Why Hollywood's best dramas take place off set
No one holds a grudge better than an acting legend, says Joe O'Shea
Published 15/09/2010 | 05:00
Juliette Binoche shouldn't cry over her pain au chocolat after learning of Gérard Depardieu's verdict on her acting.
The ageing lothario's bitchy comments ("I would really like to know why she has been so esteemed for so many years. She has nothing. Absolutely nothing!") may have been wounding in the extreme.
But if Mademoiselle Juliette is hurt by his less than chivalrous behaviour, she can at least console herself with the knowledge that she is in some very good company.
Fame, rivalry, massive egos and crippling insecurities provide fertile ground for feuds, especially in the hot-house environment of the bright Klieg lights.
Shakespeare himself was the posthumous cause of a feud between two actors which resulted in a riot at New York's Astor Palace Theatre in 1849 that left 25 people dead and 120 wounded.
The bloody incident known as The Shakespeare Riots was the culmination of a famous feud between American actor Edwin Forrest and his English rival, William Charles Macready.
Their enmity began when Forrest hissed at Macready's performance of Hamlet in Edinburgh and ended when Forrest's supporters brought Macready's portrayal of Macbeth on the Astor stage to an undignified halt in a hail of rotten eggs, potatoes, shoes and bottles.
In the ensuing riots, involving 20,000 New Yorkers laying violent siege to the Astor, the New York Militia panicked and opened fire.
The admirers of Ms Juliette Binoche may not be moved to violence by her fellow Gallic star's bitchy put-down. But those of us who love a good row can add Depardieu vs Binoche to a list including:
Debra Winger vs Shirley MacLaine
They played mother and daughter in the 1983 Oscar-winning weepie Terms Of Endearment.
But the mutual loathing that grew between Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine on the set of that movie remains one of Hollywood's most celebrated feuds.
MacLaine was said to have been extremely annoyed by her colleague's on-set behaviour.
And Winger retaliated in various ways including (if Hollywood legend is to be believed) one incident where she lifted her skirt and passed gas in the general direction of her on-screen mommy.
Winger has since tried to downplay the row by saying: "There was no blood drawn. There might have been a scuffle. I don't remember. (Shirley) is not a wilting violet. She's tough, too."
MacLaine had the last laugh. At 1984's Academy Awards ceremony, after Shirley's name was announced as the winner of the coveted Best Actress Oscar (beating out Winger), MacLaine famously shouted, "I deserve this!"
Val Kilmer vs Marlon Brando
Or should we say Val Kilmer vs. Everyone He Has Ever Worked With?
The notoriously difficult thespian has scorched a path through the business (quite literally in the case of the cameraman he 'accidentally' burnt with a cigarette during a row) and is renowned for his rampaging ego and short temper.
"I have a reputation for being difficult," Kilmer has conceded. "But only with stupid people."
Would Kilmer have included film legend Marlon Brando in that category?
Kilmer's unprofessional behaviour on the set of The Island of Dr Moreau (1996) prompted co-star Brando to famously tell him: "You are confusing your talent with the size of your paycheck."
Director Joel Schumacher remembers the two weeks when Kilmer refused to talk to him on the set of Batman Forever as "pure bliss".
Laurence Olivier vs Dustin Hoffman
Laurence Olivier's classical training and Dustin Hoffman's method approach caused friction on the set of Marathon Man.
The story goes that when Hoffman was due to shoot a scene in which his character was supposed to look like he had stayed awake for three nights, he decided to force himself to go without sleep for 72 hours.
When he arrived on set, Laurence Olivier asked him why he looked so tired and Dustin told him of his gruelling preparation.
Olivier paused for a moment, before sweetly advising: "Try acting, dear boy... it's much easier."
Laurence Olivier vs Rex Harrison
British actor Rex Harrison's offstage behaviour was legendary and appalling, leading one former co-star to observe that Sir Rex was "cordially loathed by everybody".
When Harrison told one elderly female fan, who had waited for hours to ask him to sign her programme, to "sod off", she promptly rolled up her programme and bashed him with it.
That incident led fellow actor Stanley Holloway to quip that it was "the first time the fan has hit the s***!".
To Rex, the celebrated German maestro (and conductor for his biggest Broadway hit) Franz Allers was "that Nazi in the pit".
Harrison loathed his co-star in My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn (referring to her as "bloody Audrey") and nurtured an intense and long-running loathing of Laurence Olivier.
When Olivier attempted to bury the hatchet by ringing up Rex to ask him to do a play called Dance of Death, the conversation apparently went like this: "Hello Rex, this is Larry, I would like you to do the Dance of Death". Harrison icily replies; "Only on your grave, old boy". Click! Brrrr ...
Joan Crawford vs Bette Davis
This was one of the most famed rivalries in the golden era of Hollywood.
Joan Crawford, the reigning queen at MGM and Warner Bros, and empress Bette Davis shared a public distaste for one another that lasted decades.
"I wouldn't piss on Crawford," spat Bette Davis, "if she were on fire."
It's fair to say that when they finally starred opposite one another as sisters with a bitter, deadly relationship in 1962's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, there was little acting necessary.
Despite their personal rancour, the film was a massive hit, even earning Davis an Oscar nomination. Naturally, Davis soon discovered that Crawford actively campaigned against her winning.
Davis reciprocated by tormenting Crawford on the set of their next film, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. When Davis slyly installed a Coca-Cola machine on the set (Crawford's recently deceased husband was Alfred Steele, president of Pepsi Cola), Joan pulled out of the picture.
Not even death could kill this feud. When news of Crawford's passing reached Bette Davis, she declared: "There may be a heaven, but if Joan Crawford is there, I'm not going."