Actors turned directors shine at Toronto film festival

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Hollywood's biggest stars are carving out acclaimed roles for themselves behind the lens, but Toronto film festival audiences this week bemoaned seeing them less on screen as a result.

Several mostly American actors moonlighting as directors presented new movies at the film festival this week. Many also appeared in the films.

But the heavier workload of directing has often meant fewer overall roles in movies, said many of the actors.

"It's too bad," said one woman outside the Scotiabank cinema. "They're such wonderful actors."

Ben Affleck unveiled here his second film as a director, "The Town," to rave reviews. His younger brother Casey also was in town with his documentary "I'm Still Here," about Joaquin Phoenix's fledgling rap career.

As well, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won an Oscar in 2005 for his performance in "Capote," made his directorial debut with "Jack Goes Boating" and Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford premiered their latest gems "Hereafter" and "The Conspirator," respectively.

"I've always wanted to do both" acting and directing, said Emmy-nominated actor David Schwimmer, in Toronto to premiere his film "Truth." But developing and "directing a film takes quite a long time."

"After realizing just how much time and energy it takes to direct a film - two, three, four years of your life - I think I would only do films that mean something to me, that are personal to me," he said.

He noted, however, that he has not been offered many roles since the hit television series "Friends" wrapped up in 2004 after a 10-year run.

Hollywood icon Robert De Niro, meanwhile, told a news conference for John Curran's film "Stone," also starring Ed Norton and Milla Jovovich, that he sees himself only directing three more films, at most.

De Niro made his directorial debut in 1993 with "A Bronx Tale" and followed it up in 2006 with "The Good Sheppard," starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie.

Ben Affleck's "The Town," which premiered in Venice and was a gala presentation at the Toronto film festival, is only the second film he has directed, after his acclaimed "Gone Baby Gone" in 2007.

"I didn't come here (as a director) because others were doing it," he commented.

"I think maybe this trend is emblematic that there are terrific directors out there who also happen to be actors," he opined, adding: "This isn't something new."

Affleck pointed to Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, and "even Orson Welles did both." Other recent examples include Ron Howard, Sydney Pollack, Sofia Coppola and Sean Penn.

"From the outside, it looks like we've got these hard lines that we can't step over: you're an actor, you're a writer, you're a cinematographer, you're an editor, but in effect they're all part of the same soup and it's a sort of natural organic progression to go from one to the other," Affleck said.

"I love acting. I also like directing, so maybe I'm greedy... I see them as compatible," he said.

As a director, "it's also nice to never have to go into the makeup trailer in the morning," he wisecracked.