x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Screen teams: winning actor-director double acts

As Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio work together again in Shutter Island, we look at other successful actor-director partnerships.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp on the set of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, one of a number of films the pair have made together over the past 20 years.
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp on the set of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, one of a number of films the pair have made together over the past 20 years.

Shutter Island is the fourth - and what movie analysts say is due to be the most commercially successful - installment in a partnership between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio that has lasted eight years and generated ticket sales of almost £700 million (Dh3.9 billion), as well as winning Scorsese his first Best Director and Best Picture Academy Awards. But Scorsese and DiCaprio aren't the only inspired actor-director team. What other collaborating efforts have ascended to legend over the decades? One of the longest running double-acts must surely have been that of John Ford and John Wayne, which started in 1928 and only ended when Ford's health began to decline in 1963. Granted, the first half dozen of their 20-odd projects didn't exactly set the movie world alight, but Stagecoach in 1939 began what was to be a run of classic motion pictures between the two. Having previously starred in a series of low-budget and mostly panned movies, Wayne was propelled to A-list status by Stagecoach, which remains one of the most influential films ever made. Further Wayne-Ford collaborations such as The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) have also become some of the most lauded movies of all time.

And what about Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant or Hitchcock and James Stewart? A notoriously difficult director, Hitchcock was able to put aside his well-known dislike of actors in order to craft some of the best suspense-thrillers ever, courtesy of the acting stalwarts. From a calm and collected Grant hanging precariously off Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest (1959), to the heart-stopping moment when a crippled James Stewart is spotted by his murderous neighbour in Rear Window (1954), one wonders how these films would have turned out had the director not worked with the same actors time and time again.

There has been a plethora of other notable actor/director collaborations over the years: Pedro Almodóvar and Carmen Maura (who was later replaced by Penélope Cruz), Scorsese and Robert De Niro; Woody Allen and Diane Keaton; Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando; Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune; and Clint Eastwood and, well, Clint Eastwood. And of course, there are Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, who have become one of the most highly regarded moviemaking teams of recent years. With Burton's trademark cartoonish and gothic directing style and Depp's quirky, teetering-on-the-edge-of-madness method of acting, the two have become synonymous with artsy, offbeat pictures abundant in dark humour. Edward Scissorhands in 1990 kicked off the creative process. Its slightly deranged tale of forbidden romance in 1950s suburbia made the film an instant cult classic. Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride (which featured Depp in a voice role) and Sweeney Todd swiftly followed, and the duo's twisted interpretation of Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland has just broken the first-week box-office record held by Avatar. Alice in Wonderland, in which Depp plays the Mad Hatter, has met with decidedly mixed reviews and some of their other creations have been a bit hit or miss (why would anyone ever dream of remaking Willy Wonka?) but nonetheless, theirs is a partnership that is sure to continue flourishing.

As for the new generation of collaborators? It goes without saying that Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale are at the forefront of tag teams whose works have created box-office gold in recent years, with a third Batman movie in the works. And while not quite on the same level just yet, the comedy king Judd Apatow and his fellow funny man Seth Rogen look more than likely to add to their repertoire over the coming years.

Yes, like Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise and Tom and Jerry, the double act is here to stay.