10 Times Directors Were Total Jerks To Their Actors

6. Stanley Kubrick – on the set of The Shining

Stanley Kubrick was born in 1928 in Manhattan. He is often cited as one of the greatest film directors of all time and his films are seen as iconic. After working as a photographer, Kubrick began making low budget short films before he made his first Hollywood film, The Killing, in 1956.

In 1980, Kubrick made The Shining. Although responses at the time were mixed, The Shining has gone on to be widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made. The Shining had a long and difficult production period and principal photography took over a year. This overrun in schedule was due to Kubrick’s meticulous methods and certain scenes being filmed again and again until the actors were in tears. The Shining currently holds the world record for the most takes of a scene – the famous baseball confrontation took one hundred and twenty-seven takes.

Kubrick’s methods were particularly brutal for actress Shelley Duvall. Duvall and Kubrick did not get along and they frequently argued. Kubrick would often put intense pressure on Duvall and would tell her that she was worthless and wasting everyone’s time. The constant retakes left Duvall physically ill, she would collapse in exhaustion between takes and her hair starting falling out. Duvall said of the process, “Going through day after day of excruciating work was almost unbearable.

Jack Nicholson’s character had to be crazy and angry all the time. And in my character I had to cry twelve hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week.” Nicholson also found the process frustrating. The script was changed so often, that eventually he started throwing it away and learning his lines moments before filming.


7. Alfred Hitchcock – on the set of The Birds


Sir Alfred Hitchcock was an English film director who is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of cinema. Hitchcock started his career in the film industry as a title card designer, before his directorial debut in 1925 with The Pleasure Garden.

Hitchcock’s attitude towards his actors was often that of indifference, his remark “actors should be treated like cattle” became well-known. His relationship with his female actors was frequently the subject of controversy and Hitchcock would often become obsessed with his leading ladies.

In his career, there are many recorded instances of Hitchcock abusing his actors and behaving badly. For example, on the set of The 39 Steps, Hitchcock would leave Madeline Carroll handcuffed to her co-star for hours, claiming to have lost the key, which caused bruising.

1963 film The Birds was released to critical acclaim, but star Tippi Hedren made a number of claims against Hitchcock and his behaviour on set. She called him a “mean, mean man” and said that he would sexually assault her and other actresses on set. If they didn’t abide, then he would threaten to crush their careers.

Like many of his other leads, Hitchcock developed an obsession with Hedren. After she rejected some of his advances, he punished her by having live birds attached to her in one scene instead of the mechanical ones. This resulted in her being hospitalised. Hitchcock also drew up a contract between him and Hedren that requested that Hedren be sexually available to him. The contract also allowed him to turn down numerous film roles on her behalf as per the terms of the contract. An act which had ramifications on her career.


8. James Cameron – on the set of The Abyss

The Abyss

James Cameron is a Canadian director and is the director of a number of hugely successful films. His 2009 film Avatar, which was ten years in the making, broke records for the highest grossing film of all time. And Cameron holds the distinction of having directed two of the four films in history that have grossed over two billion at the worldwide box office – Titanic and Avatar.

1989 film The Abyss was well received and was nominated for four Academy Awards and won Best Visual Effects. However the shoot for the film was so tortuous that many of the cast have refused to talk about their experiences. Actor Ed Harris has since said “I’m not talking about The Abyss and I never will.” Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio also said “The Abyss was a lot of things. Fun was not one of them.”

The shoot is often described as one of the toughest in Hollywood history. The film was shot almost entirely in a huge containment tank and the cast and crew had six day, seventy hour weeks. Cameron refused to let stunt actors stand in for any of the actors, so the cast was often physically and emotionally exhausted. Mastrantonio suffered a breakdown on set and Harris recalls bursting into spontaneous sobbing.

The relentlessly slow pace of filming became psychological torment for the actors. At one point Cameron stopped allowing bathroom breaks, telling actors to relieve themselves in their wetsuits. Mastrantonio resorted to yelling at Cameron, “We are not animals!”

Harris also became irate with Cameron when he learnt that, after a malfunction in his suit which resulted in Harris almost drowning, Cameron had carried on filming. Subsequently, some of the actors refused to promote the film when it was released. They eventually relented, but even Cameron was marred by the whole experience, saying he “would never do it again.”


9. David O. Russell – on the set of I Heart Huckabees

I Heart Huckabees

David O. Russell is an American director who was born in New York. He started out as a writer before making his first documentary short. He then went on to write and direct his first feature film which was Spanking the Monkey. The film received critical acclaim.

Russell has a history of alleged abusive behaviour which spans many years and many sets. Even Hollywood nice guy George Clooney has gotten into a fight with the director, after Clooney admonished Russell for treating people badly on the set of Three Kings, Russell head-butted Clooney. In fact even Christian Bale called out Russell for acting “like an a**hole” during the filming of American Hustle. And if Christian Bale calls you out for acting badly, then you really must be acting badly.

2004’s I Heart Huckabees was a box office bomb, but it is Russell’s tyrannical behaviour that is most associated with the film. Before filming had even begun, Russell put director Christopher Nolan in a headlock and refused to let him go until he agreed to release his then star of The Prestige, Jude Law, so that Law could instead lead Russell’s I Heart Huckabees.

Russell was also known to frequently storm off set, and he had a huge on set tantrum where he exchanged vicious insults with I Heart Huckabees star Lily Tomlin. The video of him screaming at her was leaked on to YouTube. Although Tomlin doesn’t hold a grudge against Russell and claims that she would work with him again, Russell continues to behave in an abusive way that has seen dozens of articles call out his behaviour.


10. Francis Ford Coppola – on the set of Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now movie

Francis Ford Coppola graduated with a degree in drama before undertaking graduate work at UCLA in filmmaking. He is perhaps best known for his 1972 film The Godfather which revolutionised the gangster genre and became one of the highest grossing films of all time. But he is also well-known for his erratic and controversial personality.

Apocalypse Now was a critical and commercial success – it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Picture at The Academy Awards. The film is often cited as one of the greatest war films of all time, but it has become just as famous for its troubled production – which was chronicled in the documentary film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.

The production of Apocalypse Now was plagued from the beginning. Principal photography started with Harvey Keitel, who was soon fired after Coppola decided that he didn’t like Keitel’s take on the character. Martin Sheen was hired to replace him and Coppola really put him through the ringer. In one of the opening scenes, Sheen is seen punching a mirror and rubbing blood on his face in a drunken stupor.

This scene was predominantly real and due to the way Coppola had psychologically manipulated the actor. As well as repeatedly verbally abusing Sheen, Coppola also kept Sheen drunk and locked him in the hotel for two days. Eventually Sheen was driven to an early heart attack, although Coppola told the studio that it was just heat exhaustion.

Sheen wasn’t the only person who suffered. The shoot in the jungle was hellish and many of the crew caught various illnesses. The prop department ended up using actual dead bodies in one of the scenes. And some of the cast went on crazed drug binges; Dennis Hopper was basically paid in cocaine and alcohol.

Coppola himself went slightly mad on the shoot. He went fifteen million pounds over budget and he took after a year to finish principal photography – amassing a record of over one million feet of footage. He had one of the biggest on set tantrums of all time and was fraught with stress the entire time. By the end of the shoot, Coppola had lost one hundred pounds of weight, had an epileptic seizure and had attempted suicide six times.