These actors who wrote roles for themselves have a lot in common. They were tired and frustrated because they were not getting the types of parts that they truly wanted. In some of these cases, the actors were not getting offered any parts at all.
It’s really difficult to make it in show business. Imagine how much harder it is for, say, a South Asian American actor because of a general lack of parts to play. Actors can get typecast and movie roles can all seem generic. Sometimes, an actor just wants to make a show or movie that means something to them - and, they hope, to audiences as well.
When these take-charge actors couldn’t find what they were looking for, they wrote their own script. Vote up the actors whose passion projects best showcased their strengths.
- Photo: FX
Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton were all in their early 30s when they met as struggling actors in Los Angeles. They were frustrated with the industry when McElhenney had an idea for a short film “where a friend came over to another friend’s house to get sugar, and the friend tells him he has cancer, and all the guy can think about is getting his sugar and getting out of there.”
The friends thought the idea was funny enough to film a couple of scenes. With the help of an agent, they sold the pitch to FX. The seeds for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia were firmly planted.
"The network came to us and said, 'We don’t want a show about actors,' and we said, 'Fine, let’s put it somewhere else,'" McElhenney said. "I’m from Philly, let’s put it in Philly, and we’ll make it about a bar, because that’s a job where you can have lots of free time and still have income that could explain how these people can sustain themselves."
The friends became executive producers, writers, and stars of the series. They were adamant about the tone of the comedy: "a group of best friends who care so little for each other."
As of 2020, the creators have stayed consistent with the original black comedy sensibility for 14 seasons. The characters from day one have remained selfish, crude, and very often cruel to each other.The write stuff?
- Photo: United Artists
In the early 1970s, Sylvester Stallone was a struggling actor. He'd had some big-screen success in small parts and in the drama The Lords of Flatbush. However, Stallone was so broke when he moved out to California to make it as an actor that he had to sell his beloved dog Butkus for $40 because he couldn't afford to feed him anymore.
Stallone went to see a boxing match that featured Chuck "The Bayonne Bleeder" Wepner against Muhammad Ali. The underdog went the distance, inspiring Stallone to write the story of Rocky Balboa, another underdog who fights hard and is able to go the distance.
Stallone finished the script for Rocky in just three days. He got it into the hands of producers, who loved the story. They offered the unknown actor/writer an unprecedented $360,000 for the screenplay. However, the producers told him they didn't like him for the role of the eponymous boxer.
Despite having almost no money in the bank, Stallone stuck to his guns. He refused to sell his screenplay unless he was the star. Stallone said:
I thought, "You know what? You’ve got this poverty thing down. You really don’t need much to live on." I sort of figured it out. I was in no way used to the good life. So I knew in the back of my mind that if I sell this script. and it does very very well, I’m going to jump off a building if I’m not in it. There’s no doubt in my mind. I’m going to be very, very upset. [Laughs.] So this is one of those things, when you just roll the dice and fly by the proverbial seat of your pants and you just say, "I’ve got to try it. I’ve just got to do it. I may be totally wrong, and I’m going to take a lot of people down with me, but I just believe in it."
The producers finally agreed to let Stallone star in his own movie. Rocky became a massive box office hit and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie spawned seven sequels (and counting).
Stallone also reunited with Butkus. “The screenplay for Rocky sold, and I could buy him back, but the new owner knew I was desperate, and charged me $15,000... He was worth every penny!”The write stuff?
- Photo: HBO
Bill Hader was one of the most popular Saturday Night Live cast members over his eight years with the sketch show. Hader shone as Stefon during "Weekend Update" and became known as a master of impressions - a few of his more popular ones included Vincent Price, James Carville, and Al Pacino.
When he left SNL in 2013, Hader landed a development deal with HBO. Hader and Alec Berg came up with the idea for Barry, a dark comedy about a Marine who suffers from depression and PTSD after returning home from Afghanistan. Barry becomes a hit man because that's what he's good at, not because that's what he wants to do in life. He discovers that he really wants to be an actor.
During an episode of NPR's Fresh Air, Hader talked about his performance anxiety on Saturday Night Live and the inspiration behind the character Barry:
It was more of this idea that I was naturally good at impressions. I was telling Alec Berg this when we were just starting, right? I go, you know, I was always good at impressions, but what I always wanted to do was write and direct. I moved out to Los Angeles 20 years ago to be a writer-director. And I was a production assistant, and I did all these things. And, you know, I was a crew guy forever and then kind of happened - you know, in a fluky way got on Saturday Night Live...
...But I could kind of just do impressions, and the irony was that the show I did the impressions on - it was, like, slowly destroying me because of the anxiety of having to perform in front of a bunch of - in front of the nation. You know, I just, it's - I still get - I hosted a year ago, and I was a wreck. And I told Alec this, and he went, I think that - I think that's the show. It's about a guy who thinks, you know, the thing he's naturally good at is destroying him but the thing he wants to do he's not very good at you know? And he goes, well, that's an emotion you understand. We can write that.
Barry turned out to be a hit for HBO. The series has received eight Emmy Award nominations. Hader won an Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series two years in a row. Both Hader and Berg write every episode of the series. Hader directed five episodes of Barry's first two seasons.The write stuff?
- Photo: IFC Films
Nia Vardalos got her show business start at Chicago's Second City. She moved out to Los Angeles with the hopes of becoming an actress. However, she could not land acting work because of her Greek ethnicity.
Instead of feeling rejected, Vardalos decided to write her own starring vehicle - one that embraced her culture. She said:
I mostly auditioned for parts that were Hispanic, although I believe true Hispanics should be hired for Hispanic parts. I think it’s insulting to the Hispanic community to have someone doing that accent. I kept losing these parts to what I call "true ethnics," and while I believe I’m ethnic, there was no voice for my people. So, I set out to create something Greek.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding hit the big screen in 2002. The sweet romantic comedy became the sleeper hit of the year. The independent film was made on just a $5 million budget and did not feature any big-name stars (Northern Exposure's John Corbett was the biggest name in the cast). It also did not initially receive a wide theatrical release. Even still, Vardalos’s movie made over $360 million in the United States alone.The write stuff?