For two seasons, Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans played buddy cops on the Fox Broadcasting drama series “Lethal Weapon.” But behind the scenes, the two stars were anything but friendly.
That conflict, which had begun to spill into public view on their respective social media accounts, appeared to be resolved in May, when producer Warner Bros. fired Crawford, replacing him with Seann William Scott and securing a season-three renewal from Fox.
But interviews with 31 people who worked on the series and spoke anonymously with Variety — not to mention a pair of never-before-seen on-set videos — reveal the full extent of the animosity between Crawford and Wayans. Behind the scenes, “Lethal Weapon” had descended into chaos, grinding production to a halt on multiple occasions, splitting the crew into factions, and creating an environment so toxic that by season’s end, Pinkerton security guards were present on set at all times to ensure that disagreements would not deteriorate into physical violence.
Now Warner Bros. is cleaning house, parting ways with a number of below-the-liners viewed as loyal to Crawford.
Crawford and Wayans declined to comment for this story, as did representatives for Warner Bros. Television and Fox Broadcasting.
One virulent exchange from March caught on the actors’ microphones and captured in a video provided to Variety (see above) exemplifies Crawford and Wayans’ fraught relationship. Just moments before the two actors shot a scene together, they exchanged profane insults, with Crawford telling Wayans, “You’re the biggest crybaby p—y I’ve ever met in my life,” and Wayans responding, “Well suck this p–y’s d–k.”
That conversation and the explosive argument that followed occurred during the filming of Season 2’s 20th episode, just weeks before shooting wrapped for the season. But on-set tension first began to escalate months earlier in August, during the second of two episodes directed by Eric Laneuville.
A television veteran, Laneuville has directed episodes of “L.A. Law,” “Lost,” “Black Lightning,” and dozens of other series. He also helmed seven episodes of Wayans’ family multicamera comedy “My Wife and Kids” more than a decade ago.
During filming of Season 2’s fifth episode, Laneuville butted heads with multiple actors, including Crawford. Sources said Laneuville was uncomfortable with the assertiveness with which actors made suggestions regarding dialogue and blocking, and their desire to improvise while filming. One actor told producers after the first day of shooting episode five that they no longer wished to work on future episodes directed by Laneuville, who also declined to comment for this story.
In October, during the filming of episode nine, also directed by Laneuville, Crawford grew increasingly frustrated while filming a scene at a public pool in Los Angeles. (“Lethal Weapon” is shot primarily on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif.) Filming of the scene, which featured Crawford’s Martin Riggs attempting to talk down a man holding a gun to his own head, stretched on for hours as crew struggled to properly lock down the set. Background noise repeatedly interrupted filming, forcing a critical shot to be reset over and over again.
Sources said that Crawford became agitated by patrons of the pool — which was supposed to be closed, but was not — making noise near the set. In another video acquired by Variety, one take derails when Crawford, off camera, yells, “Shut the f–k up! Goddamnit Newman, f–king they’re right here! Get somebody in here with a f–king walkie and shut ’em the f–k up! Or did we not pay for this f–king place? If we did, shut ’em the f–k up!”
According to sources, the pool patrons who triggered Crawford’s ire were children about 10-11 years of age who were within earshot of the actor’s yelling. An assistant director walked off set after the incident, resigning on the spot and citing Crawford’s behavior as the reason.
Watch the Full Unedited Video (EXPLICIT LANGUAGE):
“He lost his cool and got angry,” one crew member said of Crawford. “He should have handled it another way, sure. But we were all tired and angry.” But another crew member described Crawford as “apoplectic” and his behavior as inappropriate.
Multiple production sources confirmed to Variety the authenticity of both this video and the one in which Crawford and Wayans exchanged profanities.
On the next day of shooting, Crawford and the show’s stunt coordinator disagreed with Laneuville over the shooting of a scene depicting a car crash. “After the escalating tension with Clayne, it’s my belief that Eric felt he could not be effective,” said one crew member. “So when it came to this next scene, he just metaphorically threw up his hands and let Clayne and the stunt coordinator deal with the whole scene. That’s basically how the remainder of the scene was shot.”
The following morning, Laneuville left the production. Matt Barber, the show’s editor, finished directing the episode uncredited. Warner Bros. withheld $40,000 from Crawford’s pay to compensate Barber for his work on the episode, and Crawford agreed to undergo counseling at the studio’s request. Laneuville has signed on to direct an episode of “Lethal Weapon” Season 3, with producers holding an additional episode for him, schedule permitting.
Beginning with production of episode 10 in October, Warner Bros. posted a staff security guard on the “Lethal Weapon” set. The following month, the studio hired veteran producer Frank Waldeck to help defuse tension on set. Waldeck’s job was to provide a producer presence on set at all times — specifically one with experience working with high-maintenance performers.
That tension, however, hit a breaking point in March, when Crawford directed the season’s 20th episode. Crawford and Wayans were shooting a scene that involved a special-effects explosion. During shooting, Wayans was struck on the back of the head by a piece of shrapnel, suffering a laceration. “Wayans said he was fine,” one crew member said, adding that he refused medical attention. Shortly thereafter, he left the set, and the remainder of the scene was shot with Wayans’ stunt double standing in for the actor. Wayans’ assistant was seen later using his phone to take video of playback from the incident on one of the production’s monitors.
The following day, Wayans returned to the set, and he and Crawford began to argue. As they prepared to shoot a scene in which they would investigate an empty office, sources said Wayans expressed anger about the previous day’s incident. One insider said that Wayans demanded to know who was responsible for the explosion in which he was injured. Another said that he threatened to have the special-effects crew fired.
The video acquired by Variety captured the following exchange:
Crawford: “You know, I’ve seen [name deleted] handle hits better than you did yesterday.”
Wayans: “Suck my d–k.”
Crawford: “You know, that was the biggest p–y move I think I’ve ever seen.”
Wayans: “Yeah, I’m a p—y.”
Crawford: “A p–y. You’re the biggest crybaby p—y I’ve ever met in my life.”
Wayans: “Well suck this pussy’s d–k.”
Crawford: “I mean, how does it feel to only be in the game because your f–king brothers are in the game?”
Wayans: “F–k you. F–k you.”
According to multiple accounts, Wayans and Crawford shot the first part of the scene, in which they exchanged dialogue before entering the office building. Wayans then approached one of the producers and said that he would not shoot a subsequent portion of the scene that involved a gunfight in the building, saying that he wasn’t comfortable doing any stunt work following the previous day’s accident, or being directed in a stunt scene by Crawford after the profane exchange that the two had moments earlier. It was agreed that Wayans’ stunt double would shoot the gunfight scene. Wayans then went to his trailer.
Crawford, informed of Wayans’ decision, went to Wayans’ trailer to speak with him. On the way, he encountered Wayans’ assistant, and the two exchanged profanities. A crew member on-hand attempted to separate the two men. Wayans exited his trailer and joined the fray, as did executive producer Matthew Miller. Studio security was called and broke up the encounter. Wayans left the set, and production shut down for the day.
Shooting resumed the next day after a production meeting that included Miller, Waldeck, and several others. The episode was rewritten so that Crawford and Wayans would not be in any scenes together for the remainder of shooting.
Although the altercation didn’t get physical, it heightened concerns at Warner Bros. about “Lethal Weapon.” The studio security staffer on set was replaced by two guards hired from the Pinkerton agency. The Pinkerton guards worked in shifts, with one present at all times during shooting of the final episode.
After production wrapped in April, talk within Warner Bros. turned from how to make it through production to what changes should be made ahead of Season 3 — if the show were to receive a pick-up from Fox. “Lethal Weapon” has been a sturdy if unspectacular ratings performer for the network. But Fox holds no ownership stake in the show, limiting its interest in seeing “Lethal Weapon” continue for a long term.
On April 23, Deadline reported that the future of “Lethal Weapon” — a series reboot of the 1988 action-comedy film starring Danny Glover and Mel Gibson — had been endangered by alleged unprofessional behavior by Crawford. The initial report did not specify the behavior in question, and said that Crawford had been “disciplined” by Warner Bros.
In an Instagram post the next day, Crawford apologized for two on-set incidents.
“It is true that I have been reprimanded twice during the past two seasons of ‘Lethal Weapon,’” Crawford wrote. “The first reprimand was because I reacted with anger over working conditions that did not feel safe or conducive to good work under the leadership of a guest director and assistant director, who, in turn, were angry at my response.” He acknowledged undergoing counseling and paying a party involved (without specifying Barber).
He added, “The second reprimand happened just a few weeks ago during the episode I was directing. An actor on set felt unsafe because a piece of shrapnel from an effect hit him. It was an unfortunate event that happened in spite of all precautions and procedures being followed. I take responsibility for the incident, because I was in charge of the set. I absolutely love, respect, and care for my crew and cast and would never intentionally jeopardize so many jobs.”
On May 13, Fox renewed “Lethal Weapon.” Warner Bros. announced that it had parted ways with Crawford and hired Scott to play a new character who will be partnered with Wayans’ Roger Murtaugh in Season 3. “Warner Bros. Television has decided not to renew Clayne Crawford’s contract for Lethal Weapon,” the network said in a statement at the time.
The next day, Wayans took to Twitter, posting a six-second video showing the explosion that injured him. He also posted a photograph of what appeared to be the back of his head, with blood running from a laceration near the top.
“How does the shrapnel from this hit me on the opposite side of the head?” Wayans wrote, adding “#directedby @claynecrawford.”
Wayans followed up with several more tweets, which have since been deleted, complaining about Crawford. In one, he posted a picture of a flyer that he claimed was posted on the Warner Bros. lot where the show was shot, bearing a picture of Crawford and the caption “Clayne Crawford is an emotional terrorist.”
Wayans claimed on Twitter that the flyers had been posted all over the lot, but that he was not responsible for them. “He became UNINSURABLE!” Wayans wrote on Twitter. “Relished in making females cry. And stuck [sic] fear in cast and crew.”
Of the 31 people Variety spoke with, none said they recalled seeing the “emotional terrorist” stickers on the Warner Bros. lot.
In another May 14 tweet, Wayans wrote, “He hit another actor in the mouth with a bottle of green tea and busted his mouth open. Lance Henriksen a white man.”
Wayans’ allegation that Crawford purposefully hit Henriksen — a veteran actor who was later replaced in the episode — with a bottle was rejected by multiple crew members. According to a copy of the script from that episode, obtained by Variety, Crawford’s character was to toss a bottle of green tea to Frankie (Henriksen). Per a cast member and a high-ranking crew member, Henriksen had trouble catching the bottle in multiple takes, and declined when Crawford asked if the scene should be changed so that he would hand Henriksen the bottle. Finally, one of the tosses missed and hit Henriksen in the face. Witnesses described the incident as a minor accident, and filming continued.
Representatives for Henriksen did not respond to a request for comment.
In multiple conversations, several cast and crew members described Crawford as warm and passionate about his work, though prone to unprofessional outbursts when frustrated. “I’m not always a fan of people’s temperaments,” one crew member told Variety. “Clayne’s not the only person who had a bad temperament with which he communicated his frustration. But he’s a dedicated actor. He cared about the show and was prepared.”
Actors Kurt Yaeger and Teo Briones, who guest starred on “Lethal Weapon” for one episode each, expressed support for Crawford on Twitter after he was fired from the show. Hilarie Burton, who guest starred on six episodes over Season 1 and 2, wrote in a statement posted on Twitter May 12, “The pace at which a show like lethal weapon shoots does not always allow for constructive criticism to be warm and fuzzy. But it’s my experience that Mr. Crawford genuinely cares about the well-being of every cast and crew member.”
Others who worked on the show, however, described a more combative Crawford. One crew member described being subjected during a meeting to a profanity-laced tirade by Crawford that lasted so long, they began to actively tune him out, waiting for the incident to end. Another crew member present confirmed witnessing the episode.
And although some below-the-line turnover on a broadcast drama is expected between seasons, the number of crew members not being asked back for Season 3 is high. Warner Bros. has, according to sources, moved quickly to make significant changes on set, notifying roughly a quarter of the show’s nearly 100 regular on-set crew members that they are not being asked to return for Season 3. Many of the position changes are a result of concerns about poor performance in the art department. But several other crew members who were friendly with Crawford are being let go, according to sources, in part to provide a fresh start for Season 3.
Wayans will return in the role of Murtaugh. Many who spoke with Variety characterized the actor as funny and charming, but also difficult to work with. A copy of an internal memo obtained by Variety that was sent by a member of Wayans’ personal team to a production staffer ahead of Season 1 included three pages of detailed instructions about Wayans’ diet. “DAMON MUST BE GIVEN FOOD EVERY 2.5 hours,” the memo read. “Even if he’s in the middle of a scene, or doesn’t want it at the moment, please make sure he’s aware that the food is there for him, and where the food will be.” An additional memo from the same team member noted, “Nap time is a big big thing for Damon, especially during lunch. After he’s had lunch, he’ll want to be left alone until absolutely necessary.”
Wayans also refused to participate in table reads for the show. Per an email acquired by Variety and sent by a production coordinator to multiple “Lethal Weapon” crew members, Miller instructed that Wayans be provided with his own set of sides for every episode that included only his lines and excluded the lines of all other actors. The email described a multi-step process for the printing and approval of the sides. “If revisions come out after all of this has been done, the process must be repeated,” the email read.
Wayans, who is diabetic, told reporters in 2016 that he recently had brain surgery to remove a tumor that was pressing on his pituitary gland.
One crew member, comparing Crawford and Wayans, told Variety, “I would rather work every day with an actor who comes in prepared and knows their lines and is passionate about their role and cares about the show gives 150% of his heart and soul into it than someone who comes in every day and says ‘I wish this show was canceled, I hate this show, it feel like I’m in jail,’ even if he ultimately gives a great performance,” said the crew member. “It is unbelievably difficult to work with someone who literally tells everyone that he hates what he does every day. And that is what Damon does every day.”
But another crew member brushed off the notion that working with Wayans was as problematic as working with Crawford, saying, “Damon is passive-aggressive. He’s not aggressive-aggressive.”
For Warner Bros., the excision of Crawford and those on set who supported him appears to have made another season palatable. That Fox has renewed the show — season three is set to start shooting in July — is a win for the studio in an environment where the Big Four networks continue to emphasize vertical integration and funneling content from their own sister studios.
But whether the “Lethal Weapon” on-set changes lead to a new sense of peace in season three remains to be seen.