If there’s one thing Christopher Plummer (who died recently) had over 50 years to make clear, it’s that he really didn’t like The Sound of Music. "Sentimental and gooey" were his typical objections to the classic, which he liked to deride as "S&M" or even "The Sound of Mucus". He confessed in a 2010 interview that trying to make Captain von Trapp interesting was like "flogging a dead horse".
Still, Plummer is hardly alone in expressing little love towards his best-known screen work. Going by some of the stories on set, from actors who had a dreadful time on freezing night shoots or simply despised everyone else around them, he actually got off quite lightly.
Elizabeth Taylor: Butterfield 8 (1961)
"It stinks!" Elizabeth Taylor is said to have screamed, throwing her shoes at the screen when she first saw this drama about a high-price call-girl. She had never wanted to do it in the first place, telling Sol Siegel, the MGM production chief: "This is the most pornographic script I have ever read. I’ve been here for 17 years and I was never asked to play such a horrible role as Gloria Wandrous. She’s a sick nymphomaniac. I won’t do it for anything."
Unfortunately, MGM held her over a barrel with a musty age-old contract, forcing her to make this for $125,000 before her $1 million payday for Fox’s Cleopatra (1963). John O’Hara’s novel was duly transformed into a trash fest, sleazily capitalising on Taylor’s scandalous image for seducing her married co-star, Eddie Fisher, away from Debbie Reynolds.
The consolation prize was winning best actress after three Oscar defeats, a victory usually chalked up to sympathy, during Taylor’s recovery from pneumonia and a tracheotomy.
Daniel Craig: Spectre (2015 and Bond generally)
Amid all the hoopla about which lucky actor gets to play 007 next, the likes of Tom Hardy should probably be warned that the role’s no cakewalk. Sean Connery famously hated Bond – "I’d like to kill him," he would say – and feuded for decades with Cubby Broccoli over pay, which explains why he kept quitting the series. But Daniel Craig has been more outspoken about the routine arduousness of getting one of the films in the can. Two days after wrapping production on Spectre in 2015, he gave a notorious interview to Time Out London, saying that he’d "rather slash his wrists" than do another one.
These are never tightly efficient shoots, but chaotic races against time, with script polishes and/or third-act repairs demanded at a harrowingly late stage. For all this, maybe Craig is just a canny negotiator who knows which side his bread is buttered on: his £37 million fee for Spectre was upped to a reported £50 million when they lured him back for No Time to Die.
Kate Winslet: Titanic (1997)
It would spiral wildly over budget, petrify the studio executives and wind up as a record-breaking box office phenomenon. But the day-to-day process of making Titanic, for the 21-year-old Kate Winslet, was simply torture. She told Rolling Stone that James Cameron used to call her "Kate Weighs-a-Lot", prompting unhappy memories of nicknames she was given in school.
Conditions, as the production ran on and on, were gruelling: 20-hour days were sometimes mandated, and most scenes were shot at night, meaning 4am breakfasts and wild disorientation. For all the scenes when she was swimming, Winslet was one of the few actors who wore no wetsuit, out of a concern it might show through the chiffon. "It was like swimming in the coldest winter in the history of Scottish winters," she later recalled. "No acting was required because my reactions were real."
No wonder she came down with pneumonia – almost causing her to quit. She also nearly drowned when her coat got snagged underwater. These days, she hates watching herself in it, wishing for a redo on every scene – but maybe without the ordeal.
Alec Guinness: Star Wars (1977)
What was it that caused Alec Guinness to have such a rough time working on his Oscar-nominated role in the modern era’s best-loved blockbuster? The answer’s simple: George Lucas’s script.
"New rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wodges of pink paper – and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable," he wrote from the set to a friend. In the same letter he refers uncertainly to "Tennyson (that can’t be right) Ford" and admits the money, doubled in negotiations, was the one thing keeping him going.
He wasn’t the only cast member to doubt Lucas’s writing abilities – "George, you can type this s--, but you can’t say it!" Harrison Ford famously quipped, while Carrie Fisher found her exposition so unspeakable it perversely inspired her to become a screenwriter.
Wesley Snipes: Blade: Trinity (2004)
If ever the third time was not the charm, it was during the dud finale to Wesley Snipes’s vampire superhero saga, which might have continued if he hadn’t hated it so much. "Bad ingredients going in, bad cake coming out," Snipes summed up when I interviewed him in 2014.
David S. Goyer had written the first two screenplays, but their relationship collapsed here, with Snipes complaining that his white co-stars, Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel, were dragging the emphasis away from him.
According to the supporting player Patton Oswalt, Snipes would "smoke weed all day" and seemed permanently on edge. At one point, he supposedly tried to choke Goyer – though Snipes denies this. The next day, a posse of bikers showed up on set – Goyer had met them at a strip bar overnight, and bribed them to pose as his security. Snipes, it is said, freaked out and retreated to his trailer. By the end of the shoot, he was communicating only using Post-it notes signed "from Blade".
Harrison Ford: Blade Runner (1982)
Rick Deckard in Blade Runner is a grumbling cynic slogging through a what-fresh-hell assignment in thoroughly inhospitable surroundings. Harrison Ford didn’t so much sink into character as live all of the above for months. "It was a long slog," he told Vanity Fair in 2017. Ridley Scott had just lost his 45-year-old brother Frank to skin cancer, and was having to placate hordes of meddling studio cronies. His lowering mood infected the atmosphere on the Warner Bros backlot – all smoke and boiling noodles, as they shot night after night.
"In a way, it’s a benevolent dictatorship," Scott likes to say of his non-collaborative directing style. But Ford and he were at loggerheads about whether Deckard was really a replicant, a notion Ford despised, which Scott kept trying to plant in the story. Ford exploded when that origami unicorn crept in as a clue. "Goddamn it, I thought we said I wasn’t a replicant!" Growling through a voice-over he considered "awkward and uninspired" set the tone for post-production, and the film’s box office fortunes were equally depressing.