Dramatic Disputes Between Famous Actors and Directors
While the end result tries its best to show no signs of damage, the set of a feature film can often be a tense and stressful place to be. Oftentimes, fights — whether verbal or physical — can break out over who’s interpretation of the material is “correct”: the actor’s or the director’s. When this happens, the falling-out can be utterly tremendous. If bad enough, collaborators might not ever speak again. Here are 30 infamous arguments and disputes between actors and directors.
David O. Russell and George Clooney in Three Kings (1999)
Writer-director David O. Russell might not be as recognizable a face as he was after the one-two-three punch of Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and Joy, but don’t be mistaken: he demands to be taken seriously as a filmmaker, no matter what the cost.
George Clooney found this out the hard way on the set of Russell’s Gulf War dark comedy, Three Kings. Clooney, fed up with Russell tearing into the cast and crew on the daily, finally confronted the director toward the end of shooting. Reports of the aftermath range from a heated verbal disagreement to a full-on fistfight.
David O. Russell and Lily Tomlin in I Heart Huckabees (2004)
Five years after the tense environment on the set of Three Kings, David O. Russell returned to the director’s chair for the independent comedy I Heart Huckabees. Working with the most talented cast of his career — comprised of the likes of Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law and Naomi Watts — one would think Russell wouldn’t be as domineering as he’d been. Wrong.
Three years after the film’s release, YouTube videos of Russell tearing into Tomlin appeared online. The leaked footage from set shows the director unleashing a long string of expletives and degrading remarks on the veteran actress.
Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren in The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964)
Alfred Hitchcock is referred to by many as the Master of Suspense. From Rear Window to Psycho to Vertigo, the British filmmaker is responsible for many of the thriller genre’s tropes that are still utilized to this day. Despite his massive influence, the director had no respect for his actors.
Tippi Hedren is the actress who had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of Hitchcock’s fury most often. Starting with The Birds and continuing on the set of Marnie, the actress claimed the director was frequently cruel and quite often abrasive in the way he spoke to her.
Stanley Kubrick and Shelley Duvall in The Shining (1980)
Even though Stanley Kubrick has been honored as the mastermind behind one of the best horror films of all time, The Shining,, it should be noted that the director was willing to do whatever it took to earn that accolade.
In order to create the suspenseful and occasionally terrifying environment he felt he needed in order to bring out the best possible performances, Kubrick stopped at nothing to terrorize Duvall with mind games and psychological warfare. Nearly 40 years after the film’s release, Duvall continues to suffer from the effects of the directing tactics used in this film.
Stanley Kubrick and Scatman Crothers in The Shining (1980)
As it turns out, Shelley Duvall wasn’t the only one to be subjected to the less-than-professional tactics of Stanley Kubrick on the set of The Shining. He broke Duvall down over the course of a single scene reshot 127 times, then turned around and did the same to Crothers… twice.
All the script called for was a simple push-in on Crothers’s character in his room. Kubrick shot the silent scene 60 times, which eventually made Crothers burst into tears. The same thing happened later on in the shoot when Kubrick made Crothers do his monologue about “the shine” 148 times.
Werner Herzog And Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo (1982)
A documentarian and filmmaker who occasionally reshoots his documentaries as fictional films, German writer-director Werner Herzog is a one-of-a-kind talent. Many of his earlier films feature collaborations with actor Klaus Kinski, who Herzog has referred to as his best fiend (and no, that’s not a typo).
While both men were guilty of fighting for control on-set, Herzog and Kinski’s disputes were more than just verbal spats — at one point during the shoot of Fitzcarraldo, Herzog and Kinski got so into it that an extra and the director planned to kill the star while he slept. Kinski’s dog is the reason the actor wasn’t murdered that day — he stopped them.
Paul Thomas Anderson and Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights (1997)
Despite the sheer success of Boogie Nights and the many other films by Paul Thomas Anderson’s that followed, Burt Reynolds could not find anything positive to say about the writer-director in the wake of their collaboration on the film in the late ’90s.
Reynolds and Anderson had personalities that just didn’t mesh well together during the shoot. Reynolds claimed the director was too amateurish and egotistical, while Anderson simply wanted the actor to do what the script said. When he asked Reynolds to return for subsequent films, the actor turned Anderson down without hesitation.
Paul Thomas Anderson and Mark Wahlberg After Boogie Nights (1997)
Like Burt Reynolds, Mark Wahlberg doesn’t have anything positive to say about Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. However, unlike the iconic actor, Wahlberg’s troubles with Anderson didn’t develop until long after the movie’s filming.
Because he was still a relatively budding actor during the filming of Boogie Nights, Mark Wahlberg was lucky to score such a high-profile leading role. Anderson was — and is — a very respected filmmaker, and Wahlberg continues to receive praise for his performance. Still, Wahlberg disavows the movie and its director, claiming that he prays to God for forgiveness for even appearing in PTA’s Oscar-nominated film in the first place.
Tony Kaye and Edward Norton in American History X (1998)
Tony Kaye has been described by Bryan Cranston as a “very complicated … interesting fellow.” For people like Edward Norton, who collaborated with director Tony Kaye when he was at his most volatile, Cranston’s comments are the understatement of the century.
While shooting the gritty drama American History X in the late 90s, Kaye’s on-set behavior prompted the studio (and Norton, who had a lot riding on the success of the film) to become much more involved in the shoot. Kaye eventually lost the right to edit the film because of Norton’s actions, and the two have never gotten along since.
Michael Bay and Megan Fox After Transformers (2007) And Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Megan Fox was famous as a big-budget leading lady in the late 2000s and early ’10s. From Transformers to Jonah Hex to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the actress was a favorite of director Michael Bay’s … except for when they got in very public arguments.
In between the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the production of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Fox and Bay fought back and forth. Most notably, Fox compared Michael Bay to the most wicked man in history: Hitler. Their relationship on the sets of the first two films was not good, but they eventually reconciled for TMNT.
Judd Apatow and Katherine Heigl After Knocked Up (2007)
As Judd Apatow was finally starting to establish himself as a respectable filmmaker after the creation of multiple cult classic television shows, Katherine Heigl was also getting out of the TV business and into the movie game. The two came together for Knocked Up and had a good time on set, but Heigl had a change of heart after seeing the film.
Most famously, Heigl called the movie sexist and said that all the women were painted as joyless while all the men were depicted as lovable. Apatow was hurt by her comments, and the two never worked together again.
Harold Ramis and Bill Murray After Groundhog Day (1993)
After seeing the two co-starring in so many classic comedies throughout the 80s and into the 90s, one would think that Harold Ramis and Bill Murray couldn’t have been closer. Unfortunately, that’s incorrect. Despite being Ghostbusters, Ramis and Murray didn’t talk for years after Groundhog Day.
A very dark comedy, Groundhog Day expertly toed the line between funny and serious. The star and the director couldn’t agree on what was more important—the comedy or the drama—and it completely destroyed their relationship as a result. Ironically, they were both right: it’s a dramedy, blending the two genres perfectly.
Lars von Trier and Björk in Dancer in the Dark (2000)
A pioneer of the shooting style known as Dogme 95, Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier takes pride in his ability to make his audiences uncomfortable. As many of his former stars can attest, this ability also translates to the sets of his films. Of the bunch, Björk had the most to say.
As the star of musical melodrama Dancer in the Dark, Icelandic singer Björk claims to have been continually harassed — both verbally and sexually — by the edgy director throughout their time on set together. In the wake of her comments, Trier reported to the media that the two “definitely weren’t friends.”
Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis in Cop Out (2010)
Regardless of the fact that they’re both titans in their own respects, Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed while shooting the buddy cop comedy Cop Out. It seems that the two were destined to disagree from the start.
Ignoring the actor’s flops, Bruce Willis is a very professional actor. When he encountered Smith’s laid-back approach to directing, he couldn’t stand to be a part of the shoot. He was only further enraged when he discovered that Smith couldn’t even answer simple questions about camera lenses or on-set lighting. The two only recently reconciled.
Dan Harmon and Chevy Chase in Community (2009-2015)
Dan Harmon has a reputation for being hard to work with. From his beginnings as a writer for Sarah Silverman to his current gig as co-creator of Rick and Morty, Harmon never seems able to get along with his co-workers without some sort of fight breaking out. This personality of his actually resulted in both him and one of his leading actors being fired from Community.
Chevy Chase, who is reportedly just as stubborn as Harmon, must have rubbed the showrunner the wrong way. When Harmon tried to turn the crew against Chase, Chase left the show and Harmon was canned.
Stephen Norrington and Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
Sean Connery was one of the most extraordinary talents of the 20th century. From the Indiana Jones franchise to the James Bond series to countless roles in between, Connery was an actor who could instantly improve a project simply by being a part of it. Yet not even Connery could save director Stephen Norrington’s most infamous film.
Connery reported that Norrington was so immature , unprofessional and inexperienced on the set of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that it completely ruined acting for him and sent him straight into retirement. He was serious, too — Connery has only acted once since.
Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford in Blade Runner (1982)
Anyone familiar with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is aware of the fact that there are seemingly countless alternate cuts of the film. From its theatrical release to the final cut, the science fiction neo-noir is always entertaining, even if its different versions are frequently confusing.
These various cuts are a direct result of the disagreements Scott and Ford would get into while shooting. Ford didn’t agree with all the choices being made with the script, so — as the big star — he was able to go around Scott and get the studio to make edits. Obviously, the director was not happy.
David Fincher and Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher is a perfectionist. He makes this clear to anyone he collaborates with in hopes of avoiding any disagreements or disputes on-set. However, a simple warning doesn’t always do the trick. Directors and actors — especially perfectionists — are bound to get heated.
This was exactly what happened between Fincher and his star, Jake Gyllenhaal, on the set of Zodiac. The actor would often get angry with Fincher’s tendency to shoot dozens of takes only to delete most of them before even leaving the set. Fincher can’t be blamed too much, though — his movies are almost all hailed as flawless works.
David Fincher and Robert Downey Jr. in Zodiac (2007)
Like Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t always pleased with director David Fincher’s idiosyncrasies while shooting Zodiac. Unlike Gyllenhaal, Downey’s troubles weren’t specifically with the deletion of takes but with the incredibly long and arduous shooting schedules that the director would rely on day in and day out.
Downey — only recently making a return to the big screen after a long hiatus and still on the brink of his Iron Man casting—would protest Fincher’s shooting style by leaving jars of urine around the set. It’s behavior that could get an actor fired, so Downey is lucky Fincher cut him some slack.
Alan J. Pakula and Brad Pitt in The Devil’s Own (1997)
If Alfred Hitchcock can get credit for creating the contemporary definition of the thriller, then Alan J. Pakula deserves recognition for refining what we now know as the paranoia thriller. With many of his films focused on the anxiety and suspense that comes with being watched and hunted by someone dangerous or powerful, any actor would be lucky to collaborate with him.
Brad Pitt disagreed—at least at first. On the set of Pakula’s final film The Devil’s Own, Pitt insulted the filmmaker and his script, calling it incoherent and flat-out horrid. The two were tense throughout the shoot.
Jon Favreau and Mickey Rourke After Iron Man 2 (2010)
At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the events of Iron Man 2 might seem like eons ago. For those who don’t remember, the villain of the movie — Whiplash — was played by the 80s action movie icon Mickey Rourke. His role in the final cut wasn’t what the script promised, though, which would be frustrating for anyone.
Mickey Rourke took any opportunity he could to insult director Jon Favreau for cutting down his character in the wake of the film’s release. What Rourke didn’t understand was that the decision to cut back his scenes wasn’t Favreau’s doing—it was actually the studio’s call.
Sydney Pollack and Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (1982)
A titan of ’80s filmmaking, writer-director Sydney Pollack was a name any actor would scramble to work with if given the chance. When he took on an adaptation of Tootsie in the early 80s, Dustin Hoffman was fortunate enough to land the leading role. Things weren’t always so fortunate on set, though.
The star and the director harbored a hatred for each other that made filming a complete nightmare. The fallout between the two seems to trace back to a misunderstanding of the film’s tone. Strangely enough, the film tells the story of an actor who’s difficult to work with.
Frank Oz and Marlon Brando on The Score (2001)
With a cast like The Score‘s, one would think that any troubles that arose on set would be laid aside in exchange for the opportunity to create a pleasant working experience for all involved. That wasn’t what happened here, though—not even close. Marlon Brando is to thank.
While Marlon Brando is considered by many to be one of the all-time greatest performers, the actor was a real pill to work with. Director Frank Oz and Brando got into it on multiple occasions, with Brando intentionally sabotaging the shoot most days as an act of vengeance against the director.
Wes Anderson and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Seeing as Wes Anderson and Gene Hackman worked together on The Darjeeling Limited in 2007, six years after the release of their first collaboration, one might assume that the two had a pretty good relationship on set. Surprisingly, their time on The Royal Tenenbaums was less than perfect.
Hackman is a true veteran — an actor who has proven himself for decades. Wes Anderson was undeniably a newcomer, only having made two other films before Tenenbaums. Consequently, Hackman took Anderson to task on multiple occasions, once telling the director to “pull up [his] pants and act like a man.”
Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer in Batman Forever (1995)
Batman’s journey from page to screen hasn’t always been the smoothest of transitions. There are highs — like Tim Burton’s Batman or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight—but there are also plenty of lows — one of which being Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever.
Val Kilmer was called psychotic by Schumacher, while Kilmer claimed that the crew was too focused on money to actually make a decent film. To put it lightly, things were pretty tense on set. The director and his star are still fighting about Batman Forever — it seems it was destined to be this way by the title.
David S. Goyer and Wesley Snipes on Blade: Trinity (2004)
Wesley Snipes has just recently been able to make a comeback after years out of the spotlight, but there was once a time where he was an enormous star at the forefront of several big titles, including the Blade trilogy.
Director David S. Goyer and Snipes had all kinds of issues throughout the filming of the third movie. At one point, Snipes actually had Goyer in a chokehold after a particularly rough day. He stormed off to his trailer, slammed his trailer’s door, then returned the next day as if it never happened.
Francis Ford Coppola and Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola is considered by countless critics as one of the all-time best directors in film history. Marlon Brando has been honored with the same commendation as an actor — one of the absolute greats. Bringing the two together for Apocalypse Now proved to be the wrong choice, though.
Coppola put so much time and energy into his Vietnam War epic that it almost killed him. As a result, he almost killed Brando when he didn’t follow his script. Frequently and belligerently drunk, Brando defied Coppola to his face and drove the director to the very brink of his sanity.
Marc Forster and Brad Pitt on World War Z (2013)
Based on the book of the same name in title only — the movie takes plenty of creative liberty and bears very little resemblance to the source material — World War Z seemed like a recipe for success at the height of the zombie craze in the early 2010s. Unfortunately, Brad Pitt and Marc Forster’s quarrels kept it from being something truly spectacular.
Plagued with high tensions and troubling conditions throughout filming, Pitt and Forster’s tumultuous relationship effectively damned the film and kept it from ever receiving a sequel. It’s hard to tell on-screen, but the two had a terrible time.
Shane Hurlbut and Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation (2009)
While technically not the film’s director, Shane Hurlbut was an essential part of Terminator Salvation as the director of photography (or the cinematographer, as they are sometimes called), Hurlbut was just as involved as any star or director. This involvement is why his spat with Christian Bale was so bad.
In a now-infamous leaked set video, Bale ripped into Hurlbut’s shooting style and insulted the man to his face for interrupting his performance. Claiming Hurlbut was too close to him, Bale did not hold back as he chucked insult after insult at the director of photography before storming from the set.
Otto Preminger and Faye Dunaway on Hurry Sundown (1967)
Otto Preminger is a name synonymous with mid-20th-century excellence. An Austrian filmmaker, Preminger made quite the impact on American filmmaking throughout the ’50s and ’60s. One of his later films, Hurry Sundown, made an impact for a different reason.
Claiming to regret casting fresh-faced actress Faye Dunaway almost immediately upon shooting, Preminger did everything within his power to tear down Dunaway and her amateurishness. To be fair, it was Dunaway’s very first film. It’s unlikely Preminger’s insults and hostile attitude did a thing to make a nervous actor any more confident, however. Alas, the two eventually took their battle to court.