What Movie: "Dancer in the Dark" (2000)
What Went Down: Again perhaps an example of the trauma that can result when two unstable personalities are drawn to tell an extreme story, but within the frictiony, hierarchical relationship of actor/director. The tensions on the set of von Trier’s Palme d’or-winning ‘Dancer,’ partly due to von Trier’s notoriously merciless process and partly to Bjork’s inexperience as an actress, were magnified when Bjork disappeared for four days, and returned with a “manifesto” for von Trier that detailed her own absolute creative control over the music in the film. But the problems didn’t stop after that, with Bjork disagreeing so vehemently with Von trier’s methods that at one stage she apparently spat at him and later famously declared she’d never act again. Though it should be pointed out she only wanted to act in the first place because it was Lars von Trier -- and so the endless cycle of attraction/repulsion continues.
Choice Quote: “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. And hide the evidence.”-- Bjork on von Trier
“...we knew that her and her people would always win because they didn't care. They didn't give a shit...It was like dealing with terrorists.” -- von Trier on Bjork in GQ
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Like the film’s eventual reception we’re kind of polarized -- neither party comes out particularly well, so this is just one we have to chalk up to clashing temperaments with perhaps von Trier just shading it, because, for better or worse, he’s the director and ultimately, creative control should rest with him. But maybe that was just him “hiding the evidence”?
What Movie: "The Truth" (1960)
What Went Down: Somewhat overlooked in the pantheon of movie spats, perhaps because the film, despite its Oscar nomination and rapturous response at the time, has bizarrely kind of fallen off the radar, Bardot apparently had a very abrasive on-set relationship with Clouzot during the filming of “The Truth”. The director was well-known for not treating his actors with kid gloves, and for sometimes brutalizing them if they were required to act brutalized, but in this rather brilliant story of a woman accused of murder, he apparently went so far as to insist on Bardot drinking whisky and swallowing multiple tranquilizers to get the performance he wanted. Later, however, Bardot was to go on record stating that this was her favorite of all her films.
Choice Quote: “I don’t need amateurs in my films. I want an actress.” -- Clouzot to Bardot
"And I need a director, not a psychopath.” -- Bardot’s reply.
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Probably Bardot, although her saying later that this was her best performance suggests perhaps the end justified the means?
What Movie: "Tootsie" (1982)
What Went Down: The set of the 1982 comedy was apparently a fractious place, with director Pollack and star Hoffman constantly at loggerheads, either screaming at one another or stumping off to take time out in one trailer or another. But as with many instances here, time and perhaps the fine reputation the film subsequently earned, seems to have thawed the tension, with Pollack referring to it as a “respectful and friendly war” that raged, and also suggesting that he most often managed to get his way, despite the arguments. He also gave due props to Hoffman for championing the project all along, and also for casting suggestions, like that of Bill Murray for a role, and of Pollack himself for the agent part, that improved the finished product.
Choice Quote: “For whatever reason, I think Dustin feels that directors and actors are biological enemies, the way the mongoose and the cobra are enemies." -- Pollack to the NYT
“What's on the screen is the result of our discussions, our arguments, our fights. If I had not argued, I think the film would be fifty percent different. I'm not saying it would be worse or better, but it certainly would be much different.” -- Hoffman in an AFI interview
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Actually no one comes out looking particularly dastardly here, and both participants seem gracious and reasonable in retrospect, so we’re not going to call it one way or the other.
What Movie: "Hurry Sundown" (1967)/"Chinatown" (1974)
What Went Down: The relationship on the set of ham-fisted sharecropper tale “Hurry Sundown” between star Dunaway and director Preminger was strained from the outset with the director shouting at the star in public early on and confirming her opinion that he “didn’t know anything at all about the process of acting.” Dunaway disliked him so intensely, and ended with so little respect for his abilities, that she bought herself out of her contract to work with him again, at some cost. By contrast, she admired Polanski, but working on his masterpiece “Chinatown” they too had a fractious relationship, with Dunaway reportedly throwing a cup of her pee at Polanski after he refused her a bathroom break. I dunno, though, there’s just something so irresistible about the image of the patrician and consummately elegant Faye Dunaway throwing piss at someone that we’re kind of happy this happened.
Choice Quote: "Of all the movies I’ve worked on, of all the directors I’ve worked with, there are only two directors that I haven’t gotten along with — Otto Preminger and Roman Polanski.” -- Faye Dunaway
“Say the fucking words. Your salary is your motivation.” -- Roman Polanski
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Dunaway wins in the Preminger case purely for the strength of her convictions, but we have to say she may have forfeited her high moral ground with Polanski when she threw her urine at him.
What Movie: "Zodiac" (2007)
What Went Down: Known for his exacting, uncompromising approach, David Fincher didn’t so much clash with young star Jake Gyllelhaal on-set of the "Zodiac" as repeatedly crush him. Aside from wearing him out with exhausting repeated takes, with little new direction of where else he wanted the actor to take the scene, he’d sometimes say, within earshot “delete the last 10 takes.” If it was a deliberate ploy to manipulate Gyllenhaal into a dispirited and discouraged mood, it worked. “…as an actor that’s very hard to hear,” complained Gyllenhaal.
Choice Quote: “[Fincher] paints with people… it’s tough to be a color.” -- Gyllenhaal
"I hate earnestness in performance... usually by Take 17 the earnestness is gone." -- Fincher in the same NYT article
Who Came Out Looking Less Of A Dick: Fincher, oddly enough. In such an ensemble cast, packed with more experienced actors (and his relative inexperience is something Gyllehaal himself subsequently acknowledged), it’s hard not to read some degree of whininess into some of Gyllenhaal’s complaints. Here’s Robert Downey Jr’s jokey take on Fincher as a contrast: “I just decided, aside from several times I wanted to garrote him, that I was going to give him what he wanted. I think I’m a perfect person to work for him, because I understand gulags.”
Some other famous spats we've not had time/room for are, Kevin Smith vs. Bruce Willis on "Cop Out"; Stephen Norrington vs. Sean Connery on the unmitigated disaster that was "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"; Val Kilmer (again) this time being largely responsible for getting Richard Stanley fired from the even more terrible "The Island of Dr Moreau"; and Kilmer's 'Moreau' co-star Marlon Brando refusing to take Franz Oz's direction at all on "The Score," preferring, reportedly to talk solely to his co-stars Robert de Niro and Edward Norton. Classic Hollywood has its share too, and is perhaps worthy of its own list someday, and of course, no actor/director spat roundup would be complete without at least a mention of Kevin Reynolds vs. Kevin Costner on a certain notorious 1995 mega-budgeted flop, but with director and star back working together harmoniously and fruitfully, it seems on TV show "Hatfields & McCoys," it's now perhaps, water under the bridge.