McQueen vs. Brynner
Some funny insights into all the infighting.
Once filming was underway, McQueen decided to do what he could to take the picture away from Brynner. Since the two characters, Chris and Vin, were, ironically, close friends onscreen, they were in a lot of shots together. McQueen constantly did what he could to distract attention so future audiences would look only at him: he took off his hat, played with his gun, checked his bullets, twisted in the saddle, any bit of business possible. When the camera was rolling and he was crossing a stream on horseback behind Brynner, he swung out of his saddle, scooped water in his cowboy hat, and doused himself.
Another story, one that is sometimes discounted, revolves around certain mounds of dirt. When Brynner had to stand next to McQueen, he reportedly saw to it that there was a small hill of dirt to stand on so he was taller. (Brynner was five foot eight and McQueen was five foot ten.) McQueen, whenever possible, kicked the dirt hill down. According to Eli Wallach, Brynner was so concerned about McQueen stealing scenes that he hired an assistant to count the number of times McQueen touched his cowboy hat while Brynner was speaking.
In McQueen’s words, “We didn’t get along. Brynner came up to me one day in front of a lot of people and grabbed me by the shoulder. He was mad about something. I don’t know what. He doesn’t ride well and knows nothing about guns so maybe he thought I represented a threat. I was in my element. He wasn’t. Anyway, I don’t like people pawing at me. I said, ‘Take your hands off me.’ When you work in a scene with Yul, you’re supposed to stand perfectly still ten feet away. Well, I don’t work that way. So, I protected myself.”