27 Actresses Who Became Successful Producers & Directors

Celia San Miguel | Jul 23, 2016 Movies
27 Actresses Who Became Successful Producers & Directors

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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