News regarding the third installment of the Star Trek reboot is pretty thin on the ground, but the fact that Montgomery Scott himself, Simon Pegg, is now co-writing the script. This bodes well for the quality of the third Star Trek film – indeed, is the best news to come out of production since the rumors started flying. Thankfully, Pegg is a trusted source when it comes to his writing skills and has made an excellent living appearing in his own work. Pegg co-wrote all three of the Blood and Ice Cream movies with Edgar Wright, along with a couple other of his own films. The point is, that talented actors often do their best work under their own writing.
Woody Allen actually started out as a comedy writer for television on shows like The Sid Caesar Show and the Colgate Comedy Hour. It wasn’t long before Allen transitioned into film and started appearing as an actor in his work. Allen turned out to be an excellent and unique comedic talent, especially when performing his own writing. His first few movies were quirky genre parodies before he moved into more serious work with Annie Hall (1977). While Allen inevitably plays a variation on the same neurotic, cynical character, no one plays Woody Allen quite like Woody Allen.
If you’re a gamer or any kind of geek, you probably know about Felicia Day and her hit web series The Guild. Day has always been a kind of geek icon, appearing in several Joss Whedon projects as well as openly professing her own proud geekiness. With The Guild, written and produced by Day, she conveys the everyday struggles of geeks and gamers at the same time as lovingly sending up her own gamer culture. Day is fantastically good as the main character in what is essentially an ensemble show, sympathetically conveying the addiction of gaming and that the gamer world isn’t limited to the stereotypical man-in-parent’s-basement type.
Check out the Renegade Cinema review of The Guild: The Official Companion book
Like Woody Allen, Brooks also started out writing for television – first for Sid Caesar, but then for his own creation Get Smart (1965). Mel Brooks wrote some of the funniest and most daring parodies in film history – everything from westerns to sci-fi to adventure epics – and almost always appeared as one of the smaller leads in those films. Not only were these films some of Brooks’s best acting work, but the movies arguably benefited from having him in them. I don’t think Brooks ever miscast himself, which is an easy thing to do if you’re also writing and directing. He often played buffoonish men in positions of authority (Space Balls, Blazing Saddles), or the well-meaning hero (High Anxiety, To Be or Not to Be), or the misguided source of wisdom (Space Balls, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Robin Hood: Men in Tights), or sometimes a mix of all three.
Chaplin was one of the first writer/actor/directors in the history of film, almost never appearing in anyone else’s work after a certain point. Everything he did was his own, from script to music to direction to acting, he did it all. And while he would have been fantastic in anything to which he turned his talents, it was probably Chaplin who knew best how to frame his own performances. What is perhaps more incredible, is that for a time the burgeoning Hollywood industry simply let him. Chaplin controlled his own work from a very early point in his career, and was incredibly smart with money to the point where he became one of the richest men in Hollywood. At that point, anyone who wanted to control his work didn’t have the means, as Chaplin bought his own studio and started funding his own films.
Emma Thompson not only won an Oscar for her screen adaptation of Sense and Sensibility (1993), but she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for the same movie – if that’s not proof that Thompson does some of her best work under her own writing, then I don’t know what is. And while Nanny McPhee (2005) is perhaps not the most critically acclaimed of movies, Thompson once again fits the role perfectly and tailors the script to her wonderfully wild sense of humor and fabulous comedic acting talents.
Orson Welles may sometimes have been a bit too ambitious when it came to some of his projects – particularly that time when he cast himself as Othello in his adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy – but he was another one of those rare creatures in Hollywood, a legitimate writer/actor/director. While Welles was a wonderfully versatile actor and graciously good humored about some of his later roles, he is perhaps best remembered for the roles he wrote for himself. Citizen Kane (1941) is an obvious example, as most people who know only the name will connect Welles with Citizen Kane. Not only did he win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, be he was also nominated for Best Actor and Best Director. Touch of Evil (1958) is my personal favorite, Welles casting himself as an arrogant, yet weak-willed, pitiful, corrupt cop. It is one of the most bizarre movies of the film noir genre, partly because it was one of the last of the noir era. I still don’t buy Charlton Heston as a Mexican, though. Or Orson Welles as a black man in Othello (1952), for that matter.