Steve McQueen, on set of The Great Escape, Bavaria 1962
According to Director John Sturges, the screenplay went through six writers and eleven versions, and was still a work in progress during the actual shooting.
When Sturges showed the rushes of the first six weeks shooting, McQueen decided his part was minor and undeveloped. He was particularly upset that his character virtually disappeared from the film for about 30 minutes in the middle so he walked out demanding rewrites. With the production already behind schedule due to the heavy rain, Sturges couldn’t afford the delay.
Co-star James Garner said he and James Coburn got together with McQueen to determine what his gripes were. Garner later said it was apparent McQueen wanted to be the hero but didn’t want to be seen doing anything overtly heroic that contradicted his character’s cool detachment and sardonic demeanor. United Artists considered McQueen indispensable to the picture’s success and funded the hiring of another writer, Ivan Moffit, to deal with the star’s demands. McQueen returned to work.
“McQueen was an impossible bastard,” screenwriter WR Burnett said. “Oh, he drove you crazy.”