The Career Opportunists
Most actors wait for the star-making role of a lifetime to come along. A few have the balls to go out and write it themselves.

From left: Chris Colfer, Lauren Miller, Josh Radnor, Brit Marling

Hollywood's blockbuster-minded digital revolution has given rise to an unforeseen by-product: It's empowered savvy up-and-coming actors to circumvent the industry's fickle institutions and create their own career-making or -broadening vehicles. "Technology has given actors the apparatus to take something that used to be outside of their control and instead be like, 'Oh, I can shoot this and cut this myself,'" says Brit Marling, who in the past two years has cowritten, produced, and starred in the microbudget Another Earth, Sound of My Voice, and The East (coming next year), all while merely acting in well-heeled films like Arbitrage and Robert Redford's The Company You Keep. "When nobody will give you money and it's just you and an idea, you have to keep crunching and try and make it better."

For Lauren Miller, whose script for this year's For a Good Time, Call . . . went out to studios before Bridesmaids made the world safe for female-centric potty-mouthed comedies, doing her own movie was her best chance at a star turn. "What's happening is that we're finding confidence," Miller says. "Just because a studio doesn't believe in you doesn't mean you don't have a good story to tell. It's been building since Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen, but had I not seen Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture, we would not be having this conversation."

Josh Radnor had already written, directed, and starred in a movie (Happythankyoumoreplease), but that didn't make his recent sophomore effort, Liberal Arts, any less daunting. If anything, with his day job as How I Met Your Mother's prospective mother-meeter winding down after eight seasons, the urgency is greater. "People have this idea about success, that it's this destination where you kick up your feet and smoke a cigar and say, 'Aha, I'm here,'" Radnor says. "But it never feels that way in show business—there's always someone doing better than you."

Like Radnor, Chris Colfer is identified with a TV character—Glee's Kurt Hummel—but he isn't worried about being typecast by audiences or studios as his first screenplay/star vehicle, Struck by Lightning (for which he also wrote the novelization), nears release. "I'm in a wonderful state of denial about it," he says. "I'm sure half of that is the ignorance of youth, but people are allowed to be more than just one thing. Nowadays, if you want to stick around, you have to create your own stuff. Actors have to be hybrids in order to survive."

Chris Colfer, 22
Credit check: Writer-actor-executive producer, Struck by Lightning
Leap before you look: "I would be stupid not to jump through all these doors now, because I'm terrified that one day the whole building will be closed."
Blazer by Burberry Prorsum. Shirt by Dior Homme. Tie by Express. Jeans by Marc by Marc Jacobs. Belt by Bottega Veneta. Socks by Pantherella. Sneakers by Converse.

Lauren Miller, 31
Credit check: Cowriter-actor, For a Good Time, Call . . .
Carpe per diem: "All I wanna do is sleep for a month, but that's about the worst thing I could do right now. I need to seize it, because writing your own movie to star in is a terrifying thing, and if anyone sees it and likes it, you have to see what else you can do and push harder."
Dress by Helmut Lang.

Josh Radnor, 38
Credit check: Writer-director-actor, Happythankyoumoreplease, Liberal Arts
Peer pressure: "The boundaries have become more porous, but it's still difficult to go from being an actor in a four-camera sitcom to directing independent films. It's weird what I'm doing, but it's also weird that a lot more people aren't doing it."
Suit, shirt, and tie by Calvin Klein Collection.

Brit Marling, 29
Credit check: Cowriter-producer-actor, Another Earth, Sound of My Voice, The East
Rage against the machine: "As an actress, it's really easy to get sucked up into the system, and I can see how people are afraid to take a break. You have to remember to live your life, otherwise you won't have anything to say anymore."
Top by Erdem. Skirt by Suno. Shoes by Bruno Magli.

• • •

Hollywood Mavericks

The Leading Man

The Showrunners

The Career Opportunists

The Next Big Thing

The Survivors

The Idea Man

The Directors

The Outsourced Superhero

The Creative Collectives