Directors and Their On-Screen Muses


We hope Laura Dern has a wild at heart and weird on top kind of birthday. The actress celebrates tomorrow, but we’re stealing our slice of cake a day early by taking a look at Dern’s relationship with director pal David Lynch. While the star has been busy filming Paul Thomas Anderson’s scientology-inspired drama The Master , her early career days were spent with the king of strange, Lynch. Dern’s appeared in three of the director’s films — keep in mind he’s only made 10 features since starting out in the late ’70s — and has been a unique, expansive female character in his canon, as this article from The Awl has also pointed out. It’s clear that there’s a depth to Dern’s dramatic allure Lynch greatly admires. While we hope to see the director take up with his muse once more, we thought it’d be a perfect time to celebrate a few other inspired collaborations. Click on to see some of our picks, and tell us yours, won’t you?

Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina

Anna Karina wasn’t the only muse Godard was wooed by, but the actress is the most iconic in the French New Wave pioneer’s filmography — and the movement as a whole. He discovered Karina during the beginning of her modeling career and tried to cast her in Breathless, but she refused to take off her clothes for the part. They eventually united for Petit Soldat and soon fell in love. They formed a production company together, and his relationship with the starlet was often completely intertwined with his work — showing an intimacy and range they never reached in their real-life marriage, which ended in 1967. Luckily we have Vivre Sa Vie, Alphaville, Bande à Part, Une Femme Est une Femme, and other greats to remind us of their better years together.

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton

Like Godard, Woody Allen has a history of entwining the personal and the professional. We’re not sure we can count all of the auteur’s muses on one hand, and since Annie Hall just arrived on Blu-ray we’re focusing on one: Diane Keaton. “His insights into my character were dead-on and hilarious. This bond remains the core of our friendship and, for me, love,” Keaton wrote in her recent memoir, Then Again . The duo fell for each other and worked together for the first time in Allen’s Broadway show Play It Again, Sam. She’s taken on multiple memorable roles for the neurotic director since. Many have argued that Allen did his best work with Keaton, and the actress has said Allen taught her how to be disciplined and strong-willed. Although their romantic partnership ended, it’s clear why these two remain great friends.

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell’s ability to swing from action-drama to comedy has been perfectly captured by frequent collaborator John Carpenter. While both men are real-life buddies, Carpenter has a lot of positive things to say about his working relationship with action cinema’s favorite everyman:

“Friendship aside, and aside from the fact he’s so damned agreeable, he’s trained, the kind of training a lot of actors never get. To him, being in front of a camera is second nature. Instinctively, he knows where the camera is and how to play to it. Directors love actors like that.”

“I feel like I have a smarter older brother in John,” Russell has said. That actor is a kind of idealized version of Carpenter — in much the same way Chow Yun-fat is sort of what John Woo theoretically always wanted to be — tough, but funny, cool in an effortless way. Russell and Carpenter seem to share the same sensibilities — old school, manly men. It’s not a stretch to picture Russell in a different era starring in a Howard Hawkes film, and Carpenter loved those movies.

Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi

Italian horror maestro Dario Argento has a fascinating history with muse Daria Nicolodi. The gialli queen met her future partner and father to her child — actress Asia Argento — after the 1970 release of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. A then 20-year-old Daria was so impressed by the production that she vowed to meet the director. Five years later, she starred in the first of many roles for Argento in Profondo Rosso (Deep Red), playing a strong female character (not something the early Italian thrillers are usually applauded for). She would be the director’s muse for years to come, even assisting him with the screenplay for his masterpiece, Suspiria. Nicolodi shared stories with Argento about her childhood experiences and her grandmother — who dabbled in the occult, inspiring the director to create one of the most memorable pieces of horror cinema put to screen. Their relationship wasn’t always sunny, however, and their real-life partnership ended. If you want to determine what Argento was feeling about his former muse, just look at how gruesome her death scene was in any given film.

Wes Anderson and Bill Murray

Not everyone could pull off the comedic timing and perfect delivery required to make sense in a Wes Anderson movie, but Bill Murray seems tailor-made for the job. Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, The Royal Tenenbaums … multiple films have shown what these two are capable of in the eccentric funnypants department, and Anderson has undoubtedly learned a thing or two from the Hollywood vet. Of course, the un-Anderson fan will tell you that the director’s conceit needs Murray’s real guy-ness to temper his whimsy. Whatever the formula, it definitely works.

Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly’s 1950 screen test must have been a doozy to behold, because many famous names have commented on the Princess’ mesmerizing, early appearance. John Ford said after seeing it that Kelly had “breeding class and quality,” and Hitchcock — who was looking for a lead in Dial M for Murder at the time — fell in love with Kelly’s “sexual elegance.” He cast the then unknown starlet in the film, and she reappeared in To Catch a Thief and Rear Window. Hitchcock called Kelly a “snow-covered volcano” — perhaps defining his legendary blonde obsession. Their intriguing partnership ended when Kelly married Prince Rainier and became royalty, but the director never stopped pursuing his muse. He attempted to lure her back to the screen for Vertigo and Marnie— two films that changed Hitchcock’s career entirely. Although the filmmaker played Svengali to the actresses that came after Kelly — molding and developing them into his ideal archetype (several endured his oft-humiliations) — many would say he never found a muse as alluring as Kelly ever again.

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro

It’s impossible to think about film and muses without recalling the long-time working relationship between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. The iconic director and passionate actor have joined for eight films since the early ’70s — taxing, intense, psychologically and physically difficult movies. The duo defined the crime/gangster genre with their collaborations (which if we have to name, you need to watch more movies), but their fondness for one another is also deeply personal. When Scorsese started to succumb to a cocaine addiction, De Niro reportedly encouraged him to kick the nose candy and focus on what he does best: making movies. We wish De Niro would lay off the dopey comedies and work with the famed director once more. Hopefully Scorsese can leave a little room next to his younger muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, for the veteran star.

Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman

Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill wouldn’t have been as memorable without Quentin Tarantino’s model turned Hollywood muse, Uma Thurman. The actress’ chemistry with the quirky director has been rumored to be more than just professional (we guess drinking champagne out of your actress’ shoe does that), but gossip aside, it’s clear that there’s a deeply personal bond and winning formula the two cinema stars share. Uma will never be better on-screen than she is with Tarantino behind the camera.