13 Actors Who Did Better as Screenwriters

This week marks the 30th anniversary of John McTiernan’s action/sci-fi blockbuster Predator. It was the first credited movie role for the actor who plays the dirty-joke-obsessed Hawkins, but his excitement about that may have been overshadowed by something else. His name is Shane Black, you see, and he also wrote a little buddy cop movie called Lethal Weapon, which was released three months earlier and had already made more money than Predator ever would.

Though acting was (and occasionally still is) a side gig for Black, his dream was to be a screenwriter. After Lethal Weapon, he went on to write The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout, and Last Action Hero, and to write and direct Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, and The Nice Guys

Plenty of actors also write, but the best-known ones typically write films for themselves — think Ben Affleck (The Town), Joel Edgerton (The Gift), Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility), George Clooney (Good Night and Good Luck), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), and Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet).

But there’s another breed of actor-writers whose faces you recognize but whose names you (probably) don’t know. They’re typically character actors or sitcom regulars who haven’t achieved the level of film lead, and they tend to write movies for other people. Keep reading for a look at some small but recognizable actors who found success writing films instead of starring in them.

Richard Ayoade

Where have you seen him?
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004), The IT Crowd (2006-2013)

What has he written?
He created Darkplace and has written for several other shows, but he made his mark on the big screen as writer/director of Submarine and The Double starring Jesse Eisenberg. One of them is fantastic.

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Paddy Considine

Where have you seen him?
In America (2002), Hot Fuzz (2007), The World’s End (2013)

What has he written?
Considine has written/directed two bleak but powerful dramas, Dead Man’s Shoes and Tyrannosaur, and has a third due for theaters this year. It will also most likely be depressing as hell.

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John Francis Daley

Where have you seen him?
Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000), Waiting (2005), Bones (2007-2014)

What has he written?
After a career spent playing quiet, nerdy little guys, Daley revealed the foul creature within by writing the R-rated Horrible Bosses and the Vacation reboot. He’s softening that edge a bit, presumably, as writer of the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming.

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Todd Field

Where have you seen him?
Twister (1996), Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

What has he written?
Field wrote and directed two films, In the Bedroom and Little Children, and he’s adapted Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian for the screen, although it might be a while before someone bankrolls that one.

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Robert Ben Garant

Where have you seen him?
The State (1993-2009), Reno 911! (2003-2009)

What has he written?
Easily the most successful writer on this list, Garant (who co-writes with fellow State alum Thomas Lennon) has credits that range from comedies like The Pacifier and Balls of Fury to horror films like Jessabelle and The Veil. Their biggest hits, though, are the Night at the Museum films.

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Grant Heslov

Where have you seen him?
True Lies (1994), Enemy of the State (1998), The Scorpion King (2002)

What has he written?
Heslov maintained a fairly steady career as a character actor before becoming George Clooney’s favorite writing partner. The pair have co-written four films, including Good Night and Good Luck, The Ides of March, The Monuments Men, and the upcoming Suburbicon.

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Mathieu Kassovitz

Where have you seen him?
Amelie (2001), Munich (2005), The Lookout (2012)

What has he written?
Kassovitz earned critical acclaim as writer/director of La Haine before sliding downhill a bit into genre efforts like The Crimson Rivers and the Vin Diesel-headlined Babylon A.D.

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Tom McCarthy

Where have you seen him?
Syriana (2005), Baby Mama (2008), 2012 (2009)

What has he written?
He came out kicking with the acclaimed The Station Agent and followed it up with The Visitor and Win Win before suffering a head injury of some kind resulting in Million Dollar Arm and the Adam Sandler-starring, hopeful shoe-based franchise-starter The Cobbler. Happily, he recovered a year later with the Academy Award-winning Spotlight.

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Douglas McGrath

Where have you seen him?
The Insider (1999), Michael Clayton (2007), Solitary Man (2009)

What has he written?
McGrath co-wrote Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway and made such a good impression that he went on to star in five of Allen’s films. (Curiously, he never went on to write another one, though.) He also adapted Jane Austen’s Emma and Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby in addition to writing the other Truman Capote biopic, Infamous.

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Wentworth Miller

Where have you seen him?
Prison Break (2005-2009), The Flash (2014-2017)

What has he written?
He only has two produced features to his name, and I’m forgiving the abysmal The Disappointments Room out of respect for his Park Chan-wook film Stoker.

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Peter Mullan

Where have you seen him?
Trainspotting (1996), Session 9 (2001), Children of Men (2006), War Horse (2011)

What has he written?
Like his countryman Paddy Considine, Mullan has a penchant for writing and directing oppressive dramas about the harsh realities of UK living, and both The Magdalene Sisters and Neds are evidence of it. They’re still great, though.

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Busy Phillips

Where have you seen her?
Cougar Town (2009-2015), Vice Principals (2016-2017)

What has she written?
Look, she may only have a “story by” credit on Will Ferrell’s Blades of Glory, but this unfortunate sausage party had to end. There are plenty of female actors/writers out there, from Sarah Polley to Greta Gerwig, but they’re all too successful as actors to make the cut here. That’s a good problem to have, but still…

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Danny Strong

Where have you seen him?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996-2003), Pleasantville (1998), Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

What has he written?
Strong paired with Lee Daniels on the series Empire and the film The Butler, and he also co-wrote the last two Hunger Games films. His future continues to look bright with adaptations of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Guys and Dolls on the horizon.


Rob Hunter lives in California, dreams of being able to write.