With “World War Z” (our review is here) opening this weekend, come Monday there will be box office pudding to prove how much, if at all, negative advance word may have affected the over-budget Brad Pitt-starring would-be franchise starter. Aside from reports of cost overruns, the buzz around the film was also tainted by reports of on-set feuding between producer/star Pitt and director Marc Forster during the shooting stages. The two seem to have laid those demons to rest, at least to the point that they are doing interviews together for the film’s press rounds (this one is particularly civil), but the high-profile nature of their scrap got us to thinking about other times when director and star have fallen out — we may try not to gossip, but as much as the next guy, we love a good old bitchy Hollywood insider tale of who threw who out which window, and what choice insult was hurled as they were falling.
So here’s a rundown of 15 examples — there are more of course, but when you consider the clashing egos and sometimes uncomfortable hierarchies involved in high-level filmmaking, what’s maybe most amazing is that it doesn’t happen every single time.
Norman Mailer vs. Rip Torn
What Movie: “Maidstone“(1970)
What Went Down: Well, you can dodge a wrench and you can dodge a dodgeball, but you can’t dodge Rip Torn coming at you with a hammer. This Norman Mailer-directed oddity (third of a trio of films creakily “experimental” enough to cure anyone of any nostalgia for late ‘60s avant-garde filmmaking) concerns a film director, Kingsley (played by Mailer himself), who is also a presidential candidate, and his brother-in-law and would-be assassin (Rip Torn). With Torn apparently hating Mailer’s directorial diktats and a final assassination scene unwritten as filming began, he took it upon himself to attack Mailer with a hammer — whether in a fit of actorly improvisation or hazy rage is not quite clear. Mailer retaliated by biting Torn’s ear, and the ensuing brawl in its inglorious, awkward, unscripted detail, was all captured on camera. If anything, from there on it all gets even more stilted with the pair back-and-forthing-ing labored “barbs” but frequently stopping to pant and trade ferociously testosterone-y glares, only undercut by Torn’s frequent use of the word “baby.”
Choice Quote: “… I don’t want to kill Mailer but I must kill Kingsley in this picture” — Rip Torn in “Maidstone”
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: On this occasion, you can judge for yourself as the scene in its entirety made it into the film, despite the actors using each other’s real names, and Mailer’s wife and children and another few bystanders interrupting the tiff.
For our money, despite infamous run-ins with the law elsewhere, and despite undoubtedly being the instigator here, Torn actually comes out rather better of the scene (“You know I had to do it, baby”) because at least he’s not the one responsible for the mess of a movie this fight rounds off.
Alfred Hitchcock vs. Tippi Hedren
What Movie: “The Birds” (1963)
What Went Down: Even in an industry as self-obsessed as filmmaking, it’s rare that the story of a director’s troubled relationship with a star itself becomes a fit subject for a feature. But last year’s BBC-produced “The Girl” did just that (review here) taking a look at the dark side of the Master of Suspense in terms of his oppressive and obsessive relationship with “The Birds” and “Marnie” star Tippi Hedren. Especially on the former film, we’re told, Hitch essentially terrorized the neophyte Hedren, if not with repeated exhausting and frightening takes featuring real birds then with his unwanted sexual attentions. This after he had locked her into a restrictive contract that saw him basically control her career immediately thereafter.
Choice Quote: “To be the object of someone’s obsession is horrible.” — Tippi Hedren
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Hedren FTW. Of course, it’s a little unfair as Hitchcock isn’t around to respond, and for sure the movie version may have exaggerated for dramatic effect, but there seems little doubt that as grateful as Hedren should be for Hitch giving her a career, she has grounds for great bitterness at how he curtailed it, and how he treated her on set too.
Adrian Lyne vs. Kim Basinger
What Movie: “9 ½ Weeks” (1986)
What Went Down: The quintessential steamy movie made back when “steamy” was a word you could legitimately apply to a film without sounding like a trouser-rubbing reverend, “9 1/2 Weeks” was the breakout film of Kim Basinger’s career, defined her sexpot image and gave director Adrian Lyne a firmer foothold in the “erotic drama” genre, in which he had already made “Flashdance” and would return to for “Fatal Attraction,” “Indecent Proposal” and “Unfaithful.” It was also, according to Basinger later on, a miserable experience for her on-set, with Lyne isolating her from the cast and crew, rumor-mongering and spreading malicious lies about her in order to create a realistic onscreen mental breakdown for the character. He’d also tend to communicate on-set only with her co-star Mickey Rourke, who had himself been coached to withdraw from Basinger, or even to goad her as the shoot progressed.
Choice Quote: “Kim is a bit like a child. In order for her to be angry I would rage at her and she would rage back at me. Mickey also had to do it. He frightened her. And that was done purposely.” — Adrian Lyne,
“I don’t identify with that description of me at all,” — Kim Basinger (same 1986 NYT article)
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Basinger, though Lyne seems overzealous and a bit mean in service of a not terribly good movie, rather than the tyrannical despot we may see elsewhere on this list.
Joel Schumacher vs. Val Kilmer
What Movie:”Batman Forever” (1995)
What Went Down: Kilmer-behaving-like-a-dick tales are legion, but what we like about this one is that it casts director Joel Schumacher in the unlikely role of champion of the working man and defender of decency and justice — rather like the certain superhero Kilmer was playing at the time. Having heard stories of Kilmer’s high-handed treatment of those lower in the on-set pecking order before, Schumacher witnessed one instance too many, and gave Kilmer a dressing-down of his own. Apparently Kilmer then refused to talk to him for two weeks which Schumacher described cheekily as “blissful.” Schumacher was reportedly also none too impressed by Tommy Lee Jones’ attitude, suggesting he was threatened by Jim Carrey. Carrey, however, was “a gentleman”
Choice Quote: “I’m tired of defending overpaid, overprivileged actors. I pray I don’t work with [Kilmer and Jones] again.” — Joel Schumacher in an EW interview worth a rueful chuckle now for being from just before he started filming on franchise-killer “Batman and Robin.”
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Oh Schumacher, no doubt. Not just less of a dick, but a bit of a legend. Shame about the films.
Tony Kaye vs. Edward Norton
What Movie: “American History X” (1998)
What Went Down: If Kaye is to be believed, he never wanted Norton for his now-iconic role of ex-neo-Nazi Derek, but stuck with him due to what the filmmaker later labelled unreasonable demands by New Line (this will be a pattern). Still, things started off okay, with Kaye letting Norton work with the screenwriter on the script, before shooting wildly for 43 days, and amassing nearly 200 hours of footage. And the rough cut he assembled for that delighted the studio and Norton alike — but not Kaye who re-edited it into a much shorter cut that the other parties hated (shorter=worse? see how topsy-turvy this story is?) Norton claims that his input into the edit was really more about reassembling the rough cut than anything more creative, but Kaye, while still at this stage working on the edit too, took out a series of cryptic ads in the trades, referring obliquely to back stabbing. Despite this, New Line gave him a further 8 weeks to work alone on his preferred cut, but when at that deadline he showed up with no edit and a monk, a priest and a rabbi at the meeting, their patience, rather understandably, ended. They decided to release the studio cut, and Kaye tried to remove his name, but Alan Smithee rules state that the director must not have badmouthed his film in public before he can use the pseudonym. So his name stayed on, and the Tony Kaye enfant terrible/art provocateur legend grows. This is a guy who was believably rumored to have taken a dump in a gallery and called it art, after all. But the real thing that sets this story apart from some James Franco-esque art/life/manufactured controversy experiment is the quality of the disputed film at its heart.
Choice Quote: “It’s good enough to fool New Line. And it’s certainly fooling Edward Norton. But it doesn’t fool me. My standards are a lot higher.” — Tony Kaye
“Let’s not make any mistake: Tony Kaye is a victim of nothing but his own professional and spiritual immaturity. Period.” — Edward Norton in the same 1998 EW article
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Edward Norton. His befuddlement over why the hell Kaye would want to remove his name from so excellent a film mirrors our own. But then, that’s our low standards, we guess. It should be noted that fences were subsequently mended a bit.
Rod Lurie vs. Gary Oldman
What Movie: “The Contender” (2000)
What Went Down: With a series of revisions and retractions and setting-the-record-straight interviews, it’s hard to untangle this one, except to say that while on-set all was reportedly hunky dory, once actor and producer Gary Oldman saw the finished cut of the political, words were had between him and director Rod Lurie, as well as with DreamWorks. Oldman claims he was misquoted when he was said to have claimed that the film had been altered to lean more left-ward, politically, but he doesn’t deny he was disappointed with how his character, the Republican antagonist toward Joan Allen’s Democrat, was portrayed as a straightforward villain, particularly through the use of score. For his part, Lurie claimed that Oldman was suffering from “Stockholm syndrome” as though he had been taken hostage by his character and his character’s beliefs. which Oldman took exception to, saying…
Choice Quote: “I find a lot of that “Stockholm Syndrome” stuff really insulting, both to me and to actors in general. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I don’t want to sit here and take cheap shots. This feud, this thing that has bubbled up, has become this sandstorm.” — Gary Oldman, in an interview for Venice magazine
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Not sure anyone comes out too terribly here: Oldman had issues with the portrayal of his character, Lurie had issues with his issues. Oldman, however was ultimately gracious about the finished film. “Sandstorm” in a teacup, perhaps?
Stanley Kubrick vs. Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers
What Movie:”The Shining” (1980)
What Went Down: Any attempt to draw a simplistic parallel between fraying tempers on-set and an accompanying dip in quality of the resulting film literally disintegrates in the face of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece “The Shining.” But by the accounts of both Duvall and Crothers, Kubrick’s infamously exacting approach made the set a tortuous place for both, especially Duvall who claimed that the hysteria she was required to portray was so constant that she ran out of tears and had to increase her water intake purely to remain hydrated enough to cry. Kubrick also instructed the other cast and crew to show Duvall no sympathy during the grueling shoot, and this, coupled with the stress of constantly rewritten scenes apparently ended up causing her hair to start to fall out. But while official (well, Guinness Record) word has it that one of her scenes — swinging a bat at Jack — required 127 takes, the Steadicam operator claimed that was an exaggeration, although he claimed a different scene required 148 takes. That latter scene (officially logged at a mere 85 takes) was one involving Scatman Crothers, who apparently broke down at one point, begging the famously reticent director to tell him “What do you want, Mr. Kubrick?”
Choice Quote: “[Duvall had] the toughest job that any actor I’ve seen had” — Jack Nicholson
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: We have to sympathize with the actors, but it’s hard to tell where it might have been possible to call a halt to Kubrick’s perfectionism without impacting on the finished film (a bit like second-guessing some kind of deity). If anything, it proves that being an out-and-out genius and behaving dickishly are hardly mutually exclusive — and Kubrick is the rare case where you feel it’s the utter dedication to the film, as opposed to ego, that’s at work.
David O. Russell vs. George Clooney and Lily Tomlin and James Caan
What Movie: “Three Kings“(1999)/”I Heart Huckabees“(2004)/“Nailed” (????)
What Went Down: Russell’s erstwhile rep for feuding with his actors found early expression when George Clooney, apparently incensed over how Russell was treating the crew on the set of his criminally underrated Gulf War movie, confronted Russell over it, and apparently the altercation came to blows. Later on during the aborted (due to financial fuck ups) ”Nailed,” James Caan reportedly walked off set because he disagreed with the director over the correct way to choke on a cookie (the age-old coughing vs. no-coughing debate), and of course, in between, on the set of “I Heart Huckabees,” this happened:
Subsequently, however most of these fences seem to have been mended, as perhaps Russell mellows with age and Oscar recognition. Clooney, while unlikely to work with him again, said “I really do appreciate the work he continues to do, and I think he appreciates what I’m trying to do,” while Tomlin said in 2011 “… it was nothing anyway, it was just temper. We just both had a bad temper fit.” Whether Caan has mellowed too is hard to tell. Perhaps dissing an actor’s interpretation of a baked goods-related death is just a line you do not cross.
Choice Quote: “[The fight with Russell] was, without exception, the worst experience of my life” — George Clooney
“I worked on this fucking thing for three fucking years not to have some cunt yell at me… fuck yourself.” — Russell to Tomlin
“Why don’t you fuck your whole movie? Because that’s what you’re doing.” — Tomlin’s reply.
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: While Russell doesn’t come out looking too rosy, you can read a different account of the “Three Kings” dust up in Sharon Waxman‘s “Rebels on the Backlot” (click here) that paints Clooney more as the troublemaker who pushed one button too many. However, Tomlin wins everything, our hearts included, for that clip, but on “Nailed,” if that story has been reported accurately, then Russell takes the cookie.
Michael Bay vs. Megan Fox
What Movie: “Transformers“
What Went Down: Prior to the filming of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” Fox publicly lambasted her director Michael Bay comparing him, sigh, to Hitler on-set. It’s debated whether, as Fox says, she refused to work on the third ‘Transformers’ or whether as Bay maintains, he fired her on advice from Steven Spielberg, but with everyone from Fox’s subsequent co-star Chris O’Dowd to Shia LaBeouf weighing in, the spat became emblematic of Hollywood’s attitude to sexism (whether Fox intended this consequence or not) for about six minutes back there.
Choice Quote: “…he’s a nightmare to work for” — Fox on Bay
“I’m sorry, Megan. I’m sorry I made you work twelve hours. I’m sorry that I’m making you show up on time. Movies are not always warm and fuzzy.” — Bay in a GQ interview
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Oh how we’ve gone back and forth on this one! Initially, we were Team Megan for the sheer unexpectedness of a to-that-date all-but-mute sex kitten so publicly biting the hand that feeds, even if everyone who invokes Hitler in a comparison should automatically lose the argument. But her subsequent reported apology, and sign-on to the goddamn Bay-produced “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, kind of negates that. And with Shia LaBeouf’s contribution to this important discourse delivered in particularly nasty form, we’re prepared to believe that the dickishness quotient is so high on those movies that our finely calibrated instruments of dickishness detection simply get overloaded.
Werner Herzog vs. Klaus Kinski
What Movie:”Aguirre, Wrath of God” (1972)/“Fitzcarraldo” (1982) etc
What Went Down: Perhaps the most the most legendary actor/director feud, at least in world cinema terms, what marks out the Herzog/Kinski collaboration is the almost archetypal way it details the love/hate relationship between an obsessive director and his obsessive muse. Not only the that, but the self-awareness with which they seemed to embark on their projects (including a documentary on the very subject, Herzog’s surprisingly fond portrait of Kinski “My Best Fiend”) makes for endlessly compelling anecdotes and quotes, and not a few death threats. Add to that the often physically grueling conditions in which they shot and Kinski’s beyond-method descent (ascent?) into madness and delusion, and you have one of the most combustible combinations of temperaments and circumstance ever marshaled into being for a film. Or six — up until Kinski walked out on “Cobra Verde” and they never re-teamed thereafter.
Choice Quote: “You leave this jungle now and you’ll find eight bullets in you and the ninth one will be for me” — Herzog to Kinski after he threatened to leave ‘Aguirre.’
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Herzog. He may be a mercurial madman in his own right, but you get the feeling that he is always able to put whatever mania is at hand in service of a unique artistic sensibility. Kinski, however, even before the dire accusations of sexual abuse made against him more recently, had a wide streak of insanity that seemed to leak into all corners of his life. And while that made him undeniably exciting to watch, he was never more scintillating onscreen than when it was conducted down the lightning rod of Herzog’s strength of will and innate intelligence.
Lars von Trier vs. Bjork
What Movie: “Dancer in the Dark” (2000)
What Went Down: Again perhaps an example of the trauma that can result when two unstable personalities are drawn to tell an extreme story, but within the frictiony, hierarchical relationship of actor/director. The tensions on the set of von Trier’s Palme d’or-winning ‘Dancer,’ partly due to von Trier’s notoriously merciless process and partly to Bjork’s inexperience as an actress, were magnified when Bjork disappeared for four days, and returned with a “manifesto” for von Trier that detailed her own absolute creative control over the music in the film. But the problems didn’t stop after that, with Bjork disagreeing so vehemently with Von trier’s methods that at one stage she apparently spat at him and later famously declared she’d never act again. Though it should be pointed out she only wanted to act in the first place because it was Lars von Trier — and so the endless cycle of attraction/repulsion continues.
Choice Quote: “He needs a female to provide his work soul. And he envies them and hates them for it. So he has to destroy them during the filming. And hide the evidence.”– Bjork on von Trier
“…we knew that her and her people would always win because they didn’t care. They didn’t give a shit…It was like dealing with terrorists.” — von Trier on Bjork in GQ
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Like the film’s eventual reception we’re kind of polarized — neither party comes out particularly well, so this is just one we have to chalk up to clashing temperaments with perhaps von Trier just shading it, because, for better or worse, he’s the director and ultimately, creative control should rest with him. But maybe that was just him “hiding the evidence”?
Henri Georges Clouzot vs. Brigitte Bardot
What Movie: “The Truth” (1960)
What Went Down: Somewhat overlooked in the pantheon of movie spats, perhaps because the film, despite its Oscar nomination and rapturous response at the time, has bizarrely kind of fallen off the radar, Bardot apparently had a very abrasive on-set relationship with Clouzot during the filming of “The Truth”. The director was well-known for not treating his actors with kid gloves, and for sometimes brutalizing them if they were required to act brutalized, but in this rather brilliant story of a woman accused of murder, he apparently went so far as to insist on Bardot drinking whisky and swallowing multiple tranquilizers to get the performance he wanted. Later, however, Bardot was to go on record stating that this was her favorite of all her films.
Choice Quote: “I don’t need amateurs in my films. I want an actress.” — Clouzot to Bardot
“And I need a director, not a psychopath.” — Bardot’s reply.
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Probably Bardot, although her saying later that this was her best performance suggests perhaps the end justified the means?
Sydney Pollack vs. Dustin Hoffman
What Movie: “Tootsie” (1982)
What Went Down: The set of the 1982 comedy was apparently a fractious place, with director Pollack and star Hoffman constantly at loggerheads, either screaming at one another or stumping off to take time out in one trailer or another. But as with many instances here, time and perhaps the fine reputation the film subsequently earned, seems to have thawed the tension, with Pollack referring to it as a “respectful and friendly war” that raged, and also suggesting that he most often managed to get his way, despite the arguments. He also gave due props to Hoffman for championing the project all along, and also for casting suggestions, like that of Bill Murray for a role, and of Pollack himself for the agent part, that improved the finished product.
Choice Quote: “For whatever reason, I think Dustin feels that directors and actors are biological enemies, the way the mongoose and the cobra are enemies.” — Pollack to the NYT
“What’s on the screen is the result of our discussions, our arguments, our fights. If I had not argued, I think the film would be fifty percent different. I’m not saying it would be worse or better, but it certainly would be much different.” — Hoffman in an AFI interview
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Actually no one comes out looking particularly dastardly here, and both participants seem gracious and reasonable in retrospect, so we’re not going to call it one way or the other.
Otto Preminger AND Roman Polanski vs. Faye Dunaway
What Movie: “Hurry Sundown” (1967)/”Chinatown” (1974)
What Went Down: The relationship on the set of ham-fisted sharecropper tale “Hurry Sundown” between star Dunaway and director Preminger was strained from the outset with the director shouting at the star in public early on and confirming her opinion that he “didn’t know anything at all about the process of acting.” Dunaway disliked him so intensely, and ended with so little respect for his abilities, that she bought herself out of her contract to work with him again, at some cost. By contrast, she admired Polanski, but working on his masterpiece “Chinatown” they too had a fractious relationship, with Dunaway reportedly throwing a cup of her pee at Polanski after he refused her a bathroom break. I dunno, though, there’s just something so irresistible about the image of the patrician and consummately elegant Faye Dunaway throwing piss at someone that we’re kind of happy this happened.
Choice Quote: “Of all the movies I’ve worked on, of all the directors I’ve worked with, there are only two directors that I haven’t gotten along with — Otto Preminger and Roman Polanski.” — Faye Dunaway
“Say the fucking words. Your salary is your motivation.” — Roman Polanski
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Dunaway wins in the Preminger case purely for the strength of her convictions, but we have to say she may have forfeited her high moral ground with Polanski when she threw her urine at him.
David Fincher vs. Jake Gyllenhaal
What Movie: “Zodiac” (2007)
What Went Down: Known for his exacting, uncompromising approach, David Fincher didn’t so much clash with young star Jake Gyllelhaal on-set of the “Zodiac” as repeatedly crush him. Aside from wearing him out with exhausting repeated takes, with little new direction of where else he wanted the actor to take the scene, he’d sometimes say, within earshot “delete the last 10 takes.” If it was a deliberate ploy to manipulate Gyllenhaal into a dispirited and discouraged mood, it worked. “…as an actor that’s very hard to hear,” complained Gyllenhaal.
Choice Quote: “[Fincher] paints with people… it’s tough to be a color.” — Gyllenhaal
“I hate earnestness in performance… usually by Take 17 the earnestness is gone.” — Fincher in the same NYT article
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Fincher, oddly enough. In such an ensemble cast, packed with more experienced actors (and his relative inexperience is something Gyllehaal himself subsequently acknowledged), it’s hard not to read some degree of whininess into some of Gyllenhaal’s complaints. Here’s Robert Downey Jr’s jokey take on Fincher as a contrast: “I just decided, aside from several times I wanted to garrote him, that I was going to give him what he wanted. I think I’m a perfect person to work for him, because I understand gulags.”
Some other famous spats we’ve not had time/room for are, Kevin Smith vs. Bruce Willis on “Cop Out“; Stephen Norrington vs. Sean Connery on the unmitigated disaster that was “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen“; Val Kilmer (again) this time being largely responsible for getting Richard Stanley fired from the even more terrible “The Island of Dr Moreau“; and Kilmer’s ‘Moreau’ co-star Marlon Brando refusing to take Franz Oz‘s direction at all on “The Score,” preferring, reportedly to talk solely to his co-stars Robert de Niro and Edward Norton. Classic Hollywood has its share too, and is perhaps worthy of its own list someday, and of course, no actor/director spat roundup would be complete without at least a mention of Kevin Reynolds vs. Kevin Costner on a certain notorious 1995 mega-budgeted flop, but with director and star back working together harmoniously and fruitfully, it seems on TV show “Hatfields & McCoys,” it’s now perhaps, water under the bridge.