Casting is a process for selecting individuals will work best with a certain director and film crew. Actors know that they are being observed and appreciated. That’s what a filmmaker gives them. And if a director thinks they are doing something wrong, they shouldn’t hesitate to point them in the right direction. The filmmaker is the orchestrator, the maestro. But this does not mean that they have a carte blanche to humiliate or to embarass actors.
On the other hand, some filmmakers envisage people the way a lion perceives a gazelle. They focus exclusively on the art they are creating. They can devise extreme situations in the name of art. They want to elicit a certain reaction from their actors, and they don’t care about anything else. It is almost like a male brain works during sex. It’s the fixed idea or in, other words, they are driven by the release of energy their action/film will produce. Something like the sperm running after the egg in the womb.
Below there is a list of 10 non-consensual and humiliating treatments on film set. Not coincidentally all the 10 filmmakers on the list are male.
1. Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo (Herzog, 1982)
Probably the most known case of yelling on set. It is all documented in My Best Fiend (Herzog, 1999). The tumultuous and yet productive relationship between Kinski and Herzog was a long-time collaboration that can be seen in films such as Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu, the Vampyre (1979) and Cobra Verde (1987). In Fitzcarraldo, though, Herzog seems to have impersonated the madness of his character, for he was very stubborn on set. Everyone associated with the film was marked, or scarred, by the experience in the jungle. Herzog didn’t want any special effects and he risked Kinski’s life in the boat sequences. Kinski was so angry that one of the native chiefs offered to kill him, but Herzog declined, saying he needed the actor to finish the film. The result is a masterpiece.
2. Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren in The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963)
Blondes were Hitchcock’s favourite victims, frosty and aloof with a hidden fiery capable of winning the sympathy of the audience, according to the director, better than a brunette. The bird’s increasingly violent behaviour goes along with Melanie’s (Hedren; also pictured at the top) growing desperation. She wears the same green suit in the whole film, only to be destroyed at the final bird attack in the attic. Hitchcock’s storyboards included real birds, but of course they would not obey his exact directions of movements on set, particularly considering the fog in Bodega Bay. So he had to add some mechanical birds. On the script, Hedren understood they would be all mechanical creatures, but just before they started the scene, the assistant director said they would include real birds. Hitchcock stated: “The birds are the stars”. Hedren felt betrayed and said that everyone lied to her. The outcome is surely an unforgettable piece of art. Years later, Spielberg made Jaws, another film in which animals attack humans. Can you imagine if Spielberg used real sharks?
3. Adrian Lyne and Kim Basinger in 9 1/2 Weeks (Lyne, 1986)
Lyne isolated Basinger from the rest of the crew, spreading rumours and lies in order to create an atmosphere of mental breakdown for her. On the set, Lyne spoke only to Mickey Rourke, who was trained to ignore the actress and also to provoke her. The film pushed Kim Basinger to the edge, but it also helped to define her career. Miss Basinger said afterwards that it was a traumatic experience that even created some problems for a while in her marriage to Ron Britton.
4. Ken Loach and the boys in Kes (Loach, 1969)
In Versus, The Life and Films of Ken Loach (Louise Osmond, 2016) Loach confesses he caned for real the boys’ hands without their prior knowledge and consent in a school scene. The sweet and gentle British filmmaker decided for the use of real violence in order to achieve realism. David Bradley, who played Billy Casper, declares: “I just couldn’t believe these nice people [actors] could be so cruel” . He speaks with great affection about the film and Loach, but he can’t watch the last 20 minutes whenever there is a public screening he attends. It is just too real for him.
5. Stanley Kubrick and Shelley Duvall in The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)
Kubrick’s perfectionism affected his actors to a high degree. Shelley Duvall described working for Kubrick as “almost unbearable”. While filming The Shining, Kubrick pushed the actress to her limits and required an absurd amount of takes for every shot. For example, the scene where Wendy runs up the staircase carrying a knife was shot 35 times. During rehearsals, she had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week. Duvall was under so much stress while filming that she eventually became ill and started to lose her hair. Currently, Kubrick’s daughter is raising funds to aid ill actress Shelley Duvall. There is a GoFundMe page for Duvall.
6. Lars von Trier and Björk in Dancer in the Dark (Von Trier, 2000)
Dancer in the Dark is not like any other movie. Some people love it; others despise it. It is a musical but at the same time it is a silent melodrama. A new territory for the almost-always-happy-end-musicals. Björk wrote that she was extremely upset by the way Von Trier treats women with whom he is working and decided at that time she wouldn’t ever make another movie – she made up her mind later, appearing in many videos with her former husband Matthew Barney. For the filmmaker there is a need for secrecy in art: “It’s about making yourself more mystical, and more fantastic, and making other people the opposite.”
7. Roman Polanski and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown (Polanski, 1974)
According to Peter Biskind in “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”, “Polanski once forcibly plucked a stray hair from Dunaway’s head, because he thought it was catching the light and spoiling his shot. He also claims that Dunaway later took her revenge by throwing a cup of urine in the director’s face after she was refused a bathroom break.” Polanski was in a dark stage of his life – it was his first time in L.A since the murder of his wife Sharon Tate four years earlier – and during the pre-production he argued with the scriptwriter Robert Towne every day. The feature is considered a masterpiece of neo-noir.
8. David Fincher and Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac (Fincher, 2007)
Likewise Kubrick, Fincher is another perfectionist who has driven crew members and actors to the brink of despair. During the filming of Zodiac, many scenes required in excess of 70 takes. This caused particular stress for Jake Gyllenhaal. In response to his protests, Fincher took advantage of filming on digital by purposefully deleting hours of takes in front of the actor to show him who was in charge. Fincher later conceded that he might have been a little tough on his sensitive star, and Gyllenhaal declared: “I wish I could’ve had the maturity to be like: ‘I know what he wants. He wants the best out of me’. ” Was it worthy? The audience score at Rotten Tomatoes is 77% liked it.
9. Abdellatif Kechiche and Léa Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
The film pushed the boundaries of what is allowed in mainstream cinema by drawing a subtle line between porn and sexyness. At Cannes, after they won the Palm d’Or, Seydoux stated: “You can’t judge sex between two people when it’s so organic. There are so many different ways to have sex, so I think it’s not really fair [because what] is disturbing and disgusting is also exciting. The movie’s so rich, why people focus on the sex I don’t understand.” It was not easy, though, to achieve that outcome. Talking about filming the sex scenes, the longest of which was filmed over 10 gruelling days, Seydoux said: “It was sometimes embarrassing and sometimes illuminating, surrounded by three cameras in a very small room. Sometimes you could spend like five hours on a scene. I felt like a prostitute”.
10. Wes Anderson and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
For the last name on the list, we decided to turn things around. Here the hunter gets captured by the game!
There is a curious case, in which an actor scared the filmmaker and other members of the cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Anjelica Huston. The part of Royal Tenenbaum was specifically written for Hackman, something that the actor vehemently opposes. The feature was a small budget film, so Hackman was paid significantly less than usual. On set, Hackman once called Anderson a “cunt” and told the director to “pull up his pants and act like a man.” Anderson said that all of the cast members helped to protect him from the difficult actor. Hackman was a huge force and according to the director, “He was one of the things that pulled everybody into the movie”.