Sometimes a movie’s production process is just as interesting as the completed film. It takes a lot of collaboration to create a finished movie, and that means members of the cast and crew are inevitably going to butt heads trying to reach a consensus. On occasion, the arguments can become so heated they inspire threats of termination, to the point that even famous actors must fear for their job security.
These are a few of the biggest celebrities who have very nearly been fired from some of the biggest roles of their career.
1. Al Pacino, The Godfather
Studio executives in charge of production tried to fire Al Pacino three times from the role that made him an acting icon — Michael Corleone in The Godfather. They thought his restrained performance was “anemic,” but director Francis Ford Coppola trusted Pacino’s performance. Eventually, so did the bigwigs, especially once they saw how he built to the intensity of Michael’s first mob hit in the restaurant scene.
2. Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean
Johnny Depp’s slurring eccentricity as Captain Jack Sparrow helped to make the Pirates of the Caribbean series a box office institution, but Disney originally met his slurred performance with skepticism, if not outright hostility. Depp says he fully expected to be fired, saying, “The questions came up, ‘Is [the performance] drunk? Is it gay?’ …They were actually gonna put subtitles under my character. They couldn’t understand Captain Jack.”
3. Judd Nelson, The Breakfast Club
Judd Nelson stayed in character as high school “criminal” John Bender even when the cameras weren’t rolling on The Breakfast Club‘s set. His method approach to the character sometimes ran afoul of the other cast members, particularly Molly Ringwald, who complained to director John Hughes (with whom she had an almost-paternal relationship) about Nelson’s behavior.
Casting director Jackie Burch recalls, “I got this phone call from set, saying, ‘You better get Judd under control or I’m getting rid of him!’”
4. Taylor Lautner, The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Taylor Lautner almost missed his chance to be the lupine corner of Twilight‘s love triangle, as he originally wasn’t thought to be fit enough to play the more bulked-up Jacob Black as he appears in the saga’s first sequel. But there was a break between films when no director was attached to New Moon, allowing Lautner the time he needed to pump enough iron to fit the role.
“As soon as [director] Chris Weitz became attached,” Lautner said at the time, “I had all my work done that I had been doing over the past nine, 10 months; it was all good to go.”
5. Robert Downey Jr., Weird Science
Fans of John Hughes will remember a young Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as the bully of Weird Science‘s nerdy protagonists. Downey has since admitted to being a “serial dumper” during filming, confessing that he had defecated in a castmate’s trailer (later saying that the castmate was minor player Babette Prop).
There was a lot of ire on set, but Downey stayed on simply because he was never found out. “It was a real bad scene. Joel Silver freaked. I never admitted it.”
6. Ellen Barkin, Into the West
Harvey Weinstein has a long-standing reputation of being difficult to work with, and so did actress Ellen Barkin in the early ’90s. It comes as no surprise then, that the two butted heads while collaborating on Mike Newell’s 1992 fantasy adventure Into the West.
After Weinstein lobbied to replace her with the then-unknown actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barkin asked for one more day to prove herself and was “amazing” upon return, going so far as to cook for the crew. “The quote about that was, ‘There’s only one diva on a Harvey Weinstein movie: him,'” Weinstein joked.
7. Christian Bale, American Psycho
Director Mary Harron was certain in her choice of British actor Christian Bale to play American Psycho‘s murderous Patrick Bateman, but producers were still eager to chase bigger names like Edward Norton and, particularly, Leonardo DiCaprio.
“They would’ve taken almost anybody over Christian,” Harron says. Lion’s Gate announced the latter’s involvement in 1998, after Bale had already been cast. Harron was nearly replaced with Oliver Stone, but she finally regained control of the film, with Bale attached to star, under the agreement that she keep the budget under $10 million and cast recognizable supporting talent.
8. Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider
Dennis Hopper received $20,000 in preliminary funds to prove he could handle directorial duties for what would become the iconic ’60s counter-culture film, Easy Rider. He filmed a few scenes in New Orleans while producers Bill Hayward and Peter Fonda recorded him, never clarifying exactly why. It was only after the film’s release that Hopper found out that, “Peter and Bill apparently wanted to pay [producer Bert Schneider] back the money he’d given us for Easy Rider and fire me. This is Peter and my brother-in-law, okay? This is before we’ve written a screenplay.”
9. Rachel McAdams, The Notebook
Ryan Gosling disliked working with his Notebook costar so much, he requested she be replaced at one point. Director Nick Cassavetes explained, “He’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, ‘Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?’ I said, ‘What?’ He says, ‘I can’t. I can’t do it with her. I’m just not getting anything from this.’”
McAdams, of course, stayed with the production, and their tensions cooled once she impressed Gosling by standing up for herself.
10. Nicolas Cage, Peggy Sue Got Married
Rumors of Nicolas Cage’s disturbingly committed onset behavior were already circulating by the time he starred in the time-travel comedy, Peggy Sue Got Married in 1986. Even though the film was directed by his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, The Telegraph reports that he was very nearly fired for his refusal to stop talking like the claymation horse from The Gumby Show.
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