Some films become notorious not because of their artistic merits, but because of the intense – and often public – feuds that erupt between actors and directors. Tensions between the two species, directors and actors, can become so strained that some actors and directors have opted out of contracts, taken each other to court, and even gotten physical with one another.
Sometimes the volatile relationships between actors can actually strengthen a film, as the tensions off-screen become very apparent on-screen. Other times, it can lead to terrible performances, or financial and commercial disaster for a film.
A little bit of pressure can be a good thing for a performance, enhancing the drama of a film. But sometimes, if it is just impossible for two people to work together, it’s just better to walk away, and probably never work together again. That is what happened to most of these actors and directors – here are 10 on-set feuds that nearly ruined movies.
10. Bruce Willis and Kevin Smith – Cop Out
Originally, Kevin Smith was overwhelmed and giddy when he got the chance to play a small role in 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard alongside his fellow New Jersey-native Bruce Willis. In his video, Sold Out: A Threevening with Kevin Smith, he professed how awesome it was to work in the the same franchise with John McClane, who he’d been watching since he was a kid.
But things turned less-than-pleasant two years later, when Smith directed the buddy comedy, Cop Out (Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan). After production, Smith went on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and blasted the star, and even spent a full chapter in his memoir, Tough Sh*t, saying that Willis wouldn’t follow direction or commit to scenes. He went so far as to write, “He turned out to be the unhappiest, most bitter, and meanest emo-b*tch I’ve ever met at any job. And mind you, I’ve worked at Domino’s.”
9. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams – The Notebook
Ryan Gosling gained mainstream attention in 2004 after starring opposite fellow Canadian actress Rachel McAdams in The Notebook. His performance was lauded (as was hers), and until 2012 the movie was Gosling’s most commercially successful film. That being said, the two’s relationship was very combative on set.
Gosling has said that they “inspired the worst in each other,” and that “it was a strange experience, making a love story and not getting along with your co-star in any way.” At one point, Gosling asked director Nick Cassavetes to “bring somebody else in for my off-camera shot” because he thought McAdams was being uncooperative. Despite all of this, the two would go on to become romantically involved in 2005.
8. George Clooney and David O. Russell – Three Kings
Director David O. Russell is notorious for getting into feuds with many actors he works with. From Lily Tomlin in I Heart Huckabees, to Amy Adams in The Fighter, Russell is not easy to work with. Quite the opposite, George Clooney is usually considered pretty mellow and easy to get along with. But that could not be said on the set of Three Kings (1999).
Things took a dark turn on set when Clooney and Russell got in a fist fight. Reportedly, Clooney punched Russell in the face (or grabbed him by the neck), to which Russell responded by head-butting the actor. Clooney sent Russel a handwritten note after filming, saying it was “the most havoc-ridden, anxiety-ridden, angry set that I have ever witnessed.”
7. Edward Norton and Tony Kaye – American History X
As it’s becoming clear by these entries, actors and directors are often the bane of each other’s existence. This was no different than with a young Edward Norton and first-time-feature director Tony Kaye on the film American History X. From the beginning, Kaye told Norton he wasn’t right for the part.
After cutting the film to 90 minutes, Norton stepped in to assist with editing, and Kaye was very displeased with the final product, stating that New Line Cinema had destoyed his first feature film, and he called Norton a “narcissistic dilettante.” Norton was uncredited with his edits, despite trying to help build the film back to shape.
6. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny – The X-Files
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson both shot to fame for their portrayals of Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, which aired for over 200 episodes from 1993 to 2002. But since this is an article about films, it’s important to remember that they both also starred in the 1998 eponymous film X-Files, and the 2008 film The X-Files: I Want to Believe.
During their long run in TV and film, there were many rumors (and hopes?) that the two co-stars shared an off-set fling, but it eventually came out that the opposite was true. Their relationship was rocky and cold, which was one of the reasons Duchovny later left the franchise. Duchovny went on to say in an interview that, “Familiarity breeds contempt. We used to argue over nothing.”
5. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep – Kramer vs. Kramer
Kramer vs. Kramer cleaned up the 1980 Academy Awards, winning five Oscars – for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hoffman), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Acterss (Streep). Even with the novel-turned-film’s huge success, the on-set relationship between legendary actors Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep was tumultuous, to say the least. It only seems appropriate that the film tells the story of their characters going through a divorce.
When Streep approached director Robert Benton to rewrite some of her lines, saying her character was too one-dimensional, the director gave her the OK. Hoffman vehemently tried to block changes to the script. In the end, they both won Oscars. Hoffman went on to say that Streep was “obsessive,” an “ox,” and that “she thinks about nothing else but what she’s doing.”
4. George Takei and William Shatner – Star Trek
Star Trek heroes William Shatner and George Takei were all teamwork during their long tenure on the TV show, as well as on the six movies they both starred in in the franchise. Captain Kirk and Sulu were two favorites in the show and films. But off-screen, their relationship was very tumultuous, and even now, 40 years later, the feuding between the two continues.
Takei has called Shatner a “d*ck,” a “douche,” and has stated that his co-star was very “self-involved.” Their feuding went so far that Takei didn’t even invite Shatner to his wedding ceremony, even though he invited all the other Star Trek cast and staff. Shatner, meanwhile, has called Takei “psychotic.” Both actors claim that any bad blood between them in this day-and-age stems from their time together on Star Trek.
3. Megan Fox and Steven Spielberg/Michael Bay – Transformers
Megan Fox’s rocky relationship with director Michael Bay, on the Transformers sets, was very public and cringe-worthy. During an interview in Wonderland magazine, to promote Transformers 2, when asked her least favorite things about Bay, she responded by saying, “He’s like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous mad man reputation. He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is.” Ouch, two dictator comparisons in one interview. She also called him a ‘tyrant’ on set.
But, though she was replaced for Transformers 3, Bay would later cast Fox in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles years later. And, it became public knowledge that it was actually producer Steven Spielberg who had her fired from the franchise, and not Bay, because of her remarks and for being unprofessional.
2. Shelley Duvall/Scatman Crothers and Stanley Kubrick – The Shining
The 1980 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all time, with one of the most acclaimed directors in history. Kubrick was also a perfectionist, though, whose endless takes would drive his actors batty. This was true in The Shining, where he frequently clashed with co-stars Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers.
The Shining was mainly an improvisational piece, while Duvall had little acting experience, which was a poor acting environment. Jack Nicholson famously just kept his cool and didn’t bother learning his lines because he knew Kubrick would change them. In one instance, Kubrick demanded 127 takes of one of Duvall’s line readings, leading her to become physically ill and making her hair fall out. Scatman Crothers had a similar experience, when he broke into tears after doing 85 takes of a particular scene.
1. Faye Dunaway and Roman Polanski – Chinatown
One of the most legendary feuds between actors/directors came when Faye Dunaway worked with director Roman Polanski on the 1974 film Chinatown. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and is regarded by many as being one of the best mystery films, with one of the best scripts, in movie history.
Dunaway claimed that Polanski was “autocratic and dictatorial in many ways… but he was a good filmmaker.” During one scene, Dunaway asked Polanski for her character’s motivation, to which the director replied, “Say the f*****g words. Your salary is your motivation.” In another scene, Dunaway had to go pee, but the director wouldn’t let her, saying, “You stay there. We shoot. We shoot.” Dunaway ended up with the win, however, after she proceeded to pee in a coffee cup and throw it at the director’s face.
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