It is common to see actors transition from acting to directing, so what’s a better way for them to learn a new craft, than on the set of their own TV show? Actors are on sets for months and basically have a mini film school at their disposal. They already have a rapport with the cast and crew, so why not take advantage of a good opportunity a take a stab at a new craft. One reason as to why actors make relatively good directors is because they understand what the actors go through on a daily basis—unlike a director who may not quite get it. But at the same time, every actor-director on this list has had to direct themselves in an episode, which makes for an arduous yet challenging task. Some TV actors enjoy directing to the point that they segue into directing feature films. It’s apparent once they catch the directing bug, it becomes unshakable.
10. Robin Wright, House Of Cards
Lady Macbeth herself, the conniving Claire Underwood (actress Robin Wright), got a dose of directing when she helmed the 10th episode of the second season (Chapter 23) of her Netflix thriller show. “I have the bug. I love it. I wanna keep doing it. Kinda wanna stop acting…not kidding,” she told reporters during a press junket, about directing. “And you know how to direct an actor because you are an actor,” she continued. “A lot of directors don’t know how to direct actors, because they’ve never done it before, and it’s actually fiercely destructive to say, ‘Have more energy!’ or ‘Can you be sadder?’” Maybe The House of Cards’ star received some directing tips from her director-actor ex-husband, Sean Penn?
9. Peter Krause, Parenthood
Krause made a name for himself on the show Six Feet Under, but it’s his NBC show Parenthood that’s given him the opportunity to direct. The hour-long dramedy has a lot of characters in it, so it’s quite a challenge. Despite that, Krause did a good job directing the 15th episode of season three called “Politics” in 2012. He returned for more last year when he directed the 13th episode of season 4 in January 2013. He told the Huffington Post he especially enjoyed directing young Miles Heizer (Drew) in that episode. Krause’s brother on the show, Dax Shepard (Crosby), also directed a season 4 episode of Parenthood.
8. Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
HIMYM and Barney Stinson may be history, but at least Harris had the chance to direct an episode before the show ended. Harris directed the 13th episode (the show’s 101st episode) of season 5 in January 2010, an episode called “Jenkins” that starred actress Amanda Peet. Harris described the experience to a reporter as intoxicating: “I was a bit overwhelmed all the time, in the good way, in the learning way. It was a bit like an opiate; I hope there’s more.” Yes, Patrick, there is more. He directed a theatre magic show in L.A. and NYC called Nothing to Hide, and last summer he directed an episode of the Fox show Goodwin Games.
7. Steve Carell, The Office
Like his co-stars, John Krasinski (Jim) and Rainn Wilson (Dwight), the funnyman also directed a few episodes of the now defunct work comedy. He made his debut with the 23rd episode of season 5 in April 2009. one year later, he directed “Secretary’s Day” near the end of season 6 and then did one episode in season 7 which aired in 2011 before he left the show. Carell’s moved onto other shows and will co-write and direct the pilot to a show called Tribeca.
6. Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Don Draper also directs—Is there something can’t he do? Jon Hamm delved behind the lens when he made his directorial debut on “Teas Leaves,” the third episode from season 5 of Mad Men in April 2012. He went for it again last season when he directed an episode where Draper’s romancing his neighbor, yet again the third episode of the season. “Yeah, directing was brought to me at the end of season 3 and I said, ‘No, thank you,'” he told the press. “And then during the time between then and now, I saw John Slattery do it very capably. I saw Jennifer Westfeldt do it also very capably—I’m talking about acting and directing at the same time. So I thought, ‘OK, I’ve now seen a couple of examples of this in action and I think I might be a little bit more prepared for the responsibilities of this.’ According to the huffingtonpost, Hamm found it difficult to multitask but liked that he was able to view acting from a different perspective.
5. Anthony Edwards, ER
Edwards is an early directing adopter. Edwards played Dr. Mark Greene for eight seasons on the hit hospital drama, but it wasn’t until season 2 in 1996 when he stepped up and directed his first episode called “Broken Wings.” The next episode he directed was the 20th episode of season 4, and then he did a couple more episodes before he left the series in 2002. “It’s actually kind of a pain,” Edwards told a reporter about directing himself on ER. “Directing is about sitting back and observing. It’s hard to observe and be onstage at the same time.” Edwards hasn’t directed anything in a while, but according to IMDB he’s directing a feature comedy film called My Dead Boyfriend.
4. Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
In April of 2012, Poehler made her directorial debut when she directed an episode of her hit sitcom, Parks and Recreation. She did it again a year later during season 5 when she directed an episode entitled “Article Two,” which was one of the final episodes of the season. “I just love the idea of keeping the whole piece in your head—having the whole idea in your head as well as your part in it…And I got to work with such great actors and my friends,” Poehler told Huffington Post. Poehler still has the directing bug—she directed the season finale episode of the Comedy Central show Broad City, which she also produces.
3. Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle
Cranston’s a seasoned veteran on the list, having directed episodes from two of his own shows; a couple of popular network shows; and even a feature film. He cut his teeth in 2003 when he directed “Stereo Store,” season 4, episode 13 of Malcolm in the Middle. He went on to direct six more episodes of the show, including one of the final episodes of the series. He took a break from directing and later returned with three episodes of his Emmy-winning series Breaking Bad, the first being the season 2 premiere in 2009. All three episodes he directed were season premieres—which demonstrated how the showrunners had enough confidence in him to take the reins. “As an actor on the show it’s really, really difficult—if you’re in it a lot obviously—to be able to prep, so I take opportunities before we’re actually in production shooting,” Cranston said about directing the intense Breaking Bad. Besides directing his own shows, Cranston most recently directed an episode of Modern Family that aired in December.
2. Jason Bateman, Arrested Development, Valerie
Bateman has just recently directed and released his first big film, Bad Words, but he’s actually been directing since he was a teenager. At the ripe age of 18, he became a member of the Director’s Guild because he directed a few episodes of his show Valerie in the late 80’s and early 90’s. A few years after Valerie went off the air, he dabbled in directing other shows like Family Matters, then directed himself in one of the final episodes of the original Arrested Development in 2004. Bateman told Screenrant that he fell in love with directing. “I thought that I would absolutely love it and I was a little surprised that I loved it even more. It’s the greatest job in the world. It’s a real privilege to be able to oversee such a complex process and see it all the way through. And you know, all the way through marketing.” Right now Bateman seems to be on a roll—he’ll direct himself and Nicole Kidman in the movie Family Fang.
1. John Slattery, Mad Men
Akin to his Mad Men co-star Jon Hamm, John Slattery, aka Roger Sterling, also directed some episodes of Mad Men. “I followed Matt [Weiner] and a few of the directors around for over a year in preparation for directing,” Slattery told Vulture.com on directing Mad Men. “It was only my second day and people were coming in from all directions—it was like a Marx Brothers sketch. I was overwhelmed and just trying to keep it together, to maintain a sense of authority, and I just said, ‘Keep rolling.’” Slattery’s directed five different episodes over three seasons, the first being episode four of season 4 in 2010. The last Mad Men episode he helmed was episode 6 of last season, which aired in June 2013; it’s unclear if Slattery will direct any episodes of Mad Men’s newest season. One thing is for sure, all of that directing experience seems to have helped him in writing and directing his first feature called God’s Pocket, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christina Hendricks of Mad Men. The film, which Slattery doesn’t act in, will be distributed in theaters this summer