Working with A-listers has become common practice for David O. Russell. Movies like Three Kings, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle have brought the director into close contact with some of Hollywood’s highest-profile actors. His next film, Amsterdam, out October 7, features a celebrity-studded ensemble that includes Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Chris Rock, Rami Malek, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Robert De Niro, and even Taylor Swift. If Amsterdam follows the pattern of Russell’s previous work, it may very well lead the cast to several Oscar nominations in the acting categories. Russell himself has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including three nods as Best Director.
Yet his critical acclaim has been consistently accompanied by troubling allegations. For example, Russell has admitted to touching his 19-year-old niece’s breasts in 2011, stating that she was being “very provocative.” He has also been accused of multiple instances of verbally or physically abusive behavior on his sets. Notably, an outburst in which he cursed at Lily Tomlin and flung props around during the I Heart Huckabees shoot was captured on video. Some actors who have been the target of Russell’s alleged tirades, including Tomlin and George Clooney, have publicly expressed that they are no longer upset with the director. Of course, it’s not clear if every crew member or studio exec involved in these allegedly toxic work environments feels the same way. Vulture has reached out to representatives for Russell for comment. Drawing from a police report, leaked emails, that famous Lily Tomlin video, and more, here’s a timeline of all the allegations that have been made against Russell throughout the course of his career.
June 2000: In an interview with Playboy, George Clooney alleges that Russell yelled and screamed at people “all day, from day one” on the set of Three Kings. According to Clooney, the director publicly embarrassed a camera-car driver and reduced a script supervisor to tears. Allegedly, Russell also once got physically violent when an extra who was supposed to tackle Clooney felt “a little nervous” about executing the stunt. Clooney recalls Russell pushing the extra to the ground, kicking him, and questioning if he wanted to be “in this fucking movie.” Russell allegedly also flung his walkie-talkie on the ground and cursed at an assistant director who intervened on behalf of the extra.
“I was trying to make things work, so I went over and put my arm around him,” Clooney says. “I said, ‘David, it’s a big day. But you can’t shove, push or humiliate people who aren’t allowed to defend themselves.’” According to Clooney, this made him a new target of Russell’s anger. Russell allegedly instructed Clooney to worry about his own performance, headbutted him, and grabbed his throat. Clooney tells Playboy that shooting the movie was “truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life.”
Russell, meanwhile, denies harming his leading man. “I never physically attacked him,” he claims in 2004, per The Guardian. “If I ran into him, I’d say, ‘Shut the fuck up, you lying-ass bitch.’” Three Kings producer Charles Roven later tells The Hollywood Reporter that Russell was not picking on the AD but simply yelling so he could be heard on a loud set. Still, Roven corroborates that Clooney and Russell ended up “tussling” after Clooney stepped in and was subsequently insulted. In 2012, Clooney tells THR that he and Russell ran into each other at a party and agreed to end their feud.
April 2003: Per the New York Times, Russell physically attacks Christopher Nolan at a Hollywood party. The director reportedly wanted Jude Law to star in I Heart Huckabees but heard that Law had decided to take a role in one of Nolan’s movies instead. The Times reports that, with party guests watching, Russell put Nolan in a headlock and wrapped his arm around his fellow director’s neck. He allegedly demanded that Nolan give up on his star to show “artistic solidarity.” Law remained in the Huckabees cast.
July 2003: In a now-infamous video taken on the Huckabees set, actress Lily Tomlin expresses frustration with a “constant barrage of changes” being asked of her. “I’m not as brilliant as you. I can’t keep up with you,” she quips. Russell is eventually seen sweeping props off a desk, causing a person in the corner to cower as objects go flying. “Bitch! I’m not here to be fucking yelled at!” he shouts. “I worked on this thing for three fucking years, and I’m not going to have some fucking cunt yell at me in front of the fucking crew when I’m trying to fucking help you.” Russell storms on and off set, continuing to yell.
A recording of the incident is circulated among talent agencies that summer. According to the New York Times in 2004, Russell locked himself in his office and refused to leave after the outburst. He reportedly didn’t come back to the shoot until Tomlin went in to apologize. The Times, in an article titled “Nudist Buddhist Borderline-Abusive Love-in,” also claims that Russell sometimes touched the Huckabee cast “in private places.” Allegedly, Russell grabbed Mark Wahlberg’s genitals during the shoot and whispered “lewdly” into actresses’ ears before takes. These details end up mostly overshadowed by Russell and Tomlin’s explosive confrontation.
“Sure, I wish I hadn’t done that,” Russell reportedly says when asked about the meltdown. “But Lily and I are fine.” Tomlin says that she and Russell both lost control, which she assures the Times is “not a practice on his part or my part.” In 2015, she reveals to The Hollywood Reporter that she and the director actually had a “second fracas” just hours after making up but maintains they have “overcome” the incident.
March 2011: Speaking at South by Southwest, Paul Reubens alleges that Russell screamed at him “at the top of his lungs” on his first day working on Nailed (the Jake Gyllenhaal–led movie, shot in 2008, was later released under the title Accidental Love in 2015). Reubens claims that he doesn’t know what caused the director to start cursing and screaming at him on the first take. “I don’t think it was reality-based,” he says with a laugh.
January 2012: 19-year-old Nicole Peloquin files a police report alleging that Russell — her uncle — sexually assaulted her at a gym in Florida on December 30, 2011. The Smoking Gun obtains and publishes a copy of the report filed with the Broward sheriff’s office. According to the report, the then-53-year-old Russell offered to help his niece with abdominal exercises and placed a hand “right above” her genitals. Peloquin, a transgender woman who was on hormone treatment at the time, further alleges that Russell then reached under her shirt and felt both of her breasts.
Russell admits to a responding officer that he touched his niece’s breasts, claiming that he was curious about how the hormones affected her breasts. According to the report, Russell states that Peloquin was being “very provocative” and had become “seductive” after transitioning. He adds that he asked his niece if she was uncomfortable several times, and had her “pinky swear” about letting him touch her chest. Peloquin said in the report that she felt uncomfortable.
A representative for the Sheriff’s office tells TMZ on January 6 that the case has been closed and that cops won’t refer it to the state’s attorney “because it’s an allegation of simple battery that was not witnessed by law enforcement.” Ultimately, Russell does not face any criminal charges.
September 2014: In an email that later becomes public through the Sony hack, journalist Jonathan Alter shares allegations about Russell’s behavior on American Hustle with Sony CEO Michael Lynton, Alter’s brother-in-law. “Not only are the stories about him reforming himself total bullshit,” Alter writes, “but the new stories of his abuse and lunatic behavior are extreme even by Hollywood standards.” He alleges that Russell grabbed one person by the collar, repeatedly cursed at people in front of others, and “so abused” Amy Adams that co-star Christian Bale told the director to “stop acting like an asshole.” Alter also generally claims that Russell treated his crew “like shit” and “frightened people.” Lynton replies that he “knew all about” this intel, noting that Russell will be working with Fox for his next movie.
The same month, Columbia Pictures co-president Michael De Luca emails Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal and alleges that he once saw Russell bring actress Sally Field to a party and reduce her to tears. This email exchange is also eventually leaked through the Sony hack.
February 2015: An eyewitness tells TMZ that Russell and his frequent collaborator Jennifer Lawrence had a loud argument on the set of the Fox movie Joy. Allegedly, David launched into an ear-piercing, profanity-filled tirade against the actress. A representative for the Fox studio confirms to TMZ that the director screamed but claims he was preparing Lawrence to shout in a scene. In a since-deleted Facebook post, Lawrence calls the shouting match a “terrible rumor,” adding that she “adores” Russell and considers him one of her closest friends.
TMZ’s eyewitness also alleges that a major exec for Fox was left in tears after Russell rebuked her for defending a line producer he wanted to fire. Fox’s rep confirms that there was a “heated” argument about the producer on the Joy set but denies that the exec ended up crying.
October 2016: Speaking to British GQ, Amy Adams addresses the leaked Sony exchange and confirms that she was mistreated by Russell on the set of American Hustle. Adams alleges that the director developed a “wild, crazy way of working” while shooting 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook. She describes the result as “mania,” claiming that Russell screamed instructions at actors throughout “every scene.”
Allegedly, Russell was so hard on Adams while shooting American Hustle that she cried. “I was really just devastated on set,” she recalls. The actress concedes that not all of her co-stars had the same experience, pointing to Jennifer Lawrence as an example. “She’s Teflon. And I am not Teflon,” Adams said. “But I also don’t like to see other people treated badly, you know what I mean?”
January 2020: Deadline reports that Russell will write and direct a movie starring Christian Bale for New Regency. This will be Russell’s first feature film since 2015’s Joy.
June 2021: Taylor Swift is the last person to be revealed as part of the ensemble cast for Russell’s upcoming movie, which is now officially titled Amsterdam. She joins Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldana, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Robert De Niro, Michael Shannon, and Timothy Olyphant.
The star-studded cast draws ire on social media, where Russell’s allegations resurface. “Did the cast not know before they signed on?” one Twitter user writes. “If you knew, why did you ignore it? What did David O. Russell say or do to deem him worthy of another chance?”
September 2022: Amsterdam makes its world premiere in Manhattan. Ben Stiller, who starred in Russell’s 1996 film, Flirting with Disaster, moderates a Q&A with Russell and the movie’s cast. According to Variety, Stiller recalls that the director creates an “intentional kind of chaos” when making a movie. Margot Robbie echoes the sentiment, adding that actors don’t know what will happen on any given day when they show up. “Literally, you don’t know what you’re going to shoot that day, which is terrifying and also exhilarating,” she says.
Robbie later tells Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show that Russell never actually called cut on Amsterdam. According to Robbie, a policewoman ultimately had to shut the shoot down when they kept filming past their permit. “He doesn’t want to stop,” she recalls. “He could go forever.”
October 2022: Christian Bale says that he is not interested in ending his collaboration with Russell anytime soon, in an interview with IndieWire to promote Amsterdam published on October 4. “It’s a very unique experience,” Bale says on his projects with the director. “David is unlike any other film director, and that’s what you want. That’s the whole point. A director brings a point of view, and a rhythm and everything, and the great ones are always unique. They’re singular. And David is that. Truly one of the greats.”
In a separate GQ cover story on October 5, Bale addresses the allegations that Russell had difficult sets, claiming that he took on a “mediator” role when altercations arose. He says he intervened on behalf of Amy Adams when filming American Hustle and corroborates previous reports that he told the director to “back off” at one point. He doesn’t harbor negative feelings for either Adams or Russell, though. “When you’re working with people of the crazy creative talent of Amy or of David, there are gonna be upsets,” he says. “But they are fucking phenomenal.”
This post has been updated with additional information.