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"Two takes? No, no no no. I don't... do two takes. Amateurs like you do two takes. Print it, I'll be in my three-story trailer."
Calculon, Futurama

Actors are in a constant state of communication with directors (and, sometimes, writers) as to what they think or feel their character should do, and in what direction their development ought to go. Thus in a very fundamental sense actors are always meddling for the benefit of the story.

That is not this trope.

This trope is when actors, likely those whose salary accounts for a significant portion of the budget, impose their ideas on the director. Maybe they want more screen time, a major rewrite of the plot, or some other concession that would get any smaller actor fired, like refusing any and all direction on their acting and filling their performances with Ham and Cheese or being overly serious.

The result may not harm the film overall (or it may well be so extensive it becomes a vehicle for them to showboat in) but it is usually noticeable to viewers and may cause laughter, groans, or head scratching. It's most typically parodied by the famous Diva line "Shoot my good side please!"

And yes, there are occasions when this trope actually improves the production. However, this trope differs from the typical creative (and collaborative) process by involving a self-centered actor overruling the director.

Note that this situation is actually an improvement on how things worked for a while in Hollywood. After the final collapse of the studio star system in the late 60's, if an actor didn't like how the director was doing their job, it completely possible for the star to get the director fired, then take over director's job themselves for the remainder of the shoot. This practice was officially stopped in 1976, after Clint Eastwood had Philip Kaufman fired from The Outlaw Josey Wales and took over the film himself -- the Director's Guild subsequently made a rule which stated that whenever a film's director was fired, the replacement was not allowed to have been associated with the production in any way whatsoever. This theoretically safeguards directors from overly egotistical actors, although there are, of course, ways around it.

The trope name is a play on "wag the dog", meaning that rather than the dog wagging the tail, it's the tail that wags the dog. Or in this case, rather than the director directing the actor, it's the actor who directs the director. Also note that when it comes down to it, the producer is (often unfortunately) the one with more power in Hollywood; actors just have a more direct connection, hence this trope.

Compare Executive Meddling, Protection From Editors. Contrast Prima Donna Director.



In-universe examples

Advertising

  • Parodied with a Sprint theatre ad (part of the "Please Turn Off Your Cellphones" adverts) where a chimpanzee actor and his agents argue with a negotiating agency for a bigger slice of the film (eventually culminating in him controlling the soundtrack, which consists of slapping a keyboard).


Anime & Manga

  • Niizuma Eiji, superstar manga artist and friendly rival to the main characters of Bakuman。, agrees to work for Shonen Jump early on the in the series, with one condition: they must let him cancel any one series of his choosing. Amazingly, the editors agree; as of this writing, he has yet to exercise this power.
    • To his credit, said condition was only when he had the number one ranked manga , and only was implimented later with what both he and the chief-editor agreed on what being "number one" meant (which was at least ten weeks ranked number one in the polls)
    • Some fans have suggested this is really his way out in case he loses creative control of his series.
      • He wound up using it to cancel his own popular long-running series Crow, so it could end on a high note.


Films -- Live-Action

  • This is the entire plot of the Japanese film Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald. The lead actress of the radio drama requests that her character be made American. This leads to the other actors wanting their roles changed, then they want plot changes, and pretty soon, the radio drama is nothing like what was originally written. It doesn't help that both the director and the drama's writer are complete pushovers.
  • This is how Neville Sinclair, the self-important actor played by Timothy Dalton, treats the director of his "Laughing Bandit" movie in The Rocketeer: the scene where Sinclair's ordering him to ban an actress from the lot (because her boyfriend had showed up and ruined a take) makes it clear this is just the director's latest round of being shouted at.
  • In State And Main the lead actress was hired specifically to play a part that requires nudity and a sex scene (its implied she normally gets hired for her looks, not her talent) but becomes a Christian before the shoot and demands the scene be removed. The director fights it for much of the movie but the writer eventually finds a way to make it work somehow rewriting the character as a nun.


Web Animation


Western Animation


Real-life examples

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  • You can listen to Orson Welles doing it here


Films -- Live-Action

  • Kirk Douglas got rid of the first director for Spartacus and brought in (then-)little-known Stanley Kubrick. Though directing the film made Kubrick famous, he later claimed that almost everything was really controlled by Kirk Douglas. It might have helped that, in addition to the lead, Douglas was also the producer. It's worth noting that the two of them were very good friends; Kubrick did it as a favor to Douglas.
  • Crispin Glover tried to do this in Back to The Future, but didn't have enough enough sway to get away with it. His "unreasonable demands" for the sequels may have been creative control, but this cannot be proven. Just as likely would be a paycheck equal to Michael J. Fox's, despite being a tertiary character.
  • Meryl Streep once said in an interview that a director had no place telling actors how to act, they simply "rented" their performance. [1]
  • Samuel L. Jackson reportedly had it in his contract for the Star Wars prequels that his lightsaber be special and different. He became the first Jedi, at least in film, to have a purple lightsaber. He also stated in numerous interviews prior to Revenge of the Sith that he wanted to have a cool on-screen death. So Mace gets his hand chopped off, fried by Force lightning, then catapulted out a window to his death.
    • The lightsaber thing is a lot less interesting than "it was in his contract." The actors have always had input in the design of their lightsabers (except when Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen needed theirs to match up with the original trilogy, but only for the final film.) and during the process, Jackson asked if his could be purple so he could find himself in the wide angle shots (and because it was his favorite color).
  • Christian Bale was offered the part of Marcus in Terminator: Salvation, but wanted John Connor. This expanded the role, and kind of threw things off-balance.
    • Of course, the most infamous case involving Bale was the rant he delivered at a lighting technician during the making of Salvation. In the leaked audiotape, Bale chews out the technician for changing the lighting levels while he was in the midst of performing a scene, and subsequently tells director Joseph "McG" McGinty that he will not have it happen again, to the point of threatening to can the technician.
  • Clint Eastwood changed so many things around when filming The Outlaw Josey Wales that he eventually fired the director and replaced him with himself. The Director's Guild of America now has an "Eastwood rule" preventing this sort of thing. Make what you will of the fact that Eastwood has since made a name for himself as a director of some repute.
    • In Every Which Way But Loose, Clint was often in dispute with the director, James Fargo. The first assistant sarcastically commented that this was because Fargo "had the notion that he was directing the movie." Note that Eastwood and Fargo had been long-time collaborators, with Fargo having handled second unit duties on films that Eastwood had directed, and working smoothly with him during Fargo's directorial bow on The Enforcer. On that occasion they worked well together since it had been agreed that Eastwood was really in charge, but Fargo expected more control on Every Which Way. Their friendship survived the film's production, but afterwards they agreed that it'd probably be best for the sake of their sanity if they didn't work on the same film again.
  • The DVD Commentary on Battlefield Earth makes it clear that John Travolta, not the director, was in the driver's seat. Considering his status as driving force behind the project and probable writer of the script though, perhaps the wonder is that he wasn't actually the director.
  • Edward Norton was accused of this during the post-production of American History X. Director Tony Kaye alleged that Norton had the film re-edited so he had more screen time. Kaye disowned the project, tried (in vain) to have his name taken off the film, and sued New Line for nearly $300 million. Norton received an Oscar nomination for his performance. How Norton's cuts changed the final product is impossible to say, but if Kaye was angry enough to sue for over a quarter billion dollars over it...
    • Norton also did this with The Incredible Hulk, since he's a fan of the Hulk, and did a rewrite that brought the film closer in line to the comics. This could be considered a more positive application of this trope.
    • Edward Norton supposedly does insist on a fair amount of rewrites and such to any project he's on--when he doesn't do it himself.
  • Halle Berry became notorious for this, starting with X-Men 1. During filming, she refused to wear white contacts that covered her eyes (like in the comics) and wanted more lines/scenes. By shooting time for X2: X-Men United, she had more clout, and used it to give herself a bigger part (and more money) in the movie, and lo, here comes her conversations with Nightcrawler and strange use of powers against the missiles. And, again, she demanded even more for X Men the Last Stand, with rumors flying that she wouldn't even cameo in the film without a huge paycheck.
    • This led to the Catwoman movie being greenlit. Also, her demands in Die Another Day that, among others, she be featured in front of Pierce Brosnan, freaking JAMES BOND, on the movie poster. All of this backfired after Catwoman crashed and burned; her final paycheck in X-Men: The Last Stand (after she begged for her part back) was said to be a lot smaller than demanded.
  • Orson Welles did this a lot. No matter how small or insignificant his role was (and what his motives were for taking the part), he always rewrote his lines, and in some cases even insisted on directing his own scenes.
  • After his 1972 work in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris, Marlon Brando became pretty insufferable for any director to work with:
    • He refused to memorize lines for anyone, insisting that they be held off-camera on cue cards or, when technology allowed, to be fed via radio into an earpiece.
      • For Last Tango in Paris, he asked Benardo Bertolucci if he could write his lines on co-star Maria Schneider's ass. Bertolucci refused to let him do it.
    • He showed up for the filming of Apocalypse Now drunk and fat, though Coppola had been specified a wiry, muscular character. He hadn't read the book upon which it was based, instead insisting that Coppola read it to him on the set. He demanded changes to the script, and only allowed himself to be filmed in shadows. All this after receiving his $1 million advance.
    • While filming The Missouri Breaks, he threw out all his character's dialogue and improvised instead. He also "re-imagined" his experienced gunfighter character as a flamboyant half-Indian with a cheerful Irish accent and a feathered earring.
    • On the set of The Score, he constantly called director Frank Oz "Miss Piggy". Pretty soon Oz refused to speak to Brando, and co-star Robert de Niro had to step in and direct all of the scenes with Brando.
    • It wasn't just after The Godfather, he was always a hassle. He spent the studio's money on parties during the making of Mutiny on the Bounty.
    • In the 1996 adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau Brando shot a scene while wearing a champagne bucket as a hat. Everyone was too afraid to tell him to take it off.
  • According to Joss Whedon, Kevin Costner "fired" the director of Waterworld halfway through.
    • It Got Worse. Costner demanded the movie to be shot in the ocean rather than in a water tank on land... which led to the construction of an expensive water tank set in the ocean. Since there were no bathrooms on the set people had to be ferried regularly to land so they could poop. Throw in the fact that between takes Costner was living in a mansion with swimming pool and a cook for his personal use with all expenses covered by the producers and you'll understand that the rest of the crew was a bit upset. And last but not least, Costner demanded the SFX crew to hide his receding hairline digitally (not a cheap feat in 1995). The result? The most expensive film ever produced until the release of Titanic, and one of the biggest movie flops ever.
  • Sam Worthington caused a massive number of script changes to the 2010 version of Clash of the Titans. The old script stayed relatively true to mythology and its modern interpretations, as well as having more gods, more consistent characters, and a less schizophrenic plot. Worthington wanted a movie that could appeal to his nephew, and he was running off the high from Avatar, allowing him to overturn much of what David Leterrier wanted. It's uncertain if the original cut will ever be made truly available.
  • The release of the Tombstone Director's Cut on Blu-Ray has re-ignited claims that Kurt Russell was the actual Director. Kevin Jarre, the initial Director, was fired because he refused to cut the screenplay. Following that, George P. Cosmatos was brought in to finish the film. However, following Cosmatos' death in 2005, Russell claimed that Cosmatos was simply following Russell's orders (and did the same for Sylvester Stallone on Rambo II) and received credit to avoid issues with the studio.
    • Actually it would be issues with the DGA and the Eastwood Rule. In it, it is stated that an actor in the film can not take over the director's position if the director is fired. As such Russell wouldn't have been allowed to direct it and this was the reason Cosmatos was brought in.
  • Kirk Cameron's director-wagging, which began during the taping of Growing Pains (see below), did not end with the show. In Left Behind: Tribulation Force, there's a scene which has Buck Williams (Kirk's character) and Rayford Steele confronting a friend of the latter who didn't want to hear what the Antichrist planned to do. Cameron (who by that point had just teamed up with Ray Comfort's "The Way of the Master" ministry) manages to combine this with a Big Lipped Alligator Moment when he suddenly throws in this random string of questions related to the 10 Commandments lifted almost word for word from a "The Way of the Master" video he appeared in.
    • During the filming of Fireproof, Cameron's wife Chelsea Noble had to be costumed to serve as Erin Bethea's kissing double, because Cameron refused to even pretend to kiss any woman other than his wife.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp infamously decided to act like he was drunk the entire movie instead of trying to act like a Badass like the directors wanted. Though technically, he still was a badass.
    • Also, Depp's off-kilter Jack Sparrow became the Breakout Character of the franchise, eclipsing the other two main characters to the point that, when Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley declined to return for a fourth film, nobody noticed.
  • Robert Pattinson does this in Twilight, having said he purposefully attempted to portray Edward as a creepy, obsessed nutjob and... giving fans exactly what they wanted, it seems. Pattinson absolutely hates everything about the franchise, explicitly stating in interviews that he thinks that the books are stupid and so are the most rabid fans. He only auditioned for the movie so he could have a chance to hit on Kristen Stewart, which is actually pretty appropriate for the character he played. (And not to mention, now they're dating. Poor KStew.)
  • Sean Bean in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, where he insisted on his death-scene being true to Boromir's actual death in the book.
    • Which, considering that Peter Jackson usually tried to stick to the books as much as possible while still making decent movies, probably wasn't too great a stretch.
    • Further, a number of Jackson's plot alterations were decried by hardcore fans, so Bean might've saved him some grief.
  • A pretty dark example of director wagging took place on the set of Blade Trinity if writer Chris Parry is to be believed. Wesley Snipes didn't like the Director (David Goyer, who wrote the first two Blade movies and co-wrote Batman Begins), and decided to do the least amount of work imaginable in response. He was only on set when a shot required him to face the camera directly (his stunt double had to fill in the rest of the time) and seemed to go out of his way to be a dick to everyone involved when he could be bothered to show up.
  • There were a few lines in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country that Nichelle Nichols refused to say, given their racist nature (said about Klingons in the movie, but they could easily have applied to African Americans). Some were cut, others were given to other characters. She also disagreed with the scene about needing to race through books to find the translation for Klingon, stating that as the Communications Officer she should be able to speak Klingon. She was overruled. And William Shatner tried it when it came to the line "Let [the Klingons] die!" Every take, he immediately recoiled as if in horror at what he'd just said. Director Nicholas Meyer promised Shatner they wouldn't cut the recoil. Guess what got cut.
    • This also led to an induced Plot Hole. During the final battle, Captain Sulu and the Excelsior was supposed to arrive dramatically and use its charting gaseous anomalies equipment to jury-rig a heat-seeking photon torpedo. Shatner, however, insisted that the Enterprise should save itself. In consequence, the Excelsior arrives just in time to be shot at, and the gaseous-anomalies equipment is magically onboard the Enterprise instead.
    • Shatner was quite reluctant to do the "getting old" theme in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He was eventually talked into it, but did get his wish that they not include a line which mentioned how old Kirk was.
      • A trend which reversed itself decades later on Boston Legal, where about a third of Denny Crane's lines are about his aging and somewhat sad deterioration. (another third is about women, and the remainder is about... well, anything at all; you never really know what's coming next. Mad Cow, you see.)
  • Steve McQueen only accepted to be in The Great Escape on the condition that motorcycle stunts were added in just for him.
    • The studio complied for the most part, but did not allow him to perform the iconic jump over the fences. A stunt double rode the bike during that shot for insurance reasons and because the studio did not want their big star to land in the hospital.
  • The film Hook has a Big Lipped Alligator Moment where Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) inexplicably grows to normal size and has a semi-romantic scene with Peter Pan (Robin Williams). Reportedly, this scene happened because Roberts demanded at least one scene in which she acted alongside Williams rather than a greenscreen. This, among other such tantrums and fits of diva behavior, inspired the crew to nickname Roberts "Tinkerhell". Steven Spielberg went on the record to say he'd never work with her again; to her credit, she owned up to her behavior later on, stating she wasn't right after her failed marriage with Lyle Lovett.
  • Alan Rickman only agreed to play the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on the condition that he could play the character however he wanted. He played him as a Laughably Evil Large Ham in an otherwise straight-faced (and some would say sucky) Robin Hood adaptation. He's often considered the best thing in the film.
  • Bruce Willis apparently did a lot of this during Live Free or Die Hard (at least), greatly frustrating the director and some of the other actors. On the other hand, according to Kevin Smith (who told the story in one of his "Evening" shows) it's probably for the better: the studio apparently wanted a lot more low-brow humor and goofiness and weren't afraid to make the story suffer for it, which Willis essentially refused to allow. When they tried to tell him he couldn't make the changes he wanted, he abruptly finished the argument by asking, "So who's your second choice to play John McClane?"
  • Ralph Bakshi, known for his animated films aimed at adult audiences, got this with Kim Basinger during the production of Cool World. She convinced producer Frank Mancuso Jr. to change the script to make it more kid-friendly. Mancuso was already having the script rewritten to remove all of the horror elements because he was bored with the genre, so this went from being an R-rated horror film to an R-rated comedy to a PG-13 comedy.


Live-Action TV

  • Growing Pains suffered badly from this after Kirk Cameron became a born-again Christian. Cameron began demanding final say over any and all scripts, demanded his on-camera love-interest/co-star Julie McCullough be fired simply for appearing in Playboy, and throwing tantrums whenever anything remotely sexual (be it something harmlessly non-verbal as his character having the keys to his girlfriend's apartment, which Kirk believed would imply that the two were fucking, or even a fake-out scene where Kirk is shown in bed with another woman, as part of a play he was doing). In 1991, the executive producers had finally had enough of Cameron, and quit the show, which was quietly cancelled a year a later.
  • Neal McDonough is an extremely strict Catholic and as such, refuses to do any sex scenes on any show he appears in, citing his religious beliefs as reason. A more positive example of this, would be his demand that his character on Desperate Housewives be given a redemptive ending (sparing the life of Susan and Mike's kid at the last minute) and ending up in a catatonic state in a mental institute, surrounded by imaginary versions of his dead family. Though this ending did piss off some people behind the scenes (series creator Mark Cherry), as previous attempts by cast members to control their character's storylines were shot down by Cherry.
  • Danny Devito is up for pretty much any depraved storyline the writers of Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia come up with, but apparently prison rape is the one topic that Devito has declared off-limits.
    • Of course, that story was just a gag to see how far they could push him.
  • Toward the end of his tenure as the Fourth Doctor on Doctor Who, Tom Baker was becoming pretty insufferable, demanding a minimum of retakes and, because of his volatile romantic relationship with Lalla Ward (who played Romana on the show), occasionally refusing to be so much as in the same room as her. This meant that they did not rehearse scenes with each other and barely even looked at each other on camera. In his final season, Baker met his match with a new production team, led by John Nathan Turner, who began instituting the now-infamous Limited Wardrobe and other creative edicts, and eventually left the show.


Music

  • During the filming of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video, director Samuel Bayer[2] was basically acting like a dictatorial jerk towards the extras (as well as demanding numerous takes which Kurt was never fond of doing in general) and managed to piss off Kurt Cobain in particular. Kurt edited the final cut of the music video, taking out several elements of the video, and giving himself an up close facial shot at the end. The video's memorably chaotic crowd scenes are a direct result of the extras, sick of sitting through an entire day's worth of takes, moshing more aggressively than they otherwise would have.
  • According to the oral history I Want My MTV, director John Landis was shocked by Michael Jackson's crotch-grabbing "panther dance" when shooting the epilogue of the "Black or White" video. He warned Jackson that he had a kid-heavy fanbase (unlike Madonna or Prince) and that he was courting trouble with his moves, but Jackson said he was "expressing [him]self" and was able to overrule Landis's objections. When the video premiered on a four-network simulcast in the U.S. -- Fox aired it immediately after an episode of The Simpsons -- the resultant furor over the epilogue (both over the dance moves and its seemingly random violence) resulted in it being immediately cut from subsequent airings, though it was later re-edited to justify the violence and even shown uncut in later years.


Professional Wrestling

Notes

  1. Keep in mind that she probably meant that the director could tell the actor what they wanted out of the character, but had no business interfering in the actor's "process," which is a perfectly valid point.
  2. Supposedly hired by Nirvana because his test reel was so terrible they thought the video would turn out more "punk"
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