Paul Rudd, John Cusack, Emma Thompson and other screenwriting actors

By Drew Mackie
Updated February 16, 2016 05:30 PM
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Getty; Paramount

“That Justin Theroux guy – where do I know him from?”

Depending on whom you ask, you could get a great many answers. Of course, he’s the husband of Jennifer Aniston, but he’s had a string of notable acting roles too. He could be that guy from The Leftovers, the actor who played the hapless director character in Mulholland Drive, Leslie Knope’s short-lived boyfriend on Parks and Recreation, or even the bad guy from Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

However, Theroux is also a screenwriter, and he’s credited with a handful of major films that casual movie-goers might not associate with him. He co-wrote the script for the jukebox musical Rock of Ages, for example, and he’s the sole credited writer of Iron Man 2. In fact, there’s a Justin Theroux movie in theaters right now: Zoolander 2, which he co-wrote with star Ben Stiller, John Hamburg, and Nick Stoller.

We happen to think it’s cool when celebs known for one thing have a side-career doing something that might seem surprising, given what made them famous. And in light of his invisible role in this comedy sequel, we thought we’d look at some other actors who maybe not-so-famously happened to write a screenplay or two.

Paul Rudd

He can write, too! Rudd is credited with co-writing the 2008 comedy Role Models, alongside his Wet Hot American Summer buddies Ken Marino and David Wain. He’s also credited with contributing to the script of Ant-Man. Maybe most notable of all, however, is that Rudd is credited as a writer, co-creator and executive producer on the cult favorite TV show Party Down.

John Cusack

He’s starred in more big movies than most actors ever hope to, but for two of his biggest, Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity, he also served as co-writer. In the former, he is credited with the script alongside D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink and Scott Rosenberg, and for the latter, it’s Cusack, DeVincentis, Pink and Tom Jankiewicz.

Emma Thompson

A Jane Austen diehard if there ever was one, Thompson wrote the script for the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in addition to starring in it. She won the Oscar for her adaptation, but it was at the Golden Globes that Thompson showed off her flair for writing with one of the cleverer acceptance speeches ever when she accepted the award for Best Adapted Screenplay and read it in the style of Jane Austen.

Additionally, Thompson is credited for writing both Nanny McPhee movies as well as the upcoming Bridget Jones sequel, which she’s writing along with the original book author, Helen Fielding.

Owen Wilson

Wilson’s longtime association with director Wes Anderson has meant co-writing credits in Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums. The last of those even got him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay alongside Anderson.

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Kristen Wiig

Don’t forget that Wiig didn’t just star in Bridesmaids; she also helped write it. In fact, she and Annie Mumolo not only wrote the script together, but were nominated together for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Mumolo, who played the panicky plane passenger in the film, also wrote the story for the Jennifer Lawrence movie Joy.

Sylvester Stallone

It’s fairly well-known that Stallone wrote his career-making role in Rocky. However, don’t think Rocky was anomaly in his career. In addition to every other film in that series aside from Creed, Stallone also wrote or co-wrote all four Rambo movies, all three Expendables movies, Over the Top, Demolition Man, Cliffhanger and perhaps most surprising of all, Staying Alive, the 1983 sequel to Saturday Night Fever. He was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Rocky.

Rashida Jones

Not only did Jones co-write the screenplay for her 2012 romcom-dramedy Celeste and Jesse Forever, she’s reteaming with her writing partner, Will McCormack, to write the script for Toy Story 4.

Seth Rogen

Rogen and his childhood friend jointly wrote some of Rogen’s biggest movies, including Superbad, The Green Hornet, This Is the End and The Interview. They also wrote the upcoming sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and they even wrote the comedy The Watch, in which Rogen did not appear.

Billy Bob Thornton

Thornton famously won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sling Blade, which also provided him his breakthrough role. But he’d already written the 1992 thriller One False Move, in which he also starred, and he’d go on to co-write the 2000 thriller The Gift, in which he did not appear.

Busy Philipps

Remember that ice-skating comedy with Will Ferrell and the guy from Napoleon Dynamite? Well, Busy Philipps has a “story by” credit for it, alongside the film’s co-writers Jeff and Craig Cox. It’s nestled in her resume between White Chicks and Made of Honor. Now you know.

John Francis Daley

In recent years, Philipps’ and Rogen’s Freaks and Geeks costar has been making a name for himself as a writer in addition to being an actor. So far, he’s credited as being a co-writer on Horrible Bosses, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Horrible Bosses 2. And in fact, Daley’s character was killed off Bones so he could co-direct Vacation, which he also co-wrote. He’s currently the sole credited writer for the upcoming new Spider-Man movie.

Gene Wilder

Mel Brooks has such a distinctive comedic voice that you might think the movies he directs were written by him and him alone. That’s not the case, however; many of them are collaborations, and some people might be surprised to learn that the script for Young Frankenstein was a joint effort between Brooks and the film’s star, Gene Wilder. Among Wilder’s other writing credits are The World’s Greatest Lover, Haunted Honeymoon and See No Evil, Hear No Evil.

Wentworth Miller

More famous for TV roles on Prison Break and The Flash, Miller wrote the script for the 2013 Nicole Kidman thriller Stoker under a pseudonym, to see if the project could get attention on its own merits. It worked, and only after the fact was it revealed that the supposed writer, Ted Foulke, was actually Miller, who wasn’t previously known as a writer. The Disappointments Room, his second produced screenplay, stars Kate Beckinsale and will be released in March.

Lake Bell

Some might know her for roles on Boston Legal or the Wet Hot American Summer prequel series. Others might know her for roles in It’s Complicated and No Strings Attached. What you should know her for, however, is an indie flick called In a World. Bell wrote the script about a woman trying to break into the world of movie trailer narration. It’s awesome, and Bell was clearly drawing on her experiences as a woman competing in Hollywood in writing the script.

Thomas Lennon

Lennon honed his writing skills as part of the comedy troupe The State and the MTV series of the same name. He was also one of the writers of Reno 911!, on which he played short-shorts enthusiast Lt. Dangle, but what’s maybe especially surprising about Lennon’s career is how many movie’s he’s written or helped write. Among others, there’s the Jimmy FallonQueen Latifah movie Taxi, everyone’s favorite Lindsay Lohan movie Herbie: Fully Loaded, The Pacifier, and all the Night at the Museum movies. He and writing partner (and Reno 911! costar) Robert Ben Garant even wrote a book together, Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can Too.

Honorable mention: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

Oh, yeah – there are also these two guys who wrote a screenplay together. Just a little film called Good Will Hunting. It kinda-sorta made their careers. You’ve maybe seen one or two of their subsequent films, but keep an eye on them! We’re expecting big things from these two dudes.