10 Actresses Who Made Their Directorial Debuts This Year

While shooting Lady Bird, director Greta Gerwig began each day by staring at a photo of a different renowned woman director that her cinematographer, Sam Levy, had sent her. She told Entertainment Weekly, “It was almost like he kept reminding me of who I want to be really. Those women, all those women!”

Looks like Levy’s little encouragement ploy – and Gerwig’s intrinsic directing abilities – paid off. Lady Bird, a coming-of-age drama that somehow feels more real than any other coming-of-age drama ever made, has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and has made every member of the Refinery29 entertainment team cry. After years appearing in indie gems like 20th Century Women and Frances Ha, Gerwig has situated herself as one of the most exciting directors in film with Lady Bird.

Gerwig is one of many actresses who crossed over to the other side of the camera in 2017. Here's the newest batch of Hollywood actresses-turned-auteurs.

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Quinn Shephard
Directorial Debut: Blame, out January 5

Quinn Shephard started writing Blame, a film about a boundary-crossing relationship between a teenage outcast and her teacher, when she was a high schooler in central New Jersey. Flash forward, past Shephard's acting stints in Hostages and The Blacklist, to the moment her teenage passion project premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to acclaimed reviews. Shephard was 22 when the movie premiered — and only 20 when she directed it.

“It’s a story about girls,” Shephard told Refinery29's Molly Stout. “The damage that can be done to young girls when they’re pushed into their sexuality too young, and in a way that isn’t in their control.” Blame stands out from other movies that may also be about 16-year-old girls on the brink of discovering themselves precisely because a young woman who intimately understands that phase of life directed it. "They’re being made by 40-year-old men who are making it a sexy thing," Shephard said.

Chris Messina, who starred in the film, affirmed Shephard's directing chops, especially when compared to other first-time directors he's worked with.

"They'll show you a look book of beautiful pictures and they play you music that inspired them, but then often you get there and they can’t do that," Messina told Refinery29. "Quinn is the opposite. She’ll talk to you about these things and then she can actually do them."
Kristen Stewart
Directorial Debut: Come Swim, premiered at Sundance on January 19

Kristen Stewart partnered with Refinery29's Shatterbox Anthology to create this trippy short film, a two-and-a-half minute deep dive into a man's dark imagination. Or, as Stewart described it: "This movie is like full-frontal heartbreak."

Stewart foresees more directing in her future.

"I can’t believe I’m already 26 and I just made my first short. I don’t see like a huge distinction between acting and directing, the way I approach it. So, I want to allow myself to ride some momentum and allow that to give me confidence," she told Refinery29.
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Alice Lowe
Directorial Debut: Prevenge, out March 24

It's not often that the protagonist (and central villain) of a slasher film is a pregnant woman in her second trimester. British actress and comedian Alice Lowe is a triple threat: She wrote the script for Prevenge is two weeks, starred as the serial killer avenging her husband's death, and directed the movie — while seven-and-a-half months pregnant.

Lowe's pregnancy was what actually spurred her to pursue a directorial role, because she was scared she wouldn't get a chance to direct once the baby was born. "I just saw that you don’t get female directors with tiny babies making films. I kind of thought, ‘Well, that’s it,'" she told Indiewire.

Since Lowe was in charge for the Prevenge shoot, she could work around her own pregnancy more easily. "Obviously a child is a 24/7 thing, and so is a film, really. It’s just one of those careers. But what I would say is why can’t you shoot in a way that suits you? What is wrong with making a project that is tailor made to what your needs are? That is what is great about being a director of this project, I could say, no, I’m not going to do that and I’m not going to push myself beyond this," she told the Independent.
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Zoe Lister-Jones
Directorial Debut: Band-Aid, out June 2

Lister-Jones, who you'll recognize from the sitcoms Life in Pieces and Whitney, had experience behind the camera even before making Band-Aid, a movie about a sparring married couple who sets fights to music. She'd written, produced, and starred in movies with her husband, Daryl Wein, but Band-Aid was her first solo project.

Not only did Lister-Jones writer, star in, and direct Band-Aid. She also was sure to hire an all-female crew – which she hopes to do for all future projects.

"It was inspiring because it felt that we were doing something that had never been done before, and might actually help effect change in an industry that has been stubborn to change when it comes to gender inequity. But it also was just, for the work itself, so incredible and productive and as I said, supportive. It was a really amazing group of people creating work together," she told Refinery29.
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Amber Tamblyn
Directorial Debut: Paint It Black, out May 3

Amber Tamblyn was initially supposed to be the star of Paint It Black, a movie about the twisted relationship that forms between the girlfriend (Alia Shawkat) and mother (Janet McTeer) of a man who committed suicide. In an interview with Refinery29, Tamblyn revealed that the film's original director encouraged her to take on a directorial role. "She said to me, 'What is it that you're waiting for? What's the reason you don't want to do this?' So I had to ask myself that, and I found that the only reason was fear."

Tamblyn has words for any other aspiring female filmmakers — or really any women with an ambitious dream.

"My advice would be to never ask for permission from anybody, only ask permission of yourself when you want to do something, and do not take no for an answer, ever. You have to be stubborn and diligent about your creative dreams," she said.
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Whitney Cummings
Directorial Debut: The Female Brain, out June 17

Actress and comedian Whitney Cummings made what's perhaps the first "neurology comedy" ever. "We made a movie that depicted how our reptilian/primal brain undermines our modern day relationships...The only way I know how to describe it is that it’s like a sexy, funny Magic School Bus," Cummings told the Women and Hollywood blog.

In the movie, which also stars Sofia Vergara and Cecily Strong, Cummings plays a university researcher who studies how the female and male brains process the phases of love.
Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX/Shutterstock
Brie Larson
Directorial Debut: Unicorn Store, premiered at TIFF in September

Larson won her first Best Actress Academy Award at 26. The following year, she made her directorial debut with this pastel-toned short film about a woman given a chance to fulfill her lifelong dream of owning a unicorn. Given her extraordinary talent, should you be surprised that Mamoudou Athie, who appeared in the film, raved about her directing abilities, too? "She is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with...Just extraordinarily generous, but also so clear, so succinct with her directions," Athie told IndieWire.

However confident the star of Room and The Glass Castle is before the camera, Larson was nervous for her first time behind the camera.

“There’s a real vulnerability that comes with directing a film, that comes with saying, ‘This is my point of view, this is how I view the world, and it’s meaningful to me and I hope it’s meaningful to other people,'” Larson told IndieWire.
Gabourey Sidibe
Directorial Debut: A Tale of Four, out October 24

Gabourey Sidibe drew inspiration from Nina Simone's song "Four Women" for this short film, which weaves together the disparate stories of four contemporary Black women.

“It’s so important for people like me to get behind the camera,” Sidibe told Refinery29. “I know that we’re called minorities, but there’s no fucking way there are less of us than there are of them. We’re called minorities because we matter minorly. The way we matter is minor to the way they matter... Atlanta and Insecure, those are my favorite shows. We out here winning all the Emmys. Don’t say we don’t exist. We’re not a fad. We’re not going anywhere, and we are snatching the gold right out of your hand.”

See Sidibe's directorial debut for yourself online, at Refinery29's Shatterbox Initiative.
Greta Gerwig
Directorial Debut: Lady Bird, out November 3

Judging by Lady Bird's glowing reviews, it's clear Gerwig's a pro. Laurie Metcalf, who plays the mother in the film, agrees. “I would have thought, if I’d just walked on the set, that she’d been doing this for years and years,” Metcalf told Entertainment Weekly. “The vibe she set was supportive and collaborative and calm and easy and funny and stress-free. I can’t think of an easier time that I’ve had working in film.”

It doesn't look like Gerwig is stopping directing anytime soon, either.

"I never want to stop acting, but for me [directing] is the thing that I felt most fulfilled my idea of what I want to do the rest of my life," she told The Hollywood Reporter.
Noël Wells
Directorial Debut: Mr. Roosevelt, out November 22

After finding out her cat is dying, a young comedian flies back to the Austin, Texas, home she once shared with her ex-boyfriend — and is shocked to find that she's been replaced by his new girlfriend. Wells wrote, starred in, and directed the movie, and learned quite a bit in the process.

"What I learned by the end of the film was that my instinct is the first instinct, and if it’s not working, then you should open the floor up to questions. But not to let other people’s indecision or other people’s lack of clarity draw me from my clarity. I am the director. I am the one steering the ship. I have to say, ‘No, this is what I see. Let me show you.’ It was just me learning how to trust myself," Wells told Refinery29 in an interview.
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