Steven Seagal was just 17 when he moved to Japan to teach English. According to Biography, it was there that his interest in martial arts flourished, ultimately acquiring black belts in judo, kendo, karate, and aikido. He would later use his skills as a consultant for Hollywood movies, choreographing fight scenes and working as a bodyguard/trainer for such Tinseltown bigwigs as uber-agent Michael Ovitz.
Those connections ultimately led him in front of the camera, making his onscreen debut as the star of 1988 action flick Above the Law. More films followed, including hits like Hard to Kill and Under Siege. Yet by the late 1990s, Seagal’s career as a big-screen action hero had taken a decidedly downhill trajectory that never recaptured the box office success of his earlier films.
The years that followed saw Seagal dogged by controversy, from his buddy-buddy friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin to numerous accusations of sexual misconduct to a shady cryptocurrency scheme. Meanwhile, stories of bizarre behavior became increasingly widespread, and many celebrities were happy to share cringe-inducing anecdotes depicting Seagal as, well, kind of an obnoxious, self-important jerk. Let’s find out which celebs can’t stand Steven Seagal.
John Leguizamo got a beatdown for laughing at Seagal on set
For actor John Leguizamo, an ugly on-set encounter with Steven Seagal not only generated an oft-told anecdote, but became part of his 2011 one-man Broadway show, Ghetto Clown. In an interview with AV Club, Leguizamo recalled showing up on the first day of rehearsals for the 1996 thriller, Executive Decision, only to witness Seagal allegedly declare to his co-stars, “I’m in command. What I say is law.”
Leguizamo found that hilarious. “Who comes into rehearsal and says that s**t?” he said, before claiming, “I started laughing and he slammed me with an aikido elbow against a brick wall and knocked all the air out of me. I dropped to the ground, and all I could say was, [gasping] ‘Why? Why?'” Leguizamo later re-enacted the story in Ghetto Clown, reported the New York Daily News, including his “arms-flailing impression” of Seagal’s “feminine form” when running.
Seagal caught wind of Leguizamo’s mockery, per the Observer, and supposedly threatened to punch out Leguizamo if he ever encountered him on a red carpet. “I don’t think he’s invited to a lot of red carpets,” Leguizamo joked. Wondering how a “working-class dude” who started out as a martial arts trainer had “become such a putz,” he added, “How’d you become such an egomaniacal diva?”
The SNL cast loathed Steven Seagal when he hosted
Steven Seagal hosted Saturday Night Live back in 1991, but remains notorious among the annals of SNL as arguably the most disliked host ever. In the backstage oral history Live From New York, then-cast member Tim Meadows claimed that Seagal “would complain about jokes that he didn’t get,” which happened a lot because he apparently “just wasn’t funny.”
Cast member Julia Sweeney offered a similar recollection to HuffPost, remembering Seagal as being “so horrible on such a scale, it was such a huge scale of terribleness that it was undeniable by anyone who was there.” Sweeney recalled Seagal allegedly locking himself in his dressing room because he was unhappy with a sketch implying faux bodybuilders Hans and Franz could beat him up. “It was really legendary craziness,” she marveled. Adding his two cents, SNL alum David Spade said on Watch What Happens Live that Seagal was “tough to work with,” saying, “He did not want to play along.”
SNL exec producer Lorne Michaels was also no fan. In a 1992 SNL sketch, host Nicolas Cage makes a series of faux pas and worries that viewers must think he’s “the biggest jerk who’s ever been on the show!” Michaels, however, sets him straight: “No, no. That would be Steven Seagal.”
Steven Seagal left Julianna Margulies feeling creeped out
Early in her career, then-23-year-old actress Julianna Margulies was told by a casting director that Steven Seagal wanted her to join him to rehearse a scene for a callback the next day. It would take place “in his hotel room at 10 o’clock at night,” as she recalled in an interview with SiriusXM’s Jenny Hutt.
Margulies described what happened next in an interview with the Next Question with Katie Couric podcast. “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,'” she claimed. Margulies’ first instinct was “getting so angry at myself” for being “stupid” enough to place herself “in a hotel room alone with this guy and he’s got a gun.”
Even though she thankfully beat a hasty retreat, the future ER star wound up nabbing the role opposite Seagal in Out for Justice. After being cast, however, she told producers, “‘I’d really appreciate it if no one would ever let me be in the room alone with him’ … Because I was scared.”
Portia de Rossi fled an audition due to Steven Seagal's alleged inappropriate behavior
Portia de Rossi is known for her roles in such TV series as Ally McBeal, Arrested Development, and Scandal, as well as being the longtime spouse of daytime talk show queen Ellen DeGeneres. Once upon a time, however, she was an aspiring young actress auditioning for a role in one of Steven Seagal’s action movies.
In 2017, de Rossi took to Twitter to allege her own icky experience with Seagal, recalling how she was called in for a “final audition” held in Seagal’s office. “He told me how important it was to have chemistry off-screen as he sat me down and unzipped his leather pants,” she claimed. De Rossi then shared her reaction to the alleged indecent exposure: “I ran out and called my agent. Unfazed, she replied, ‘well, I didn’t know if he was your type.'”
DeGeneres offered her support for de Rossi coming forward to share her alleged Seagal #MeToo moment, retweeting the tweet and writing, “I’m proud of my wife.”
Jenny McCarthy also ran out of an audition with Steven Seagal
Actress, former Playboy model, and judge on The Masked Singer Jenny McCarthy claimed she had a similar encounter with Steven Seagal when auditioning for a role in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. She first shared her allegations in a 1998 interview with Movieline.
McCarthy was ready to read, script in hand, when Seagal told her he wanted to get to know her first. After asking her about being Playboy‘s Playmate of the Year, Seagal asked her to stand. “I stand up and he goes, ‘Take off your dress.’ I said, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘There’s nudity.’ I said, ‘No, there’s not, or I wouldn’t be here right now.’ He said again, ‘There’s nudity,’ and I said, ‘The pages are right in front of me. There’s no nudity.’ He goes, ‘Take off your dress,'” McCarthy alleged. “I just started crying and said, ‘Rent my [Playboy] video, you a**hole!’ and ran out to the car.”
According to McCarthy, as she was getting into her vehicle, “He grabs me and says, ‘Don’t you ever tell anybody.’ He won’t sue me or say anything because he knows it’s true. If I saw him today, I would still say, ‘You’re a f**king a**hole and I really hope you change your ways.”
Charlize Theron thinks Steven Seagal's an out-of-shape jerk
Charlize Theron didn’t have an awkward, cringe-inducing anecdote to share about an uncomfortable encounter with Steven Seagal, but she definitely had some strong opinions about him during a 2020 appearance on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM radio show. Discussing the martial arts training she underwent for action-heavy movies such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde, Theron told the titular host she’d watched some YouTube videos of Seagal’s martial arts demonstrations — and was not impressed.
“I have no problem talking s**t about him because he’s not very nice to women, so f**k you,” she said of Seagal, referencing the numerous claims of sexual harassment against him, as well as the allegations of two women who claimed he had sexually assaulted them. After watching Seagal demonstrate his martial arts prowess in those videos, Theron shared her opinion that the “fights” were staged. “He’s overweight and can barely fight … look it up, it’s ridiculous,” she insisted. “He’s shoving people by the face. It’s a whole setup.”
Martial arts legend Gene LeBell allegedly put Seagal in a chokehold
An apocryphal story about Steven Seagal has floated around Hollywood for years, told by such celebs as Joe Rogan and Kevin Hart. While details vary in the telling, the basic gist is the same: On a movie set, Seagal allegedly bragged he could free himself from any chokehold, and challenged stunt coordinator and martial arts icon Gene LeBell to let him prove it. When LeBell locked him into a chokehold, the story goes, not only did Seagal not escape, he reportedly soiled himself in the process.
In a 2012 interview with The MMA Hour, detailed by The Underground, LeBell joked about the alleged incident: “Well, if a guy soils himself, you can’t criticize him, because if they just had a nice big dinner an hour before, you might have a tendency to do that.”
A few years later, LeBell was confronted in a video interview with Seagal’s claim to The MMA Hour that LeBell was “a pathological scumbag liar” if he claimed to have choked him out. LeBell neither confirmed nor denied, instead quipping, “Steven Seagal, if [the] range of measurement [was] Cadillacs, he’d be on roller skates.” LeBell also hinted at the reason for his silence, noting that “after my incident with him, I spent a few months with lawyers.”
Ronda Rousey threatened to 'beat the crap' out of Steven Seagal
Not only is Ronda Rousey a former UFC champion and professional wrestler with the WWE, she also happens to be the niece of Gene LeBell — the martial arts expert and Hollywood stunt legend who allegedly choked out Steven Seagal on a movie set to the point he had an embarrassing accident in his pants. Speaking with MMAInterviews.TV, Rousey proved to be no fan of Seagal (though we imagine he probably feels the same way), and was happy to spend a little time trash-talking him.
According to Rousey, despite her uncle’s advanced age, “Gene LeBell would destroy Steven Seagal again even as old as they are now … I’d still put my money on him to this day.”
In addition, she warned Seagal that he’d be wise to have some fresh underwear on standby if she ever ran into him. “I don’t want to give anyone another quote — ‘I would beat the crap out of Steven Seagal’ — but I bet I could,” she said. “Hell yeah, if he says anything bad about Gene to my face, I would be forced to do something … I would have to make him crap his pants a second time.”
Jean Claude Van Damme got fed up with Steven Seagal's bragging
Steven Seagal’s rivalry with Jean Claude Van Damme dates back as early as the 1990s, when Seagal was asked about JCVD on The Arsenio Hall Show and contended his status as a martial arts champion was “a matter of opinion … there are an awful lot of people who say that that’s not true.”
In a subsequent interview, Seagal was asked if he thought Van Damme had the skills to back him up in a real-life altercation. “Can I laugh in your face?” Seagal responded. Then there’s a scene from his reality show, Steven Seagal Lawman, in which Seagal scoffs at the notion of fighting Van Damme. “It’d be like me squashing an ant,” he said. “If he sees me he runs.”
However, Sylvester Stallone, who hosted both men at a party in 1997, told a very different story. Van Damme, Stallone claimed, had tired of Seagal’s disses and challenged him to face off in Stallone’s backyard. “Seagal made his excuses and left. But Van Damme, who was berserk, tracked him down at a nightclub and offered him out again,” Stallone told FHM magazine (via Express). “Again, Seagal pulled a Houdini. Van Damme was just too strong. Seagal wanted none of it.”
George Foreman challenged Steven Seagal to step into the ring
George Foreman followed up a storied boxing career by becoming a TV commercial pitchman, successfully selling enough of his namesake George Foreman Grills to rack up a nine-figure fortune. Despite all that wealth, the former two-time heavyweight champ was willing to step back in the ring in order to fight Steven Seagal in 2017.
At age 69, Foreman was no spring chicken, yet felt he still had the skills to take on Seagal when he issued a challenge via Twitter. “Steven Seagal, I challenge you One on one, I use boxing you can use whatever. 10 rounds in Vegas,” wrote Foreman, accompanying a photo of Seagal. A few days after issuing his tweet, Foreman told Everlast that he was in the midst of discussions with Seagal’s manager and would be talking further “in the days to come.” He hadn’t spoken with Seagal directly, he explained, because the actor was then in Russia, presumably hanging in the Kremlin with BFF Vladimir Putin.
Despite a face-off that would have been legendary, the Seagal-Foreman match never transpired. At the time, however, Foreman was confident that he would “knock him out in one or two rounds.”
Rachel Grant accused Steven Seagal of sexual assault
Actress Rachel Grant, who appeared opposite Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond movie Die Another Day, alleged in 2018 that Steven Seagal had sexually assaulted her in 2002. According to BBC News, Grant said she was flown to Bulgaria to run lines with Seagal after auditioning for a role in Out for a Kill.
When she met with Seagal, Grant claimed she refused his repeated requests to remove her shirt, eventually taking matters into his own hands by pulling down her strapless top. “My breasts were completely exposed and I was forced to cover myself,” she alleged, before claiming that Seagal then “pushed [her] on to the bed with force” and then began unzipping his pants. When Grant “burst into tears,” she said Seagal shifted gears and apologized. “It was horrible — I was upset, embarrassed and hurt,” Grant continued. “What actress should be brought to someone’s bedroom on the first meeting and then be told to take their top off?” The role she was auditioning for ultimately went to another actress.
Seagal issued a denial through his lawyers: “Our client denies having such contact with Ms. Grant and further vehemently denies any alleged assault at all, in particular, the alleged assault occurring in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2002.”
Rae Dawn Chong claimed Steven Seagal exposed himself in a hotel room
Rae Dawn Chong added her name to the list of actresses to accuse Steven Seagal of inappropriate behavior in 2018, claiming that her agency had sent her to a nighttime meeting with Seagal at the Bel Air Hotel back in the 1980s. When she arrived, she was told Seagal was expecting her in his hotel room, which raised some red flags. Refusing to enter his room, she told The Wrap, “I [instead] stood outside the open door mortified that I was told to go to this meeting. My heart broke because my agency had obviously pimped me out to this creep.”
When he opened the door, Chong alleged, Seagal was wearing a robe and “walked across his room and sat in a chair and manspread so [she] could see his junk. But he casually covered back up as if it was a mistake.” She turned down his invite to come into his room, with Seagal then allegedly asking if her blouse was silk and if he could touch it. “I said, ‘You know what silk feels like’ and I left.” According to Chong, she never allowed Seagal to touch her, adding, “And to be honest … I would have f**king killed him.”
Stephen Tobolowsky did not enjoy working with Steven Seagal
Stephen Tobolowsky is a well-known character actor, instantly familiar to viewers of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day as annoying Ned Ryerson. Tobolowsky also co-starred with Steven Seagal in the 1996 film ,The Glimmer Man, and he recalled the experience in an interview with AV Club.
Having been cast in the role of a serial killer, Tobolowsky somewhat jokingly summarized his time on the movie in three words: “trauma,” “terror,” and “confusion.” He’d arrived on set for the first day of shooting, only be told that Seagal wanted to rewrite the script. “He decided it was bad for his karma to constantly be killing people in movies, so he didn’t want to kill me anymore,” Tobolowsky claimed. When it came time to shoot the scene, Seagal declared he wouldn’t be killing the killer.
Luckily, Tobolowsky had an idea, telling him, “Steven, that is an amazing argument,” before explaining that his character was “trapped in hell” by his compulsion to murder, and that by killing him, he could then reincarnate into another being who could achieve redemption: “And Steven said, ‘I never thought of it that way.'” Tobolowsky’s character was eventually killed as scripted — though a Seagal adlib in another scene hinted otherwise, forcing Tobolowsky to come back in months later to fix the issue, adding in an off-camera line for Seagal’s character to “finish [him].”
“It’s ludicrous!” Tobolowsky said. “And I don’t know what they ended up showing.”
Liam Neeson was 'particularly annoyed' with Steven Seagal
Actor Liam Neeson is no slouch at making action movies thanks to the success of the Taken franchise and his character’s “particular set of skills,” and he shared an unpleasant yet hilarious anecdote about fellow action star Steven Seagal during a 2017 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Asked by host Jimmy Kimmel if he’d ever worked with the Under Siege star, Neeson took a shot at Seagal’s idiosyncratic pitch-black coiffure. “I want to know who dyed his hair — Stevie Wonder?” Neeson joked. As it turned out, Neeson told Kimmel he was “particularly annoyed” with Seagal after a journalist at a press junket asked him, “Hey, what do you think of Steven Seagal saying you don’t know how to punch?” Neeson, who was a boxer in his youth, insisted, “I know how to punch.”
Kimmel and Neeson proceeded to discuss Seagal’s visit to Russia at the time. “I don’t know if he moved there or we sent him there and told him not to come back,” quipped Kimmel.
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