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Controversial Things Actors Have Done That Fans Will Never Forget

It seems like these days actors, and celebrities in general, aren't quite so easily forgiven when it comes to their screw-ups. Whether you want to call that "cancel culture," "consequences culture," or something else, it genuinely seems like actors can't get away with anywhere near as much as they used to. Sometimes the worst they get is a bit of hate from the fans, sometimes their careers take a hit for a while, and other times — though it's rare — their careers disappear altogether. Sometimes the punishment fits the crime, but not always.

What follows below are examples of all three and then some. The actors' offenses run the gamut from unhinged yet harmless behavior to horrific crimes. From silly to criminal to absolutely unforgivable, each instance was completely avoidable, and records of it will live on as some of the dumbest things actors have done to make us give up on them.

Will Smith

At the 94th Academy Awards ceremony, Will Smith made all the wrong kinds of history. As reported by Variety, in response to comedian Chris Rock making a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith walked on stage during Rock's monologue and slapped him across the face. In the immediate aftermath many thought the incident was a pre-arranged gag, but after Smith yelled twice from his seat, "Keep my wife's name out of your f—ing mouth!" it became clear there was nothing staged about it. 

While many fans supported Smith, others turned away from him. Celebrities began speaking out, particularly people from the comedy world like Amy Schumer and Jim Carrey, and many were not sympathetic toward Smith. When the smoke cleared, Smith was hit with a decade-long ban from any and all Academy Awards events, including the Oscars.

But it isn't just in terms of awards that Will Smith is being punished. Since the slap, development on a number of Smith projects has either been delayed or outright canceled. Work on the planned fourth film of the "Bad Boys" franchise has been paused, plans for Netflix's "Fast and Loose" and the National Geographic docuseries "Pole to Pole" have both been put on hold, and Netflix's "Bright 2" has been scrapped completely.

Gina Carano

To anyone who enjoys seeing a celebrity continue to dig their own grave, Gina Carano is the gift that never stops giving. In February 2021, Carano was fired from her signature role of Cara Dune on "The Mandalorian." In an Instagram post that has since been deleted, Carano compared those who criticized her political views to Nazis. That was the final straw for Disney and Lucasfilm, who were reportedly already incensed with Carano after two controversial November 2020 tweets — one implying that President Joe Biden had committed voter fraud, and another mocking people wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Carano has continued to double down on the same kind of social media posts that got her booted from "Star Wars," including — not long after the one-year anniversary of her firing — tweeting a conspiracy theory that the United States government orchestrated Russia's invasion of Ukraine because it "lost control of the COVID narrative." While she continues to find work thanks to Ben Shapiro's production company, per Deadline, we don't think she'll be showing up in any "Star Wars" projects or "Deadpool" sequels any time soon.  

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise has said and done some questionable things. Right after actress Brooke Shields' pregnancy, Cruise trashed her for using antidepressants. In late 2020 it was reported that the "Top Gun" star went on an obscenity-filled rant on the set of "Mission: Impossible 7" after witnessing two crew members breaking COVID-19 protocols. His involvement in Scientology has long been a source of controversy. But nothing really marred Cruise's image more than when he jumped on Oprah Winfrey's couch. 

As recalled by The Ringer, when Cruise appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to promote "War of the Worlds," the actor was in rare form. Asked questions about his month-old relationship with his now ex-wife Katie Holmes, Cruise often wordlessly responded by clasping both of Winfrey's hands in his, pumping his fists in the air, or — most famously — jumping on her couch while Winfrey was mid-sentence. Imagine if you were trying to talk to someone and they kept having a hallucination that they'd just made a touchdown for an NFL game — that's basically what Winfrey experienced on stage in May 2005.  

In the long term, the incident didn't hurt Cruise's career. He's continued to make hit films like the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, but it forever changed the public's view of him into someone who possibly was emotionally unstable.

Hartley Sawyer

In the summer of 2020, "The Flash" lost its Elongated Man. Not long after the close of the show's sixth season, CNN Entertainment and others reported that Hartley Sawyer had been fired from "The Flash" for a number of homophobic, racist, misogynistic, or otherwise offensive tweets posted between 2009 and 2014. 

A number of cast and crew from "The Flash" made public statements about the firing and while there were few attacks directed at Sawyer, no one was rushing to defend him. Grant Gustin of "The Flash" and Stephen Amell of "Arrow" both publicly supported the decision to fire Sawyer. Co-star Danielle Nicolet responded on Instagram, writing that it was "sad and disappointing" but, unfortunately, "not shocking." This was "not the first time," she wrote, adding that she'd worked with someone who was "not necessarily who they presented themselves to be."

Sawyer posted a lengthy apology at the end of May 2020, admitting that his tweets were "not acceptable." As far as the world of celebrity entertainment is concerned, Sawyer has completely fallen off the radar ever since. "The Flash" remains his most recent credited screen work.

Mel Gibson

From a certain point of view, Mel Gibson seems to be the luckiest actor alive. In 2020 he starred as the villain opposite Frank Grillo in Hulu's "Boss Level." He'll reportedly be stepping in to the late Richard Donner's shoes to both direct and star in "Lethal Weapon 5." Along with other upcoming projects, he landed the lead for the upcoming "John Wick" prequel series "The Continental." And yet, as Joshua Malina of "The West Wing" fame pointed out in a lengthy op-ed for The Atlantic, Gibson's continuing career seems to singlehandedly disprove the existence of so-called "cancel culture." 

In 2006, Gibson was pulled over for alleged drunk driving and let loose an anti-Semitic rant on the officers. The Oscar-winning director and actor was already persona non grata to many after depicting Jewish characters as being absolutely gleeful over the torture and death of Jesus in 2004's "The Passion of the Christ." Four years later, audio tapes leaked of threatening and racist statements the actor made to ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, and in 2011 he pleaded no contest to domestic abuse charges against her. Yet in spite of many former fans swearing off Gibson forever, the guy keeps getting work.

Alleged sexual assault and harassment

It is an absolutely horrific truth that if we were to give each celebrity accused of sexual assault and/or harassment their own section, this article would be nothing but those stories. But to not mention them would almost be a crime itself.

The list of alleged sex criminals in Hollywood seems to get at least a little longer every few months. In December 2021, allegations of sexual assault were made against Chris Noth by two women, and soon a third accuser surfaced. By 2018, Kevin Spacey had over 30 allegations of sexual assault and harassment made against him, including many by men and women who were underage at the time of the alleged abuse. The most famous allegation against Spacey came from "Star Trek: Discovery" star Anthony Rapp, who said he was 14 years old when Spacey allegedly tried to get him in bed. According to Vox, allegations of sexual harassment were made about Louis CK for years before they were made public, including allegations that CK coerced, or attempted to coerce, women he worked with into watching him masturbate. 

In 2018, Bill Cosby was sentenced to serve three to 10 years in prison after being convicted of assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand — one of more than 60 women who made assault allegations against the former comedian and actor. In 2021, that conviction was overturned. These examples, sadly, only scratch the surface.

Roseanne Barr

In 2018 the long-dormant sitcom "Roseanne" enjoyed unprecedented success with a revival, with most of the original cast returning for a 10th season. The titular lead, Roseanne Barr, hadn't been much of a presence on television ever since the series first closed up shop in 1997. All she had to do to remain on top was avoid tweeting a racist joke about former presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, but apparently that was too difficult a task. 

In May 2018, the offending tweet ended "Roseanne" for good. Barr apologized to Jarrett, tried blaming the tweet on "Ambien tweeting," and eventually announced she was leaving Twitter (she has since returned). But it was too little, too late. First fellow actress and comic Wanda Sykes announced she would not return to her consulting producer job on "Roseanne," and soon afterward ABC fired Barr and canceled "Roseanne." Later that year "The Conners" premiered minus Barr, with an announcement that her character had died of an opioid overdose. In a guest column for THR, showrunner Bruce Heldford wrote that the decision was made to kill her character off "to make her departure clearly permanent."

Ezra Miller

It is genuinely puzzling that it took the public so long to turn on Ezra Miller. In April 2020, during a time when so much as a single poorly conceived tweet could end a career, a video surfaced of what appeared to be Miller choking a woman and throwing her to the ground. Yet somehow the usual "cancel culture" campaigns remained silent, as did Miller. 

Fans had a harder time ignoring it when Miller was arrested in Hilo, Hawaii in March 2022. They were charged with "disorderly conduct and harassment" after allegedly "yelling obscenities" at patrons in a bar who were singing karaoke. They also allegedly grabbed a microphone out of a woman's hand and "lunged at a 32-year-old man playing darts." Not long after Miller was released on bail, a couple that Miller was reportedly staying with filed a restraining order against Miller, accusing them of threatening the couple and stealing some of their belongings. Only a few weeks later, THR reported Miller had been arrested again, this time in Pāhoa, Hawaii. They had reportedly been asked to leave a party, and in response allegedly threw a chair that struck a woman in the head. 

It only took the news of the first arrest for rumors to begin swirling that Warner Bros. was considering kicking their "The Flash" and "Fantastic Beasts" star to the curb. Whether the reports are genuine or not, the controversy soon had fans calling for Miller to be replaced by Grant Gustin as the DCEU's Flash.

Mayim Bialik

Every time Mayim Bialik hosted "Jeopardy!" she got so many people angry, you'd think she was the one who played Cara Dune on "The Mandalorian."

In the wake of Alex Trebek's passing, the question of who could succeed him as "Jeopardy!" host proved much more controversial than most anticipated. Mayim Bialik of "The Big Bang Theory" fame was chosen to share co-hosting duties with former "Jeopardy!" champ Ken Jennings. But in the case of Bialik, a controversial past followed her to the show. In 2017, Bialik wrote what proved to be an extremely divisive op-ed in the New York Times about the now convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein. She suggested that, like her, women should "dress modestly" and not "act flirtatiously" — something many took as victim-shaming. She's also expressed non-mainstream views about vaccinations for years, although she says she's vaccinated against COVID-19.

In light of these larger issues, "Jeopardy!" fans continued to yell bloody murder at much smaller "offenses" from Bialik while hosting "Jeopardy!" The crimes she's been raked over the coals for while hosting the game show include using the term "Single Jeopardy," and wearing the same orange knit blazer more than once.

Christian Bale

What do you remember most from 2009's "Terminator Salvation?" Well, if you were paying any attention to entertainment news in 2009, then in most likelihood the thing you remember most isn't what happened on the screen, but the infamous audio that leaked a few months before the film's release.

Specifically, TMZ posted a recording of Christian Bale — who played John Connor in the film — ranting for just under four minutes at director of photography Shane Hurlbut. Dropping more F-bombs than even SkyNet could coordinate, Bale accused Hurlbut of walking aimlessly around the set during the filming of a scene and distracting him. You can hear Hurlbut apologizing throughout the recording and other crew members trying to calm Bale down, to no avail.

Bale apologized for the rant after the audio surfaced and ensured fans that he and Hurlbut worked out their differences before the day was through. Still, Bale's never been able to completely shake the reputation he earned when the rant went public.

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle caught flak for a while for making jokes considered transphobic, but he took special aim at the subject in his 2021 Netflix special "The Closer." Among other things, the comic proudly called himself a "TERF" — a term for feminists who don't consider trans women to be women. He also invoked his late friend Daphne Dorman, a trans woman, in a way that many found offensive. For example, Aja Romano wrote for Vox that Chappelle speaks of Dorman as "a trans woman who's proven she deserves autonomy" but only because she didn't respond negatively to jokes others found offensive. In other words, Chappelle's acceptance of Dorman as a trans woman was conditional. 

The same month "The Closer" began streaming on Netflix, a group of Netflix employees staged a walkout to protest not only Chappelle's special on the platform, but what they saw as an unhealthy work environment it was helping to create. 

Chappelle will apparently host and produce still more comedy specials for Netflix in the future, but to many fans the comic died on stage in 2021.

Jussie Smollett

According to former "Empire" star Jussie Smollett, he was the victim of a hate crime in January 2019. The actor claimed that two men attacked him, "poured an unknown substance" on him, and put a noose around his neck in a racially motivated attack. But by the following month, the Chicago PD became convinced that the incident was staged and that Smollett had hired the Nigerian brothers Obabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo to stage the attack as a bid to negotiate a higher rate on "Empire." Smollett was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and filing a false police report.

As more and more evidence came out, the same fans and celebrities who initially showered Smollett with support now showed him nothing but disdain. Smollett's first trial was dismissed, but he was still let go from "Empire," and new charges were brought against him in 2020. In late December 2021, Smollett was found guilty on five out of six charges of disorderly conduct. The actor was ordered to spend 150 days in jail, spend 30 months on probation, and pay a fine of $145,000. While, all things considered, he got off light, it's doubtful you'll be seeing his IMBb page getting any new additions any time soon. 

Scarlett Johansson

In the late 2010s, thanks to two movies, Scarlett Johansson became the face of privileged celebrities taking roles that should have gone to actors from other communities. 

The first example was when she agreed to the lead role of the cybernetically enhanced Major Mira Killian in 2017's "Ghost in the Shell." The thing is, in the source material and the anime adaptations, the character's name was Motoko Kusanagi. By accepting the role of a traditionally Japanese character, Johansson joined the long and regretful tradition of Hollywood whitewashing

She courted controversy the following year when she agreed to play a transgender man in "Rub and Tug." After critics argued that the role should go to a transgender man, Johansson issued a brief statement to Bustle, saying that all complaints about her casting "can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment." (Tambor, Leto, and Huffman had all played trans characters and received acclaim for the roles.) Johansson later apologized for the statement and quit "Rub and Tug," but with the controversy coming so hard on the heels of "Ghost in the Shell," it may be a while before the resulting stink wears off.

Jared Leto

Jared Leto's Method acting already became somewhat legendary after behind-the-scenes stories surfaced from the production of 2016's "Suicide Squad" — in which Leto played the Joker — including reports of the actor apparently sending a dead hog to the cast as a twisted present. 

But while the "Suicide Squad" stories were just weird, something a bit more objectionable happened on the set of the long-delayed "Morbius." In an April 2022 interview with Uproxx, "Morbius" director Daniel Espinosa confirmed that Leto pretended to be disabled — like his character — in between takes. He used a set of crutches to get himself to and from bathroom breaks, for example, until that took too long and it was decided crew members would bring him back and forth in a wheelchair. 

The story has done nothing to help Leto's reputation, which could use an assist. Along with drawing out accusations of ableism, the story prompted other actors to take indirect potshots at Leto. Though he didn't mention Leto by name, while promoting "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore," Mads Mikkelsen called Method acting "bulls—" and "pretentious." Not long after, Jon Bernthal voiced his opinion on Method acting, saying he saw "no benefit" in taking it to extremes.