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Split image. First - George Clooney with David O. Russell. Second – Julia Roberts at Steel Magnolias premiere. Third - Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer

Actors who had explosive clashes with directors: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, & more

These A-list stars weren't happy on set 

Megan Bull
TV Writer
June 19, 2024
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Making movies isn't all fun and games. Sure, creative differences are part of the process, but sometimes actors and directors just don't, won't or can't get along, for whatever reason. 

A-listers George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Val Kilmer have all had tumultuous times after feuding with filmmakers. Here's what happened…

Split image of Freddie Prinze Jr. and Jim Gillespie

Freddie Prinze Jr. and Jim Gillespie

The 1999 cult classic horror, I Know What You Did Last Summer, became a living nightmare for Freddie Prinze Jr. 

After signing on as Ray Bronson in the hit slasher, the fledgling star worked alongside director Jim Gillespie, who made it clear that he'd envisioned another actor in the role. 

In a 2023 interview with Too Fab, Freddie recalled: "He [Jim] was very direct in the fact that, 'I don't want you in this movie. So when that's your first job and you hear those words, it just wrecks you, man. It just wrecks you."

Explaining that Jim would give him "psychotic notes, like 'Don't leave your mouth open. You look stupid when you do that," Freddie almost quit the movie, and acting altogether. "I'm like, I'm either gonna break down or I have to beat this guy's [expletive]. Like those were the only two options in my head."

Following a reassuring talk with his co-star Ryan Phillippe, Freddie decided to stick it out, and once the film landed in theatres, his career took off. The actor – who also ended up marrying his co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar – remains thankful for the success of I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the lessons it taught him. 

"I was in pain every single day on that movie. However, it prepared me for this business in a way – it sounds weird to say this – I'm forever grateful for Jim for being such an [expletive] because I've never met one like that since," admitted Freddie. 

Split image of Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias and director Herbert Ross

Julia Roberts and Herbert Ross

Steel Magnolias turned Julia Roberts into a megastar, but the shoot itself was far from smooth sailing. According to her co-stars, Sally Field and Shirley MacLaine, director Herbert Ross was abusive to the cast and singled out Julia. 

"He went after Julia with a vengeance," noted Sally. "This was pretty much her first big film." 

According to Shirley, Julia "would come to my house every night and say, 'I think I'm terrible. What am I doing?' and she really was in tears. I remember the day Herb said to Dolly Parton, 'Why don't you take some acting lessons?'"

The cast of Steel Magnolias may have struggled with their director, but Sally and Shirley noted that the experience bonded them, encouraging them to stand up for one another whenever Herb made biting comments. 

In 1993, four years after the film hit theatres, Herb remarked that Julia "looked bad and gave a very bad performance," in Steel Magnolias, prompting Julia to hit back. 

Calling the filmmaker "mean" and "out of line," Julia said: "If he thinks he can talk about me in such a condescending way and not have me say something about it, then he's nuts." 

Split image of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss and James Cameron

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and James Cameron

Amid high tensions and dangerous conditions on the set of The Abyss (1989), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio clashed with director, James Cameron. Reflecting on their joing experience in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, her co-star Ed Harris said they were "guinea pigs" for the filmmaker.   

"Jim wasn't quite sure how this was all gonna go down… [in the drowning scene I was] screaming at her to come back and wake up, and I was slapping her across the face and I see that they've run out of film in the camera—there's a light on the camera—and nobody had said anything," recalled Ed.

"And Mary Elizabeth stood up and said, 'We are not animals!' and walked off the set. They were going to let me just keep slapping her around!…"

Nowadays, Ed has no hard feelings towards the director, but Mary Elizabeth has remained silent on the matter. 

George Clooney and David O. Russell talking© Getty

George Clooney and David O. Russell

George Clooney was involved in a physical altercation with director David O. Russell on the set of Three Kings (1999). 

In a 2000 interview with Playboy, George revealed: "David wanted one of the extras to grab me and throw me down. This kid was a little nervous about it, and David walked up to him and grabbed him. He pushed him onto the ground. He kicked him and screamed, 'Do you want to be in this [expletive] movie?'"

After attempting to intervene, David reportedly grabbed George and hit him on the head. Explaining that he went "nuts" in response, George said: "I had him by the throat. I was going to kill him. Kill him. Finally, he apologized, but I walked away."

As a result, George vowed to never work with the filmmaker again, and has kept that promise to this day. In the years that followed, The Three Kings, director David has fallen out with several actors including Lily Tomlin and Amy Adams.

Val Kilmer and Joel Schumacher at a Batman Forever premiere© Getty

Val Kilmer and Joel Schumacher

Val Kilmer and Joel Schumacher teamed up on Batman Forever (1995), but their partnership was far from super. 

Marking the first and last time that they would work together, the director found it particularly difficult to work with his leading man. "I had heard horror stories about Val and was warned not to hire him," the director reflected. "But I have heard that about many talented people, hired them anyway, and had no problems whatsoever."  

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 1996, Joel recalled what transpired between them. "(We) had a physical pushing match. He was being irrational and ballistic with the first AD, the cameraman, the costume people. He was badly behaved, he was rude and inappropriate," said the filmmaker. 

"I was forced to tell him that this would not be tolerated for one more second. Then we had two weeks where he did not speak to me, but it was bliss."

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