The film industry has always had its share of unpleasant personalities, but few major movie stars have been quite so universally despised as Steven Seagal. The one-time premier action man-turned outspoken Russophile once headlined such action hits as Above the Law, Hard to Kill and Under Siege, but has proven such a toxic figure that today it seems no one in Hollywood wants to work with him.
Here are just some of the high-profile figures who have made no secret of their disdain for the pony-tailed aikido master.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Steven Seagal rose to fame in the late 80s, around the same time as fellow martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme. When asked about Van Damme in an interview with Arsenio Hall, Seagal threw shade, disputing Van Damme’s status as a European karate champion. “I think that’s a matter of opinion he was champion anywhere… there are an awful lot of people who say that’s not true.”
Soon enough, reports of a feud between Seagal and Van Damme became commonplace. Studios tried to capitalise on this by casting the two together (Demolition Man, which eventually starred Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes, was initially developed for Seagal and Van Damme), but it seems their mutual animosity scuppered these plans.
Things finally reached a head at a party at Sylvester Stallone’s house in 1997. Stallone recalls, “Van Damme was tired of Seagal claiming he could kick his a** so he offered Seagal outside into my back yard. Seagal made his excuses and left. But Van Damme, who was berserk, tracked him down at a nightclub and offered him out again… Van Damme was too strong. Seagal wanted none of it.”
Several years before she found fame on TV’s ER, Julianna Margulies was a fledgling actress suddenly came up for a role in the 1991 Steven Seagal movie Out for Justice. During the audition process, Margulies (who was just 23 at the time) was told by a casting director that Seagal wanted to meet her to rehearse a scene – at 10pm in his hotel room.
Margulies recalls, “I walked in and I sat down and I jumped right back up because there was something very uncomfortable and hard in the couch… He laughed and he said, ‘Oh, sorry, that must have been my gun.'”
Margulies quickly excused herself, and after being cast in the film she said to the producers, “‘I’d really appreciate it if no one would ever let me be in the room alone with him’… because I was scared.”
John Leguizamo also appeared opposite Steven Seagal in Out for Justice (in which the actor and comedian had a bit part), but things didn’t get heated until the two men were reunited on 1996’s Executive Decision. Seagal portrayed the leader of a military unit, and apparently took a method approach as he flatly declared to his co-stars on the first day of rehearsal, “I’m in command. What I say is law.”
Leguizamo laughed at this, assuming Seagal wasn’t being serious. Leguizamo says Seagal then “taekwondo’d my a** against a brick wall… knocked all the air out of me. I was like [gasping], ‘why?’ What I really wanted to say was how big and fat he is, and how he runs like a girl… but all I could say was, ‘why?'”
2022 saw Leguizamo star in dark comedy horror film The Menu, in which he portrays an arrogant, washed-up movie star. Leguizamo has revealed that he based his performance on Seagal, saying: “He’s kind of a horrible human.”
When model, actress and TV personality Jenny McCarthy auditioned for a role in 1995’s Under Siege 2, things didn’t go as she’d expected. She found herself alone in a room with Seagal, who invited her to come sit with him beside a fireplace, before telling McCarthy, “this part has nudity in it and I can’t really tell what your body looks like in that dress that you’re wearing.”
When McCarthy said she’d been told the role did not involve nudity, Seagal replied, “well, there is off-camera nudity.” Outraged, McCarthy told Seagal, “Go buy my Playboy video,” and got up to leave. Seagal followed her and threatened, “Don’t tell anybody or else.”
The cast of Saturday Night Live
Having weekly celebrity guests host is a long-standing tradition of US comedy series Saturday Night Live, but the SNL team met their match when Steven Seagal took the job in April 1991. Not known for his sense of humour and completely unfamiliar with the show and its cast, Seagal’s episode proved to be one of the most infamous trainwrecks in SNL history.
During the rehearsal process, Seagal dismissed the ideas of the established team (specifically resisting anything that made him the object of fun) and pitched a sketch in which he plays a therapist who rapes a patient under hypnosis. Things went so bad that the producers considered firing Seagal and broadcasting the show without a host for the first time.
The SNL cast – which at the time included Chris Farley, David Spade, Dana Carvey and Rob Schneider – have all spoken of what a nightmare Seagal was to work with, whilst long-standing SNL producer Lorne Michaels later called the actor the “biggest jerk” ever to appear on the show. (Bear in mind, the original SNL host was Chevy Chase.)
Under Siege director Andrew Davis
Director Andrew Davis was, for a time, synonymous with Steven Seagal, having called the shots on the actor’s breakthrough movie Above the Law, and his biggest blockbuster, Under Siege. However, Davis was initially reluctant to make the latter film for one simple reason: he didn’t want to work with Seagal again.
In the end, Davis agreed to take the Under Siege job once Warner Bros boss Terry Semel explained that Seagal would be in less than an hour of the movie (‘supporting actor’ Tommy Lee Jones would actually have more screentime than Seagal). The success of Under Siege helped Davis land the director’s chair on The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, “so it was worth it.” Davis and Seagal have never worked together again.
Under Siege co-stars Erika Eleniak, best known at the time for her role on TV’s Baywatch. Another Baywatch actress considered for Eleniak’s role was Pamela Anderson, who says she came in to audition only to be propositioned by Seagal.
Anderson told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, “I remember him saying to me, ‘If you don’t do it, then that girl across the hall will do it, and she’ll get the job,’” Anderson recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, good, goodbye.”
Seagal’s Under Siege co-star Gary Busey is no stranger to controversy. Even so, Busey did not have a high opinion of Seagal, remarking in a 2014 interview, “Oh boy. He’s insecure. This guy went overboard with the control master. And Erika Eleniak – the little girl who was in it – I had her under my wing. He was looking to add in a love scene so he could really get down and dirty.”
Busey went on, “[Eleniak] said to me, ‘What do I do?’ And I said, ‘How much time do you have when you’re running from us to find a table, lay down and play plant-the-sausage?'” No love scene was shot – and despite the remarks of both Busey and Pamela Anderson, Eleniak has denied that Seagal ever behaved inappropriately.
Stuntman Gene LeBell
Seasoned wrestler, boxer and martial artist Gene LeBell worked alongside Steven Seagal as a stunt coordinator on 1991’s Out for Justice. The two men were soon at loggerheads, and eventually it got physical. Seagal bragged that his aikido training made him immune to being choked unconscious – so LeBell decided to put the actor to the test.
Initially, LeBell intended only to demonstrate the correct technique to Seagal, but when Seagal struck out at him, LeBell went for it for real. Accounts vary on what happened, but legend has it that LeBell not only choked Seagal to the point of unconsciousness, but that Seagal also lost control of his bowels and fully soiled himself.
LeBell (who passed away in 2022) downplayed this story in later years, but once remarked, “Sometimes Steven has a tendency to cheese off the wrong people, and you can get hurt doing that.”
Naturally, the story that Seagal filled his underwear after being choked out by LeBell soon spread far and wide. Seagal vehemently denied it, declaring LeBell “a pathological liar.” These remarks didn’t go over well with one famous protege of LeBell: the UFC champion fighter, WWE wrestler and actress Ronda Rousey.
In response to Seagal denying that he was choked out by LeBell, Rousey remarked, “Well, would you ever admit it? Obviously, the guy is a liar… If he says anything bad about Gene to my face, I would have to make him c**p his pants a second time.”
Years before starring in TV’s Grey’s Anatomy and the hit comedy Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl was an up-and-coming teenage actress cast as the niece of Seagal’s Casey Ryback in Under Siege 2. Despite the fact that Heigl was just 16 at the time, this didn’t stop Seagal from making advances.
Heigl reflected in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, “he said, ‘You know Katie, I got girlfriends your age.’ And I said, ‘Isn’t that illegal?’ And he said, ‘They don’t seem to mind.’ And I said, ‘Mom!'”
As if this wasn’t bad enough, a photograph taken on a red carpet event for Under Siege 2 clearly shows Seagal with his hand placed on Heigl’s chest.
Rae Dawn Chong
Commando actress Rae Dawn Chong also found herself preyed upon by Seagal. Chong says she was once sent by her agent for a 9:30pm ‘audition’ at the actor’s hotel room; Seagal answered the door in a robe, and Chong refused to enter the room. “I was shocked at the time… I stood outside the open door mortified that I was told to go to this meeting.”
Seagal then “walked across his room and sat in a chair and manspread so I could see his junk. But he casually covered back up as if it was a mistake… then he asked if my blouse was silk and could he feel it. I said, ‘You know what silk feels like’ and I left. I never let him touch me. And to be honest…I would have f***ing killed him.”
Chong, who fired her agent after this meeting (“My heart broke because my agency had obviously pimped me out to this creep”), says that for years afterwards Seagal would also call her and leave explicit messages on her answering machine.
Early in her career, TV journalist Lisa Guerrero was pursuing work as an actress. Under consideration for a role in Seagal’s 1997 movie Fire Down Below, she too was called for an audition, this time at Seagal’s Beverly Hills mansion. Happily, Guerrero insisted on having another woman present, the film’s casting director, so the initial audition itself was fairly normal – other than the fact that Seagal was in a robe.
Guerrero was soon asked back for a “private rehearsal” at Seagal’s home that evening. When she refused, Guerrero was taken out of the running for the film’s female lead, but was instead offered a one-day bit part. Needing the work, Guerrero took the part on the understanding she would never have to be alone with Seagal.
On the day of her scene, Guerrero found herself surrounded by an entirely male cast and crew “giggling and leering at me.” Once she’d finished shooting the scene, Seagal openly asked Guerrero to go back to his dressing room. “I said no. And he gave me a dismissive look and walked away. My role was completely cut out of the film. I believe it was because I declined his offers three times.”
Portia de Rossi
The list of women who have publicly stated they were sexually harassed by Steven Seagal also includes Portia de Rossi, the now retired actress who came to fame in the 90s on TV’s Ally McBeal. De Rossi stated that she also had an unpleasant experience whilst auditioning for a role in an unspecified Seagal film.
De Rossi wrote on Twitter in 2017 (at the peak of the #MeToo movement): ‘My final audition for a Steven Segal (sic) movie took place in his office. He told me how important it was to have chemistry off-screen as he sat me down and unzipped his leather pants. I ran out and called my agent. Unfazed, she replied, “well, I didn’t know if he was your type.”‘
Another Seagal beef that came to light via a Jimmy Kimmel interview is that of Liam Neeson. The Taken star told Kimmel in 2017, “I was particularly annoyed, some journalist told me at a junket… ‘what do you think of Steven Seagal saying you don’t know how to punch?’ I was like, ‘what?'”
Kimmel was quick to point out that Neeson had himself boxed in his youth, and while the actor was modest about this, he insisted, “I know how to punch.” Still, as humble as he might be, Neeson was not above taking some swipes at Seagal’s appearance: “I want to know who dyes his hair. Stevie Wonder?”
Thanks to her roles in such action movies as Atomic Blonde and The Old Guard, Charlize Theron is well-versed in screen fighting. While she has not reported any run-ins with Seagal herself, the Oscar-winning actress has hit Seagal where it hurts by publicly questioning his martial arts ability.
Remarking on videos of Seagal giving public displays of aikido, Theron says, “you always come across that odd Seagal video of him ‘fighting’ in Japan, but he really isn’t… He’s just incredibly overweight and pushing people.” Theron also stated she has “no problem talking s**t about [Seagal]… because he’s not very nice to women.”
Over the years, Seagal has made many bold claims about being able to beat literally anyone in a fight. Naturally, there are plenty of professional fighters who have taken exception to this – one of whom was George Foreman, the famed heavyweight boxer who in 1995 became the oldest man to ever hold the title of world heavyweight champion (at 46).
In 2017, Foreman issued a challenge to Seagal on Twitter: “Steven Seagal, I challenge you One on one, I use boxing you can use whatever. 10 rounds in Vegas.” No such fight ever happened; Seagal, perhaps coincidentally, had not long since relocated to Russia.
Actress and businesswoman Jessica Alba appeared alongside Seagal in his last major Hollywood production, 2010’s Machete, and had a strange, tense moment with her co-star when he took offence over what most would consider an innocuous remark.
Alba recalls, “I kind of called him an actor and he kind of got mad at me and corrected me and said he was an officer of the law.” (At the time, Seagal was a reserve deputy sheriff in Louisina, chronicled in his reality TV show Steven Seagal: Lawman.) Alba then said, “‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.’ But he was really sweet about letting me know it was okay that I offended him.”
Several years before she rose to stardom with Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone was an up-and-coming actress who appeared alongside Seagal, playing his wife in his breakthrough movie Above the Law. While Stone has not spoken in any detail of what transpired between them, the actress has made it clear she was not enamoured with her co-star.
In a 1999 interview, which saw the actress speak critically of many prominent figures in Hollywood, Stone flatly declared that Seagal was not worth “the ink it would take to write about him.”
The late rapper and actor DMX appeared in a number of action movies in the early 2000s, including Exit Wounds, which was one of Steven Seagal’s last major studio movies. Again, details on what went on between the two men are thin on the ground, but DMX left no illusions about how he felt about his co-star.
Not long after Exit Wounds hit screens in 2001, DMX was quoted as stating, “Steven Seagal is a f***ing f***head. With spray-on hair.”
While preparing to star in Never Say Never Again, Sean Connery took a martial arts class with Steven Seagal that he would come to regret. “I got a little cocky because I thought I knew what I was doing… I got a bit flash and [raised a hand],” Connery remembered. “And he broke my wrist.”
Connery didn’t even realise his wrist was broken, and his injury was left undiagnosed until 1996. Because of Seagal, Connery subsequently struggled with simple tasks such as reaching into his own pocket.
Entrepreneur Cheryl Shuman once ran a highly successful optometry business, with many celebrity clients. In the early 90s she worked with Seagal’s team behind the scenes on several movies, and allegedly even had a brief romance with the star (who was married to Kelly LeBrock at the time). However, she would sue him in 1994 for sexual harassment, also accusing him of hiring a group of men to threaten her life.
The lawsuit was dismissed, and Shuman’s business collapsed after the Seagal controversy, while she became afraid to re-enter Hollywood circles because she dreaded running into him.
Producer Julius Nasso was once a close friend and business partner of Seagal, but in 2002 he sued the star while claiming he’d walked out on a secured four-movie deal. In response, Seagal countersued and claimed that Nasso had hired Mafia members to threaten him.
In court, it emerged that Nasso had indeed used his connections to the Gambino crime family to threaten Seagal over a loan repayment. However, Nasso’s legal team branded Seagal a “pathological liar.” Nasso’s defence attorney George Santangelo stated that Seagal “has a reputation all over Hollywood as a liar.”
Actor and MMA fighter Don Frye is no fan of Steven Seagal. In a 2012 interview, he expressed his hatred for how Seagal speaks about their shared sport: “I read something about Steven Seagal saying he was the first mixed martial arts fighter on the planet. My a**! I guarantee you, back in 1993 or ’96, he was one of them karate idiots who was bad-mouthing the mixed martial arts and telling everybody that they were bastardizing the art of karate and it would go nowhere.”
He also labelled Seagal a “fata**”, adding: “I’d be afraid if I fell down in front of Seagal he’d start chewing on my toes!”
The Mayor of Llandudno
On a 2007 musical tour with his band Thunderbox, Seagal visited the Welsh seaside town of Llandudno. He was less than complimentary about the settlement, saying that locals had “all been messing around with the sheep, or standing in the cold too long because there was a bit of a gene pool deal going on.” He incurred the wrath of Councillor Ann Yates, the town’s mayor.
Yates blasted Seagal’s comments as “quite demeaning, quite uncalled for and insulting. He shouldn’t have said things like that and I think he’s lost a lot of fans through it. I just don’t understand where he was coming from. I don’t think he deserves to be invited back ever again, and I hope our comments get back to him.”
Chael Sonnen, a retired MMA fighter, delivered this backhanded compliment to Seagal in 2011: “I still admire Steven Seagal. Anyone that can be that self-possessed without doing a damn thing to earn it, knows something that I don’t.”
Seagal was reported to have helped train Sonnen’s rival Anderson Silva, which led Sonnen to later comment: “Yushin [Okami] and I are in Brazil to follow in Andy’s ways. Got ballet shoes, a team of has-beens, even brought a fat talentless celeb for trainer.”
Seagal once offended Rocky star Sylvester Stallone by saying he had a low opinion of him, and would not work with him. “Steven Seagal said that he ‘didn’t associate with that kind of element’ – meaning me,” Stallone has recalled. “So I slammed him up against a wall.”
Stallone and Seagal patched things up afterwards, as Stallone summarized: “At that time, our testosterone was running full bore. He was full of his height, and I was full of myself.”
Seagal practises Buddhism. When the head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Penor Rinpoche, declared in 1997 that Seagal was a “tulku” – a sacred reincarnation of a holy teacher – other celebrity Buddhists waded in to the discussion.
“If someone’s a tulku, that’s great,” remarked Hollywood’s best-known Buddhist Richard Gere, with more than a hint of scepticism. “But no one knows if that’s true.”
Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida
Seagal claims he helped to train fighters Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, and bragged on Jimmy Kimmel Live: “I show them, you know, a lot. Not everything I know.” However, a video from Brazil later surfaced in which one of Silva’s teammates impersonates Seagal and says, “Anderson, I find a punch for you to do in the fight,” followed by the Aikido Hadouken move.
The teammates then fall about with laughter. Silva has since stated that Seagal didn’t teach him or train him, but is a “good person”.
In The Glimmer Man, Seagal’s leading character must kill a serial killer, played by Stephen Tobolowsky. However, Tobolowsky has said that Seagal had a “spiritual awakening” on the first day of filming, and came to the conclusion he shouldn’t kill people on-screen any more. Tobolowsky persuaded Seagal to change his mind and complete the death scene – but later, he received a call from producers to say that Seagal kept ad-libbing in later scenes and saying how he never killed Tobolowsky’s character.
As a result, Tobolowsky had to dub in a line suggesting that his character’s violent on-screen wound wasn’t fatal – an experience he described as “horrible,” as the gruesome FX used in the scene made it obvious his character could not have survived. In the end Seagal’s ad-libs were removed during editing, and Tobolowsky’s character died as planned.
Actress Rachel Grant (best known for Bond movie Die Another Day) has claimed Steven Seagal assaulted her in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2002. She accused him of forcing her top down and pushing her onto a bed after she had said no.
Reflecting on the incident in a 2018 interview, she said: “When something like that happens to you, you don’t want to talk about it. I was embarrassed, I was ashamed, I blamed myself.” Seagal’s lawyers denied the accusation.
Model and actress Kelly LeBrock, an 80s icon for her roles in The Woman in Red and Weird Science, was Seagal’s second wife from 1987 to 1996. She has said she feels “sorry” for the star: “I think that he’s just a very sad person and he is what I would call a tragedy of Hollywood.”
LeBrock went on to remark, “I believe he was very bullied as a child, very sickly, very weak and I guess people who are treated that way as children end up becoming lost as they age. I wish him all the best.”
The model Faviola Dadis attended an audition with Seagal in 2002, which took place at the W Hotel in Beverly Hills. During a run-through of a “romantic scene”, Seagal allegedly assaulted her.
“I began yelling, ‘I need to leave right now, this is B.S., I need to leave right now!’” Dadis has recalled. “He motioned to his security guard to let me go and I ran out.” Seagal’s lawyers denied the accusation.
BBC presenter Kirsty Wark sat down with Seagal for a 2018 interview, only to have her interviewee storm out of the session. The turning point was when she said to him: “You’ve been very much caught up in all the allegations of sexual harassment. You had a rape allegation against you and I wonder how you deal with all that?”
Seagal didn’t reply, but stood up, removed his earpiece and left the room. Wark ended the piece by saying: “Steven Seagal there, and of course though he didn’t respond there, he has said previously that he denies any allegation made against him.”
Although he admitted having only “met him once”, Chuck Norris is no fan of Steven Seagal, as he revealed in a 1993 interview with Dick Cavett. As they discussed martial artists, Cavett mentioned an occasion when he met a top martial artist who threatened to kill him. Norris responded, “Was it Steven Seagal?”
Cavett laughed and said no, but then commented: “That menacing, really rotten-kinda-guy image that [Seagal] projects, is it largely acting?” Norris replied, “No… He carries a gun with him everywhere he goes.”
In 2011, Seagal took part in a police raid at a property in Maricopa County, Arizona. During the raid, the cops allegedly shot and killed the homeowner’s 11-month-old puppy. A.V. Club editor-in-chief Sean O’Neal was among many figures to express their disgust at the allegations.
Writing for the A.V. Club, O’Neal described the entire incident and concluded with the line, “Here’s hoping that Steven Seagal, puppy-killer, never meets Steven Seagal, guy from Out For Justice, because that dude would be p***ed.”
Keenan Ivory Wayans
Stephen Tobolowsky was not the only actor that Seagal rubbed the wrong way on the set of 1996’s The Glimmer Man. Tobolowsky has recalled how their co-star Keenan Ivory Wayans witnessed Seagal’s antics and commented: “Man, now we are in the realm of high comedy.”
It has also been reported that Wayans despaired at Seagal’s late arrivals to the set. On one occasion, Seagal turned up with a new script and declared it was the best he’d ever read. When Wayans questioned him about who wrote it, Seagal reportedly replied, “I did.”
On top of being an actor, martial artist, lawman and religious leader, Steven Seagal also dabbles in music as a singer and guitarist. He once performed as the opening act for former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar in 2006, and Hagar was taken aback by Seagal’s diva-like behaviour.
Hagar recalls, “He had security guards, he had an entourage of 25-30 people. I’m the headliner of the show, but he had to have the big dressing room because he had so damn many people, all packing heat.”
Hagar described Seagal as an “interesting character” and added, “He was carrying heat, man, he didn’t walk around without a gun, that’s a weird way to live.” Hagar also noted that, as the support act, Seagal only earned $1,000 for the performance, which wouldn’t nearly pay for his entire band and entourage, not to mention his five-star hotel and private plane.
The actor Brian Cox, another of Seagal’s co-stars in The Glimmer Man, has noted how high-and-mighty the action star behaved around his co-stars. “[He’s] as ludicrous in real life as he appears onscreen,” Cox summarized. “He radiates a studied serenity, as though he’s on a higher plane to the rest of us. And while he’s certainly on a different plane, no doubt about that, it’s probably not a higher one.”
Cox went on to describe Seagal as “thinking himself far more capable and talented than he actually is, seemingly oblivious to the fact that an army of people are helping to prop up his delusion.”
William Forsythe starred with Seagal in Out for Justice, and described his mixed feelings towards the star: “I didn’t mind Seagal. Actually, there’s a part of me that really liked him. But then there’s that other side. I felt like he was mad at me because I was doing a good job, if that makes any sense.”
Forsythe – a born New Yorker – recalled one key incident during the shoot that really rubbed him up the wrong way: “[Seagal] walked up to me one day and said, “You know, you really need to work on your Brooklyn accent.” I said, “Trust me, YOU do.” And I don’t think he liked that.”