10 Great Actor-Director Collaborations Not Talked Often Enough

6. Richard Linklater – Ethan Hawke (1995 – 2014)


Number of Collaborations: 8
Most Known: The Before Trilogy, Boyhood & Waking Life

Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke were and still are more than just the actor-director pair that brought us the “Before” Trilogy with Julie Delpy, which Hawke co-wrote with Linklater and Delpy. They also brought us “Boyhood,” which took 12 years of shooting, showing a special kind of collaboration between the two. Hawke’s career has had its ups and downs, but when he’s in a Linklater film, you can be assured that it will be a great collaboration.

Linklater’s mark is very special when it comes to making youth dramas and romances; the way he tells the stories is remarkable and unique in the world of indie films. The scripts that he writes are very lively and real to depict realistic situations that anyone can relate to. He has these repetitive themes that always define his films, such as youth romance, coming-of-age, loss, and existential states, and Hawke was one of his tools to represent some of these themes in most of his films.

“Tape” (2001) was a film about high school friends meeting in later years to remember their painful memories; “Before Sunrise” was a film about two young strangers who meet in Europe and fall in love in one night, followed by “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight” that explore love and growing old throughout the years. “Boyhood” was another film that explores growing up and teen years over the course of 12 years of filmmaking. And somehow, all of these films have Hawke in very special and important roles to the composition of these films, enriching his career. It’s very hard – almost impossible – to imagine anyone else in Hawke’s roles with Linklater, which makes his performances even more significant.

Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke gave each other the best of their careers, making their films intimate and personal, which make these films even more special to the audience with their unique magic from the duo.


7. David Lynch – Laura Dern (1985 – 2017)

Inland Empire David Lynch

Number of Collaborations: 4
Most Known: “Blue Velvet”, “Wild at Heart” & “Twin Peaks”

Laura Dern rose to prominence following her performance in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” and from there, she became Lynch’s muse. He gave her the precious role of Diane in the return of “Twin Peaks” after 25 years of questioning the identity of Diane, who was introduced as an off-screen character in the original show from the first episode in 1989. The peak of their collaborations is the return of “Twin Peaks,” where she plays this mysterious, filthy-mouthed character that was one of the spines of this show’s greatness.

Dern is one of the best actresses of her generation, and Lynch’s weird eccentric surrealistic world is not an open door to any actor or actress to fit in; his mind is filled with these amazing other-worldly ideas, and Dern is one of his favorite tools to actualize his ideas. One of the biggest examples of this is in “Inland Empire,” the bizarre Möbius strip surrealistic mystery starring Dern as an actress who begins to adopt the persona of her character in a film that drives her into nightmares.

“Inland Empire” shows the amazing collaboration between Lynch and Dern and the way he utilizes her talent and creates ideas to fit her in order to make her give the best of her performances, considering that Lynch’s works are unorthodox and bizarre enough to any actor to understand and participate in. David Lynch and Laura Dern are an amazing duo, and their creative friendship and collaborations are one of a kind.


8. Jeff Nichols – Michael Shannon (2007 – 2016)

Take Shelter

Number of Collaborations: 5
Most Known: “Take Shelter”, “Mud” & “Shotgun Stories”

The young writer-director Jeff Nichols directed his first feature “Shotgun Stories” in 2007, and it was obvious that he’s a name that we need to keep an eye on. Nichols’s two basic elements in his films are this: first, his films often set in his hometown in Arkansas, with excessive shots of the American South with all its elements of weather, fields, and the general atmosphere. Secondly, he cast Michael Shannon in all of his five films so far; Shannon had either the lead role or an important role.

Shannon is currently one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood; he’s one of the most versatile and skillful actors, with an amazing approach to his roles that make him powerfully scary and mesmerizing, and Nichols understands the treasure that Shannon is, for he always gives him these roles. This is especially true in “Take Shelter,” where Shannon plays the role of a husband with apocalyptic visions that drive him into building a shelter to save himself and his family; even though the story sounds typical, Nichols’ writing and Shannon’s performance leave the audience on the edge of their seats in this slow-burning psychological drama, as Michael Shannon dwells into anxiety against a natural disaster that makes him obsessed and drives him insane. Shannon gave one of his best performances with Nichols, especially in “Shotgun Stories” and “Take Shelter.”

The collaboration of Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon is one of the collaborations that people would love to see more often. Nichols knows how to use Shannon’s remarkable acting skills, giving him roles that elevate both Nichols and Shannon each in his place behind and in front of the camera.


9. Anders Thomas Jensen – Mads Mikkelsen (2000 – 2020)

Flickering Lights (2000)

Number of Collaborations: 4
Most Known: “Men & Chicken”, “Flickering Lights” & “Adam’s Apples”

Anders Thomas Jensen is one of the most significant names in Danish cinema; he started as a screenwriter who wrote films like “Open Hearts,” “After the Wedding” and “Brothers.” The director/writer of the Dogme 95 had teamed with Mads Mikkelsen in all the films he directed. Mikkelsen is the go-to actor in Hollywood to play a scary ruthless villain, benefiting from his mystical haunting Viking-ish looks, classy mood and voice to give him the roles of a ruthless cold-blooded villain, such as in “Casino Royale,” “Doctor Strange” and “Hannibal.”

But back in his homeland, Mikkelsen made great films, some of which he made with Jensen. Jensen has this weird eccentric surrealistic sarcastic vision; he creates satirical worlds that are nonsensical and non-realistic, yet this approach is a fresh bright kind of cinema, filled with weirdness and uniqueness. He doesn’t make films that are made every day, and he doesn’t play by the rules. He creatively manipulates the genres he chooses and creates his dimensions. And despite the Hollywoodian villain mold they had made for Mikkelsen, he proved that he’s a versatile and colorful actor, specifically with Jensen’s films that require a skillful actor to fit in Jensen’s wild imagination and bizarre worlds.

Anders Thomas Jensen and Mads Mikkelsen are an amazing pair from a completely different atmosphere. It is worth mentioning that Jensen and Mikkelsen are currently working on a new comedy named “Guardians of Justice” that will be released in December 2020.


10. Paul Thomas Anderson – Philip Seymour Hoffman (1996 – 2012)


Number of Collaborations: 5
Most Known: “The Master”, “Magnolia” & “Punch-Drunk Love”

Paul Thomas Anderson considered the late Philip Seymour Hoffman sort of a muse from his first feature “Hard Eight” and later he wrote roles especially for him. The late actor, who died in 2014, left us some of the greatest performances ever in “The Master,” the masterpiece written and directed by Anderson and co-starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams; Hoffman delivered a mesmerizing scary performance as a cult “Scientologist” leader. Aside from “The Master,” Anderson gave Hoffman small yet important roles in “Punch-Drunk Love,” “Boogie Nights” and “Hard Eight,” and the role of the nurse in the unforgettable mosaic masterpiece “Magnolia.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the best actors of his generation; he had this uniqueness that elevated him in each film, even if the roles were small, with a charismatic strong presence and full dedication to his craft. He left us great films despite his early departure and his few years as a lead actor, with much thanks to Anderson who, ever since he saw him in “Scent of a Woman,” considered him a soft of muse, delivering some of the best works from the two.