Did co-stars Nick Nolte and Jeremy Northam have a physical altercation while filming the Merchant Ivory adaptation of Henry James's The Golden Bowl? As director James Ivory tells TV Guide Online: "Somebody came up to me in Cannes or somewhere and said that they had heard that Nick Nolte had beaten up Jeremy, and I said that that was not true. The story was completely twisted around — Nick hadn't even come to [the set] yet."
Bowl stars Uma Thurman and Kate Beckinsale as two friends in love with an Italian prince, played by Northam. And to Ivory's surprise, a setside scuffle did occur between Northam and Beckinsale's husband, Michael Sheen. The fight, he recalls, started over "something so silly. Everyone was raving at the end of it. I was trying to calm people down."
According to Ivory, Beckinsale told Northam that he would have to walk faster in one scene to keep him from stepping on her gown's train. "That was then considered by him to be a note," he says. "This was one thing you never, never do. One actor does not give another actor a note, supposedly. I don't know why they shouldn't, but anyway. It was some crazy thing like that."
When Northam reacted angrily to Beckinsale's comment, Sheen punched him. Afterwards, Ivory says, "I think [Northam and Sheen] were so surprised that this had happened, they sort of backed off. I was there. I picked up Jeremy's glasses and handed them to him." Ivory's leading man nearly stormed off the film in a huff — but fortunately, Northam "came to his senses that night."
After collaborating with producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala on several other period dramas (including The Remains of the Day), Ivory is ready for something more lighthearted. "We're making Le Divorce by Diane Johnson," he says. "Ruth and I are doing the screenplay together. It takes place in Paris. It's about two American girls who get mixed up with men in a French family."