Mel Gibson's tentative return to the Hollywood fold hit choppy waters yesterday when it emerged that Robert De Niro had walked-off the set of his comeback film, Edge of Darkness.
Amid rumours of tension between the two actors, the film industry newspaper Variety revealed that De Niro had abruptly flown home less than a week after arriving on the set of the thriller in Boston.
"Sometimes things don't work out – it's called 'creative differences'," said a spokesman for De Niro, who had been cast in the role of a CIA crime-scene operative, Darius Jedburgh.
The news will come as a blow to Gibson, who, despite winning two Oscars, has struggled to find acting work since making a series of anti-Semitic comments to a police officer during an arrest in 2006 for drink-driving. A leaked report revealed that Gibson told the police officer James Mee, who is Jewish, that "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world".
In Hollywood, such words represent career suicide. Gibson issued a public apology for his "sickening comments", claiming they had been "blurted out during a moment of insanity", but was unable to secure further roles for almost two years. Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ also sparked a widespread debate over the use of allegedly anti-Semitic imagery in its portrayal of the Crucifixion.
Following his arrest, Gibson, who is known for his volatile behaviour on set, agreed to enter an alcohol recovery course. When the drink-drive case came to court he was fined $1,300 (£750) and given three years' probation.
Gibson was set to resume his acting career in Edge of Darkness where he was cast as Thomas Craven, the father of a young woman who had been working in Boston Police's homicide department but was herself killed.
The film, based on a BBC mini-series of the same name, is directed by Casino Royale's Martin Campbell and produced by the British film mogul Graham King. It is scheduled to be released next year, and also stars Danny Huston, Shawn Roberts and Bojana Novakovic.
Though the Hollywood rumour-mill was working overtime yesterday, reports of what prompted the dispute vary. It was by no means certain if De Niro's "creative differences" were with Gibson, another co-star, or with a member of the production team. But conspiracy theorists have been quick to point the finger at Gibson, thought by many to still hold anti-Semitic beliefs. Some claimed that De Niro has Jewish ancestors.
The film-makers are now attempting to "shoot around" De Niro's character until they can find a replacement, although any delay to the production schedule will be both costly and embarrassing.
Campbell had already been required to conduct widespread groundworks to a bunker on the 15th hole of Gannon Golf Club in Lynn, near Boston, to accomodate De Niro in one scene.
According to the Boston Herald, the director ordered massive excavation after he was unable to fit De Niro, the bunker, and the city's skyline into a single shot.
The original Edge of Darkness was a BBC mini-series which ran for six episodes in the mid 1980s and was set in London. It was also directed by Campbell, with Bob Peck in the Gibson role.
In the film, Gibson's character uncovers the secret life of his activist daughter while investigating her death. He also stumbles across evidence of a corporate cover-up and government collusion. The original BBC version was heralded as a harsh critique of Britain's 1980s nuclear policy under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.