When two highly paid creative visionaries work together, things don’t always go smoothly. Here are a few of the most memorable bust-ups between Hollywood directors and actors.
1. GEORGE CLOONEY AND DAVID O. RUSSELL
After reviewing the script for Three Kings, David O. Russell’s Iraq War action-comedy, George Clooney—who was angling for film industry legitimacy at the time—desperately wanted in. But the feeling wasn’t mutual. “Russell hated Clooney’s style of acting, which he considered a lot of head-bobbing and mugging for the camera,” Sharon Waxman wrote in Rebels on the Backlot. After Nicolas Cage—Russell’s first choice for the role of U.S. Army Special Forces Major Archie Gates—declined, and Warner Bros. nixed the director’s other choices (including Dustin Hoffman), Russell awarded the part to Clooney.
The relationship, which wasn’t great to begin with, deteriorated as the actor struggled with Russell’s constant coaching and improvisational directing style. Things finally came to a head when Russell, whose behavior toward the crew Clooney severely disliked, threw an extra to the ground (Russell would claim he was demonstrating how he wanted the extra to treat Ice Cube in the scene they were filming). The details that followed differ from one account to the next, but what’s certain is that the two ended up brawling and had to be dragged apart.
“It was truly without exception, the worst experience of my life,” Clooney would later say. Russell, for his part, said he would never again make a film with Clooney. In 2012, they reportedly buried the hatchet. In 2013, Russell told The New York Times that, "George and I had a friendly rapport last year. I don’t know if we would be working together. I don’t think we would rule it out. But the point is, much ado was made about things long passed.”
2. FAYE DUNAWAY AND ROMAN POLANSKI
Faye Dunaway, who vaulted to A-list status through a string of memorable roles in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s—most notably as Bonnie Parker in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde—was used to having a collaborative relationship with directors. That wasn’t the case with Roman Polanski, who directed her in 1974’s Chinatown. In response to Dunaway’s inquiries about her character Evelyn Mulwray’s motivation, Polanski would bark, “Your salary is your motivation!”
If Polanski had a reputation for being a dictator on set, Dunaway was known for putting on airs. “She considered herself a ‘star,’ and did not go out of her way to ingratiate herself with the director or the crew,” wrote Peter Biskind in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. The relationship took a hit after Polanski snuck up behind Dunaway and plucked a stubborn hair that he claimed was ruining his shot. And it went off the rails after Dunaway threw what was reportedly a cup of urine in the director’s face. The actress refuses to talk about the incident these days, while Polanski has called Dunaway “unhinged.”
3. MARLON BRANDO AND FRANK OZ
Even in his old age, the legendary Marlon Brando could deliver a great performance. But he’d put a director through hell to get it. Nobody knew this better than Frank Oz, who memorably clashed with Brando while filming the 2001 heist movie The Score. According to reports, Brando frequently tried to change the shooting schedule and stubbornly clung to his own interpretation of his character, an aging mobster named Max. The Godfather actor became so incensed with Oz, a Muppets veteran who was directing his first drama after several successful comedies, that he refused to take direction from him. He would also refer to Oz as “Miss Piggy,” in reference to the Muppets character Oz voiced.
Things would have deteriorated further if not for Robert De Niro, who took over in the director’s chair when Brando refused to work with Oz, and who soothed the actor’s ruffled feathers on numerous occasions.
4. SHELLEY DUVALL AND STANLEY KUBRICK
Shelley Duvall, who had scant formal training as an actress, spent her early career working with freewheeling directors like Robert Altman and Woody Allen. This did little to prepare her for collaborating with a perfectionist like Stanley Kubrick, who directed her in 1980’s The Shining. Duvall’s role as Wendy Torrance, who tries desperately to protect her son as her husband slips into madness, was a demanding one. And Kubrick’s antagonistic attitude toward her—captured in glimpses in the making-of documentary above, shot by the filmmaker’s daughter, Vivian—didn’t make things any easier.
“For a person who can be so likeable, he can do some pretty cruel things,” Duvall said in the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. Kubrick shot scenes again and again—as many as 127 times, according to reports. Many believe Kubrick was intentionally wearing down Duvall in a way that would heighten her character’s desperation. But as Emilio D’Alessandro, Kubrick’s longtime assistant, recently recalled in an essay for Esquire, Kubrick was also annoyed with Duvall’s insecurities as an actress. “I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” said Duvall. “But I wouldn’t want to go through with it again.”
5. EDWARD NORTON AND TONY KAYE
Considering American History X was Tony Kaye’s first film directing gig, you’d think he would avoid ruffling too many feathers. Well, think again. Apparently Kaye didn’t want Edward Norton for the lead role—Joaquin Phoenix was his first choice—and only agreed to the actor because he didn’t have time to cast someone else. The shoot, which lasted a quick 45 days, went off amicably enough. Afterwards, Kaye produced a rough cut of the film that pleased Norton and the studio, New Line. But then things went south.
Norton, along with New Line, gave pages of notes to Kaye on how to make his cut better, which the director did not take well. The two sides fought so bitterly that Kaye was banned from the editing room. New Line let him back in for a year, but then gave the reins over to Norton after Kaye said he wanted to completely rework the film. “I was so staggered by what [Norton] was doing to my film, and by the fact that New Line approved, that I punched the wall and broke my hand,” Kaye wrote in an essay for The Guardian.
What Kaye did next is the stuff of Hollywood legend: He took out ads in trade publications disparaging the project, scuttled the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, and ultimately fought to remove his name from the picture altogether. Norton, for his part, was incensed. “Let’s not make any mistake: Tony Kaye is a victim of nothing but his own professional and spiritual immaturity,” Norton told Entertainment Weekly. In the years since American History X came out, Kaye seems to have mellowed. In a 2007 interview with The Telegraph, he owned up to his bad behavior. “I did a lot of very insane things,” he said.
6. KLAUS KINSKI AND WERNER HERZOG
There was likely no actor-director relationship more tempestuous than the one between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. Herzog was—and still is—an uncompromising filmmaker who gravitates toward risky projects, while Kinski was unstable and given to prolonged fits of rage. Put together, the two fought relentlessly. While filming Fitzcarraldo in the jungles of Peru, Kinski threatened to leave the set, and Herzog replied that he would shoot him dead if he tried. Later, an extra who was fed up with Kinski’s tyrannical behavior offered to kill the actor for Herzog. Their acrimony is the stuff of moviemaking legend, and yet both seemed to thrive off the energy it produced.
In an interview, Herzog said the actor’s rages were often his way of getting into character. After Kinski died in 1991, Herzog frequently expressed admiration for his acting skill and devotion. “I think he needed me as much as I needed him,” Herzog said in My Best Fiend, a 1999 documentary the director made about their relationship.
7. WESLEY SNIPES AND DAVID GOYER
Despite the success of the first two Blade films, audiences just couldn’t get behind the third installment in the series, Blade: Trinity. Many observers chalked up the movie’s blandness to a troubled production, which included a bitter feud between star Wesley Snipes and writer/director David Goyer. Details were difficult to pin down during filming, but became clearer in a $5 million lawsuit filed by Snipes a year after the film released. In it, Snipes claimed that he never approved of the director or the script, which he claimed had a “juvenile level of humor,” and that this was a breach of his contract. Snipes also claimed racial discrimination during the casting process. So Snipes was not a happy camper before filming started, and according to costar Patton Oswalt, things really went downhill during filming.
In a memorable interview with The A.V. Club, Oswalt said that Snipes choked Goyer after they had a disagreement on set. Goyer, in response, enlisted a biker gang to act as his security detail, which unnerved Snipes to the point that he refused to interact with the director. According to Oswalt, Snipes would only communicate with Goyer by Post-It notes, which he would sign, “From Blade.”
8. BRIGITTE BARDOT AND HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT
Although not well known these days, Henri-Georges Clouzot was a highly regarded director in the ‘50s and ‘60s. His suspense movies were so well-crafted, Alfred Hitchcock reportedly worried that Clouzot would unseat him as the “Master of Suspense.” Clouzot’s methods, however, were quite controversial. In one film, he made his lead actor undergo an actual blood transfusion. In another, he smacked an actress in order to get her angry for a scene.
In La Vérité (The Truth), Clouzot’s film about the trial of a woman accused of killing her boyfriend, the director slipped sleeping pills to an unwitting Brigitte Bardot in order to make her appear exhausted. He overdid it, and Bardot’s stomach had to be pumped. At another point, according to Jeffrey Robinson in his book Brigitte Bardot: Two Lives, Clouzot took the actress by the shoulders and shook her. “I don’t need amateurs in my films,” he said. “I want an actress.” Bardot slapped him. “And I need a director, not a psychopath!” she replied.
In later years, Bardot would say that La Vérité was her finest performance. But she still hated Clouzot, describing him as a “negative being, forever at odds with himself and the world around him.”