It's no secret that Lars von Trier pushes his actresses to the edge - and sometimes all the way over. A director's commitment to wringing the most out of their actors dates back to another vainglorious Von: Eric von Stroheim ("Greed") was notorious for using offscreen acrimony to get what he wanted onscreen, while the lengths Abdellatif Kechiche took to achieve the three-hour intimacies of "Blue is the Warmest Color" made Léa Seydoux and newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos the first actors to share the Palme d'Or with their writer-director.
Here are four directors who stop at nothing to wring performances from their actors.
1. Lars von Trier
From enslaving Nicole Kidman in "Dogville," taking the scissors to Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Antichrist" or fashioning Emily Watson the patron saint of selfless S&M in "Breaking the Waves," the dastardly Dane asks a lot of his women. But that's because they're actually playing him, or some abstract version of his twisted Id. Women in von Trier psychodramas are the keepers of his gloomy worldview.
2. Darren Aronofsky
Details of onset actor-wrangling are well-documented in Tad Friend's much passed-around profile of Aronofsky and the making of "Noah." Stars of the diluvian epic were practically waterlogged onset. Explosives were used in close proximity to actors by Aronofsky and his crew without practice and with cavalier carelessness. In an Aronofsky film, what you're seeing is real, because even in the distorted fairyland of "Black Swan" or the Biblical bombast of "Noah," it's always realism that he wants to achieve. In worlds as allegorical as those posed by von Trier and Aronofsky, where violent emotion is the bedrock, such tactile believability is, shall I say, paramount, in winning the audience.
3. Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock made a hell of Tippi Hedren's life on the set of "The Birds." She has called him obsessive and a stalker, as dramatized in HBO's dour "The Girl." For the film's climactic scene, where Hedren heads, for reasons unknown, to the second story of the film's Bodega Bay homestead, Hitchcock had his crew hurl live birds at the actress rather than the fake ones they'd been using all along. The cuts and scratches on her face? All real. Her raw terror throughout? That's all real, too.
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