27 Actresses Who Became Successful Producers & Directors

Celia San Miguel | Jul 23, 2016 Movies

Tired of the one-dimensional roles offered to women in Hollywood and hungry to create seminal cinematic works, many female actresses are taking matters into their own hands, stepping behind the camera and embracing roles as writers, producers, and directors. By leveraging their name recognition and influence, these women are exercising greater control over the projects they bring to life, overseeing them from inception to distribution, and working to shatter Hollywood's glass ceiling. From Angelina Jolie to comedy masterminds Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, these stars went from actresses for hire to bona fide bosses.

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With these ladies leading the charge, compelling stories about strong-willed, plucky, relatable, flawed, courageous, resilient, multifaceted women are finally being told on screen. Following are 27 actresses who became successful producers and directors.

 

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  • Eva Longoria

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    After catapulting to stardom in Desperate Housewives, Eva Longoria turned her attention to producing a series of projects, among them the documentary Latinos Living the American Dream, the TV dating competition Ready for Love, the revenge thriller John Wick, the soap-y Lifetime series Devious Maids, and the campy sitcom Telenovela. Longoria then seized the director's chair, going behind the camera to commandeer episodes of Devious Maids and Telenovela. "If [women] don’t get behind the camera as producers and directors, our stories will never truly be told,” Longoria has said of her motivation.

  • Helen Hunt

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    Back when she was playing house with Paul Reiser on Mad About You, Helen Hunt was already venturing behind the lens, directing five episodes of the '90s sitcom. In 2007, she directed her first film, the romantic dramedy Then She Found Me. At the time, Helen Hunt said motherhood gave her the tools to become an effective director. "What does a mother say? 'You matter to me. I'm listening to you. Things will be okay,'" Hunt said. "All the qualities that make me a better mother came in handy as a director." Hunt has continued infusing that maternal care into her directing gigs — from 2014's surfing comedy Ride to episodes of Revenge and House of Lies.

  • Mindy Kaling

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    A photo posted by Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) on

    Borrowing a page from the Tina Fey guide to success, Mindy Kaling began her ascent to fame as a writer, penning 22 episodes of The Office between 2005 and 2012. Once she became an indispensable writer and beloved show character, Kaling took on more behind-the-scenes responsibilities, producing over 120 episodes of the long-running sitcom and directing a handful. After familiarizing herself with all aspects of filmmaking, Kaling developed her own star vehicle, The Mindy Project, which she writes and executive produces.

  • Angelina Jolie

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    While working on her directorial debut, 2011's Bosnia-set romance In the Land of Blood and Honey, Angelina Jolie discovered a new passion, one that moved her more than acting. "I've spent the majority of my life in one aspect of this business and, because I was fortunate enough to become successful, I never questioned whether I felt at home and found out later in life that I'm much happier directing," Jolie said. Her comfort level shows: Her sophomore directorial effort, 2014's Unbroken, earned such rave reviews that film critics were baffled when it didn't earn any major Oscar or Golden Globe nods.

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  • Regina King

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    It's never too late to learn a new skill! In 2013, after almost 30 years in front of the camera, Jerry Maguire actress Regina King dipped her toe into the directing waters with episode of Southland. Since then, she's been amassing directing credits, helming two episodes of Scandal, six episodes of Being Mary Jane, and an episode of The Catch. Not that she's quit acting — just last year, she nabbed an Emmy for her performance in the miniseries American Crime. Time to show her the money!

  • Elizabeth Banks

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    You can thank actress Elizabeth Banks, best known for her role as Effie in the Hunger Games films, for blessing the world with the musical stylings and hilarious antics of the Barden Bellas. After producing the original Pitch Perfect, Banks decided to fill the role of director for the 2015 sequel. Though she won't be helming Pitch Perfect 3, she'll stay on as a producer while she focuses on other directorial projects: the comedic TV movie The Greater Good and a Charlie's Angels reboot. You can bank on seeing more of Banks's work in the coming years!

  • Olivia Wilde

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    Happy place. @chilipeppers

    A photo posted by Olivia Wilde (@oliviawilde) on

    Like her Vinyl character, the free-spirited Devon Finestra, actress Olivia Wilde has a deep appreciation for musicians. It's only fitting, then, that she'd make her directorial debut working on a music video — specifically, on Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “No Love Like Yours.” Her latest directorial endeavor was the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dark Necessities" music video (pictured above), in which a crew of female skaters is seen performing tricks, getting inner-lip tattoos, and generally being bad to the bone.

  • Lena Dunham

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    A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

    As the creator, producer, and star of HBO's Girls, Lena Dunham has been hailed as the voice of a generation, an unapologetic feminist who breathes life into complicated and nuanced female characters that are as ambitious and lovable as they are dysfunctional and disenchanted. Dunham, who made her directorial debut with the 2010 indie film Tiny Furniture, also directed 12 episodes of Girls. Next up, Dunham is writing and executive producing the upcoming HBO series Max, which has been described as a feminist Mad Men set in the 1960s publishing world.

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  • Drew Barrymore

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    She's an A-list actress and best-selling author, not to mention the CEO of Flower Beauty, but Drew Barrymore's impressive resume doesn't end there. The endearing "wild flower" has helped to bring quite a few cinematic projects to fruition. Through her Flower Films production company, Barrymore executive produced such works as Donnie Darko, He's Just Not That into You, and How to Be Single. In 2009, she made her directorial debut with the charming drama Whip It, about a strong-willed team who finds an outlet in the roller derby world.

  • Rose McGowan

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    A photo posted by Rose McGowan (@rosemcgowan) on

    While many actresses yearn for the spotlight, former Charmed star Rose McGowan is finding the shadowy realm behind the camera much more enjoyable. After unveiling her directorial debut, the short film Dawn about 1960s girl culture, at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, McGowan has turned her focus to being behind the lens, shaping the way stories are told in modern cinema.

  • Tina Fey

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    The title of Tina Fey's memoir, Bossypants, says it all: This writer, producer, and actor is a total dynamo and a natural born leader. After making history as SNL's first female head writer and penning the screenplay for 2004's now iconic Mean Girls, Fey began experimenting with other behind-the-scenes roles — all while simultaneously honing her acting chops. Since signing on as an executive producer on NBC's 30 Rock, Fey has produced the films Sisters and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot as well as the Emmy-nominated Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

  • Lake Bell

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    A photo posted by LAKE BELL (@lakebell) on

    Her filmography includes roles in HBO's How To Make It in America, and Netlix's Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, but perhaps Lake Bell's biggest accomplishment is 2013's In a World..., an indie comedy she wrote, starred in, and directed. By writing and directing her own material, Bell is ensuring she can execute her vision from beginning to end. Just don't expect Lake Bell to direct any blockbusters! "To me, [directing a major studio film] is not as sexy as making what you want with the people you want and not having to operate in fear," Bell told More magazine. "No creativity is ever birthed through a canal of fear."

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  • Beyonce

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    A photo posted by Beyoncé (@beyonce) on

    Could Bey be one step closer to EGOT status? The "Formation" singer's HBO special, Lemonade, earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special — an honor she shares with co-director Khalil Joseph. From the often haunting cinematography to the locations showcased, the unexpected cameo appearances, the introspective spoken word segments, the moody lighting changes, and the hair and makeup choices, every second of this masterpiece has Beyonce's signature on it.

  • Jodie Foster

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    "I've wanted to be a director since I was a kid," Jodie Foster said while promoting her fourth effort, Money Monster, a tense thriller starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney. The accomplished movie star, who won two Best Actress Oscars — one for 1988's The Accused and another for 1991's The Silence of the Lambs — made her feature film directorial debut with 1991's Little Man Tate. 

  • America Ferrera

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    In October 2015, America Ferrera launched Take Fountain Productions and swiftly sold its first two projects to ABC: Plus One, a comedy about three siblings discovering the existence of a fourth, and Social Creatures, a drama about six friends living in New York. Before announcing these projects, Ferrera had been perfecting her production skills on the workplace comedy Superstore, in which she also stars.

  • Katie Holmes

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    Katie Holmes will not be defined by her Dawson's Creek days — or, for that matter, by her marriage to (and subsequent divorce from) Tom Cruise. Though she's kept a low profile in recent years, Holmes hasn't stopped working. In fact, she recently turned her attention to directing, spearheading the film adaptation of Annie Weatherwax's novel All We Had. The film debuted at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

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  • Jennifer Aniston

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    As she transitioned from TV to film, Jennifer Aniston teamed up with her producer pal Kristin Hahn to form Echo Films, a vehicle through which to produce passion projects. These projects have included  2010's The Switch, costarring Jason Bateman; 2013's indie caper comedy Life of Crime; and 2014's Cake, for which Aniston earned a Best Actress Oscar nod. Aniston and Hahn are currently wrapping up the Iraq war drama Yellow Birds and have just secured a director for their film about the Goree Girls, an all-female music group formed in prison in the 1930s.

  • Lucy Liu

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    Had the best time directing @graceland_tv Tune in tonight at 10pm est on USA

    A photo posted by Lucy Liu (@lucyliu) on

    As Dr. Joan Watson, Sherlock Holmes's sidekick in the CBS show Elementary, Lucy Liu takes cues from the eccentric private detective. In real life, however, Liu's been calling many of the shots — literally! The actress has directed three of the show's episodes, as well as one episode of USA's Graceland.

  • Amy Poehler

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    Like her comedy pal Tina Fey, Amy Poehler began her career as a writer, penning over 20 episodes for the variety sketch show the Upright Citizens Brigade. After joining the cast of Saturday Night Live, Poehler's profile increased tremendously and, like Fey, she used it as a launching pad, combining her influence, writing chops, and production know-how to create her own sitcom Parks and Recreation. Poehler is also producing edgier projects like Comedy Central's hysterically irreverent girl-power sitcom Broad City and Hulu's Difficult People.

  • Reese Witherspoon

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    Day 1 #BigLittleLies!! With @bpapandrea44 @Pacificstandardfilms @HBO.

    A photo posted by Reese Witherspoon (@reesewitherspoon) on

    When Reese Witherspoon first formed Type A Films in 2000, she hoped to produce more female-driven stories. After producing the successful Legally Blonde sequel, Witherspoon emerged as a true shot-caller both in front of and behind the camera. Her production company, now dubbed Pacific Standard, brought Gone Girl and Wild to the big screen — both films with strong, complex female characters. Her latest project, Big Little Lies, a TV comedy about the dynamics between mothers, will star Witherspoon opposite Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman, Adam Scott, and Shailene Woodley.

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  • Natalie Portman

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    The year 2010 was life-changing for Natalie Portman — not only did she star in Darren Arnofsky's Black Swan, the film that would earn her a Best Actress Oscar, but she cut her teeth as a producer on the indie film Hesher. Since then, Portman has produced the rom-com No Strings Attached, the biopic A Tale of Love and Darkness (which she also directed), and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Don't expect a final swan song from Portman any time soon!

  • Chloe Sevigny

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    Actress, model, fashionista, and all-around "it" girl Chloe Sevigny is a newly minted filmmaker with the upcoming release of her short film Kitty, based on a 1980 Paul Bowles story about a young girl who inexplicably transforms into a cat. Now that she's joined the newest wave of female directors, Sevigny says she's excited to "start breaking down those walls" in male-dominated Hollywood.

  • Rita Wilson

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    It was Rita Wilson who proposed turning Nia Vardalos's one-woman show into one of the highest-grossing indie films of all time: 2002's My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Alongside her husband Tom Hanks, Wilson produced MBFGW as well as its 2016 sequel. Other production credits include 2008's musical film Mamma Mia!

  • Salma Hayek

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    This talented actress began her foray into the production realm by focusing on passion projects: 2001's TV movie In the Time of Butterflies, based on Julia Alvarez's novel; 2002's Frida (for which she won a Best Actress Oscar nod); and 2003's The Maldonado Miracle (also her directorial debut). Continuing to bring Latino-centric projects to mainstream audiences, Salma Hayek executive produced ABC's Ugly Betty, and thereby kick-started America Ferrera's career.

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  • Courteney Cox

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    While some Friends cast members faded into near-oblivion after the show's final curtain call, Courteney Cox dove into other projects, focusing not only on acting gigs but also on producing and directing. In 2007, she produced and starred in the FX series Dirt about an often unscrupulous tabloid magazine editor, and in 2009, she again did double duty as both the star and executive producer of the sitcom Cougar Town. During the show's six-year run, Cox got her feet wet as a director, spearheading 12 episodes.

  • Jennifer Lopez

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    A photo posted by Jennifer Lopez (@jlo) on

    The Bronx-bred diva launched Nuyorican Productions in 2001 and, over the years, Jennifer Lopez has produced and starred in such movies as the Hector Lavoe biopic El Cantante and the box office-topping thriller The Boy Next Door, as well as in the new NBC drama Shades of Blue. Next up, she'll be teaming up with Universal Pictures to executive produce and star in the comedy Mothers I'd Like To... Her love don't cost a thing, but her talent is priceless!

  • Hilary Duff

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    In 2006, when she was just 19, former Lizzie Maguire star Hilary Duff was making her debut as a film producer with the family-friendly, teeny-bopper comedy Material Girls. Then, in 2009, she tackled more adult fare while executive producing and starring in the film According to Greta, about a suicidal girl whose life takes a fortuitous turn thanks to an unexpected romance. Might she be producing an episode of her new show Younger in the future? We'll have to wait and see!

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