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Why Julia Roberts and Steven Spielberg will never work together again


Whether it’s Faye Dunaway reportedly throwing a cup of her own urine on Roman Polanski or Norman Mailer almost biting Rip Torn’s ear off in an improvised fit of rage, directors and actors having a bust-up is nothing new. The heady craft of directing a movie is one that attracts ambitious visionaries, and that’s not necessarily a trait that proves easy to work with.

Perhaps the classic example of an auteur pushing an actor to their wit’s end comes from the industry tale of Harvey Keitel walking out on the filming of Eyes Wide Shut owing to the painstaking particulars of Stanley Kubrick. According to Gary Oldman, “[Keitel] was playing Sydney [Pollack’s role]. He was doing the scene and they were just walking through a door and after the 68th take of this, just walking through a door, Harvey Keitel just said ‘I’m out of here, you’re fucking crazy’. He just said, ‘you’re fucking out of your mind’, and left.”

Famously, on this front, Kubrick once declared that he didn’t know what he was looking for until he saw it. Understandably that is not an easy mantra for an actor to follow. In short, it’s easy to see how relationships can easily become strained between those helming the film and those tasked with bringing it to life. The tale of Julia Roberts and Steven Spielberg is merely another chapter of this tortuous old story.

In the 1991 fantasy film Hook, Julia Roberts was set to play Tinkerbell. Shortly into filming, the Pretty Woman star earned the nickname ‘Tinkerhell’ among production staff, one of which would describe her as “sometimes sombre, sometimes at the near edge of hysteria”. Considered she was playing a mischievous fairy in a light-hearted kids movie, that is not necessarily the desirable energy to be bringing to the piece. 

As it happens, this asocial manner proved to create so much turmoil on set that Spielberg reportedly sought to have the role recast, which no doubt would’ve also resulted in a hefty bill. Roberts would lock abscond to her trailer for hours alone and often showed up late when her fairy ways were called upon. Thus, Spielberg was at the end of his tethered throughout the shoot. 

Fortunately, for both star and director, they both got through the shoot, and the friction did not manifest on screen the way that it sometimes can in a palpably ugly manner. Nor did it ever get to Klaus Kinski levels of having extras make an offer to Werner Herzog to assassinate the snotty frontman. That being said, the often-private director did later divulge that “it was an unfortunate time for us to work together”. Unsurprisingly, they have steered clear of each other creatively ever since. 

The apparent reason behind Roberts tempestuous behaviour was because she was going through a breakup with her then-fiancé Kiefer Sutherland at the time. Roberts reportedly found out the Sutherland had been cheating on her and called the marriage off. Naturally, this proved a very emotional time for the actress, and she had a hard time sequestering this from the set and seamlessly slipping into cheeky fairy mode.  

Spielberg later said: “Julia probably went through the most trying times of her life [during filming]. And it was simply bad timing for all of us that she happened to start on Hook at that low point.” While Roberts commented: “No I never heard it [the nickname] But I’m a normal person. I mean, if I sit in my trailer for six hours doing nothing, I’m going to say: ‘What the f**k is going on?'”.

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