15 of the Best Breakthrough Projects Written by Stars
by Jennifer Lafferty
Instead of relying on luck for their big break to come along, some struggling actors take the bull by the horns and write the screenplays for their own breakthrough projects. Unconventional stars like Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, and Lena Dunham have put their exceptional writing talent to use in order to shape their own destinies with hit films or TV series.
The massively popular romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding made struggling actress Nia Vardalos famous in 2002. Vardalos based the characters on her own lovably eccentric family.
Silent film icon Charlie Chaplin became famous performing in dozens of comedy shorts he wrote himself. Chaplin also wrote his poignant transition to feature length film, 1921’s classic comedy-drama The Kid co-starring Jackie Coogan.
British actress Emma Thompson was just beginning to succeed in America when her screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Sense and Sensibility cemented Thompson as one of the era’s biggest international stars and a serious filmmaker.
Tyler Perry’s popular alter-ego Madea made him an overnight sensation in 2002 with his feature writing, directing and acting debut: Madea’s Family Reunion. Perry has since expanded into a variety of films and TV series.
Groundbreaking comedienne Gilda Radner was virtually unknown to mainstream audiences before her big break in the original cast of Saturday Night Live in 1975, where she created her own very popular skits and characters.
Another SNL alum who skyrocketed to fame after writing his own material on the show was Will Ferrell. The actor also co-wrote his big screen breakthrough in 1998’s A Night at the Roxbury.
Long before his current role in TNT’s Public Morals, Edward Burns wrote and starred in his very first film, the acclaimed 1995 dramedy, The Brothers McMullen, about a trio of Irish Catholic brothers dealing with love, marriage and infidelity.
Comedic actress Mindy Kaling started out working behind the scenes, as a writer on The Office, and ended up writing herself into the series, playing the quirky Kelly Kapoor, before starting her own show, The Mindy Project.
The Office became a springboard for a lot of new talent including Ricky Gervais, who wrote and starred in the original British version of the series back in 2001, playing Michael Scott’s counterpart David Brent.
The incomparable actor/filmmaker Woody Allen started out as a TV writer in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1965 that he made his screen acting debut in the hit comedy film What’s New Pussycat?, which he also wrote.
During college Lena Dunham started writing and acting in shorts. Her feature acting and screenwriting debut was award-winning indie Creative Nonfiction, but real success came with her provocative HBO series Girls, which Dunham writes and stars in.
Legendary actor/filmmaker Orson Welles was best known for writing, directing, producing and starring in the classic 1941 epic Citizen Kane, which premiered when Welles was just 26, earning him the reputation of boy genius.
Twenty-somethings Matt Damon and collaborator Ben Affleck became the wiz kid filmmakers of the 1990s when they wrote and starred in the hit, Oscar-winning drama Good Will Hunting, which became Damon’s big break as a leading man.
Tina Fey has written many of the projects she’s acted in over the years, but her gateway to stardom came in 1998 when she joined the cast of SNL a year after she started writing for the show.
The most memorable story of an actor launching a career with their own screenplay, was when Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for iconic, Oscar-winning film Rocky in just three days, and opposed filmmakers by insisting on playing the title role.