Actors and directors often praise the collaborative nature of their process and have spent decades citing “creative differences” as an excuse for why projects fall apart. But what are moviegoers to make of episodes like the two bizarre “I Heart Huckabees” clips that are currently setting the Internet on fire?
In the pair of “leaked” behind-the-scenes clips from the 2004 film, notorious director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”) lets loose a torrent of rage that makes Lewis Black look like Louis Armstrong. His target is veteran actress Lily Tomlin, who endures F-bombs, C-bombs and more than a few flying props before responding with some choice words of her own. Co-stars Dustin Hoffman, Jason Schwartzman and Naomi Watts, meanwhile, suffer significant collateral damage.
As these you’ve-gotta-see-’em clips continue to appear, vanish and get reposted on the Web, we can’t help but think back to other actor-vs.-director battles that fell in that gray area between “Let’s go our separate ways” and “Let’s channel our mutual hatred into the performance.” Ultimately, many of these movies became classics, but in this age of invasive DVD extras, perhaps the time has come to paraphrase Otto von Bismarck: Movies are like sausage — sometimes it’s better not to see them being made.
The Combatants: Stanley Kubrick vs. Shelley Duvall
The Battle: Dubbed “the Hellraiser from Harpenden,” Stanley Kubrick is to this day cited as the consummate perfectionist, a title he took to the next level while making 1980’s “The Shining.” Lead actress Duvall could no doubt come up with a few additional nicknames for the notoriously demanding director, who allegedly drove the actress to the brink of a nervous breakdown. On Vivian Kubrick’s “Making ’The Shining’ ” documentary, Duvall is seen pulling out her own hair, explaining that the pressure is making her go bald. Kubrick, who on the same doc seems to genuinely loathe Duvall, explodes at one point, yelling to her that “We’re f—ing dying out here” and “You’re wasting everybody’s time.” Kubrick was also notorious for making his actors film upward of 100 takes of the same scene.
The Victor: It’s nearly 30 years later, and “The Shining” is still Duvall’s best-known work. Whatever tactics Kubrick employed to get her there, it’s hard to argue with them.
The Combatants: George Clooney vs. David O. Russell
The Battle: Five years before Russell would go toe-to-toe with Tomlin, he reportedly engaged in similar behavior with the normally unflappable “Ocean’s 13″ star. After suits demanded the “Three Kings” shoot involve fewer politics, fewer days and, of course, fewer dollar signs, Russell reportedly took his frustration out on crewmembers. This irked lead actor Clooney something fierce, and the two reportedly came to blows on the last day of filming after Russell threw an extra on the ground (Russell would later claim he was showing him how to act out a scene). According to Sharon Waxman’s “Rebels of the Backlot,” the fight was so intense that the second assistant director quit.
The Victor: Roger Ebert’s four-star review called “Kings” a “weird masterpiece” and said Russell’s direction “has the freedom and recklessness of Oliver Stone or Robert Altman in their mad-dog days.” The movie announced Russell as a major Hollywood player, giving the pugilistic filmmaker his first win by knockout.
The Combatants: Björk vs. Lars von Trier
The Battle: At the height of her musical fame, Icelandic singer Björk joined forces with fiercely noncommercial filmmaker Lars von Trier for 2000’s “Dancer in the Dark,” a flick that marked her much-anticipated acting debut. Depending on whom you ask, the former Sugarcubes singer either chose to work herself into a state of hysteria before most takes or was responding to von Trier’s relentless abuse. Either way, Björk has said in interviews that the process was so emotionally draining that she’ll never act in another movie again. It’s a promise she’s kept for seven years.
The Victor: Björk’s performance was mocked by many — and she wasn’t even wearing a swan dress. Ultimately, that makes both actor and director losers in this battle. Von Trier, meanwhile, has reportedly used similar techniques to get lead actresses Nicole Kidman and Bryce Dallas Howard to that certain emotional place, but both of them have expressed appreciation after the fact.
The Combatants: Kim Basinger vs. Adrian Lyne
The Battle: In 1986’s “9 1/2 Weeks,” one of her early lead roles, the beautiful Basinger was set to star in a boundary-pushing, sultry flick directed by Hollywood’s master of the sex scene. According to reports, Lyne employed emotionally manipulative techniques to unnerve the actress, banning his actors from speaking to each other off set, spreading rumors about how other actors hoped to undermine her and even giving her extra notes just for the sake of driving her bonkers. Ultimately it became a tag-team battle, with male lead Mickey Rourke reportedly joining in the reindeer games.
The Victor: “9 1/2 Weeks” was a huge success (particularly on video) and significantly boosted the careers of everyone involved. But roughly nine and a half years later, Basinger won an Oscar for “L.A. Confidential,” possibly landing the final blow of this battle.
The Combatants: Jake Gyllenhaal vs. David Fincher
The Battle: Watch the “Panic Room” DVD if you want to see how Fincher’s need to control every last detail can lead cast and crew to exhaustion. That very desire to delete any semblance of an actor’s spontaneity is what apparently set off poor Gyllenhaal during the making of the current release “Zodiac.” According to reports in The New York Times, the movie’s critical success may have come at the cost of Gyllenhaal’s sanity. “[Fincher is] very clear about what he wants — and he’s very, very, very smart,” Gyllenhaal told the national paper of record. “But sometimes we’d do a lot of takes, and he’d turn, and he would say, because he had a computer there, ’Delete the last 10 takes.’ And as an actor, that’s very hard to hear.”
The Victor: Can we call this one a draw? Gyllenhaal and Fincher are still considered among the best at what they do. But, c’mon Jake, the flick is about a man whose obsession places him on the brink of madness — what did you expect?
Check out everything we’ve got on “Zodiac.”
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