Movie Directors Who Tortured Their Casts

Ben Falk
Contributor

Being a director requires a certain kind of personality. Here are some instances when that personality decides it wants to be really mean to the people acting in their films.

Stanley Kubrick

Fans of Kubrick would probably call it perfectionism, but however you label it, shots on the director’s films could often run to more than 100 takes. He made Sydney Pollack shoot a dialogue-free scene in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ for two days.

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But his most unpleasant moments probably came on ‘The Shining’. He made actor Scatman Crothers cry and deliberately created an antagonistic atmosphere towards Shelley Duvall on set. The result is a brilliantly high-strung performance, but at a cost. Duvall claimed her hair fell out and she was physically ill because of the stress.

James Cameron

“Life’s Abyss…and then you dive” – that’s the T-shirt the crew of underwater drama ‘The Abyss’ had printed up after working with notorious taskmaster Cameron. Of course, shooting around water is famously dangerous and this proved to be the case here, with the director frequently getting the performers to do stuff which put them in harm’s way.

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A prime example is when actors Ed Harris and Leo Burmester were asked by Cameron to act as their own stuntmen when filming a shot where their characters had to swim without breathing apparatus between two underwater bases. They were supposed to reach their destination and find oxygen waiting for them. However, their helmer felt the shot needed tweaking, so moved the tubes further away without telling Harris and Burmester. Thankfully, they were able to hold their breath for the extra time, but it’s not for nothing that some of the cast find it difficult to talk about the production in positive terms.

Alfred Hitchcock

Hitch’s intriguing relationship with his leading ladies came to a head with Tippi Hedren on ‘The Birds’. The actress has since claimed he was obsessed with her and ended up ruining her career deliberately. Certainly, his actions on set of the 1963 thriller were dubious at best. That’s demonstrated by the scene where Hedren is attacked by a flock of unhinged avians. Hitchcock didn’t tell her beforehand that they would be using real birds rather than props meaning the fear on the actress’s face during the shot is very real.

Ruggero Deodato

As anyone’s who seen infamous video nasty ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ will attest, it’s the work of one sick mind. When it was originally released in 1980, the documentary style led authorities to think Italian director Deodato hadn’t just tortured his cast, he’d actually killed some of them. He was even arrested for the crime and only released when he got one of the seemingly-dead actors to come forward. But while the jungle-set found-footage horror flick isn’t a snuff film, its cast was certainly put through the wringer. Deodato was accused of exploiting the uncredited tribespeople who played the cannibals (the movie was shot on location on the border of Colombia and Brazil, a dangerous area known for cocaine trafficking).

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And the director definitely treated his animal cast badly – the creatures were genuinely killed on-screen, much to the consternation of the human performers, which meant emotions ran high. Actor Robert Kerman went so far as to call Deodato a sadist. The grisly film itself was banned for several years – it now remains loved and loathed in equal measure.

Lars Von Trier

Bjork hates Lars Von Trier. That’s the take home from the aftermath of ‘Dancer in the Dark’, which currently remains the Icelandic singer’s lone screen credit. Much of that is apparently because of her treatment by the Danish auteur, who she criticized by writing a blog saying, “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.” For his part, Von Trier says she spat at him and decided not to show up for work for several days, costing the production thousands of dollars. Whatever happened, it worked creatively – the film won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Bjork scooped Best Actress. They still hate each other though.

David O Russell

We imagine it takes quite a lot to make George Clooney want to punch you in the face. But that’s what happened on the set of Gulf War feature ‘Three Kings’, after Russell’s treatment of an extra got out of hand. And Clooney’s not the only actor who’s wanted to do painful things to Russell.

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The director had a fractious relationship with actress Lily Tomlin on the set of ‘I Heart Huckabees’, resulting in a number of public screaming matches between the two.

Sam Peckinpah

The hard-drinking helmer didn’t suffer fools gladly and frequently lost his temper on-set because of his boozing.  While shooting 1965’s ‘Major Dundee’ in remote locations in Mexico, the movie went massively over-budget and Peckinpah took it out on the cast and crew, firing extras willy nilly and tormenting the actors. When star Charlton Heston refused to go to a brothel one night after filming, his director decided he didn’t have the right stuff. Their battle of wits came to a head during the filming of a battle scene, after which Heston threatened Peckinpah with a prop sword. Despite this, when the studio tried to throw the director off the project, Heston offered to trade his salary to keep Peckinpah on the film, showing some of the loyalty that the director inspired in many of his frequent collaborators.

Michael Bay

“He went off on me for a few minutes,” said actor Patrick Dempsey, revealing what happened when he disrupted Bay during the filming of ‘Transformers: Dark Side Of The Moon’. In fact, the ‘Bad Boys’ director has a bit of a reputation for yelling at people on set, even his stars. “Be happy you even have a job,” is his reply to complaining thesps including, we suppose, Megan Fox, who compared Bay to Hitler.

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Rosie Huntington-Whiteley remembered her grueling and slightly odd ‘Transformers’ audition in an interview with GQ. Bay approached her during a Victoria’s Secret commercial shoot in which she was wearing underwear and asked if she could walk. He then put her in a car and had her driven into the middle of the desert before asking her to walk towards the distant camera when he called action. “I assumed I would be doing this in several stages,” she said. “I walked all the way back to where the camera was standing, which took me—I would say a good 10, 12 minutes, and it was a proper runway stomp—on salt flats; it was like 100 degrees, felt like fire…I was pretty pissed off afterwards; I just looked at Michael, and he goes, ‘I guess you can walk, then.’”

Roman Polanski

Anyone’s who knows about Polanski’s legal troubles will understand he’s not the nicest man in the world. Faye Dunaway, his lead actress on ‘Chinatown’, would agree with you. When she asked for some advice about a scene, Polanski replied curtly, “Say the f****** words. Your salary’s your motivation.” She got her own back when the director refused to allow her to go to the toilet – she did it in a cup and threw the liquid contents in his face.

Photos: Rex/Snap/Everett/Moviestore/Warner Bros.