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(Credit: Kasper2006 / Georges Biard)


The on-set feud between Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer

Actors and directors are notorious for being a complicated bunch. Never ones to shy away from voicing their opinions either on set or after a film/show has been released; since the dawn of cinema, audiences have been offered a vast array of gaffes, rivalries, and in some cases, examples of intense hatred between the two sets of people.

There is something inherently antithetical about the role of a director and that of an actor. The director, often an out and out auteur or just plainly a control freak, strives to bring their script to fruition by any means necessary. This has given rise to many an actor having nothing but disdain for the director come filming’s wrap. Megan Fox’s comments comparing Michael Bay to Hitler ring any bells?

On the other hand, actors and thespians are certainly an acquired taste. If we all cast our mind back to the drama class in school, this is clear to see. Whether that be the lack of self-awareness and/or ample amounts of narcissism, often actors draw the ire of directors and just about everybody else plainly by virtue of being alive. Whether it be in school, am-dram circles or Hollywood, the tales of actors being ‘difficult’ are countless. It seems as if being a prima donna comes as second nature to a lot of actors. Christian Bale, Katherine Heigl and Chevy Chase are just three names that spring to mind. In fact, Bale’s 2009 meltdown on the set of Terminator Salvation – and comments in the wake of it – is one of the most glaring examples of the self-entitlement of A-list actors.

Another of these instances came on the set of the highly divisive movie Batman Forever in 1995. This was to be the first and last time that director Joel Schumacher and actor Val Kilmer would work together. Schumacher being the unwavering auteur he was, and Kilmer being difficult to work with, this was a clash that was always fated to happen. It was the epitome of when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. 

Experiencing a difficult time in his life and undergoing a messy divorce from his now ex-wife, Joanne Whalley, Schumacher caught Kilmer at the start of his most notorious period. In fact, Kilmer’s terrible on set behaviour would become cemented in lore when filming the following year’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. He is said to have burnt a cameraman with a cigarette, amongst other things. Even prior to filming Batman Forever, Kilmer’s reputation preceded him. Schumacher had heard of Kilmer’s awful treatment of those deemed underneath him on sets before: “I had heard horror stories about Val and was warned not to hire him,” he said at the time. “But I have heard that about many talented people, hired them anyway, and had no problems whatsoever.”

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Looking back on the film, Schumacher called Kilmer “childish and impossible”. He got so fed up with Kilmer’s ridiculous behaviour that things came to a physical head. In 1996, Schumacher told EW: “(We) had a physical pushing match. He was being irrational and ballistic with the first AD, the cameraman, the costume people. He was badly behaved, he was rude and inappropriate. I was forced to tell him that this would not be tolerated for one more second. Then we had two weeks where he did not speak to me, but it was bliss.” 

We can only imagine how “blissful” those two weeks will have been. This story is also deeply ironic as there was another feud bubbling under the scenes of its shooting – this was the infamous spat between Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey. It is said that Schumacher was also most displeased with Jones’ attitude, who is said to have acted awfully to Jim Carrey. However, that is a story for another day. 

In a separate interview with EW, Schumacher said of the experience: “I’m tired of defending overpaid, overprivileged actors. I pray I don’t work with (Kilmer and Jones) again.” It seems like three’s a crowd indeed.

The worst thing about this particular story is that the film itself hasn’t held up too well, regardless of what the purists say. An over-the-top take on Batman and a faltering franchise missing the subtle brilliance of Kilmer’s predecessor, Michael Keaton, the two Schumacher Batman films are strange outliers in the caped crusader’s filmography.