Hall of Fame: Gay Directors and Their Female Muses


Todd Haynes is one of our favorite filmmakers, and his first feature, Poison, just celebrated its 20-year anniversary. Although she isn’t in the film, as we read the Village Voice piece on it and reflected on Haynes’ career, we found our mind wandering to the wonderful work he’s done with Julianne Moore. And that got us thinking about how many gay male directors who we love have (or had) close relationships with an actress who starred in their films. After the jump, we look at eight such creative partnerships, from Haynes and Moore to Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.

Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore Moore had only done a few major roles in big films by the time she starred in [Safe], Haynes’ second feature. The film’s symbolic story line and cold aesthetic showcased Moore as a serious actress playing a fascinating, and largely unsympathetic, character. Her subtle, nuanced portrayal of a suburban housewife who becomes mysteriously ill laid the groundwork for her later career and also won her a few award nominations, too. [Safe] has been read as both pro- and anti-feminist, and also as an allegory for the AIDS crisis. In 2002, Haynes cast Moore again as a housewife, this time in his lush, ’50s-set Douglas Sirk homage, Far From Heaven — earning her an Oscar nomination and a slew of other awards. She also shows up, briefly, in Haynes’ 2007 Bob Dylan dissection, I’m Not There.

In a 2003 interview, Moore told The Guardian, “[T]he great thing about working with Todd in both films is that his vision is so strong, so sure and so apparent to me that I become very relaxed on his sets. And I feel like all I have to do is kind of bring myself into the movie and he’ll take care of the rest. So he gives me the ballast to carry the story because he’s thought about everything else; he’s considered every element of the film — the dialogue, the look, the feel, the rhythm, everything is there for me.”

Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz Almodovar is among the most renowned filmmakers in the world, and Cruz is an international superstar. But as far as we’re concerned, they’re always at their best together. Almodovar — who is known for his women-centered story lines and strong female characters — has worked with many other iconic Spanish-language actresses, but Cruz is by far his most inspiring muse. Their first project together was 1997’s Live Flesh, and since then she’s starred in most of Almodovar’s biggest films, from All About My Mother(1999) to Volver (2006) to Broken Embraces (2009).

Last year, Almodovar spoke to The Wall Street Journal about their relationship: “I know [Penelope’s] versatility, and am interested by the idea of working with her in 10 years when she’s 45 and it’s an entirely different character. So I guess when you know someone that well, it gives you a sense of security, but also a sense of hope about what you will able able to achieve with them in the future.”

Derek Jarman and Tilda Swinton When Derek Jarman died too young, an AIDS casualty in 1994 at only 52 years old, he left behind one of the 20th century’s strangest and most beautiful filmographies, from the punk-rock classic Jubilee to ruminations on the lives of artists and philosophers. He met 25-year-old Tilda Swinton (who had appeared mostly in theater productions until that point) in 1985, when he was casting Caravaggio, and she went on to appear in every one of his subsequent features. Swinton’s androgynous look complemented the gender play that characterized much of Jarman’s work.

Back in 2003, production company 400 Blows interviewed Swinton at length for their documentary, Derek Jarman: Life as Art. Describing their meeting and friendship, Swinton said, “He was just so familiar to me. It felt like it was as if we’d just picked up some conversation that we’d left off. We just started chatting and we just went on.”

Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick Their relationship may not have lasted long — and it definitely didn’t end well — but it was certainly intense. The pair met in 1965, and Warhol was enchanted by Sedgwick’s glamor. She appeared in several of the many films he made that year, including Vinyl, Kitchen, and Beauty No. 2. Sedgwick also starred in what Warhol called The Poor Little Rich Girl Saga, a series of movies that followed the tragic heiress about her daily life. By the end of the year, Warhol was moving on to the next big thing, while Sedgwick retired to the Chelsea Hotel and began hanging out with Bob Dylan’s crowd.

In his 1975 book, A to B And Back Again: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, the notoriously distant Warhol wrote of Sedgwick, “One person fascinated me more than anybody I had ever known. And the fascination I experienced was probably very close to a certain kind of love.”

John Waters and Mink Stole Although Waters is most famous for his work with transvestite trash-diva Divine, only two actors have appeared in all of the director’s films: Waters’ buddies Mink Stole and Mary Vivian Pearce, who have spent over four decades as Dreamlanders — members of his troupe. While Stole may not have always taken center stage, her familiar presence is one the hallmarks of a John Waters film. And some of her roles — such as Taffy Davenport, Divine’s neglected daughter-turned-obnoxious Hare Krishna in Female Trouble — are absolutely unforgettable.

In an interview with PollyStaffle.com, Stole described Waters in glowing terms: “He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. I mean literally. Also, one of the most confident, self-directed, motivated people I have ever known. He has always known all his life what he wanted to do and has just relentlessly moved forward on it.”

François Ozon and Ludivine Sagnier French auteur Ozon has worked with more grand dames than almost anyone in the business — Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, and Isabelle Huppert have each appeared in more than one of his films. But it is a younger actress, Ludivine Sagnier, whose career has flourished the most because of him. His Water Drops on Burning Rocks was her first film role as an adult, and she went on to appear in Ozon’s musical murder-mystery ladyfest 8 Women. She made her biggest splash as a Brigitte Bardot-style sex symbol in 2003’s Swimming Pool, where she starred as the wild, promiscuous daughter of a publisher who captivates mystery author Rampling’s imagination.

Shortly after the release of Swimming Pool, Ozon told Future Movies why he cast Sagnier in that provocative role: “Ludivine had suffered a bit during 8 Women because I paid more attention to the other actresses; except for Ludivine, I hadn’t worked with any of them before. Since she played a tomboy in that film, I wanted to spoil her with a sexy new role.”

Colin Higgins and Dolly Parton He may not have been as prolific as the other filmmakers on this list (and he died young, in 1988, of AIDS), but Higgins — who also wrote Harold and Maude — sure knew how to pick a muse. Of the three films he directed, the inimitable Dolly Parton starred in two, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and 9 to 5. No other filmmaker has seemed to so intimately understand the combination of heart and camp that defines Dolly.