Martin Scorsese, Greta Gerwig and More Directors Reveal Their Onscreen Muses

8:30 AM 11/17/2019

by Tara Bitran

These friends and collaborators have spawned creative relationships lasting five to 40-plus years that work so well they could only have been made in Hollywood.

Martin Scorsese, Greta Gerwig, and Bong Joon Ho
Martin Scorsese, Greta Gerwig, and Bong Joon Ho
Getty Images

  • Greta Gerwig

    Muses: Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan

    Brian de Rivera Simon/WireImage

    While Lady Bird was the brainchild of Greta Gerwig, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women provided a fresh slate for the writer-director to collaborate with her muses, Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. Ronan, who stars as the titular Lady Bird in Gerwig's Oscar-nominated feature, plays writer Jo March in this year's adaptation of the classic American novel. At a DGA Q&A, the actress revealed that Gerwig's structuring of the story's scenes freed her up to "fuck it up a bit" on set. Chalamet — who portrays the devoted boy-next-door Laurie in Little Women, a reversal of his evasive love interest in Lady Bird — referred to the helmer at the panel as "Wayne Gretzky," his affectionate nickname for Gerwig. The actor shared that the director had him and Ronan swap clothes during filming as a kind of acting exercise, and joked that his requests to incorporate eccentric elements into the wardrobe were declined. At a Teen Vogue Summit, Gerwig said that she views the two characters as each other's androgynous twin. "Laurie is a boy with a girl's name and Jo is a girl with a boy's name," she explained. "He was always the person to play this part for me because he's beautiful. He's handsome, but he's also beautiful. And Saoirse is beautiful, but she's also handsome — that kind of doubling."

  • Bong Joon Ho

    Muse: Song Kang-ho

    Director Bong Joon-Ho with Kang-Ho Song
    Director Bong Joon-Ho with Kang-Ho Song
    Tony Barson/FilmMagic

    Long before he had finished writing Parasite, director-writer Bong Joon Ho decided his pitch-black comic drama would co-star his longtime collaborator Song Kang-ho as the Kim family patriarch. "He always gives me a sense of relief, even when I'm still writing, because I know that with his energy and his delicacy, even the film's boldest parts will be convincing," the South Korean filmmaker told THR after Parasite won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

    The social satire marks the fourth team-up for the duo, following 2003's Memories of Murder, 2006's The Host and 2013's Snowpiercer. For Song's part, the admiration is mutual. "When director Bong tells me he has a part for me, I tend to agree to it before I even look at the script," he told THR.

    Bong noted that while the acting format is an ensemble effort in Parasite, "It's Song Kang-ho who's bearing the core sentiment of the film as well as its riskiest moments, the most daring parts."

  • Martin Scorsese

    Muses: Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro

    The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

    Robert De Niro pulled his old friend and co-star Joe Pesci out of semi-retirement for the chance to reteam with filmmaker Martin Scorsese on The Irishman. At the Los Angeles premiere of the Netflix epic, De Niro told THR: "We're friends and he loves Marty and I said, 'Come on, this is it, let's do it, let's try and do it.' He understood, he loves Marty and wanted the experience of working with him again and me and Al [Pacino]." Before The Irishman, the trio made three acclaimed dramas together: 1980's Raging Bull, 1990's Goodfellas and 1995's Casino. The first nabbed an Oscar win for De Niro, the second a win for Pesci.

    Over the years, the team of Scorsese and De Niro has become among the most famous collaborations in Hollywood, with previous films including Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), New York, New York (1977), The King of Comedy (1983), Cape Fear (1991) and the short The Audition (2015). At a 2019 New York Film Festival panel, Scorsese recounted how the reunion for the duo on The Irishman was a long time coming. "Bob and I have wanted to work together since we did Casino," said the director, who will receive the AFI Tribute this year. "We would check each other, what we were doing, what projects [we could do] together, and we never quite connected."

  • Pedro Almodóvar

    Muses: Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz

    Foc Kan/FilmMagic

    Pedro Almodóvar has worked on eight films with Antonio Banderas, fostering a 40-year friendship that started with Labyrinth of Passion (1982), and continued on with such films as Law of Desire (1987) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). At the New York Film Festival, Banderas shared that when he read the script for Pain and Glory, in which he stars as a semi-autobiographical version of Almodóvar, "It was surprising to me because there were some confessions, certain aspects of his personality that I didn't know."

    The filmmaker also has a long-term relationship with Penélope Cruz, who appears in flashbacks in Pain and Glory, as well as six other Almodóvar films including Live Flesh (1997), All About My Mother (1999) and Volver (2006). Both muses made cameos in his 2013 comedy, I'm So Excited!, but didn't share any scenes in Pain and Glory.

  • Noah Baumbach

    Muse: Adam Driver

    David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

    Noah Baumbach reunites with Adam Driver for the fourth time for his latest project, the emotional divorce drama Marriage Story. Baumbach brought on Driver before he'd even written a word of the script. They talked about the story and Driver's character, Charlie, over dinners in New York. "The way we've described it in the past is almost like we're in a continual conversation that runs through movies and then runs through our lives and back into movies," says Baumbach of working with Driver.

    For his part, the actor agrees that they have a very connected working relationship. "Noah and I share a belief system about how amazing an opportunity it is to make a movie, and we work very similarly. So there's a shorthand," says Driver. "Plus, I have a theater background and Noah does too, a little bit. And his sets feel very much like theater in that the dialogue is very specific."

    This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.