It's one of the most common dynamics in the movies. A director and a star work together, and something clicks. Next thing you know, they're an item.
I'm not talking about sex here. The male-female Svengali relationship is also very common and possibly easier to understand (see the editorial on Nastassja Kinski). But what about when we're talking about two heterosexual males? What is it that compelled, say, John Ford to cast John Wayne in 14 films? Or Martin Scorsese to work with Robert De Niro eight times? Or David Lean to cast Alec Guinness in five different films, even getting him to slap on the shoe polish for A Passage to India? And while we're about it, what is the greatest actor - director partnership of them all?
You might think it's just about plain old-fashioned friendship, but that's by no means always the case. Seeing as we mention Nastassja Kinski, how about her dad, Klaus? He made five films with German director Werner Herzog even after they had threatened to kill each other. (Legend has it that Herzog drew a gun on Kinski when he threatened to quit Aguirre, Wrath of God, and that on Fitzcarraldo, helpful natives volunteered to do the job for him, they were so appalled by the star's tantrums.)
No doubt from a filmmakers' point of view, it can come down to good business sense, pure and simple. Scorsese established a brilliant partnership with De Niro, but now it looks like he's trying to do the same thing with Leonardo DiCaprio, whose box-office appeal is that much more buoyant these days. Similarly, Danny Boyle made three films straight with Ewan McGregor, but soured their friendship when he cast Di Caprio in the lead role of The Beach.
It can't have hurt John Wayne's relationships with John Ford and Howard Hawks (who cast him in four films) that he was the most popular star in the world for more than two decades. On the other hand, most actors are desperate for love and respect - not to mention good parts - so there's more than a little something in it for them too. And remember, on set, it's the director who's the boss. In fact, there's no doubt that it was John Ford who had the upper hand in the Wayne relationship. He made Duke a star in Stagecoach and never let him forget it. Wayne was constantly at his beck and call, even when they weren't filming together. If Ford wanted someone to play cards with, Wayne would get the call. And woe betide him if he won!
On screen, at least, Ford clearly looked up to Wayne as a kind of idealised version of himself - and that probably accounts for what Don Siegel and Sergio Leone saw in Clint Eastwood too the man they would like to be. Cary Grant had some loyal admirers too. Hitchcock cast him in five films, and Howard Hawks in another five. But then, as Grant famously observed, 'Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.'
When it comes to alter-egos, they don't come more direct than Francois Truffaut's sponsorship of Jean Pierre Laud, who played the director as a 15-year old in the autobiographical 400 Blows, and returned to the role on four more occasions, ranging from 1959 to 1979. (They worked on two more films together as well.)
Other great partnerships? James Stewart made eight fine films with Anthony Mann. John Woo and Chow Yun Fat (six films). Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon (seven films). And how about Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune (16 masterpieces). Even so, my own favourite examples are slightly less obvious. I love it that Joe Dante casts old Roger Corman stalwart Dick Miller in cameo roles in almost every movie he makes (ten to date), just because he loves old Corman movies.
But even that is bested by Garry Marshall's devotion to balding character actor Hector Elizondo, who gets a supporting role in all 14 of his features - he was the concierge in Pretty Woman - and recently played the lead in Marshall's first stage play, which finished its run in Burbank just last week. Elizondo doesn't bring in big bucks, he's no Cary Grant, and he doesn't have a cool filmography either - but he is a heck of a good actor, and it's a shame more filmmakers haven't woken up to that fact.