Actor as auteur: not always a plum role

Affleck, Hoffman follow Eastwood path, but there are perils, too

Clint Eastwood, look what you’ve done.

More and more stars have decided that directing represents the key to advancing their careers, and you are clearly their inspiration. But here’s the catch: You have proven your talent as a filmmaker, and the jury is still out on the others.

In his new movie, “The Town,” Ben Affleck demonstrates one reason to direct: It’s the best way to get a good part. As an actor Affleck has had a bumpy career (witness the “Gigli” stigma). But in “The Town” he’s given himself a terrific role and sees to it that the camera lingers on him, savoring every twitch and method blink. Philip Seymour Hoffman follows the same mandate in directing himself in “Jack Goes Boating.”

Talk to actors about directing, and they’ll insist it’s all about expressing their creativity. But exercising their power is a more urgent motivation.

Angelina Jolie would seem to be on a roll at this stage of her career, but she’s taking time off to direct a politically themed film set in Bosnia. Her agent must be on antidepressants: Stars always assure their agents (and fans) that their directing adventures will be over in a few months, but they then disappear into the editing room for two years.

Stars should remember that directing can often become a dark detour. Johnny Depp’s fans have long since forgotten his disastrous try as a wannabe auteur, “The Brave.”

Similarly, Jodie Foster has discovered that her decision to direct “The Beaver” has been fraught with peril. Her film has disappeared from the release schedule because of the public relations problems of her star, Mel Gibson.

The upshot: Foster may return to acting and Gibson to directing.

There’s a lesson for everyone there, if I could figure what it is.


To be sure, the best role model for any actor with career problems is Kevin Spacey. His formula: Don’t settle for one career when you can levitate several.

I had a chance to spend time with Kevin Spacey this week. Or at least I thought it was Kevin Spacey. You can’t visit with Spacey without wondering which Kevin Spacey was in your company.

I don’t mean to suggest Spacey has a multiple-personality disorder. Well, maybe I do.

Consider Spacey’s agenda last week: As executive producer of “Social Network,” he was in Los Angeles to attend celebrity and press screenings and remind folks that he and his producing partner, Dana Brunetti, found the basic material and pulled it all together (anyone producing a project in association with Scott Rudin needs a bullhorn for such reminders).

Spacey just came down from Toronto, where he helped promote “Casino Jack,” a movie that provides the perfect platform for Spacey-the-actor (he plays the criminally sociopathic former lobbyist, Jack Abramoff).

But Spacey also is artistic director of the Old Vic, so he quickly departed for the London opening of a Noel Coward revival.

Talk to Spacey about his multiple personality issues, and he compounds the confusion by lapsing into a series of impersonations — Johnny Carson, Walter Matthau and Jimmy Stewart are favorites.

Remember, Spacey originally was a standup comic, who impulsively switched to Shakespeare.

When I saw Spacey last week I wished him well on his Noel Coward venture.

He doesn’t need good wishes on “Social Network.” Fate seems to bless every venture associated with Facebook and the billionaire kids who created it. So Spacey, Rudin, director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin will likely laugh all the way to the bank.

And maybe even to the Oscars.


Wall Street is packed with shrewd manipulators who have brilliant strategies. And then there is Carl Icahn. At age 74, the tall, ominious-looking financier never reveals his strategies for one key reason: He doesn’t seem to have any.

Icahn has never been a creature of Hollywood, but now he is messing around importantly with three major industry entities: Lionsgate, MGM and Blockbuster.

“‘Why?’ I asked him, and he wouldn’t answer,” says the CEO of one of those three entities, who asked not to be quoted. “I’m convinced he doesn’t know the answer.”

Given these proclivities, Icahn seems the perfect fit for the surreal MGM derby. Leo the Lion has effectively been in play since 1969 when Kirk Kerkorian decided the studio would provide a pleasant diversion from his Las Vegas adventures.

Despite all the buying and selling, however, MGM’s valuation hasn’t improved over the succeeding generations. Rupert Murdoch made an offer of $1.4 billion in 1989 to buy the studio and was turned down. This year Time Warner offered $1.5 billion and also was turned down.

Bankruptcy apparently is a better prospect. Or maybe a trip to the Sahara.

An Indian conglomerate, Sahara India Pariwar, seems to be dabbling with MGM at the moment. They recently bought the Pune Warriors Indian Premier League cricket team. That may prove to be more of a winner than MGM.