David O. Russell is one of my favorite directors… “Three Kings” is one of my favorite films of all time, and I really enjoyed “I Heart Huckabees.” I was surprised when I read Sharon Waxman’s allusions to the bizarre and intense set tensions on Hucakbee’s, which she wrote about in the Times in 2004. She talked about it a bit, iirc, in our interview with her upon the release of her book “Rebels on the Backlot,” which profiled Russell. (MP3)
The above though — holy shit. I mean, I’m a huge fan of Lily Tomlin too. So I’m just reeling.
Here’s an excerpt from a Playboy interview with the star of Three Kings, George Clooney:
PLAYBOY: What made you want to do [Three Kings]?
CLOONEY: David Russell wrote as good a script as I’ve ever read. I fought to get it. He wanted a lot of other actors before me. They went to Mel and to Nic Cage. I wanted to work on this movie. David is in many ways a genius, though I learned that he’s not a genius when it comes to people skills.
PLAYBOY: Did you learn about that the hard way?
CLOONEY: I did. He yelled and screamed at people all day, from day one.
PLAYBOY: Did he yell at you?
CLOONEY: At me often — and at someone daily. He’d throw off his headset and scream, ‘Today the sound department flicked me!’ For me, it came to a head a couple of times. Once, he went after a camera-car driver who I knew from high school. I had nothing to do with his getting his job, but David began yelling and screaming at him and embarrassing him in front of everybody. 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.’ I’m not one of those actors who likes things in disarray. He read the letter and we started all over again.
But later, we were three weeks behind schedule, which puts some pressure on you, and he was in a bad mood. These army kids, who were working as extras, were supposed to tackle us. 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 f**king movie? Then throw him to the f**king 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 f**k up! F**k you, and the AD goes, ‘F**k you! I quit.’ He walked off.
It was a dangerous time. I’d sent him this letter. 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 f**ked-up act? You’re being a d**k. 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. I had him by the throat. I was going to kill him. Kill him. Finally, he apologized, but I walked away. By then, the Warner Bros. guys were freaking out. 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.”