13 ways directors dealt with tricky actors and situations

Some director are said to live in fear of actors. Some have lots of cunning plans up their sleeve to help get what they want...

The relationship between a director and their actors is pivotal to a film, but there are moments during many film productions where an actor simply won’t budge. They present the director with a seemingly insurmountable problem.

So what should the director do? Well, here are 13 different examples of acting talent with degrees of difficulty to them, and how the director concerned got around the problem. Please note: this isn’t a list of feuds – in many of these cases, the acting talent and director concerned continued to get on very well…

Richard Donner with Gene HackmanSuperman

As John Badham reported in his excellent book I’ll Be In My Trailer (co-written with Craig Modderno), Richard Donner was faced with a problem when Gene Hackman was cast as Lex Luthor. For Hackman was sporting a moustache and hair at the time, and Donner wanted his Luthor to be bald and demoustached. Hackman refused to shave off his facial foliage, and Donner had a challenge on his hands.

Donner’s tactics, however, were sublime.

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He went down to the make-up and costume departments, and got them to put a fake moustache on his mush. When faced with Hackman on his first day of shooting, Donner made the actor an offer: shave off yours, and I’ll shave off mine. Hackman eventually agreed, going first. And then, in front of him, Donner pulled off his fake ‘tache. After a moment of stony silence – that sounds quite terrifying – Hackman eventually laughed, and set about putting the definitive Lux Luthor – thus far – on screen.

David S Goyer with Wesley Snipes Blade: Trinity

Wesley Snipe’s reported antics on the set of Blade: Trinity never fail to raise a smile. So engrossed in his character that he signed notes to and from the director on the production as Blade, Snipes reportedly spent the bulk of his time in his trailer, leading to Ryan Reynolds having more fun than you’d think filming one half of conversations with the leading man.

But Snipes didn’t have a lot of time for director David S Goyer, and by the sounds of it, David S Goyer didn’t have an awful lot of time for Snipes by the end of production.

As Patton Oswalt recalled during an interview with The A.V. Club, Snipes “tried to strangle the director”. At the end of that particular day, Goyer and the cast and crew were at a strip club, and met a bunch of bikers. Goyer apparently offered to pay for all their drinks if they would turn up the following day on the Blade: Trinity set and pretend to be his security guards. They duly did, and “Wesley freaked out and went back to his trailer”. He would spend a lot of time there.

Francis Ford Coppola with Marlon BrandoThe Godfather/Apocalypse Now

Coppola is a movie director who fought hard just to get Marlon Brando cast in The Godfather. Brando, goes the story, wasn’t hugely keen at first either. However, he transformed himself into the character of Don Corleone for a test scene, and Paramount’s reluctant top tier gave Coppola the nod.

Different directors talk of working with Brando, and the highs and lows that came with it. Notoriously, Brando wasn’t one for learning lines. As such, Coppola made sure that cue cards were dotted around the set for The Godfather for Brando to read from. Brando’s reliance on cue cards was, apparently, because he felt it made his performance more spontaneous. You can’t really argue with the end result.

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When it came to Apocalypse Now, Brando set Coppola a trickier challenge. The actor turned up on set heavily overweight and extremely unprepared for the role of Colonel Kurtz. Banking $3.5m for his brief role, Coppola had to use Brando, and thus dressed him in black, and kept him mainly in the shadows, save for his face. This worked far better than expected too, with Kurtz coming across as a far more elusive figure as a result. Coppola, though, still had to rework the ending of the film, as Brando was physically incapable of shooting what was originally intended. The end result? A genuine cinematic classic.

We should also note: there’s no shortage of stories of Brando’s behaviour on movie sets, and rarely does the actor come out of them well. His collaborations with Coppola, however, mark what can happen when a strong director at the top of his game successfully manipulates an acting force of nature.

Martha Coolidge with Walter Matthau Out To Sea

Martha Coolidge faced an interesting problem with her movie Out To Sea. She had Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the cast, but the script required Matthau to dance. But Matthau didn’t dance, and didn’t want to dance. “I will not be dancing in this movie”, he reportedly told his director. So that was clear then.

Unfortunately, at the heart of Out To Sea is a scene that requires Matthau to do just that, and Coolidge had her work cut out to persuade him to do so. The solution? As she told John Badham, “I went out and found myself the cutest, most darling female choreographer I could find. And it worked. And he danced. And he was great”.

As Coolidge discovered, Matthau’s initial instinct was sometimes to say no, before ceding to a request a couple of takes down the line. Turns out it was one of the nicest scenes in the film…

Paul Verhoeven with most of his cast Starship Troopers

Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has hardly been shy about including nudity in his films, from RoboCop to Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Thus, in a surprise to nobody, when it came to filming Starship Troopers, he wanted his young cast – led by Dina Meyer and Casper Van Dien – to remove their clothes for a shower scene.

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In an interview at the time, Meyer recalled that when she questioned him as to why the actors needed to be nude for the scene, Verhoeven replied that “it was typical of an American actress to be uptight about nudity”. Meyer hit back: “I told him if it was so natural, why weren’t he and his crew naked?”.

The moral of the story: be careful what you say to Paul Verhoeven.

He promptly took his clothes off, with some of his crew following his lead. As Casper Van Dien recalled, “it wasn’t a pretty sight”, going on to say “we agreed to strip down immediately if they put their clothes back on”. Over 20 actors shed their clothes, and Verhoeven got his scene.

Elia Kazan with Warren Beatty Splendor In The Grass

Stories of Warren Beatty on movie sets rarely paint the actor in a positive light. Whether the director be Hal Ashby on Shampoo or Peter Chelsom on Town & Country, Beatty has a reputation for taking control, and not always fighting his director’s corner.

This behaviour stretched back right back to the 1960s, when Elia Kazan cast him as one of the leads in the film Splendor In The Grass, opposite Natalie Wood. Kazan was something of a mentor to Beatty, and thus was able to stand up to his lead actor and make his point. On the first week of shooting Splendor In The Grass, Beatty lost his temper with Kazan, and made reference to Kazan’s testimony before the House Committee On Un-American Activities.

Kazan, needing to establish his authority on the set, but also genuinely angered at Beatty hitting his weak point in front of the cast and crew, promptly put filming on hold. He grabbed Beatty’s arm, as Peter Biskind recalls in his book on the actor, and “dragged him off to a tiny dressing room”. For the next two hours, Kazan “proceeded to justify himself”, before filming could re-commence.

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Incidentally, two years later, Kazan wrote to Beatty about reports of his behaviour on another film set. The letter, published in the book The Selected Letters Of Elia Kazan, read “It’s very regrettable that so many people think of you as a special problem. You have so much: intelligence, talent, sensitivity. You are handsome, vigorous, physically able. But all this can be nullified or badly handicapped by the kind of stories – true, part true, quite false, whatever – that have been getting back to me here”.

Beatty has since called Kazan the man who gave him “the most important break in his career”.

Henry Hathaway with Dennis Hopper From Hell To Texas

The early stories of the late Dennis Hopper make for eye-popping reading, and that’s before you get to the tales of making Easy Rider. Hopper’s assorted addictions didn’t make him easy to work with at the best of times, and when he became friends with James Dean on the set of Rebel Without A Cause, it did nothing to deflate his ego.

All of this added up to trouble on the set of From Hell To Texas. Hathaway, who would go on to direct True Grit, described himself as old Hollywood, and Hopper as new Hollywood. “He figured he was the greatest young actor in the world when we made a picture together in 1958”, Hathaway recalled, describing Hopper instead as “a headstrong kid, full of dope and bullshit”.

Hathaway and Hopper didn’t get on, and when the former wasn’t happy with the way the latter was playing a particular scene, he just made him keep doing it. Hathaway ordered take after take, and Hopper wouldn’t deviate from his refusal to do it the way the director wanted it. No matter: Hathaway still kept going and going “from nine in the morning until ten at night”.

Eventually, Hopper relented, and did the scene as ordered. As soon as the film had wrapped, the studio released Hopper from his contract. It would take Easy Rider to put him back on the map.

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Norman Mailer and Rip TornMaidstone

A pretty forgettable 1970 movie, but one notable for the overspill of contempt between director and star. Rip Torn grew to dislike Mailer’s style on the movie, to the point where he eventually attacked the director with a hammer. Mailer didn’t mull for too long on how to deal with this, and bit Torn’s ear in response, before a fight ensued. Mailer didn’t waste this though: the fight took place before the cameras, and promptly made it into the final cut of the film. An unusual tactic, but at least you can say the physical film stock wasn’t wasted.

Here’s the fight scene, taken from the end of the movie…

Charles Shyer with Nick Nolte & Julia RobertsI Love Trouble

Try as we might, we still struggle to think of a more mismatched couple (and not in a good way) to head up a romantic comedy than Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte. It is no secret that the pair did not get on at all whilst making the film I Love Trouble, barely being able to stand each other’s company.

This presented a major problem for director Charles Shyer, aware of the need for some crucial on-screen chemistry to make his film work. A report from the Los Angeles Times back in 1994 suggested that Nolte and Roberts were also frustrated with Shyer, for his continued request to improvise on the same line.

Shyer seemed to realise he had an unwinnable battle on his hands though, and he was left making a film with a romantic core, where the two stars had to be shot separately wherever possible. That was the best tactic he had. The final cut of the film leaned more towards the comedy and the story of competing newspaper reporters than the romance, too. It is a project that, in truth, is best forgotten about.

Joel Schumacher with Val Kilmer Batman Forever

Val Kilmer in Batman Forever

It’s no secret that director Joel Schumacher had problems with his first Batman, Val Kilmer, on the set of Batman Forever. What’s not so often reported is that he’s since gone on record with his belief that Kilmer is the best big screen Batman to date. We don’t think he’s right, but it does show that Schumacher hasn’t just bad-mouthed his one-time leading man exclusively. He has said nice things too.

However, Batman Forever was a troubled set, and Schumacher apparently grew more and more frustrated with Kilmer’s behaviour. So he decided to act. After reportedly witnessing Kilmer treating people less than well on the set, Schumacher was said to have given Kilmer a pretty public bollocking, which led to the pair not speaking for a fortnight. Schumacher described this as “blissful”.

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It’s not the most productive tactic though, to berate your star in front of the rest of the cast and crew. But we suspect Mr Schumacher might just have been at the end of his tether.

Peter Hunt with George Lazenby On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Is this the only Bond that ever really liked women?

For an assortment of reasons, George Lazenby would only play James Bond 007 on the one occasion, when he took on the role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The film, now regarded as one of the best Bond adventures, wasn’t an easy production though, and Lazenby was at the heart of some of the problems. As the stories go, not only was Lazenby not really an actor, “it all went to his head”, as Hunt recalled in a recent interview (here).

Lazenby, for his part, has suggested he wasn’t really directed in the film, but Hunt refutes that as impossible. Furthermore, when up against things that his leading man struggled with, he had to deploy more extreme tactics. “One of the best things he ever did was when [Diana Rigg’s character is] shot. We got up there at eight in the morning, I insisted he was on set, I sat him in the car and made him rehearse and rehearse all day long, and I broke him down until he was absolutely exhausted, and by the time we shot it at five o’clock, he was exhausted, and that’s how I got the performance”, Hunt recalled, noted that “he thought that was me being unpleasant to him”.

Hunt maintains that had Sean Connery starred in the movie, it would be a very highly regarded film now. That notwithstanding though, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘s reputation is hardly shabby.

Andy Cadiff with Burt ReynoldsA Bunch Of Amateurs

Infamously firing his agent after wrapping on Boogie Nights, such was his dissatisfaction with Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie, the actor’s actions were rumoured to have cost him the Oscar he was nominated for after his work in the film. Reynolds is currently writing his memoirs, due for publication in 2015, and it’ll be interesting to read his take on some of the stories of his actions and behaviour over the years.

Take A Bunch Of Amateurs, a small project from director Andy Cadiff. Reynolds won few friends on set, apparently locking himself in his trailer, and not learning his lines. Cadiff had little choice on this one, it seems. Cue cards were made for Reynolds, but even then, he struggled with his lines. Furthermore, Cadiff had to coax Reynolds out of his trailer in order to complete his work. It did not sound like an entertaining shoot.

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A shame. It’s a decent, fun little movie this one. Cadiff has since gone on to TV movies, and a collection of high profile television shows too.

John Frankenheimer with Frank SinatraThe Manchurian Candidate

Frank Sinatra’s singing career, as well as his lifestyle, meant you’d be on the money if you described him more of a night owl. That, however, caused problems when it came to film shoots. Sinatra was notorious for failing to turn up for early morning calls, and also for disliking doing more than one take. John Frankenheimer, after casting Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate, decided to tackle both problems head on.

Following discussions with Sinatra, the pair agreed on a two week rehearsal period before shooting, to help minimise the number of takes once shooting started proper. A further rehearsal took place just before a shot itself.

Furthermore, Sinatra ultimately suggested to Frankenheimer that the schedule run more from noon until 8pm, rather than starting early in the morning. And that’s exactly what happened. The film would prove to be one of the best that either ever worked on, bereft of the problems that plagued other Sinatra film projects.

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