Question: How can people in the movie business have the same name? Like there's a director called Morgan Freeman as well as an actor; isn't there some kind of rule that one of them has to change his name?


Answer: Two actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild cannot use the same professional name. That's why you have one actress named Vanessa Williams and another named Vanessa L. Williams though, confusingly, both the Vanessas were in Soul Food: Vanessa L. was in the 1997 movie and just-plain-Vanessa was in the cable series. Fortunately, they didn't play the same character. I put in a call to the Directors Guild of America, and they have a similar rule: As long as a DGA member is active (which doesn't necessarily mean working — Francis Ford Coppola hasn't made a film in nine years, but but he's still an active member), no one else can join under the exact same name. Hence Paul Thomas Anderson and Paul W.S. Anderson — they're using middle names and initials to make sure people don't think the same guy was really busy in 1997 directing both Event Horizon and Boogie Nights. But there's no industry-wide regulatory body (nor should there be, when you really think about it) that prevents an actor and a makeup artist from sharing the name Mel Gibson, or an actor and a director both being named Morgan Freeman, though in that instance the director (who's much younger than the actor) has the good grace to bill himself as Morgan J. Freeman.