Denzel Washington joins the ranks of actors-turned-directors

Actor Denzel Washington has finally received the greenlight to direct his first feature film for Fox Searchlight studios, keeping up with the trend of actors wanting to take a stab behind the camera.

The story, one that Washington has wanted to bring the screen since 1998, is about an aspiring screenwriter who suffers an abusive childhood, joins the U.S. Navy and works for a time as a security guard on the Sony lot. Washington may play a psychiatrist who helps the young man while he is in the U.S. Navy. No other talent is attached as yet.

Todd Black and Jason Blumenthal of Black and Blu Entertainment will produce, along with Randa Haines and Washington. Black met the screenwriter, Antwone Fisher, at a screenwriting class in South Central Los Angeles and guided him through the development process.

“It’s just a really great story…and the one with which [Washington] wants to make as his directorial debut,” Alan Nierob, Washington‘s publicist, said Friday.

And Washington is not alone.

Here’s a short list of other actors who are currently directing new projects:

Tom Green: MTV’s original JackAss has taken his schtick to the big screen with his upcoming debut release, Freddy Got Fingered, which he also wrote. The story revolves around Green, who at first reluctantly moves back home, but soon realizes the sweet deal he’s got going. The film opens April 20.

Billy Bob Thornton: Thornton, who directed last year’s All the Pretty Horses with Matt Damon, is next up with the dark comedy Daddy and Them. The film was made a few years ago, but Miramax delayed its release. The story focuses on a poor Arkansas family dealing with their uncle’s arrest for murder. Thornton also costars with Laura Dern, Diane Ladd and the late Jim Varney and. The film will be released later this year.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming: Leigh (eXistenZ) and Cumming (Josie and the Pussycats) teamed together to co-write and direct their debut film, The Anniversary Party, during which love and relationships are explored. It has an all-star cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Beals and Kevin Kline. A release date has not been set.

Danny DeVito: DeVito, who last directed the 1996 comedy Matilda, takes on a comedy called Death to Smoochy. The host of a children’s show (Robin Williams), is fired for nefarious reasons, ends up seeking revenge on his replacement-a blue rhino named Smoochy (Edward Norton). Also stars Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich). Slated for a 2002 release.

Joe Pantoliano: The prolific character actor (The Matrix; The Sopranos) is turning his attention to directing. His debut film, Just Like Mona is about a teen-age boy, coming of age in the 1960s, who must deal with his foulmouthed, drunken mother. The film stars Diane Lane, Andy Garcia and Marcia Gay Harden. A release date has not been set.