David O. Russell has made some good movies. Some may even say he’s made a couple of “great” movies. But the man has a frightening temper. Just ask George Clooney, Lily Tomlin & Amy Adams.
Like his films, David O. Russell seems to elicit a love-hate reaction from those he works with. That’s because, ostensibly, he’s an asshole. Well, that’s according to the few who dare speak of his on-set tantrums. His most recent outburst was at the sweet and innocent pixie-girl Amy Adams on the set of American Hustle. The revelations came from leaked Sony emails between journalist Jonathan Alter and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton. That Russell is alleged to have treated Adams “like shit” on the set of the movie comes as no surprise given the director’s penchant for an anger-fuelled explosion of expletives.
Lily Tomlin inspires hatred of her lady parts as Russell hits her with the “C” word on the set of I Heart Huckabees
The most notorious blow up is the one Russell had with Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees. This one was difficult for the director to deny given the footage was leaked all over the internet. Lily Tomlin is seen trying to get to grips with her character, while balancing Russell’s direction with her own interpretation. Her argument is clearly heated, the pressure building but she steers away from getting personal. Then Russell is seen storming around the set, shouting expletives, including the “c” word, and kicking props. A production manager feverishly tries to clear the set of its crew but the damage has already been done. Tomlin shouts: “Get some insurance against the director”.
Make a mistake and get singled out in front of the entire crew
George Clooney recalls O. Russell taking out his anger, which begins against the sound department, on the camera-car driver during the filming of Three Kings.
“David began yelling and screaming at him and embarrassing him in front of everybody,” said Clooney in an interview. “I told him, “You can yell and scream and even fire him, but what you can’t do is humiliate him in front of people. Not on my set, if I have any say about it”.
“Another time, he screamed at the script supervisor and made her cry. I wrote him a letter and said, “Look, I don’t know why you do this. You’ve written a brilliant script, and I think you’re a good director. Let’s not have a set like this. I don’t like it and I don’t work well like this.”
Russell isn’t afraid to “beat you up” on set, even if your name is George Clooney
George Clooney recalls a scene where an extra was to push his character to the ground. Russell felt the “push” was too artificial.
“These army kids, who were working as extras, were supposed to tackle us. There were three helicopters in the air and 300 extras on the set. It was a tense time, and a little dangerous, too,” remembers Clooney. “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 fucking movie? Then throw him to the fucking ground!”
The second assistant director came up and said, “You don’t do that, David. You want them to do something, you tell me”. David grabbed his walkie-talkie and threw it on the ground. He screamed, “Shut the fuck up! Fuck you”, and the AD goes, “Fuck you! I quit.” He walked off. It was a dangerous time.
“I was trying to make things work, so I went over and put my arm around him. I said, “David, it’s a big day. But you can’t shove, push or humiliate people who aren’t allowed to defend themselves.” He turned on me and said, “Why don’t you just worry about your fucked-up act? You’re being a dick. You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me.”
“I’m looking at him like he’s out of his mind. Then, he started banging me on the head with his head. He goes, “Hit me, you pussy. Hit me.” Then, he got me by the throat and I went nuts.
“Waldo, my buddy, one of the boys, grabbed me by the waist to get me to let go of him. I had him by the throat. I was going to kill him. Kill him. Finally, he apologised, but I walked away. David sort of pouted through the rest of the shoot and we finished the movie, but it was truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life.”
This was corroborated by the crew as The Guardian reported that staff have spoken of “a fight that broke out after Russell allegedly kicked one crew member and fired another.”
Asked if he would work with Russell ever again, Clooney said: “Life’s too short.” Speaking in 2004 during an interview for Premiere, Clooney said if he saw the director he would punch him over the incident on the set of Three Kings. “Quite honestly,” he remarked, “if he comes near me, I’ll sock him right in the fucking mouth,” Clooney says.
You might have the experience of James Caan, but you’re not immune to the Russell-Knows-Best School of direction
Rumours emerged from the set of Nailed that James Caan had quit because of “creative differences”. As soon as you hear that on a David O. Russell set the alarm bells are set in motion. And sure enough, word from the crew suggested Caan had taken umbrage at Russell’s direction over a choking scene involving a cookie. Russell instructed Caan to cough and choke but the actor argued a person cannot do both at the same time. Russell decided to shoot the scene both ways but made no secret of his intention to use “his” version. It was clearly more than just “creative differences” that saw Caan storm off the set. The actor has worked with enough great filmmakers to understand sometimes the man behind the camera knows best. Whatever went on during the filming of Nailed was obviously another David O. Russell “moment”.
Even if you’re America’s Golden Girl Jennifer Lawrence you cannot escape Russell’s wrath
David O. Russell will never learn. His latest film Joy, which stars his Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle leading lady Jennifer Lawrence, experienced another heated exchange between actor and director. A source on the set said a screaming match began between Lawrence and Russell that included the director’s favourite swear words and usual hate-filled tirade at a female co-worker. Harvey Weinstein turned up on set the next day to make sure tempers had cooled.
Think it’s all hearsay and conspiracy and that Russell’s really a nice guy? Think again!
In leaked emails between journalist Jonathan Alter and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, the Sony Exec is asked if the studio will be working with Russell again because it has been revealed to Alter first hand that the rumours about the director’s behaviour are absolutely true.
He said: “Are you guys doing anything else with him? I know he’s brilliant but we have someone on our show who worked closely with him on American Hustle and not only are the stories about him reforming himself total bullshit but the new stories of his abuse and lunatic behaviour are extreme even by Hollywood standards.”
Alter described some of Russell’s antics on the set of American Hustle including a moment Christian Bale had to physically protect Amy Adams during a typically enraged moment.
“He grabbed one guy by the collar, cursed out people repeatedly in front of others and so abused Amy Adams that Christian Bale got in his face and told him to stop acting like an asshole.”
Christian Bale isn’t always the nicest guy to be around on a film set with his own outbursts and argumentative attitude. But to think Russell’s behaviour got so out of control that he had to step in, suggests the director really did go too far.