here that deserved much more love and attention then it got during its run. It boldly used parallel storytelling, conveying a younger Brian Wilson descending into madness during the making of the legendary Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds” and an older Wilson balancing his new love of his now wife Melinda Ledbetter with his mental illness as she rescues him from an evil therapist with his own madness.

The cast of this film is incredible, with John Cusack playing an older Wilson, Elizabeth Banks as Ledbetter and Paul Giamatti as therapist Doctor Eugene Landy, but the performance that truly shines is Paul Dano’s turn as younger Wilson.

Dano has always shined as a supporting actor in films like Little Ms. Sunshine (2006), There Will be Blood (2007), and 12 Years a Slave (2013), but Pohland recognized his talent and put him front and center.

The result was incredible – both the director and the actor do a wonderful job handling Wilson’s descent into mental darkness, using creative techniques that put a new face to the making of Pet Sounds.

Pohland, usually a producer, proved his worth in the director’s chair with Love and Mercy, and he really illuminated Paul Dano’s ability as a leading man as well.


13. Terrence Malick and Jessica Chastain
Film they collaborated on: The Tree of Life (2011)

best cinematography snubs

Many believe Terrence Malick has lost his mind, ever since his style has evolved into an incoherent, poetic blending of images, music and emotions. He admits to rejecting conventional tropes and tools of filmmaking, including storyboards and screenplays.

But his greatest work is his ode to existence, The Tree of Life. It blends the history of the universe with the life of an ordinary Texan family. His most personal film to date, everyone can find themselves in this film, as we experience existence and the universe through the telescope of our family in many ways.

The film’s entire ensemble is incredible, but the gentleness and bravado displayed by Jessica Chastain (in 2011, her breakout year) leaving us wanting more collaboration between the two.

She perfectly captures the beautiful essence of the Tree of Life and of Malick’s poetic style of filmmaking like no other actress. The two have not expressed any desire to instantly combine strengths again, but it would be a great shame if The Tree of Life was their only collaboration.


14. Martin Scorsese and Andrew Garfield
Film they collaborated on: Silence (2016)

2016 saw the deliverance of a passion project that took Martin Scorsese a whopping 28 years to make. The final result was incredibly impressive in many respects.

For one thing, Scorsese really brought out the thespian in an actor we sometimes fail to take seriously, Andrew Garfield, who played a Jesuit Priest in 17th century Japan struggling to balance his devoutness with common sense actions to survive.

Garfield admits that the making of this film, for which he lost 40 pounds and, in many ways ‘made him an actor’ to paraphrase. In the same year as his successful turn as Desmond T. Doss in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, 2016 seems like a sort of graduation for Garfield as he seeps into the league of ‘serious American actors.’

Scorsese has found young men and made them acting legends in the past, both with Robert Deniro and Leonardo Dicaprio. Could Garfield be his third star? Time will tell.


15. Kenneth Lonergan and Michelle Williams
Film they worked on: Manchester By The Sea (2016)

2016’s most depressing American film, Manchester by The Sea was an emotional roller coaster with an occasional bit of humor. Authentic, New Englandish, and simple, Lonergan’s third directorial effort is incredible.

And while much praise has been rightfully given to leading man Casey Affleck, the film leaves us wanting more collaboration between Lonergan and Michelle Williams, who’s short performance as Randi Chandler evoked many many tears.

Grief, guilt, and loss all perfectly blended behind her eyes, and every scene she was in she stole or made a worthy partner for Affleck. Should Lonergan continue to direct films and not only write them, collaborating more with Michelle Williams feels essential – she effectively reads between the lines of his dialogue written for real people and encapsulates every emotional beat to drive Manchester home.

Author Bio: Ian Zigel lives in Miami, Florida. A filmmaker himself, Ian loves and appreciates film from around the world and of every decade.