The MCU is the inarguably the Hollywood juggernaut of the 21st century. It singlehandedly reinvented the concept of the multi-media, long-form franchise to the point where every western film studio has been frantically scrambling to put their own spin on the Marvel formula since 2012’s The Avengers. A major factor to the success of the series, alongside an emphasis on character interaction and an unabashed acceptance of its own goofy premise, is an A-list cast that consistently knocks it out of the park film after film after film. Seriously, with one or two rare exceptions, there are no definitively bad performances in the entire franchise.
But if the Hollywood machine runs on talent, then public feuds, unprofessional breakdowns, and celebrity gossip is the oil that keeps the gears from jamming. It’s no secret that there are some actors with whom it’s nearly impossible for the studio, the director, or other actors to work with. Even the MCU is not immune from having hired some personalities too big for their films to contain. Be it from lack of interest in their profession, personal demons, or a general clashing of personalities, here are 15 MCU actors who are notoriously difficult to work with.
15 ROBERT DOWNEY JR.
At this point, the rise, fall, and subsequent redemption of Robert Downey Jr. is almost as widely known as his character arc as Tony Stark, the progenitor of the MCU. In the years since his drug-fueled downward spiral, Downey Jr. has since gotten clean and currently enjoys a reputation as one of the most affable actors in Hollywood. He earns a spot on this list because he’s made himself a veritable enemy of the studio.
Not long after The Avengers, RDJ started making a very public stink about the unequal pay among the film’s cast. Incredibly, his complaint wasn’t that he was underpaid, but that his co-workers were making a fraction of his salary. While the bad publicity put him at odds with Disney execs, it more or less confirmed that he was really as cool a guy as everyone wanted him to be.
14 NATALIE PORTMAN
A Harvard grad and industry big-wig, Natalie Portman is known publicly as a consummate professional who isn’t afraid to relax and make light with her co-stars. Professionally, she’s known as a timebomb with a notoriously short temper. Reportedly, she considers herself a legitimate actress deserving of only serious, dramatic roles. Given her academic background, it makes sense she’d be more of an Oscar hound, but the problem is she’s mostly known for her franchise features.
Among her big budget performances are her big break in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and her MCU role of Jane Foster in the Thor movies. The distance between her desired reputation and actual position in Hollywood may be the source of her apparently considerable wrath. Her anger is best exemplified in the production of Jane Got a Gun when multiple big-name actors abandoning the project to avoid working with Portman.
13 EDWARD NORTON
Perhaps the most notably cringe-worthy casting choice of the MCU, Edward Norton was cast as Bruce Banner in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Norton is a talented actor and known for playing dichotic characters so, on a surface level at least, his casting makes sense. However, Norton is one of the most famously impossible to work with actors in the industry today. A notorious control freak, Norton tries to dominate every aspect of virtually every movie he’s been in almost to the point of obsessive compulsion.
His need for control was prominent in Incredible Hulk, for which he was an uncredited screenwriter. Once production wrapped, Marvel Studios voiced its concern with Norton’s style and a contract dispute officially severed ties with the two parties. Mark Ruffalo stepped up to the role and that’s probably what’s best for everyone.
12 TERRENCE HOWARD
Another case of an actor being so difficult to work with that the had to be recast, Terrence Howard was the original Colonel James Rhodes in Iron Man. However, he apparently was obnoxious on set and when director Jon Favreau gave him a significant pay cut, Howard happily skipped off the sequel. Subsequent projects and further exposure revealed more and more of Howard’s dark side, including his excuses for his behavior towards women and a generally awful attitude.
Interviews in recent years have demonstrated a continuous spiral into celebrity insanity that mirrors the likes of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, saying, among other things, that he has 432 faces, that he routinely plays a tape that his ex-wife used to blackmail him, and that his attitude towards life was developed after watching his father stab a man with a nail file while in line to see a mall Santa.
11 MICKEY ROURKE
When you openly brag about ‘hacking off’ many of your industry peers, you may be something of a jerk. Mickey Rourke, who played the villainous Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2, has a history of such behavior, which began in the early days of his career when he admitted in an interview that he didn’t consider acting a masculine enough job for him.
This reputation has dogged him his entire career and his general attitude on the set of Iron Man 2 certainly didn’t help to fix things. Jon Favreau was upset with Rourke’s repeated improvisations which often differed wildly from the script, verging into the surreal. This resulted in Rourke’s role being significantly reduced and forced poor Sam Rockwell, who shared most of Rourke’s screen time, to shoulder the burden of keeping his co-star focused.
10 GWYNETH PALTROW
Anyone who’s ever looked into cosmetics could tell you that academy award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow is a bit conceited. Through her lifestyle blog, her attitude in interviews, and general stories that emerge from her movies, it becomes clear that Paltrow clearly has a high opinion of herself. She’s apparently a huge diva, often only signing on to films if they agree on her expensive and expansive rider, a part of which involves a section stating that any shower she enters has to be dried beforehand so she doesn’t come into contact with other people’s water.
Apart from that, she’s reportedly very cold and distant to her costars, keeping them at an arm’s length until they justify their presence to her. Still, this hasn’t kept Paltrow from enjoying a highly successful career, which includes playing Tony’s love interest Pepper Potts in various Marvel movies.
9 TOMMY LEE JONES
Tommy Lee Jones is an amazing Hollywood puzzle. His charismatic screen presence has rightfully made him one of the highest regarded actors in tinsel town, but he’s also an infamous diva with almost no concern for the feelings and safety of others. From verbally threatening his Batman Forever co-star Jim Carrey to being such an on-set bully that reportedly the whole plot to Men in Black 3 was an excuse for director Barry Sonnenfeld to not work with him, Jones has basically burned as many bridges as he’s crossed.
But still, his acting chops have not dulled with age, as he more than demonstrated with his role of Colonel Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger. And in his defense, he reportedly behaved himself on set while bringing his sage charm to the film.
8 IDRIS ELBA
Idris Elba is a unique entry on this list because he’s not only a spectacular actor, but from almost all accounts he’s a pretty good guy to work with. The only exception to this seems to be the Marvel movies themselves. Elba has played Heimdall in all three Thor movies and, while he was initially excited for the role, his attitude quickly soured during initial production.
He publicly railed against each of the trilogy, though his ire seemed to peak during Thor: The Dark World. His complains ranged to his uncomfortable costume, the stiff quality of the script, and his feeling of disrespect on set. Though this is very much Elba knocking on the studio that signs his checks, he’s professional enough to not let his anger with the company bleed into his performance, which has always been sincere and powerful.
7 HUGO WEAVING
A veritable god among nerds, Hugo Weaving has enough sci-fi and fantasy roles under his belt that he could easily retire from acting and live off convention appearance fees for the rest of his life. And his turn as Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger might have been the performance that pushed him over the edge.
Weaving was very public with how tiring both the role and the amount of time he had to spend in makeup were, much to the chagrin of the studio and his coworkers. Need more proof of Weaving’s post-production spite? Look up interviews he did after his role in the Transformers movies where he called the franchise and his voiceover work as Megatron ‘empty’ and ‘soulless.’ Which…yeah, give the man credit, he calls ‘em like he sees ‘em.
6 FINN JONES
In the grand, multi-media Marvel experiment, there has only been one discernibly palpable failure: the poorly received Iron Fist Netflix show. And one of the most visibly detrimental aspects of the show is its lead, Finn Jones as Danny Rand, the titular superhero. You may be wondering what he’s doing on this list as Jones is famously amicable and a charmer off screen.
However, he earns his place here by having absolutely no tangible chemistry with any of his co-stars, even with his real-life friend Jessica Henwick who played his love interest Colleen Wing. While he may be easy to work with in a traditional sense, the lack of noticeable human connection on screen has inspired more fan backlash than Marvel Studios has ever experienced, making it difficult to write and produce stories around him.
5 ANTHONY HOPKINS
Sir Anthony Hopkins is an absolute legend of the film industry. He’s Hannibal Lector, Hrothgar, and Odin in the MCU. From his theater roots where he was the protégé and understudy to the incomparable Laurence Olivier to his current role as Hollywood’s go-to sage character, Hopkins has been giving consistently terrific performances for the better part of fifty years. Which is why it’s sad to learn that he’s often described as distant and aloof when the camera’s not rolling.
In interviews, Hopkins is very open about his difficulty connecting to people and his general disdain for actors and the acting business, though he hides it well behind quintessential British posh. Case in point, he never directly disparaged his roles in the Thor movies, but he did state in an interview that he’d completely forgotten its second installment.
4 STELLAN SKARSGARD
A favorite plaything and collaborator of Swedish auteur Lars Von Trier, Stellan Skarsgard is a practiced student of the Dogma 95 style, the patriarch of a growing family of thespians, and perhaps the most famous Norwegian actor in the world today. He’s also a notorious on set prankster known for using his intimidating accent, wild antics, and dramatic flair to frighten his co-stars.
Among his more famous exploits, he once coerced Paul Bettany into being in Von Trier’s Dogville, an experience Bettany called ‘disgusting’ and compared to torture, vowing never again to work with Von Trier or Skarsgard, a promise he would later break in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Still, Skarsgard is a professional and an artist at his core. No amount of backstage hijinks could keep him from absolutely killing it as Erik Selvig in the Thor and Avengers movies.
3 ANDY SERKIS
Most people know Andy Serkis as the leading figurehead in the field of motion-capture performances. Thanks to his revolutionary roles in The Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes series, the Academy is considering giving the genre its own Oscar category. However, Serkis is as synonymous with mo-cap as it is with him, which is a chip on his shoulder he reportedly brings to almost every set he’s been on since 2003.
In interviews, you can track his progression over the years where he slowly takes more and more credit for the rise of mo-cap technology. This has earned him more than a few enemies in the world of graphic design, with several animators claiming he belittles their profession. With Serkis playing the live-action Ulysses Klaw in Age of Ultron and the upcoming Black Panther, this debate probably won’t involve his MCU performances.
2 COREY STOLL
Some actors are hard to work with because they’re divas, some are hard to work with because they’re pretentious, and some are hard to work with because they’re out of control. And some are hard to work with because they are Corey Stoll and are somehow all three. Holding the distinction of playing the villainous Darren Cross in Ant-Man, Stoll is also known for his inflammatory interviews where he’s more than happy to express his ideas on the limitations of art, the emptiness of politics, and the inexorable tragedy of humanity.
And if you think that sounds like the diatribe of a first-year liberal arts student, you should hear how he talks about his movies. Stoll has a habit of defaming them and expressing his disappointment with their productions, sometimes before they even come out. Though Ant-Man was spared such a fate, it was certainly a close call.
1 STAN LEE
One of the guaranteed bright spots of any Marvel movie is the now-obligatory Stan Lee cameo. It’s just so affirming and fun to see the creator of all these beloved properties winking to the audience and living it up among movie stars. Since his cameos are only a few seconds long each movie, he usually only spends a day or two on set and doesn’t hang around long enough to cause drama.
So what makes him hard to work with? If you’re any kind of comic book reader, you know of Stan Lee’s sordid and controversial history as a writer and publisher. His highly public feuds with Jack Kirby and other writers have cast significant doubt and confusion over their respective legacies. Though he’s virtually untouchable now, Lee’s history has made any business decision he’s involved in somewhat questionable.