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Taking directing leap at Sundance

Well-known creatives try their hands at new task

DIEGO LUNA

Diego Luna skryrocketed to artfilm stardom with Alfonso Cuaron’s 2001 road pic “Y tu mama tambien.” Since then, the Mexican thesp has demonstrated he’s as ambitious and capable behind the camera as he is in front of it. He’s won kudos for his acting in both English and Spanish, while also producing films through co-owned Canana and directing a doc (2007’s “J.C. Chavez”). With the preem of “Abel” at Sundance this year, Luna can now add narrative feature director to his ever-expanding C.V. Pic, about a young boy who literally takes on the role of his absentee father, was inspired by the birth of Luna’s first child in 2008. “Becoming a father was the most intense thing I have ever experienced,” he says. “Right after it happened, I started working.” Financing fell into place quickly, and Luna embarked on an eight-week shoot. Alfonso Cuaron used to talk about the loneliness of the director, and now I know what he means,” Luna says. “No matter how many people who are working with you, every night you go home, it’s about you and the film. It’s about confidence.”

— Matthew Ross

CHRISTOPHER MORRIS

Controversy is nothing new to Chris Morris. The pop-culture agent provocateur, hailed by many in the U.K. as a genius for his biting social satire in TV series such as “Jam,” “The Day Today” and “Brass Eye,” has now added filmmaker to his list of hyphenates that includes radio DJ, writer, actor and comedian. His debut feature “Four Lions,” which bows in Sundance’s World Cinema Competition, is an extension of Morris’ fearless tackling of hot-potato subjects. Set in the north of England, pic follows a group of hapless wannabe terrorists looking to cause mayhem in their adopted homeland of Blighty. Rather than simply mine the dark side of the topic of terrorism, Morris has improbably created a black comedy about suicide bombers. “I hope people will be glad to be able to laugh at a subject matter that up until now has had three red rings around it and been scary,” Morris says. He may well be right. There are already well over a million search results for “Four Lions” on Google.

— Ali Jaafar

JOSH RADNOR

In 2005, Josh Radnor got the biggest break of his young career when he landed the lead role in CBS’ hit sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” Despite the promise of a steady paycheck and industry recognition, Radnor remained committed to making it on the bigscreen. During the show’s first season, he quietly began writing a screenplay. “I really wrote the script in order to create a great film role for myself, not because I was trying to direct something,” Radnor says of his debut feature, “happythankyou-moreplease,” an ensemble comic drama about New York life, in which he also stars. “Directing this movie felt like a wonderful marriage of my various passions,” says the 25-year-old Ohio native. “It appealed to my artistic side as well as the side that loves crossword puzzles. I loved trying to figure out how everything fits together.”

— Matthew Ross

MARK RUFFALO

Breaking through in 2000 at Sundance with “You Can Count on Me,” Mark Ruffalo may be known as one of the most accomplished thespians of his generation, but he says the craft of acting is “always difficult and sometimes painful.” For his helming debut “Sympathy for Delicious,” a 10-year-in-the-making passion project about a paralyzed D.J. (played by his friend, actor and writer Christopher Thornton, who is wheelchair-dependent in real life), Ruffalo says directing came surprisingly easy. Though playing a priest in the film was challenging in itself, it also put him at odds with himself professionally: Acting is “myopic,” he says, contrasted with the “scope” of directing. He ultimately enjoyed going behind the camera. “I’ve always likened acting to being in love with this beautiful woman who doesn’t love you back,” he explains. “With directing, I think she likes me. I don’t have the same longing to have its approval, because I don’t have as many unrealistic expectations.”

— Anthony Kaufman

JOHN WELLS

What was remarkable,” says veteran producer and writer John Wells about directing debut feature “The Company Men,” “was that I thought I knew everything, but I had a lot to learn.” The multiple-Emmy-winning TV maven (“ER,” “The West Wing”) had directed episodes of “ER,” but that didn’t prepare him for the pressures of independent filmmaking. “That’s where my experience as a producer was a little detrimental,” he admits. “Since I was very conscious of production realities, I had to be reminded to take my time and make sure I got what I needed.” During one pivotal scene between Ben Affleck’s character and the character’s son, for example, “The light was changing, and we had done a wide two shot that I thought worked,” he recounts. “And I said, ‘Let’s move on to the next scene.’ And then (cinematographer) Roger Deakins turned around and looked at me and said, ‘Are you mad? We have to get coverage on this.’ I felt ridiculous.”

— Anthony Kaufman

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