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
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.”