When you consider the fact that actors are, like each of us, human beings, it makes sense that they get ill from time to time. Sometimes, an actor gets sick on set, which always leads to questions from the media, but we don’t want to dwell on little day-to-day illnesses. We also don’t want to talk about illnesses which have nothing to do with any one film. What we’re most interested in are the times that actors got really sick on set because of a movie, and, apparently, you are interested in these as well.
What do we mean by this? That’s a good question and one that requires a few answers. We chose to look at some of the occasions when an actor was forced to do something that led to an illness. Maybe they needed to shoot in a certain location or climate that led to them getting sick. Maybe something happened while filming a scene and it led to a serious illness. There are many different scenarios and we’re open to considering everything as long as someone got sick. That’s all that matters. Here are 15 times actors became seriously sick because of a movie role.
15. Ashton Kutcher – Jobs
These days, method acting is more show than substance. It seems that many actors are thinking, well, Daniel Day-Lewis does it and he wins Oscars everytime. It must work. Nearly every actor now has some weird tale about getting into character and the completely unnecessary steps it took them to get there. Ashton Kutcher, for example, decided to change his diet when he landed the role of Steve Jobs in Jobs. You know, the Steve Jobs film that no one saw. Kutcher’s new diet was called fruitarianism, a food program that consists almost solely of fruits. This was a diet that Steve Jobs himself dabbled with and it even inspired the name of his company, Apple. Yet, for Jobs, this type of diet helped lead him to becoming a kazillionaire, while, for Kutcher, the terrible diet almost killed him. “I ended up in the hospital two days before we started shooting the movie,” Kutcher said. “I was doubled over in pain, and my pancreas levels were completely out of whack, which was terrifying, considering everything.”
14. Daniel Day-Lewis – Gangs of New York
Daniel Day-Lewis is the Method Man of method actors. Every film that he’s ever done has come along with some whacky story about how he lived the character. For all the amazing stories, there are some silly ones. The silliest of all the sillies is from Gangs of New York, a period piece about gangs of New York… in the mid-19th century. So, here’s Day-Lewis getting into character. He decides to walk the town, acting just like his half-crazy character, William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting. Part of his character was the wardrobe. For Day-Lewis this meant a 19th-century threadbare coat. It was winter; he was method; It was a battle of two immovable objects. Right? Eh, not quite. Day-Lewis came down with pneumonia from walking around in sub-zero temperatures with little more than a spring jacket on. “I had to do my preparation,” he said. “I will admit that I went mad, totally mad… He was a bit of a punk, a marvellous character and a joy to be – but not so good for my physical or mental health.”
13. Tom Hanks – Castaway
When Tom Hanks was filming Castaway, stories of harrowing film shoots, brutal conditions and the unwavering commitment to the acting craft was all anybody heard. The fluff pieces were relentless, as they often are for survivalist films, but there was one story that caught everyone’s attention because it sounded both true and didn’t really serve to glorify anyone. The story said that, during the shoot, Hanks had been cut on his leg, nothing major, no reason to be concerned. After a while, however, the wound got worse. Hanks’ leg had swelled up almost twice its normal size and the wound wasn’t healing. The on-site medical personnel had a look at it and determined it was a staph infection and that Hanks needed to leave the site immediately, saying to the star, “I have to put you in the hospital as soon as possible… because you’re about an hour away from having blood poisoning that will kill you.”
12. John Rhys-Davies – The Lord of the Rings
To look the part of Gimli the Dwarf in The Lord of the Rings, John Rhys-Davies was required to wear a significant amount of prosthetics on his face. While he may look and talk like a rough and tough Welshman, Rhys-Davies has baby soft skin that couldn’t handle whatever it was in those prosthetics. Latex? The result was a severe allergic reaction, one that caused his skin to rash and his eyes to swell up and close over. Not only did this cause a nightmare for shooting, but it also meant Rhys-Davies would not return to help when they made The Hobbit. When asked if he might consider it, prosthetics and all, Rhys-Davies replied, “I’ve already been asked and to be honest with you, I wouldn’t. I have already completely ruled it out. There’s a sentimental part of me that would love to be involved again. Really I am not sure my face can take that sort of punishment any more.”
11. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Oh, sweet lord, they’re talking about the hardships of filming The Revenant again. Anyone who watched, listened and read about films during the award season last year know just how annoying it became hearing the cast and crew of The Revenant talk about cold water and difficult weather conditions endlessly. It was agonizing. Yet, it worked. Leonardo DiCaprio won that Academy Award he had been seeking and the film was a great success. Leo made claims that he was sick a few times during the shoot, but we also all watched him get sick on camera. In a scene that made the final cut, the vegetarian actor took a few bites out of a raw bison liver and he didn’t love it. After gobbling some down, little Leo barfed it all back up.
10. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger‘s mental state and how it relates to playing the role of the Joker in The Dark Knight will always be a major bone of contention among films fans and industry folk. There is one group that says Ledger was obviously a bit unstable coming into a role which may have exacerbated his condition. There’s another that says Heath was completely healthy and unafflicted but his drive to master the role of a psychopath ultimately consumed him. Then there’s the group that says that the call of drugs within the entertainment industry beckons to anyone who will listen, and Heath heard it. While, we’ll probably never know for sure, Ledger did state in his diary that he had “ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath – someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts.” Sure, he’s talking about his character, but there is a possibility, however slight, that he wasn’t able to leave the character behind at the end of the day.
9. Jason Robards – Fitzcarraldo
Director Werner Herzog set out to make a movie of grand proportions with Fitzcarraldo. He took his cast and crew out to the Amazon and began what proved to be a long and tortuous film shoot for nearly everyone involved. The one who got the worst of it all was Jason Robards. Robards, now deceased, might be best known by younger readers by his last film, Magnolia, in which he played the sick bedridden father of Tom Cruise‘s character. After shooting about 40% of the film, Robards came down with a very serious case of dysentery. When he was forced to leave the jungle and was deemed unable to return at the behest of his doctors, Herzog needed to recast the starring role and start the shoot over again. In regards to the shoot, Robards’ agent, Clifford Stevens, would say, “It was a hardship condition – right in the jungle, on the Amazon River bank… It was unhygienic. The place was rife with insects and mosquitoes.”
8. Cursed Cast Members – Maze Runner: Scorch Trials
Maybe you don’t believe in curses, but Dylan O’Brien, the star of The Maze Runner franchise, clearly does. When he was talking about filming the second installment of the series, Scorch Trials, O’Brien discussed some of the weird goings-on, which led to several cast members coming down with unexplained illnesses. “We filmed in New Mexico, Albuquerque, in these mountains, this ancient Indian burial ground, I guess, and it hadn’t been used for filming ever before,” he said. “(We were told to) respect the grounds. They were really strict about littering and don’t take any artifacts, like rocks, skulls, anything like that, and everyone just takes things, obviously.” Apparently, so says O’Brien, some of his fellow stars didn’t respect the sacred sites, messing with objects, so they paid the price. “Within a week, five of our actors went down, ill. Random stuff, too — random appendectomy, random 103.5 fever, random like a broken ankle.” While we may wonder how a broken ankle gets lumped in with random illnesses, there’s one thing that we can say with scientific certainty: these kids were cursed by some malevolent spirits.
7. Emma Watson – Noah
No one wants to picture Emma Watson sick. Frankly, it’s just a waste of a perfectly good fantasy. But that doesn’t mean it never happens in real life. When Watson was interviewed about her experiences filming Noah with Russell Crowe and director Darren Aronofsky, she had some bad memories she felt she should share. “Because the film has a pro-environment message, Darren didn’t want anyone drinking from plastic water bottles on set,” Watson said. “Everything we used had to be recycled or recyclable. Having no water bottles on set at five in the morning, when you’re exhausted and delirious, wasn’t ideal. I was so tired one morning I picked up a mug from my trailer and drank some stagnant water that had been there for the duration – so three months. I was so ill.” We know what you’re thinking. Gross. Also, poor Hermione. Well, Aronofsky doesn’t think like us. He wanted Watson to use that illness as inspiration. “I came in the next day and was like: ‘Darren, I don’t think I can do this, I’m really sick,'” she said. “He was like: ‘Use it for the scene.’ And I turned round to the bus and was like: ‘Is he joking? He is joking right?’ and there was deadly silence.”
6. Harrison Ford – Raiders of the Lost Ark
There’s a long-standing story in Hollywood about Raiders of the Lost Ark and the infamous gun vs. sword scene. The scene in question has a baddie come out brandishing a sword and doing all sorts of tricks with it. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is unimpressed. He pulls out his handgun and shoots the poor guy. The legend says that the only reason this scene exists is because Ford was sick that day, which is, amazingly, true. “It was meant to be the ultimate duel between sword and whip,” Ford said. He goes on to say, “I was suffering from dysentery, really, found it inconvenient to be out of my trailer for more than 10 minutes at a time.” If you’re keeping score at home, this means that the scene had to be altered because Ford had some wicked diarrhea.
5. Buddy Ebsen – The Wizard of Oz
Originally, Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, but he and Ray Bolger, who was cast as the Tin Man, decided to switch roles for whatever reason. Ebsen learned his new part, went through costume and design and even started shooting. Several days into the shoot, however, Ebsen began complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath. It soon got worse and he was rushed to the hospital where he was treated for a severe allergic reaction to the aluminum powder used by the makeup staff. You see, they had tried a number of things to make the Tin Man appear silvery. Eventually, it was agreed upon to use a white face paint with an aluminum powder over top. All the while he was singing and dancing, Ebsen was inhaling great amounts of silver powder, too. He would complain about lung problems until his death 64 years later.
4. Apollonia Kotero – Purple Rain
In easily the biggest lie ever told in the history of time, Apollonia Kotero, the actress best-known for playing Apollonia in Purple Rain alongside Prince, tells the story of how Prince reportedly saved her life on set “with his warmth and his love and compassion.” No lie, those are her words. Here’s the story. Kotero was required to jump into Lake Minnetonka for a scene. The first few takes were ok, but the crew wanted more. The actress recalled, “after I did it for the fourth time they put me in a little tent, and they said ok that’s it, cut, we’re wrapped… And when I was in there the nurse was in there and she started to check my temperature. All I remember is everything started to fade to black, and she said, ‘She’s going into hypothermia, we have to call the ambulance.’ And I just thought to myself, oh no, god, I don’t want to die now! I want to finish this movie. And I could hear, just in the distance, her voice, she was panicking, and I just started to fade out.”
Hold on there, it gets better. Here comes Prince. “And I thought ok, I don’t know what’s going on here. I’m a fighter, I’m strong, I can do this. And then Prince came in, because I remember feeling his warmth, he held me, and he says, “Please don’t die. Please don’t die, Apollonia.” And his voice kind of cracked. And I don’t know, it took a while, but I remember just like in the movies, you kind of fast forward, and then I started to see images, and it was him, and I just remember, once I was able to talk, I just said, “No, I’m not going anywhere! I have to shoot more, we’ve got to get more in the can, man! I’m not going anywhere, we’ve got to shoot some more!” And he kind of chuckled.” What kind of baloney is that? Do people actually believe these stories? “I felt his warmth…” What in the world?
3. Melvin Van Peebles – Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song
In what might be the strangest illness on the list, actor Melvin Van Peebles was forced to apply for Workers’ Compensation from the Director’s Guild after he contracted gonorrhoea while filming one of the sex scenes in the film. This brings up two interesting points. First, this means that Van Peebles was not simulating the sex scenes in the film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. And second, the claims about him having sex on camera must have been true if the Director’s Guild backed him up. While the film as a whole may not be all that great, you might want to check out a few of the sex scenes for research purposes.
2. Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
If you watched The Wolf of Wall Street, you’ll remember that every other scene involved a bunch of rich money-hungry meatheads snorting lines of coke, or whatever else they could get their hands on. Obviously, Martin Scorsese wasn’t about to risk his career by supplying real coke to the stars, so they had to improvise. What they came up with was a vitamin powder that was safe to ingest. The only problem was, it was safe to ingest in small quantities, something that was not an option for the main stars, like Jonah Hill, who were required to do multiple takes of them snorting countless lines. “I had to be hospitalized,” Hill said. “If you ingest that much matter into your lungs you’ll get very sick, and we were literally doing fake coke for, like, seven months, every day.” It wasn’t all bad. From taking in so much of the vitamin powder, Hill found himself feeling stronger every day. “I never had more vitamin D in my entire life; I could have lifted a car over my f–king head”.
1. Cancer of the Cast – The Conqueror
You would be forgiven for thinking that the worst idea the filmmakers of The Conqueror had was to cast the ultra-Caucasian, John Wayne, as the Mongol leader Genghis Khan, but, sadly, it wasn’t. Nope. Shooting all the exterior shots downwind from Nevada National Security Site, an above-ground nuclear weapons testing site, was the worst idea. The results were catastrophic. Just 30 years after the making of this film, almost half of the 220 cast and crew members had developed some form of cancer. Obviously not all the illnesses and deaths can be blamed squarely on the film location, but we’ve got to assume that at least some of them were caused by the nuclear site. Legend says that the film crew were concerned about the location, but the United States government assured them that there were no health risks associated with nuclear testing.