In her widely read textbook Respect for Acting, Uta Hagen writes “To rebel or revolt against the status quo is in the very nature of an artist.” Little wonder then that many of the most thrilling performers to watch have been at times labeled as being “difficult to work with,” for butting heads with directors or other actors on the sets of film and TV shows. But whether over working conditions, creative differences or personal issues, some actors have become at least as well known for being impossible to please as for their actual acting ability.
Modern actors have to contend with today’s technology — gossip websites, on-set meltdowns being caught on cellphones and leaked to the internet at large, etc. — but ever since the days of Louella Parsons, news outlets have realized the deep fascination the public holds for tales of Hollywood stars behaving badly, or even just griping about their jobs.
Considering how common these stories have been throughout the history of Hollywood, the following performers had to achieve great distinction in difficult behavior to make this list of 15 Actors Who Are Legendary For Complaining On Set.
15. Christian Bale
At this point, we’re closer to the sci-fi setting of 2009’s Terminator Salvation than its original release date, and it’s probably safe to say that the most memorable thing about the film never showed up on the screen. Christian Bale’s “expletive-laden rant” on the set of the film was recorded and leaked online, where it’s been viewed by more than 3.8 million YouTube users and even given a dance remix.
Bale publicly apologized for his “inexcusable” outburst aimed at Salvation‘s director of photography, who had the misfortune of being deemed a distraction by the actor during an intense day of filming, an offense for which Bale originally demanded the DP be fired. Following the leak, Bale told a radio interviewer that the intensity of his anger came from getting into the character of John Connor who, at this point in the Terminator timeline, is pretty on-edge about the whole all-out-warfare-against-killer-robots thing.
14. Megan Fox
Many critics and filmgoers alike have complained about Michael Bay’s film adaptations of the Transformers franchise, and the director remains a divisive figure among cinephiles, but Fox went further than most critics when she made international headlines for comparing Bay to a fascist dictator. “He wants to be like Hitler on his sets,” Fox said of Bay’s directorial style in an interview with the UK magazine Wonderland published a few months after the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the second film in the franchise.
As a result, executive producer Steven Spielberg — whose hatred of Nazis is pretty well-documented — insisted on Fox being fired from the next entry in the series, Dark of the Moon, leading to a false rumor that her character Mikaela Banes was going to be killed off. In a GQ interview, Bay offered an explanation for why he thought Fox described him as a “nightmare to work for,” telling the men’s magazine “Megan loves to get a response. And she does it in kind of the wrong way. 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.”
13. Russell Crowe
Crowe took home the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the titular warrior in 2000’s Gladiator, but the actor was reportedly miserable during the actual filming, repeatedly insulting the script and threatening to walk off the set, only to be coaxed back by director Ridley Scott. Following the filming of Maximus’s fiery “in this life or the next” speech, Crowe was the only one on set not pleased with the results. Scott asked “Russell, what’s the problem?” and Crowe reportedly responded, “It was sh**.” “But,” he went on to console himself, “I’m the greatest actor in the world and I can make even sh** sound good.”
Even more disturbing are allegations that Crowe, angry over perceived mistreatment of his assistants, placed a threatening 3 AM phone call to producer Branko Lustig’s home. According to Nicole LaPorte’s The Men Who Would Be King, a book about the history of the DreamWorks studio, Crowe reportedly told the elderly Holocaust survivor “I will kill you with my bare hands.” In response to the accusation, Crowe called the book a “waste of paper” and LaPorte “a lying horse’s ass.” We’re glad Crowe seems to have softened up a bit in recent years.
12. Gene Hackman
In another case of an actor turning in an award-winning performance in a film he apparently hated working on, Hackman’s AFI and Golden Globe-garnering turn as the prodigal patriarch in Wes Anderson‘s The Royal Tenenbaums was apparently delivered under duress. According to the director, who says he always pictured Hackman in the role, “It was written for him against his wishes.”
In an interview with some of the cast (minus Hackman) following a 10-year anniversary screening, costar Anjelica Huston recalled being “a lot scared” of Hackman, mostly on behalf of Anderson, whom she recalled Hackman telling to “pull up your pants and act like a man.” Eventually, Anderson says he looked to Bill Murray for protection from Hackman. According to Anderson, the actor was particularly annoyed that the film’s limited budget required him to work for scale, but his agent eventually convinced him to take the role. “He was sort of forced to do the movie” Anderson recalls. “I just kept bothering him. I wore him down.” Hackman announced his retirement from the film industry in 2004, making just three more films after Tenenbaums.
11. Bruce Willis
More recent squabbles with Sylvester Stallone (in which the Italian Stallion accused the once and future John McClane of being “greedy and lazy“) and Kevin Smith (in which the director called Willis “undirectable,” “the meanest emo b**** ever,” and compared him to a Dementor from Harry Potter) have captivated modern gawkers, but the actor has reportedly been at the center of conflict since his breakthrough role on TV’s Moonlighting, where producer Jay Daniel said turmoil between Willis and co-star Cybill Shepherd “made the set a very unpleasant place to be.” Ol’ Bruno earns a special spot on this list, however, for taking his complaints into a court of law.
Citing “extreme mental, physical, and emotional pain and suffering” as a result of being hit in the forehead by a projectile during a pyrotechnic mishap on the set of Tears of Sun, Willis filed a lawsuit against Revolution Studios in 2004. Yikes. At least it was all in the service of a movie Village Voice‘s Michael Atkinson calls “a trial by cliche.”
10. Marilyn Monroe
The actress formerly known as Norma Jeane Baker has been widely misquoted as saying “if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best,” but her directors and costars have frequently been quoted describing just exactly what Monroe’s worst was. Richard Widmark, her co-star in 1952’s Don’t Bother to Knock, said she would hide in her dressing room for hours at a time. “I liked Marilyn,” he recalled, “but she was God-awful to work with. Impossible, really.”
While working on 1954’s River of No Return (a film which Monroe ultimately described as “a grade-Z cowboy movie,” the actress suffered a fall and insisted she had a broken leg, though doctors reported finding no sign of a fracture. Director Otto Preminger said, “Directing her was like directing Lassie.”
Billy Wilder, who worked with her in The Seven-Year Itch and Some Like It Hot, said she would silence him when he tried to give her directions, warning he was going to make her forget how she planned to perform the scene — not an idle threat, mind you, considering she reportedly took up to 83 takes to complete a single line reading.
9. Orson Welles
“Welles behaved more or less badly on virtually every film he did not direct,” biographer Simon Callow writes of the legendary figure, “As much as possible, he took over any film in which he acted.” For that matter, most of the films he directed following his 1941 debut, Citizen Kane, didn’t fare much better, with Welles often either abandoning the project before its completion or having control taken away by the studio during post-production. Welles, however, distinguishes himself on this list of rabble-rousers not for his considerable cinematic work, but for doing voiceover work on a commercial for frozen peas.
After making Kane, which routinely tops lists of the greatest films of all time, at the age of 26 only to watch it struggle at the box office when William Randolph Hearst (a not-coincidentally Kane-like newspaper magnate) launched a large-scale attack on the film, Welles was reportedly bitter about having to earn “grocery money“ later in life by appearing in commercials. That may explain his utter disdain for the seemingly benign”frozen pea” copy, but starring in a bootleg studio outtake obscene and having it be absurd enough to go viral years before the internet is a pretty impressive feat in and of itself. Just ask Casey Kasem.
8. William Shatner
Also featured in more than one viral rant and a bizarre audio outtake in which he mangles the pronunciation of the word “sabotage“ beyond all understanding, Shatner, too, seems to become more cantankerous as he gets older. But outtakes from the original Star Trek TV series seem to indicate he wasn’t exactly easy to direct in the first place. “I am doing this shot under protest,” he informs the camera at one point before beginning another take. Another blooper shows him complaining about the time he spent in makeup and cursing the fact that he has to do it all again tomorrow. In yet another, he’s getting laughs by holding an onscreen kiss with a co-star for an uncomfortably long time.
Former Enterprise crewmate George Takei, who complains that Shatner would often pretend not to know him on set, told the New York Times, “It’s difficult working with someone who is not a team player. … and he likes to have the camera on him all the time.”
7. Val Kilmer
Years removed from the intense on-set conflicts that inspired Entertainment Weekly to dub him “Psycho Kilmer” in the mid-’90s, everybody’s favorite wingman told an audience at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, “Now that I’m older I really regret some of the times where I had strong opinions. … Now that I understand how hard it is to make movies I wouldn’t do that again.” Speaking of strong opinions, Batman Forever director Joel Schumacher called Kilmer “childish and impossible” and even “psychologically troubled,” but, to be fair, many people said the same about Schumacher’s Kilmer-less follow-up Batman & Robin.
Kilmer also earns the dubious distinction of having two separate directors publicly badmouth his performance on the same movie. After four years of planning and just three days on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau — days spent in nearly constant arguments with Kilmer, who wanted to switch roles — original director Richard Stanley was fired. Replacement John Frankenheimer didn’t seem to fare much better. “Even if I was directing a film called The Life of Val Kilmer,” he reportedly said, “I wouldn’t have that prick in it.”
6. Marlon Brando
Perhaps not surprisingly, co-stars Kilmer and Brando also clashed on the set of Moreau, but Brando had more than three decades of troublemaking experience under his belt at that point. In 1962, The Saturday Evening Post said, “of all the troublesome actors, none was more difficult or demanding than Marlon Brando.” Mutiny on the Bounty director Lewis Milestone said the actor was “argumentative, uncooperative, and easily offended“, and accused Brando of putting in ear plugs so he wouldn’t have to listen to Milestone’s direction or the other actors on set.
The man who Jack Nicholson called “my idol all of my professional life” was also infamous for refusing to memorize his lines, forcing director Francis Ford Coppola to put them on cue cards and even a billboard for The Godfather. The visionary filmmaker even reportedly had to halt production on Apocalypse Now for a week while he read Brando the script out loud. Rumors that the actor refused to wear pants on the set of The Score have been refuted, but evidence that he insisted on wearing an ice bucket for a hat in Moreau is captured in the film. Brando explained “I was just so bored, I didn’t know what else to do.”
5. Lea Michele
In an effort to explain her infamous on-set behavior, Glee star Michele once told an interviewer “I came from the theater world, where the word ‘diva’ was awesome, but it’s different in Los Angeles.” Apparently, in Tinseltown, many people — reportedly including Kate Hudson (who’s said to have called working with Michele a “nightmare“) and most definitely co-star Naya Rivera (who relates several unflattering anecdotes about Michele in her aptly titled book, Sorry Not Sorry) — were put off by Michele’s alleged antics. Though both Rivera and Michele have categorized rumors of their feuding to be overblown, Rivera’s book says the two didn’t speak to each other for all of season six.
Reportedly, after a technical delay, Michele “snapped her fingers and said, ‘Let’s go. I have plans!’” and during the filming of a food-fight scene, the actress is said to have freaked out at the thought of being hit with the spaghetti and meatballs, requiring producers to tell everyone to only throw salad at her, under penalty of being kicked off set.
4. Lindsay Lohan
Obscenity-laced on-set tirade leaked to the press? Check. Criticizing the working methods of other cast and crew while reportedly all but derailing a production with erratic, unprofessional behavior ranging from tardiness to drinking to missing her mark to just flat out disappearing? Check. During the making of The Canyons, Lohan seems to have engaged in most of the “difficult” behavior some of the other actors on this list took entire careers to pull off, but Lohan upped the ante by taking her much-tabloided “tantrums” from the set to the streets, and even into Russia.
Canyons director Paul Schrader, when not calling himself a “hostage” to Lohan’s “unspeakable” behavior, compared the actress to Marilyn Monroe, but with “more natural acting talent.” Oprah Winfrey, confronting Lohan about the numerous difficulties in filming the OWN reality show Lindsay, was more direct. “You need to cut the bulls***,” Winfrey told her.
3. Chevy Chase
Megan Fox’s character is still alive in the Transformers universe, but Chevy Chase’s antics, on-set and off, while working on Community were apparently annoying enough to convince its showrunners to give his character Pierce, the death penalty, a la Colonel Henry Blake on MASH. Chase’s offenses included: walking off set before shooting a pivotal moment for the character, repeatedly telling both the press and his fellow co-stars that the show isn’t funny, using a racial slur to make a point during filming and leaving show creator Dan Harmon an obscenity-filled voicemail that, of course, was leaked online.
Chase — who called sitcoms in general the “lowest form of television” — previously became the first former Saturday Night Live cast member to be banned from hosting the show, reportedly for slapping Cheri Oteri on the back of the head. Maybe that explains why his Friars Club Roast was noted for including so few of his actual peers and being exceptionally hateful in tone, “Even by roast standards.”
2. Katherine Heigl
Several of the actors on this list have incited executive ire by complaining to the press about the poor quality of a project they were involved with — as Heigl did when she criticized 2007’s Knocked Up being “a little sexist” and portraying “women as shrews” — and Marlon Brando infamously snubbed the Oscars in 1973 by refusing to accept the award for best actor for his role in The Godfather in protest of the way Hollywood portrays Native Americans. Heigl, however, may have found a new way to piss off producers when she withdrew her name from Emmy consideration for her work on Grey’s Anatomy because she said the material writers gave her didn’t merit a nomination.
Heigl later apologized and said she wished she had “shut up.” After these widely reported instances inspired many to label her as “difficult,” Heigl told an interviewer that she felt like her career was “betraying” her.
1. Alec Baldwin
While working on NBC’s 30 Rock, the actor wasn’t shy about criticizing everything from the “anemic” writing to the network’s lack of promotion of the show, calling it “the red-headed stepchild in the lineup.” During the production of a stage play in New York, Baldwin reportedly got so angry about the theater’s broken air conditioning that he punched a wall, causing a co-star to quit, citing concerns for her “physical safety.” In response, Baldwin accused her of working for his “ex-wife’s divorce lawyer.”
Offstage, he’s gone on Twitter to take down a Starbucks barista for a perceived “attitude problem,” and American Airlines for not allowing him to play Words With Friends on a flight. While many of the stars on this list have had their profanity-filled meltdowns leaked to the internet, Baldwin’s might deserve special attention because of the target: his daughter, who was 11 years old at the time. Baldwin, upset at her for not answering her phone, left her a voicemail calling her “a rude, thoughtless pig.” But eight years later, the two posed for an Instagram photo mocking the whole thing.
What other well-known actors are notorious for being difficult on set? Do you think the actors we mentioned have a bad rep? Let us know in the comments.
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