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October 23, 2014

Our Six Favorite TV Actors-Turned-Directors (Plus More from Jensen Ackles' Directorial Debut)

by Laura Prudom, posted Oct 14th 2010 6:45PM
Jensen Ackles directs 'Supernatural' episode 604This week's episode of 'Supernatural' marks a very special occasion for one of its stars, Jensen Ackles, the man behind badass demon hunter (and now, surprisingly adept family man) Dean Winchester.

After five years lighting up the screen alongside his co-star Jared Padalecki, episode 604 -- titled 'Weekend at Bobby's' -- will see Ackles step behind the camera for his directorial debut. (Check out our special look behind the scenes of the episode here.)

Ackles' turn behind the camera got us thinking about some of our other favorite TV stars who have recently hopped into the director's chair, so we've compiled a list of six awesome actors (aside from Ackles) who have taken the helm on their own shows in the past few years -- take a peek at our picks after the jump.

One of the most interesting aspects of the actor-to-director trend is that most of these performers are far from background players -- every star on our list is a series lead, meaning that they have to juggle an already intimidating workload in front of the camera in addition to the pre- and post-production responsibilities of directing. Plus there's always that pesky task of directing yourself as you film, which is enough to give anyone a headache. Here are six such notable entertainers -- did your favorite make the list?

Jon Cryer
Along with Charlie Sheen, Cryer contributes one man to the CBS ratings juggernaut 'Two and a Half Men,' and has already directed three episodes of the sitcom -- 'Sir Lancelot's Litter Box,' 'If My Hole Could Talk' and 'Mr. McGlue's Feedbag' -- since 2007. Although sitcoms are faster moving and require somewhat less location scouting and pre-production work than an hourlong drama, Cryer is still featured in almost every scene, so we're mightily impressed at his continued dedication to directing.

David Boreanaz and Emily DeschanelDavid Boreanaz
At this point, we could almost call Boreanaz a directing pro -- his first taste of the canvas chair came back in 2004 for an episode of 'Angel' entitled 'Soul Purpose,' and he's subsequently helmed two episodes of 'Bones' in the past two years: 'The Bones that Foam,' and the series' landmark 100th episode, 'The Parts in the Sum of the Whole.' Not to be outdone, his charming 'Bones' co-star Emily Deschanel is also set to make her directorial debut on the series -- she'll be filming episode 14 next January, when production resumes after the Christmas break. In addition, both stars serve as producers on the popular drama; talk about multi-talented.


John Slattery
Though character actor (and certified silver fox) Slattery has gained attention -- and Emmy noms -- for his role as sometimes-sleazy Roger Sterling in 'Mad Men,' the accomplished thespian has also ducked behind the camera for two directing stints on the AMC drama; helming the season 4 episodes 'The Rejected' and 'Blowing Smoke.' Since the critically acclaimed series is known for its signature retro style and pacing (daunting enough for any director, let alone a rookie), we have to raise a whiskey-filled glass to Slattery for pulling off such an accomplished job.

Zachary Levi
As the titular character in NBC's spy series 'Chuck,' Levi is no stranger to the long hours and high pressure of a starring role, so we were thrilled to see that he was brave (or masochistic) enough to head behind the camera to direct season 3's game-changing episode, 'Chuck vs. the Beard.' In the video below, he wryly describes the experience as "so much fun, but at the same time, stupidly overwhelming." After hearing the praise from his equally hard-working co-stars regarding Levi's directorial skill, it's no surprise that he'll be back in the director's chair for this season's post-Thanksgiving episode, 'Chuck vs. the Leftovers,' airing Nov. 29.

Tom Welling
'Smallville' star Welling has now directed an episode of his "Super" show every year since season five, with offerings such as 'Fragile,' 'Hydro,' 'Injustice,' 'Apocalypse' -- the show's 150th episode -- and the second part of the critically acclaimed 'Absolute Justice' two-hour feature, written by comic book legend Geoff Johns. His next (and likely final) directing gig on 'Smallville' will be an episode entitled 'Patriot,' featuring Aquaman and his wife Mera, and the introduction of General Slade Wilson (AKA Deathstroke). He also balances his directing and acting duties with producing credits on 'Smallville' and the CW's cheerleading drama 'Hellcats' -- maybe he really does have super powers.

In addition to Welling, a number of other 'Smallville' stars have taken turns behind the lens; Allison Mack made her directorial debut in the season 8 episode 'Power,' shooting another last year entitled 'Warrior'. Michael Rosenbaum tackled the season 6 episode 'Freak' while he was still with the show, and later this season, Justin Hartley will take his first turn as director for the 20th episode.

Neil Patrick Harris
A man of many talents, Harris is undoubtedly the breakout star of 'How I Met Your Mother,' and it came as no surprise when he added yet another skill to hisNeil Patrick Harris crowded resume last season and took on the 101st episode of the comedy for his first directing experience. This is even more unique in the case of 'HIMYM,' since the show's usual director, Pamela Fryman, has helmed 106 episodes out of the series' 113 so far -- apparently she doesn't mind sharing with a guy as legen -- wait for it -- dary as Harris. The directing bug obviously bit Harris hard, since he followed up the 'HIMYM' opportunity with a new staging of the musical 'RENT' at the Hollywood Bowl this summer, and recently announced that his feature film directorial debut will be the indie rom-com 'Aaron and Sarah.' He'll be following in the footsteps of his 'HIMYM' co-star Josh Radnor, who recently wrote and directed his first feature film, 'Happythankyoumoreplease,' which was a hit on the festival circuit earlier this year.


Honorable mention: Pretty much the entire cast of 'One Tree Hill'
One of the benefits of having such a strong ensemble cast is the ability to spread some of the workload between actors, so it's no surprise that pretty much everyone in the talented cast of 'One Tree Hill' has taken a turn directing over the show's eight year run. Current series regulars Sophia Bush, James Lafferty and Bethany Joy Galeotti have directed a number of episodes -- this season's offerings include Galeotti's Thanksgiving episode 'Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace,' Bush's Halloween episode 'Not Afraid,' and this week's 'Nobody Taught Us to Quit' from Lafferty. Former star Chad Michael Murray also directed the season 6 episode 'A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene,' while Paul Johansson has helmed a number of episodes over the years.

There's obviously something in the water over at the CW, with three of the network's biggest hits producing such passionate directors from among their casts -- including 'Supernatural'.

Fans of the horror-laced drama may have noticed Ackles' burgeoning desire to direct creeping to the surface in behind-the-scenes photos and aspirational comments in interviews over the years, so it's incredibly satisfying to see the actor finally bringing his ambition to fruition. While AOL was visiting the 'Supernatural' set last month, guest star Mark Sheppard (who appears in tomorrow night's episode) had nothing but praise for Ackles' directorial skills.

"He's fantastic," the dapper British actor admitted. "I mean, everybody's gonna say that, but the truth of the matter is, he's a natural and he's really, really good. He was extraordinarily well prepared, and it was a lot of fun to be directed by him."

We can't wait to see if Ackles' skill behind the camera matches his skill in front of it, but thankfully, we won't be waiting for long.

Did we miss out any of your favorite actors moonlighting as directors? Which star-steered episodes have been your favorite? Share your thoughts below, and don't forget to tune in to Jensen Ackles' directorial bow, 'Weekend at Bobby's' this Friday at 9PM ET, after the 200th episode of 'Smallville' at 8PM, on the CW.


You can check out some awesome behind-the-scenes photographs from Ackles' directorial debut in the gallery below!


[Follow Laura on Twitter @LauinLA.]

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Susan

How I forgot Matthew Rhys I don't know.

December 01 2011 at 2:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Susan

Matthew Gray Gubler has directed one of my favorite Criminal Minds episodes and I will watch anything directed by Chad Lowe.

December 01 2011 at 2:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave

Both Robert Duncan McNeill & Roxann Dawson, late of Star Trek: Voyager, have been having rather successful careers as television directors since leaving the show.

October 15 2010 at 11:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BC McKinney

Why limit it to actors directing their own series? In addition to directing an episode of 'Caprica', Eric Stoltz directed this week's "Duets" episode of 'Glee'.

October 14 2010 at 11:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brittany

Two of my favorites come from a pair of USA series. Jeffrey Donovan directed the third episode of "Burn Notice" this season. I hope we see more from him. James Roday has also directed two episodes of "Psych," the last one being the season four finale.

And yes, they may not be as recent, but I do agree with the list that Purpleslog mentioned - all great names. There's also Tim Matheson, who while not a regular on any of the shows he's directed, can be counted on to turn in great work both in front of and behind the camera in each episode he works on.

October 14 2010 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Phil Leitch

Fred Savage.

October 14 2010 at 7:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
purpleslog

That's a lame list. They are mostly one-offs as directors.

How about:

Ron Howard
Penny Marshall
Clark Johnson
Peter Berg
Jonathan Frakes

October 14 2010 at 6:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to purpleslog's comment
Laura Prudom

Guess you missed the emphasis on RECENT directors. Not that those folks aren't fabulous too, just old news.

October 14 2010 at 7:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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