Whilst he may be one of the biggest names in Hollywood, director David O.Russell, responsible for Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and The Fighter, is notorious for his on-set antics. Such included Lily Tomlin, star of Russell’s 2004 film I Heart Huckabees, who reported to Movieline, “It was just crazy, crazy stuff. We were always doing something, and then we’d get manic and crazy, and I just flipped out on him. Then he flipped out on me. And you know, stuff goes on”.
David O. Russell’s third feature film, Three Kings, proved to be a massive step-up for the director, going from being in charge of relative unknowns to working with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Spike Jonze and Ice Cube. The satirical black comedy was adapted by the former stand-up comedian John Ridley and follows three American soldiers who devise a plan to steal hidden gold during the Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein. Such creates a perfect blend of action, comedy and surprisingly thoughtful drama that well utilises its eclectic lead actors. Best described as a screwball comedy set during the Gulf war, Three Kings is among the directors very best films.
By far the largest production of David O.Russell’s career to date, having only made the independent comedies Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster prior to this, and the heightened tensions reported on-set make a little more sense.
The conflict came between the director himself and lead actor George Clooney, who took exception to how Russell treated his cast and crew, often shouting in fits of rage. Often coming to the defence of crewmembers, this feud erupted in one particular scene. The three lead characters escort Iraqi rebels across the border, including a short clip in which an extra throws Ice Cube’s character to the group. Unable to convincingly throw the actor’s large frame to the floor, Russell marched over to the extra and launched the actor to the floor.
“We were trying to get a shot, and then he went berserk. He went nuts on an extra,” Clooney recalls in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Approaching Russell in frustration, the actor and director reportedly shouted at each other before engaging in a physical fight, “Will I work with David ever again? Absolutely not. Never. Do I think he’s tremendously talented, and do I think he should be nominated for Oscars? Yeah,” Clooney concluded.
Eventually providing statements regarding their time on set, the stories of both Clooney and Russell are, quite predictably, contradicting, with Clooney criticising the director’s behaviour far more than the filmmaker himself. In the October 2003 issue of Vanity Fair, Clooney even stated, “I would not stand for him humiliating and yelling and screaming at crew members, who weren’t allowed to defend themselves. I don’t believe in it, and it makes me crazy. So my job was then to humiliate the people who were doing the humiliating”.
Attempting to bury the controversy, Russell instead went for a level-headed response, noting, “We’re both passionate guys who are the two biggest authorities on the set,” in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Though, for Clooney, the ordeal would take a while to get over, explaining to Playboy Magazine, “it was truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life”.