Behind-the-scenes battles plague Connery's latest. From clashes over direction to shooting delays to budget overruns, Sean Connery's new film is having some major ''League'' problems
By Benjamin Svetkey | Nov 22, 2002
We'll get to the argument over the elephant gun in Malta in a moment. How it hung up filming for a full day. How Sean Connery and director Stephen Norrington supposedly came to blows over it. For now, though, let's stick to what's going on inside this drafty, drizzly studio on the outskirts of Prague, where Connery has been stuck in his trailer for the last four hours waiting for Norrington to finish fidgeting with camera angles and fussing with the lighting.
''Connery isn't very pleased with how this is going,'' understates a crew member as he watches Norrington bounce around the soundstage in cargo pants and a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt. ''He's not used to being kept waiting on a movie set. I mean, he's 72 years old. And he's Sean Connery.''
''Oh, yes, it's been difficult,'' Connery himself concurs. ''Very, very difficult. There's no question about it.''
This $100 million Twentieth Century Fox adaptation of Alan Moore's cult comic book ''The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'' may well do blockbuster business when it opens in July 2003. But it faces more challenges than merely selling audiences on tweed-clad superheroes fighting crime in 19th-century London. (Connery, as swashbuckling adventurer Allan Quatermain, leads a band of superfriends that includes Jason Flemyng's Dr. Henry Jekyll, Naseeruddin Shah's Captain Nemo, Shane West's grown-up Tom Sawyer, and Peta Wilson's secret-agent vampire Mina Harker.) In fact, the mood on set is so bleak that the cast and crew don't even bother to lie to a visiting journalist about how swell it's all going. ''I've never been on a set as tense as this,'' offers a frazzled stagehand. ''Everybody just wants to go home.''
The problems started in August, just as filming began, when the worst weather in more than 100 years flooded Europe. The deluge destroyed almost $7 million worth of ''League'''s sets -- even Nemo's submarine sank -- and added at least two weeks of costly delays as cast and crew scattered across the Continent after emergency evacuations. (Fleeing his suite at the Four Seasons, Connery managed to rescue only his golf clubs.)
Then came the shouting matches between the Scottish superstar and Norrington, 38, a British-born ex-effects artist whose last U.S. directorial effort was 1998's ''Blade.'' The two butted egos over virtually every element of the production. And now, on this chilly October evening, with a month of shooting still left on the schedule, the pace of filming has slowed to a crawl that would have had Stanley Kubrick tapping his wristwatch impatiently. ''This director doesn't know what he wants,'' grouses another crew member. ''He shoots an enormous amount of film. He'll do 10 setups when you usually only do two. Most of this movie is going to end up on the cutting-room floor -- if it ever gets finished.''
Of course, ''Titanic'' wasn't always smooth sailing either. And when ''League'' debuts, chances are audiences won't smell a whiff of the turmoil that went into its making. ''Has this been the easiest production? No. But what matters is what's on screen,'' says Jeffrey Godsick, exec VP of marketing for Fox. ''I've seen all the dailies and can tell you that this movie rocks.''
Regardless of how the film turns out, the battles behind the camera have provided plenty of drama. For instance, there was the business in Malta in late August, when Norrington shut down the set for the day because a prop elephant gun didn't look quite right. The director won't say what exactly was wrong with it -- in fact, he won't talk to journalists at all, about any subject, on or off the record -- but sources say Connery was so livid that he threatened to have Norrington fired. According to press accounts, Norrington got a little livid too. ''I'm sick of it! Come on, I want you to punch me in the face!'' he was quoted as shouting. Sources shoot down reports, however, that the two actually traded punches. ''It was more like Stephen saying to Connery, 'How mad are you? Are you mad enough to hit me in the face?''' says an eyewitness on the crew. He adds that Connery ended the argument by turning his back and walking off the set.
''The two clash almost daily,'' confides one costar, who, along with almost everyone involved with ''League,'' prefers not to be identified. ''They both have really powerful personalities. Sean has strong feelings for how he wants things to be. He wants to get the shot done. Stephen hasn't been around as long, but he's a quasi-genius. He likes to change things on the spot and try stuff out. And he doesn't care if it's Brad Pitt or whoever -- he wants to stick to his way.'' Another costar puts it succinctly: ''Stephen is phenomenally opinionated about the way things should be, and so is Sean.''
To be fair, the quasi-genius isn't responsible for all of the film's woes. In addition to those epic floods, a few observers believe Connery shares the blame. ''Some actors want to be directors, some want to be writers, some want to be producers. He's the only one who wants to be an assistant director,'' says an insider. ''All his problems are about scheduling. Why not just give the director a chance to make his movie?''
Meanwhile, back on the set, Norrington is finally ready to do just that. Around midnight, Connery is summoned from his trailer for an action sequence in which a bad guy will attempt to clobber him on the head with a spiked mace. The star swaggers out looking tired but ready for battle, on and off camera. ''There have been differences of opinion about almost everything,'' he says, his eyes wearily following the director around the set. ''Professional differences, personal differences, you name it. But my philosophy has been to shoot the movie and talk about right and wrong afterwards. To be honest, I just want to complete the picture. That's all I want right now.''
Unfortunately, that won't be happening any time soon. In fact, tonight the waiting may have just begun. Lying on a nearby table, beside the mace, is the prop Connery is supposed to brandish in this evening's fight scene: an elephant gun.