OK everyone, why do you watch movies? Is it the witty banter? The cool fight scenes? The great, engaging story? Whatever reason you give, escapism may be at the root of it. Mortgages, low bank balances and work place dramas just don’t thrill us in the same way as movies, do they? And heck, with all the hardships that we see on the news, don’t we all just want to get away from what’s going on in the world sometimes?
Boy, you said it Scar. No matter how famous or talented we are, we are all only human. Everyone has tough days and we can't win all the time. We can’t live in the glossy and often carefree worlds seen in the movies.
Indeed, movie-making itself can be a tense experience, with tough subjects being tackled, pressure coming from the studio and eccentric egos coming into play, often with disastrous results.
So said Steven Spielberg, who recently admitted that he nearly quit directing after one of his most famous movies. Therefore, in light of his heartbreaking words, here, in chronological order, is a list of films which had profound effects on their makers.
1. Tippi Hedren — The Birds (1963)
Though married, the renowned director Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for blondes. He could also be a tad possessive and obsessive. So when Tippi Hedren spurned his advances on set things became, well, horrific. Hitchcock began harassing her with lewd comments and took to following her everywhere. She has since said that “It was a form of stalking...to be the object of someone’s obsession is horrible.”
The situation deteriorated until she came to shoot the scene in the attic where the titular animals attack her.
Hedren had been told that the birds would be mechanical props, yet, as she says, things did not progress as she expected:
“Everybody had lied to me...I got to the set [and] I found out there had never been any intention to use mechanical birds...there were boxes of ravens, gulls and pigeons that bird trainers wearing gauntlets up to their shoulders hurled at me, one after the other, for a week.”
She sustained cuts, and eventually collapsed, crying in exhaustion and had to be carried off set, after which she spent a further week recovering. Hedren had already agreed to make another film with Hitchcock, but such was his spite and influence that he ensured Hedren’s career went no further without him.
One of Hitchcock’s most notable quotes is that actors “should be treated like cattle.” Says it all really doesn’t it?
2. Gunnar Hansen — The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
When stunts go slightly wrong or actors get a little bit carried away, its not uncommon for actors to get a few little cuts and bruises. However, it's pretty rare that an actors comes mere inches away from losing his head! In a long, hot and humid shoot where real animal and human blood was utilized, Gunnar Hansen (playing the deranged Leatherface himself) recalls that:
“They wouldn't wash my costume because they were worried that...laundry might lose it, or that it would change color. They didn't have enough money for a second costume. So I wore [it] 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for a month."
Hot, smelly and claustrophobic? Sounds like the right cocktail for tensions to fray and accidents to happen, right? Correct!
In one tense scene when Leatherface decapitates Kirk (William Vail) Hansen got a little carried away and brought his running chainsaw within 3 inches (8 cm) of his fellow actor’s head.
Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope!
3. Martin Sheen — Apocalypse Now (1979)
The problems that arose while making this film are infamous. Typhoons wrecked the set, Marlon Brando turned up with a massive weight gain and controversy arose over the use of authentic corpses, and the filmed slaughter of a water buffalo. But everyone remembers that brilliant opening scene right?
That Saigon hotel room where Martin Sheen brilliantly portrays a damaged man? Well, it turns that he wasn’t technically acting.
In fact, he was a raging alcoholic at the time, and the blood you see after he drunkenly punches the mirror is his own. When the stressful shoot was postponed due to a storm and the cast and crew subsequently recalled, Sheen told his friends:
He was right to be uncertain — he later suffered a heart attack! Though thankfully, Sheen has continued to have a prosperous career, he very nearly lost it all and he was not the only one!
Director Francis Ford Coppola also had seizures, breakdowns and even said that he was considering suicide on three occasions when he was making the movie.
4. Shelley Duvall — The Shining (1980)
Here’s another cherished movie which proved to be extremely tough-going for the talent involved. The Shining took a whopping 500 days to film, and it was constantly being re-shot and edited due to Stanley Kubrick’s insistence on filming it chronologically. Kubrick is now notorious for his brutal and meticulous filmmaking methods, and everyone who helped make The Shining certainly confronted these methods head on.
Jack Nicholson, who hates cheese sandwiches, was reportedly forced to survive on them so that he was continuously bad tempered, but it’s Shelley Duvall who got truly got it in the neck.
To keep her genuinely fearful and dispirited, Kubrick played mind games with her, planting the idea in her head that she was wasting everyone’s time and isolated her from the rest of the cast and crew.
It didn’t stop there either. The lengthy shoot meant that her extensive amounts of crying left her dehydrated on numerous occasions. She became so stressed and ill that some of her hair fell out!
Shocking stuff. If you wish to read about Duvall's trials in more detail, click here for Tom Chapman’s fabulously informative article.
5. Sean Connery — The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
Apparently the production of this movie was as messy as the final product. Legendary actor Sean Connery and director Stephen Norrington did not see eye to eye at all. So much so, that months down the line and several heated arguments later, a thoroughly disillusioned Connery was questioned about Norrington’s absence at the film’s opening party. He quickly quipped:
At around the same time, Connery also announced that he was done with acting altogether. While others have defended his retirement, saying that he was only being offered “small parts about old men,” which he disliked, it is widely believed that Connery’s experiences filming The League are the main cause of his embitterment.
6. Wesley Snipes — Blade Trinity (2004)
We really haven’t heard much from Wesley Snipes in recent years, have we?
And its partly because of Blade: Trinity. Even before filming began, Snipes was reportedly very angry that the studio had changed the story without consulting him (he was a producer on the picture after all). Things only got worse when David Goyer was hired as the director. The two did not get along, and coupled with Snipes’s copious weed-smoking, the tensions resulted in some very erratic behavior from ol' Wes.
Remaining in character for the entirety of a film’s production is fine, since method acting isn’t unheard of, but communicating with the director via Post-it notes signed "From Blade" is definitely a little strange. Snipes also refused to participate in many scenes, and after he accused Goyer of racism, he tried to strangle his director!
This fallout from this movie, coupled with Snipes's imprisonment for federal tax fraud, have both led to the decline of his reputation. Apart from The Expendables 3, Snipes has mainly starred in Direct to-DVD movies, and has yet to return to the glories of his heyday (though it looks like Blade could be returning via Netflix).
7. Heath Ledger — The Dark Knight (2008)
This is perhaps the most famous inclusion on the list, and probably one of the more controversial. Why? Because people still debate whether the darkness of the role played a part in Heath Ledger's death. He had already disclosed how intensely he'd prepared for the part of the the twisted and psychopathic Joker to Empire Magazine, stating that:
"...there are no real boundaries to what The Joker would say or do.... I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices..."
Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in January 2008, which he had been taking to combat his illnesses and bouts of sleeplessness. While his ex-fiancé Michelle Williams stated that his insomnia preceded his work on The Dark Knight, many have speculated that the Joker caused the sleeping disorder and maybe even depression.
Whether or not this is the case, he's sorely missed today. Ledger was a skilled performer and undoubtedly deserved that posthumous Academy award.
8. Jessica Chastain — Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Torture, the pressures of an extreme career, and witnessing death — the majority of us would not want to be party to these. Jessica Chastain found out that even pretending to experience them can also be tough. In Zero Dark Thirty her CIA agent strives to find Osama Bin Laden. Controversial in itself, the movie was made more so through the fact that Chastain's character is compliant in a water boarding interrogation. However, it all became a bit too much for the actress. As she said to AMC:
I bet that was tough! Kudos to you Jessica! You did good!
9. Sir Ian McKellen — The Hobbit Trilogy (2012–2014)
The Hobbit series was shot in 3D to capitalize on its success post-Avatar. When Peter Jackson was filming The Lord of the Rings beforehand, visual trickery was used to ensure that taller characters (such as Ian McKellen's wizard Gandalf) could interact with the rest of the (shorter) cast and still appeared to be much taller than everyone else.
On The Hobbit prequel trilogy? Not so much.
Different techniques had to be used to generate the different sizes of the characters. This unfortunately meant that a larger set had to be built for Gandalf/McKellen, who was forced to interact with a lot of green-screen. He didn’t take kindly to it.
"It was so distressing... off-putting and difficult that I thought ‘I don’t want to make this film if this is what I’m going to have to do’. It’s not what I do for a living. I act with other people, I don’t act on my own...and [I] thought perhaps, has the time come for me to stop acting altogether if I can’t cope with these difficulties?"
This only occurred for the first few days (according to Peter Jackson), but it does raise interesting questions about the role of technology in filmmaking, if it causes classically-trained professionals such as McKellen to feel so despondent.
10. Steven Spielberg — Schindler’s List (1993)
A film about the Holocaust was never going to be bright, popcorn entertainment, and in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Steven Spielberg revealed that his time on Schindler’s List almost had a life-changing effect upon him:
Thankfully, he recalls that “I just needed time," before he resumed his career.
Just think if he had decided to retire? No Saving Private Ryan? No Catch Me If You Can? No Bridge of Spies? The world of film wouldn’t be the same!
So there you have it! It may be easy for us to scoff at these dramas and dilemmas because they're being paid to work on mega-budget films, but everyone has bad days and we shouldn't be too quick to judge. You never know what's going on in a person's head or what kind of day they're having.
I truly admire those that persevered with their craft against the odds to create countless of classic movies for the world to enjoy, and I hope that those who are still with us continue to do so.
Keep your chins up everyone, and stay safe!