Stanley Kubrick was an incredibly demanding director, infamous for doing dozens of takes that drove each actor to their breaking point. Perhaps no shoot was as grueling as his final one: Eyes Wide Shut still holds the record for the longest continuous shoot, taking a whopping 15 months in production. According to supporting player Vinessa Shaw, even the famously energetic Tom Cruise was a bit exhausted by the end. It lasted so long that they had to recast one of the roles after the original actor was fired. That actor was no less than Harvey Keitel.
We as a society don’t acknowledge how fucking cool Harvey Keitel is enough
(Finally found the video of him talking about being fired from Eyes Wide Shut) pic.twitter.com/MHfh2K3GLm
— John Frankensteiner (@JFrankensteiner) November 24, 2022
Keitel originally played Victor Ziegler, one of Cruise’s character’s wealthy patients. The role eventually went to Sydney Pollack, but only after Keitel had done some filming. There are two versions of what went down. In a recently unearthed interview, Gary Oldman recounted the version he heard: that Keitel had shot a scene of him walking through the door dozens of times. By take 68, he allegedly had it.
“Harvey Keitel just said, ‘I’m outta here. You’re f*cking crazy,’” Oldman recounted. Then, Oldman said, he left.
In another, also unearthed interview, Keitel was a little cagier. After calling Kubrick a “genius,” Keitel said that he “did some things I objected to.” What did he do? He didn’t go into specifics. But he said Kubrick did some things “I didn’t like,” that he found “disrespectful.” He still didn’t elaborate, saying, “I won’t be disrespected by him or anybody.” He added, “If any actor can help it, they should help it. You don’t want to be fired.” He then admitted that he was fired, by Kubrick.
The interviewer then asked Keitel, “Is that the Brooklyn in you?” Keitel simply responded, “It’s the sense of worth in me.”
So which is true? Did Keitel simply get sick of shooting dozens of takes doing mundane things? Or was Kubrick rude to him on set? The latter isn’t unlikely. Kubrick alums have spoken about getting into clashes with him, though few resulted in them getting canned. There is a behind-the-scenes documentary from the set of The Shining, which features a scene where the director blows up on Shelley Duvall for missing a cue. She didn’t fight back. Perhaps Keitel did.
Eyes Wide Shut, a fine Christmas film that could have starred Woody Allen instead, currently streams on Netflix. Happy holidays.