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How Do You Deal With a Diva?

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How Do You Deal With a Diva?
Laura Caparrotti, New York; 'Black Paintings' (the Kitchen), 'Necklaces' (Abrons Arts Center), 'The Papaleo Case' (Theater for the New City), 'Timon of Athens' (Teatro Stabile, Turin, Italy); founding director of Kairos Italy Theater

It really depends on what you mean by "diva." If someone's fame brings in an audience, I try to be very patient, knowing that he or she is not going to change for me. I tend to make a silent deal with the diva, suggesting, You let me work and I let you play diva—a bit!

The real problems surface with the wannabe divas. These actors really get on my nerves. At first I try to remain calm, showing through my behavior that such attitudes are not welcomed. If they don't understand (and often they don't), I start to fight their childish attitudes. I've always thought that a director has to be a bit of a therapist in understanding the actors and the crew, but when the problems become too overwhelming, you have to be a strategist.

The best trick is to let them know, never directly, that no one is indispensable. I had a medium-fame diva who kept me waiting, refusing to commit herself to whether she'd be in my show or not. She kept saying that she might have other commitments. Being very naive, I asked for her opinion in naming someone who could cover the role I thought she'd play. The more we talked about it, the more we name-dropped, the more serious her expression became. Not much time passed before she said, without looking at me, "You know, I think I may be able to move things around," and she did. The idea of someone replacing her was unbearable. By the way, she was great in the show!

Actors should never fight a diva. It's a waste of energy. Deal with the director. If the diva has taken on the role of director, talk to her as if you are a friend and asking for her advice. And if the diva is a real diva, look at her carefully and learn her tricks.

Mark Rosman, Los Angeles; the films 'A Cinderella Story' and 'The Perfect Man,' the TV series 'Ghost Whisperer'

What's a director's most dreaded word in the English language? "Diva." When I'm directing, every morning I wake up wondering if I'm going to be able to complete that day of shooting. And that worry is there even when you know your actors are professional, prepared, and collaborative. But when you have a diva on your hands, that worry becomes agony.

Luckily, I haven't run across many divas. But every now and again, I run into an actor who doesn't listen, acts like a spoiled child, throws tantrums, and makes my and everyone else's lives miserable. I believe this behavior usually comes from one place: fear.

So how do I deal with divas? I try to figure out what they're afraid of. If it's about a challenging role, I talk with them about the character and what in the actor's personality he or she can pull from it that relates to the character. If it's about their career, I talk to them about why I cast them, why I love who they are as an actor, and how this role is going to be important for their career. If it's resistance to going to an emotionally scary place, I reassure them that I am not there to judge them but to catch them if they fall and to guide them.

Occasionally, it's not about fear. The actor might be having a bad day, or they've just reached an angry stage in their life. If nothing I do gets through to them, I will shoot the scene without their close-ups or, God forbid, without them at all. Nothing gets through to an incorrigible actor like telling them they're not needed for the scene.

If you're a diva, just know that most of the time the director is there to make you look good. If you look good, their movie is going to look good. Talk to your director, and be up front about what's bothering you. Give the director time to figure out a solution. Because if you don't, he'll shoot the scene without you.

Ken Feinberg, Atlanta; the films 'Foreign Exchange' and '3½'

If you find yourself on a set with a diva who has all the power, this is my advice: Talk to them in a pleasing tone of voice. Listen to their demands. See if they'll play the "what if" game with you, as in "What if we tried it this way?" Or "What if that couldn't happen like that? What do you think if we tried it this way?"

Divas always like to feel they are the one who matters. So as a director, you have to allow them to think that. Otherwise, you won't be making the movie you want.

If, however, a diva is too demanding to work with, your last course of action is to bow out of the project. There is no shame in saying to the producer, "Thank you for the opportunity. I wish you luck with this project."

If you are an actor and find yourself on set with a diva, don't stand for it. Do not let yourself be intimidated. Do not let them bully you. You are a professional actor, not a doormat. Behave professionally and create that reputation with your producers and directors. They will thank you for it.

Norith Soth, Los Angeles; the films 'Metamorphosis: Beyond the Screen Door' and 'The Sibling'

Since the first film I directed, "Metamorphosis," I have rarely dealt with divas. I was 19 and naive, so I prepared heavily, storyboarding several times, editing the movie in my mind. The end result was different from what I imagined, but my preparation protected me from the diva. It made me look like I knew what I was doing, and divas can spring up like weeds, especially if they don't have confidence in the director's knowledge and skill. So homework and decision making is your shield—as well as your duty. People will rarely mess with a director on a mission.

However, producers can also be divas. I recently dealt with one such. We were on the last shoot of a 16-hour day and disagreed about how to approach a scene. The producer, who also happened to be an actor in the film, did not like my approach. I did not like hers. I could have screamed and torn the set apart, but instead I suggested we do one of her version and then one of mine. She could not say no to that. The result? We took the film in a different direction and used neither version. The film, in the end, is controlled in the editing room. Just make sure the divas don't show up there.

Troy Kotsur, Los Angeles; the films 'Deaf Ghost,' 'Ray's Potions,' and 'Got Matches'

How I handle a diva would depend on the situation and the demands they were making. A director has to be somewhat of a psychologist. I have worked with many passionate people who try to make their strong feelings understood, and it's important to try to understand where they're coming from and let them know their feelings are being acknowledged and respected. After listening to the diva, ultimately my decisions come down to discerning what's best for the story. Keeping the focus on the story can diffuse diva energy that could otherwise suck the life out of everyone's spirit.

Communication skills are so crucial. A great director is one who can communicate effectively and thereby lead. I have high expectations that every cast and crew member operate professionally. If someone is particularly demanding, it impacts everyone's experience, and it's my job to pick up on that before hiring that person.

I've heard of directors firing a diva on the set. I would try to proactively avoid any such situation coming up in the first place. If it did arise, I would make every attempt at diplomacy without further enabling the person's bad behavior.

As an actor in the past, I dealt with a few divas, and although 98 percent of the time I was able to smooth over rough patches, only once in my acting career did I actually have to walk off the set to "breathe" for a minute. On another occasion, I recall how a director handled a diva without pointing a finger at the offender. The director made a general comment about her "disappointment." I admired the director's subtle pressure on the actor to remain accountable to the group and not demand special treatment. It worked. The diva got the point, and her bad behavior did not happen again.

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