15 Times Actors Were Completely Abused On Movie Sets
Though we all like to believe that Hollywood is made up of the glitz and glamour we see in cinema, movie sets aren’t always rainbows and sunshine. It’s uncomfortable to think that, behind some of our favorite movie moments, there is an actor who might have been having one of the worst experiences of their lives. Unfortunately, every industry is filled with creeps, jerks, and abusers, and, sadly, Hollywood is no different.
For this list, we’re taking a look at the ugly side of movie sets, the side where actors are mistreated, disrespected, and abused. In particular, we’re looking at sexual or mental anguish and not necessarily violent behavior. That means that actual deaths from movie sets are ruled out, as are physical altercations, like David O. Russell and George Clooney’s tussle on the set of Three Kings.
Instead, we will be focusing on the depraved and disturbing examples of exploitation that have come from behind the scenes. These include on-set meltdowns, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, or racially insensitive behavior. And while a large number of perpetrators on this list stem from offensive directors, the misconduct can come from the crew, extras, or even fellow actors themselves.
Here are the 15 Times Actors Were Completely Abused On Movie Sets.
15. THE EXORCIST
The Exorcist might be one of the scariest films ever made, but the actual production of the movie was a real-life nightmare for some of the actors and actresses involved.
One of those actresses was Ellen Burnstyn, who was playing the mother of a child possessed by demonic spirits. One of the most iconic moments of the film comes when Burnstyn’s character is slammed to the floor by the demon-child.
In order to make it seem like she was really being pushed by supernatural forces, a wire was attached to Burnstyn which was yanked through the other side of a wall. After one particular take, Burnstyn complained of back pain to director William Friedkin, who told her that they wouldn’t pull so hard on the wire.
However, Burnstyn later suspected that Friedkin had ignored her request when she was smashed to the floor in the very next take. Because of the physically demanding scene, Burnstyn permanently injured her spine, which might not have happened if Friedkin had been more concerned.
14. AMERICAN HUSTLE
As we’ve already mentioned, David O. Russell isn’t the most pleasant director to work with. He’s humiliated crew members, head-butted actors, and has reduced more people to tears than Stanley Kubrick on one of his worst days.
One of Russell’s most recent on-set victims is Hollywood actress Amy Adams. While shooting 2013’s American Hustle, the Arrival star was in a constant state of devastation most days on set. During an interview with British GQ, the actress admits that Russell made her cry and treated her so badly that Christian Bale, who is also known to have a meltdown or two on set, had to step in to intervene.
Although Adams was subjected to horrible working conditions, the actress was able to remain professional throughout the entire shoot and was even nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.
13. APOCALYPSE NOW
Apocalypse Now has had more on set problems than any other film in history; that it managed to be finished, let alone be labeled a masterpiece, is nothing short of a miracle. Crazy parties, camera breakdowns, and Marlon Brando’s extreme weight gain continued to derail the production to the point where the film seemed all but doomed.
Adding onto the slew of problems was actor Martin Sheen, who was suffering from a severe mental breakdown through his various treks through the jungle. The stress finally culminated in a heart attack, and for fear that he might lose his main actor on top of everything else, Francis Ford Coppola covered up the incident by labeling the attack as heat exhaustion.
While Coppola later admitted to feeling guilty, even to the point where the director would suffer from a seizure of his own, there’s no denying that covering up that one of your actors has suffered a heart attack is pretty messed up.
12. THE RIDICULOUS SIX
Adam Sandler comedies have never been thought of as movies of high substance. However, this uncultured appeal was taken to new heights in 2015 when The Ridiculous Six was not only accused of being lowbrow, but racially insensitive to boot.
More than a dozen Native actors walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s Western spoof after repeated examples of blatant disrespect towards Native women and elders. These gross insults included calling women offensive names like “Beaver’s Breath” and “No Bra,” and a scene of an Apache woman squatting while urinating and smoking a peace pipe.
Although Netflix and director Rank Coraci defended the movie, stating that it’s a comedy and the actors were in on the joke, the Native Americans on set obviously didn’t feel the same way. In the end, The Ridiculous Six comes off as an insensitive movie with stereotypical behavior of “Hollywood Indians,” proving the walk off was more than justified.
11. I HEART HUCKABEES
Cinema history is littered with hot-head directors, and the new reigning king is undoubtedly David O. Russell. Although he’s responsible for critically acclaimed films like The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, Russell has become infamous for verbally berating his actors on set.
One of the most notorious examples of the director’s disgusting outbursts was on the set of his 2004 comedy, I Heart Huckabees. During rehearsal, Russell has a complete meltdown on actress Lily Tomlin, who was having some confusion about how to play her character.
The impetuous director tried to clear up that confusion by having a temper tantrum of epic proportions, throwing papers across a desk at an extra and calling Tomlin names so offensive we can’t publish them here.
The entire outburst was captured on camera and immediately went viral, showing the world just how awful it can get for an actor on a David O. Russell set.
10. DEATH WISH 3
Above all else, a director should be responsible for making their actors feel comfortable on set. A relaxed actor usually means a better performance, but that’s not exactly the philosophy adhered to by Death Wish 3 director, Michael Winner.
During the shoot of the 1985 action sequel, actress Marina Sirtis had to film a rape scene in an extremely cold garage. As if the act wasn’t degrading enough, Winner wouldn’t allow Sirtis to sit up or put a coat on during the freezing temperatures. When the director of photography attempted to put his coat over the actress, Winner yelled at him and ordered it be taken off.
Death Wish 3 also includes another rape scene where the role of the victim is played by Sandy Grizzle, who was at the time Winner’s lover. After shooting, Grizzle alleged that during their time on set Winner mistreated her and used her as a “sex slave.”
Hopefully, the on-set conditions were a little better for the upcoming Death Wish remake starring Bruce Willis.
9. THE SHINING
Director of such classics like A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick was known as one of the most innovative filmmakers of his time.
He was also known as a controlling, manipulative perfectionist who frequently pushed his actors to the edge of their limits.
One of those actors was Shelley Duvall on the set of Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic, The Shining. As soon as production began, the director put Duvall through the ringer, yelling at her during shots, isolating her for several days on set, and forcing her to do an insane number of takes; the infamous baseball bat confrontation between her and Jack Nicholson allegedly took a whopping 127 takes when all was said and done.
As a result, Duvall frequently cried on set and later recounted the experience as “unbearable.” Due to all the abuse, not only did Duvall look like she was going through a nervous breakdown on film, she was actually going through one in real life.
8. THE WIZARD OF OZ
Too many times do stories of on-set abuse only surface after years production has already wrapped on the movie. Such was the case when it recently came to light that Judy Garland might have been sexually assaulted on the set of everyone’s favorite fantasy musical, The Wizard of Oz.
In a posthumous memoir by Garland’s ex-husband, Sid Luft claims that Garland was sexually harassed by several of the Munchkin actors during the production. Luft describes that the 40 year old actors would make 19 year old Judy’s life miserable on set by putting they their hands under her dress.
Rumors of the Munchkin actors’ rowdy behavior have been circulating Hollywood for years. While some claim that many of them were disrespectful — frequently drinking and partying too much on set — the Munchkin actors themselves have reported these rumors as completely false allegations.
7. THE BIRDS
The discovery of Judy Garland’s abuse isn’t the only dark story to have recently surface in the past few years. In her 2016 memoir entitled Tippi, Tippi Hedren goes into detail about how she was sexually assaulted on the set of The Birds and Marine by famous thriller director Alfred Hitcock.
The iconic actress describes Hitchcock’s actions as sexual, perverse, and ugly, stating that the director was apparently obsessed with her and sexually assaulted her on more than one occasion. As Hedren attempted to deny the director’s advances, the more aggressive he became. In once instance where Hedren denied the director, Hitchcock reportedly threatened the actress that he would ruin her career.
Although Hedren credits Hitchcock as a brilliant filmmaker and being responsible for making her a star, it doesn’t excuse the deplorable behavior by the director.
6. LAST TANGO IN PARIS
While directors always want a realistic performance out of their actors, sometimes they go too far. Such was the case in the 1972 drama Last Tango in Paris, where director Bernado Bertolucci withheld certain details during a rape scene in order to have actress Maria Schneider’s reactions seem more genuine.
In a video interview conducted in 2013, Bertolucci admitted he felt guilty when Schneider was caught off guard during a sex assault scene when he deliberately withheld information about incorporating a stick of butter. Bertolucci reportedly thought of the detail at the last minute and didn’t tell the actress about it until the cameras started rolling.
Yesrs before the director’s confession, Schneider had also spoken out about the traumatizing incident, stating that she cried real tears during the rape scene and felt humiliated while filming.
Years after Last Tango in Paris was released, Schneider suffered from depression, as well as drug addiction, before her death in 2011.
5. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
The only thing worse than a tyrannical director is a tyrannical director who is also the star of the movie, and Gene Kelly was one of the most aggressive directors/actors during the production of the musical Singin’ in the Rain.
As a seasoned veteran of big-budget musicals, Kelly came to expect nothing but perfection from his fellow performers. This turned out to be bad news to co-star Debbie Reynolds, a relatively new dancer at the time, who later recalled the grueling experience as one of the hardest things she’s ever done.
Intimidated by cast members and co-directors Kelly and Stanley Donen, Reynolds was pushed to the brink by an extensive work schedule and repeated takes. The demanding role got so out of hand that Reynolds’ feet began to bleed due to so many dancing takes. Still, the actress kept going, even after her doctor recommended bed rest for an extended period of time.
While Kelly and Reynolds later became friends, Singin’ in the Rain remained as one of the worst experiences of the actress’ life.
4. PIERROT LE FOU
As one of the most influential directors of the French film movement, Jean-Luc Godard made a number of films still that are often discussed in film classes today. One of his greatest collaborations was with actress Anna Karina, who the director married in 1961 and went on to make eight films with.
However, by 1965 their marriage was in utter turmoil. Right around the same time, filming began on their new project, Pierrot le Fou. During production, a scene was filmed in which Karina’s character is getting buried in the sand on the beach. During the shoot, Godard let his emotions get the better of him, and purposely didn’t yell cut at the end of the scene to keep Karina in her ditch.
After realizing the take had gone on for far too long, various crew members rushed to help Karina out of the sand despite the director’s objections. Though Karina later admired her role as Godard’s muse during this time period, she also acknowledged the low points of their relationship like this one.
Director Werner Herzog is not known for playing nice with his actors. His continual recasting, on-set outbursts, and deranged behavior are the things Hollywood nightmares are made out of, and one of the biggest nightmares of all was on the set of his 1982 epic, Fitzcarraldo.
The shoot for the movie quickly became notorious for Herzog’s crazy demands, which included that a fully-sized ship be carried over an actual mountain because of his refusal to use special effects. Exploiting thousands of local natives to do his bidding, the enormous sea vessel was dragged over a mountain and into a river.
Making matters even worse, Herzog didn’t consult with local tribal council before using locals for physical labor or before he built an entire village on Aguaruna land. It resulted in the Aguaruan extras getting so fed up with his behavior that they burnt down the entire film set, which might have been avoided if the director was a little nicer to his featured extras.
2. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
Blue is the Warmest Color is one of the most controversial movies of the last several years, and not just because of the film’s content. The three-hour drama, which chronicles the love story between two women, might have swept audiences away at the Cannes film festival, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing behind the camera.
In interviews preceding the release of the movie, actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos described their working conditions as humiliating and degrading.
The infamous sex scene took a whopping ten days to shoot, causing major fatigue and unpleasantness between the actors and director Abdellatif Kechiche. Seydoux recounts one instance where Keichiche had ordered repeated takes in which she had to slap her co-star while the director repeatedly yelled “hit her!” over and over.
Though the movie has since been regarded as a success by critics, both Seydoux and Exarchopoulos have said that they won’t work with Keichiche again due to the degrading conditions on set.
1. SECRET THINGS
Al One of the biggest perpetrators of abuse on movie sets is director Jean-Claude Brisseau, who underwent one of the biggest scandals in history with his 2002 film, Secret Things.
The filmmaker was accused of sexual assault and harassment when four actresses came forward and claimed that Brisseau made them masturbate in front of him as part of the casting process. The director denied the allegations, insisting in various interviews that the alleged auditions held for Secret Things were justified through the artistic merits of his work.
The actresses also alleged that the director frequently abused his authority in order to gain sexual favors. One girl claimed that she was made forced to do 20 to 30 “tests” for a role, and was even made to masturbate in public places.
Ultimately, Brisseau received a one year suspended sentence and a 15,000 euro fine for sexual harassment. Even worse, he used the claims of abuse for inspiration behind his next film, The Exterminating Angels, which centers around a filmmaker holding experimental auditions for a project about female pleasure.