Stephen Boyd and Omar Sharif starred in three movies together (if you count ‘The Poppy is Also a Flower’). They first met in Cairo at the inauguration of the sound and light show at the pyramids of Giza in April 1961. Stephen was on a publicity tour for Twentieth Century Fox.
Obviously the joint project they were planning never came to fruition, unfortunately. The first movie they worked on together was the grandiose, sombre epic ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’. Stephen was the highest paid male actor in this movie, and Omar was an up and coming star who had just received great reviews for his performance in ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ They are pitted as rivals in this film. Omar plays an Armenian king who marries the woman Boyd loves, Lucilla, played by the incomparable Sophia Loren. Most of Omar’s scenes were cut from the final draft of the movie, but he and Boyd do get a great sword fight scene in the second half of the film. As far as can be discerned, the two actors got along just fine during the filming of this movie in 1963. About a year later they would work again together, but this was a different tale to tell. The two actors were cast again as rivals in the action packed epic ‘Genghis Khan’, with Omar as Temujin (Genghis Khan), and Boyd as the heavy this time, portraying Jamuga, the leader of a rival tribe, the Merkits. Boyd seems to have had a great time as this villain. His character is ruthless, stubborn, relentless and vicious- a true barbarian. Omar’s Temujin is more refined, gentle, and forward thinking. Temujin is determined to coalesce the various warring tribes in Mongolia into a united Mongol nation. Jamuga is the thorn in his side throughout the picture, even going so far as to rape Temujin’s wife Bortei, played by the lovely Francoise Dorleac (Catherine Deneuve’s older sister). Boyd at the time was still a major star, so he was billed first and also paid the highest, even though it was truly a starring role for Omar Sharif. In Eli Wallach’s memoirs he mentions speaking to Sharif on the set about his own pay, and the angry reaction it produced. It seems even Eli Wallach was getting paid more than Sharif! Somehow something was said or unsaid on the set that caused a a bitter enmity between the two actors. This set off Boyd’s Irish temper as, generally speaking, Boyd was usually more than amiable to his co-stars. In this case, however, the two men refused to speak to each other off camera, refused to have pictures taken with each other, and also refused to attend the same premiere of the movie together. It was an all out feud. The tension it produced does come off well on screen, however, as the two actors do truly seem to hate each other, as their characters also do. The movie ends with a dusty, bloody, shirtless Mongol duel, with Boyd and Sharif wrestling and warring with each other in pure hatred and animosity. It’s a wonder this final wrestling match didn’t clear the air between these two! Two years later they would both appear in the U.N. sponsored movie ‘The Poppy is Also a Flower,’ however both of their minor parts were filmed completely separate from each other. After struggling to make a name of himself in both ‘Fall of the Roman Empire’ and ‘Genghis Khan’, Omar Sharif would finally achieve permanent stardom in the classic ‘Doctor Zhivago.’ But if you take another look at ‘Genghis Khan,’ you will see my favorite Omar Sharif performance, alongside one of my all time favor Stephen Boyd performances as well.
In Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964
In Genghis Khan, 1965