10 Famous Directors With Notoriously Bad Character

6. Werner Herzog

Herzog is considered one of the greatest figures of the New German Cinema, along with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Margarethe von Trotta, Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Schröter, and Wim Wenders.

Herzog’s films often feature heroes with impossible dreams, people with unique talents in obscure fields, or individuals who are in conflict with nature. His conflict with literally everything could conduct to the opinion that is a miracle that he is still alive. Herzog has long had a habit of choosing to direct films that purposely require next to impossible and life-threatening shoots. The fact that he never seemed to consider his co-workers’ lives as a priority, contributes into a dangerous combination.

During the filming of Aguirre the Wrath of God (1972), he had the cast and crew live on rafts on Amazon River tributaries for five weeks, dodging life-threatening rapids and barely missing getting drowned in a massive flood.

In Fitzcarraldo (1982), he put the lives of hundreds of natives in danger by making them pull a 320-ton steamship up the side of a mountain. At any moment, the cables could have broken and killed the workers. At one point, his cast was even attacked by unfriendly locals from the neighboring forests.

Then there was the time that Herzog risked the lives of his entire crew (himself included) by filming a documentary on the side of a volcano that was ready to erupt at any minute. Included in the film is a scene where the crew is shown escaping from poisonous fumes leaking from the volcano. The end result, entitled La Soufrière (1977), was only thirty minutes long.

His madness doesn’t end with the shoots themselves. Herzog also tends to work with strange, eclectic, and difficult casts. Two of his greatest films, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) and Stroszek (1977), featured Bruno Schleinstein in the lead roles. Bruno, who went by the name of Bruno S., was a self-taught musician who had spent most of his life in mental institutions and had been a street performer before Herzog casted him.

His unfamiliarity with performing in front of the camera made shooting Bruno very difficult, sometimes requiring Herzog to “listen to” him for several hours on the set before he could work up the nerve to perform. But his most infamous partnership was that with Klaus Kinski. Known as being a raving madman, the five films that Herzog made with Kinski can all be considered miracles for having been made at all.

As shown in Herzog’s My Best Fiend (1999), a documentary detailing their relationship, they were constantly at each others’ throats while on set. During the shooting of Fitzcarraldo, Kinski became so out-of-control that the local natives offered to kill him for Herzog. Despite their tumultuous relationship, they considered each other close friends.


7. James Cameron

James Cameron has found critical acclaim for his films Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), True Lies (1994) and Titanic (1997), which earned him Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing. Cameron’s Titanic and Avatar (2009) are the two highest-grossing films of all time at $2.19 billion and $2.78 billion respectively. Cameron also holds the achievement of having directed two of the three films in history to gross over $2 billion worldwide and that says something.

Also known for telling people who wanted to talk with him on set to “take a number”, Cameron has a reputation for pushing his cast and crew to their boundaries. He’s commonly known as ‘Iron Jim’ for his bossy attitude. James Cameron will take the camera when the camera operator gets too scared to shoot while dangling out of a moving helicopter.

Problem is, the director expects everyone else to follow in his mad footsteps; Linda Hamilton, one of Cameron’s many former wives, was put on a year-long diet by Cameron to prepare for her role in Terminator 2, and was made to train with a former Mossad agent. She has since called the director a “controlling jerk” that fails to treat actors like humans on set.

It’s something Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio would know about -the actress suffering a breakdown while filming The Abyss (1989) (Cameron in one underwater scene wouldn’t allow Mastrantonio a toilet break, and told her to relieve herself in her wetsuit instead). Ed Harris was also one that was led to tears after almost drowning in one Abyss scene.

That Cameron’s egomania means he must be constantly pushing cinematic boundaries in a bid to prove his prowess doesn’t make things easy -Rebecca Keegan, author of The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron, writes that “nothing interests this man unless it’s hard to do”, and that Cameron tests his crew with “long hours, hard tasks and harsh criticism.” Apparently, Cameron doesn’t like to see tans on set – crew members are expected to work from dark early morning till the dark of night.


8. Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson is known apart from his commercially successful action hero roles, for his remarkable directing. Winning the Oscar for Best Bicture and Best Directing for Braveheart (1995), directing the controversial but financially successful The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Apocalypto (2006) and making a come-back with an Best Director Oscar nomination for Hacksaw Ridge (2016) definitely makes him an important filmmaker of our times.

On the other hand, Gibson is notorious for his statements and often legally charged for many actions during his life. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) accused Gibson of homophobia after a December 1991 interview in the Spanish newspaper El País in which he made derogatory comments about homosexuals.

Gibson later defended his comments and rejected calls to apologize even as he faced fresh accusations of homophobia in the wake of his film Braveheart. In 1999 when asked about the comments to El País, Gibson said, “I shouldn’t have said it, but I was tickling a bit of vodka during that interview, and the quote came back to bite me on the ass.”

He has said that he started drinking at the age of 13, a fact which could be said that would affect his life in a big degree. On August 17, 2006, Gibson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor drunken-driving charge and was sentenced to three years probation.

He was ordered to attend self-help meetings five times a week for four and a half months and three times a week for the remainder of the first year of his probation. He was also ordered to attend a First Offenders Program, was fined $1,300, and his license was restricted for 90 days. At a May 2007 progress hearing, Gibson was praised for his compliance with the terms of his probation and his extensive participation in a self-help program beyond what was required.

On July 28, 2006, Gibson was arrested by a deputy James Mee of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for driving under the influence (DUI) while speeding in his vehicle with an open container of alcohol, which is illegal in California.

According to a 2011 article in Vanity Fair, Gibson first told the arresting officer, “My life is over. I’m fucked. Robyn’s going to leave me”. According to the arrest report, Gibson exploded into an angry tirade when the arresting officer would not allow him to drive home. Gibson climaxed with the words, “Fucking Jews… the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?” The arresting Sheriff’s Deputy, James Mee, was Jewish.

After the arrest report was leaked on TMZ.com, Gibson issued two apologies through his publicist and—in a televised interview with Diane Sawyer—he affirmed the accuracy of the quotations. He further apologized for his “despicable” behaviour, saying that the comments were “blurted out in a moment of insanity” and asked to meet with Jewish leaders to help him “discern the appropriate path for healing.” After Gibson’s arrest, his publicist said he had entered a recovery program to battle alcoholism.

In July 2010, Gibson had been recorded during a phone call with Oksana Grigorieva suggesting that if she got “raped by a pack of niggers” she would be to blame. Gibson was barred from coming near Grigorieva or their daughter due to a domestic violence-related restraining order. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department launched a domestic violence investigation against Gibson, later dropped when Gibson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge.

Gibson’s controversial statements resulted in him being blacklisted in Hollywood for almost a decade. The question that pops is: can a person really change?


9. Alfred Hitchcock

He has been the true master of suspense. He framed shots to maximise anxiety, fear, or empathy and used innovative forms of film editing. Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature films in a career spanning six decades and is often regarded as one of the most influential directors in cinematic history. His flair was for narrative, cruelly withholding crucial information (from his characters and from the audience) and engaging the emotions of the audience like no one else. However, it seems that a really disturbed nature was hiding behind his genius.

During production for The 39 Steps (1935), he handcuffed leading actors Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll together and pretended to lose the key. He also made sure to film Donat doing plenty of unnecessary torture to Carroll to help “loosen her up” for the role, including dragging her around in handcuffs and pushing her through a stream.

More importantly Hitchcock‘s treatment of his female cast members is so notorious that a 2012 film, The Girl, documents some of the director’s most inappropriate sexual advances toward Tippi Hedren during The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964). Not only did he obsess over Hedren romantically, but he tortured her on-screen by literally throwing live, angry birds at her to create a realistic effect.

When she resisted his advances, he tanked her acting career by keeping her under contract for five years with no films. Hedren wasn’t the only woman whom Hitchcock traumatized during filming. Curiously, all of Hitchcock’s male stars described the director as being quite pleasant to work with.


10. Roman Polanski

He is considered one of the few “truly international filmmakers”. He has received five Oscar nominations, along with two BAFTAs, four Césars, a Golden Globe Award and the Palme d’Or of the Cannes Film Festival in France. Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974) and The Pianist (2002) are just some of the remarkable films he has created.

In 1969, Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Manson Family while staying at Polanski’s Benedict Canyon, California home. Following Tate’s death, Polanski returned to Europe and spent much of his time in Paris and Gstaad, but did not direct another film until Macbeth (1971) in England. This horrible event scarred him irretrievably and it’s possible that it is the main reason Polanski tended to leave his artistic personality being dictated by an untreated mental disorder.

During filming of Chinatown, Polanski would scream at star Faye Dunaway, “say the f—ing words” and even plucked hairs out of her head if they were astray. He’s also famously known for not permitting his actors to take bathroom breaks during the filming of scenes. Dunaway got so frustrated by his policy, that it is rumoured she filled a coffee cup full of urine and threw it at him in between scenes.

However Polanski’s character has been a lot worse than just bad idiosyncrasy. In 1977, after a photo shoot in Los Angeles, Polanski was arrested for the rape of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer and pleaded guilty to the charge of statutory rape.

He was released from prison after serving 42 days and was told that the prosecutors had agreed to ask for him to be put on probation. When he learned that the judge planned to reject the plea bargain, he fled to Paris before sentencing. He publicly offered his apology to Geimer, telling her that he regretted the episode.

In September 2009, he was arrested by Swiss police and later released after Swiss authorities denied a U.S. request for his extradition. In October 2015, after another request for extradition, a judge in Poland refused the request. Geimer herself supported the Polish decision, adding, “He said he did it, he pled guilty, he went to jail. I don’t know what people want from him.”

Author Bio: Alexandros Rellos is currently a film student in Greece. He has written and directed three short films and dreams that one day cinema will respond to his hopeless love.