Five days ago (1.10.18) “Yellow King Film Boy” posted an excerpt from a Gary Oldman interview. Stanley Kubrick‘s method of directing actors (“Do it again, please”) is alluded to,. Starting at 1:40 Oldman passes along a tale he’s heard about why Harvey Keitel walked off the set of Eyes Wide Shut.
Keitel had been hired to play the Sidney Pollack role (super-rich guy, one of the organizers of the secret orgy). As shooting happened between November ’96 to June ’98, Keitel’s departure was presumably sometime in early to mid ’97.
Keitel, says Oldman, was performing a bit in which he was just “walking through a door, and after 68 takes Keitel said, ‘I’m outta here, you’re fucking crazy…you’re fucking out of your mind.’ Because [Kubrick] would just say ‘do it again’…[he didn’t explain] what he was looking for, just ‘do it again’….I love Kubrick’s movies, but I don’t know how I would’ve worked with that.”
Oldman’s story is okay as far as it goes, but almost every actor who’s ever been in a Kubrick film has gone through this process of doing endless takes. Before signing on Keitel had to have heard about this tendency, so Oldman’s story makes Keitel seem like a guy with a short fuse and a temper.
The other story about why Keitel left Eyes Wide Shut is almost certainly bullshit, but it was passed along by director Lars von Trier, who was doing promotion for The Idiots at a Hotel du Cap press junket during the May 1998 Cannes Film Festival. The Danish director was chatting with a group of journalists in some cabana, and before passing along the Keitel story, which he got from a below-the-liner who had worked on Eyes Wide Shut before working for Von Trier, he told the journalists to shut off their tape recorders.
One of these journalists was F.X. Feeney, who told me the story a year or two later.
Von Trier said that Keitel had been filming some kind of sexually intimate scene with Eyes Wide Shut star Nicole Kidman, and that Keitel had submitted to the scene with too much passion and had accidentally ejaculated on Kidman, and that the blowback from this had led to Keitel’s departure. The incident was described by Von Trier, according to Feeney, as “an honest misfire.” The story became known as “the legend of Mr. White.”
I passed this tale along to Sidney Pollack sometime in ’99 or not long after — he laughed at the “honest misfire” line.
Which story sounds more believable? Oldman’s, of course. But which story would you rather tell your friends at a party? This is how bullshit gets passed along. The “better” story wins.