A huge amount of work from a varied group of people goes into creating every movie. Contributions from directors, crew, producers, writers and studio executives are all vital to ensuring that a film is successful. While each release is the result of a dedicated team effort, how a film is received by critics and the general public can often depend on the performances put in by the actors taking part. Because they are effectively the face of the entire project, they get the most attention and if they do not put in the required effort, then the entire production can fail.
With that in mind, it is no wonder that sometimes actors and directors will go to extreme lengths to make sure that their performances are both accurate and convincing. This might involve putting themselves through a tough regime to get their body ready for a shoot, preparing to portray their character through intense method acting or even a director pushing the cast to punishing extremes to get the desired reactions.
So, despite the fact that most people believe that actors have a pretty cushy job, it is still shocking to see some of the dangerous, harsh and bizarre things that actors have gone through in pursuit of creating a great film.
11. Kate Winslet – Titanic
Kate Winslet had a pretty hard time when working on Titanic. She has revealed that director James Cameron was incredibly difficult to work with as he would often lose his temper with the cast and crew and force them to work in harsh conditions. The actress didn’t just suffer on set because of the notoriously short tempered director though, she also went through quite a physically demanding time throughout the shoot. Due to filming in a giant tank of cold water for days on end, the now 39-year-old developed hypothermia. More seriously, she also chipped bones and bruised muscles, as well as almost dying when an accident meant Winslet almost drowned. The ordeal of the movie was enough to force Winslet to admit she would not want to work with Cameron again on another movie.
10. Tippi Hedren – The Birds
Tippi Hedren was a relatively unknown actress when she was discovered in 1961 by Alfred Hitchcock while shooting a commercial. He almost immediately signed her up to a long term contract and she starred in her first film in the 1963 release, The Birds. The production was not plain sailing for the young actress though. A prominent example came in the climax of the movie when the crew were ordered not to throw fake birds at Hedren but rather chuck real live birds at her, which then proceeded to scratch and claw at her. She also suffered from emotional and psychological stress throughout filming, as Hitchcock verbally abused her and tried to control her actions, from the clothes that she wore to the food she ate. The relationship between the pair deteriorated so much that by the end of their second film, the two could only communicate through a third party.
9. Michael J. Fox – Back to the Future 3
Throughout the filming of the Back to the Future trilogy, Michael J. Fox got plenty of bumps and scrapes from the actions that he was expected to carry out on the very active set. For the most part though, the actor was left relatively unscathed. That is until it came to shoot a scene in the third film where Marty was supposed to be shot free while hanging in a noose. According to Fox, for the first few takes he stood on a box to prevent any danger but by the seventh take, he revealed that he didn’t believe that the look was realistic. Therefore, he got rid of the box and actually managed to hang himself when he couldn’t get his hands between his neck and the noose, leading to him passing out and needing to be cut free by the crew.
8. Margaret Hamilton – The Wizard of Oz
Although the name of Margaret Hamilton might not be familiar to most moviegoers, she will be a somewhat familiar figure to millions of people, as she portrayed the Wicked Witch of the West. While the film itself ended up being a huge success, it was less appealing to the cast who were involved in creating the movie. Several suffered a series of serious injuries and health problems. Possibly the most frightening instance came when Hamilton disappears from screen in a flash of fire and smoke. Due to a combination of errors, including the trap door on which she stood failing to open and the makeup she used being flammable, sparks from the mini explosion set fire to her face and hands. The incident caused the actress to suffer from second and third degree burns. Hamilton didn’t receive any compensation and decided not to sue as she knew it would effectively end her acting career.
7. Jared Leto – Chapter 27
Chapter 27 was a complete flop that released in 2007. It told the story of the murderer of John Lennon in 1980, and set about exploring the emotions and mind set of the killer Mark Chapman. It starred Jared Leto, best known for his roles in Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream and Dallas Buyers Club, who decided to gain around 60 pounds in weight in order to accurately portray Chapman. However, due to the short amount of time that Leto spent in gaining the weight, he suffered from a number of health problems that made the film very painful to shoot, including gout that was so bad that he had to use a wheelchair at some points.
6. Debbie Reynolds – Singing in the Rain
Singing in the Rain is a classic movie that set the standard for musical films, with both fans and critics holding it in high regard. Co-directed by and starring Gene Kelly, it put the cast through a tiring routine that included 18-hour working days and intense dancing practice. One actress in particular had a considerably hard time. The 20-year-old Debbie Reynolds, was under constant attack from Kelly. Outside of the verbal abuse, she was also worked so hard that she suffered serious injuries and her feet would routinely bleed. Combined with the fact that she had very little dancing experience, Reynolds struggled to cope on set and would often break down completely and spend significant amounts of time sobbing uncontrollably.
5. Marilyn Burns – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
In order to ensure that his actors would react to the horror scenes in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as if they really were terrified, director Robe Hooper put all of the cast through extreme measures to get the perfect reactions. This included shooting the final scene in a hot and sealed room in the middle of the summer in Texas, for 27 hours in a row. The props, made out of cheese and meat, soon began to go bad in the heat and created an overwhelming stench. The conditions were so bad that many of the cast and crew became just a little bit crazy and Gunnar Hansen actually sliced open Burns’ finger as the prop to release blood had clogged several times.
4. Jackie Chan – Police Story
Jackie Chan is best known by the vast majority of people in the West for appearing in movies such as Rush Hour, but in his native Hong Kong and China, the actor is famous for appearing in numerous successful Kung Fu films. What is more impressive is the fact that Chan often does all of his own stunts, something that has led to him suffering from a multitude of injuries in his career. Arguably the worst incident came in Police Story. Near the end of the movie, Chan has to slide down a tall metal poll, smash through a thick pane of glass and then confront the villain. Unfortunately, the safety precautions were not adequate enough and Chan’s insistence of doing the action sequences himself led to cracked ribs, a broken back, a dislocated pelvis, as well as burns and painful lacerations from the lights that were fixed to the poll.
3. Daniel Day-Lewis – My Left Foot
Daniel Day-Lewis was not afraid to take extreme measures in order to pull off a great film. He would often go to pushing lengths to get into character, researching roles and going through similar traumatic experiences so that he could portray the characters more accurately. Arguably the furthest the veteran actor ever went though, was for the film My Left Foot. In the film, Day-Lewis was set to play a role in which he would only be able to use one foot due to cerebral palsy and so to get an idea of how such a character would feel, he spent almost the entire shoot, as well as the months leading up to it, in a wheelchair. He refused to eat normally, instead relying on being fed by crew, and caused serious damage to his ribs and back by hunching over so much.
2. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
For his acclaimed role in The Dark Knight as the Joker, the 28-year-old Heath Ledger went to extreme lengths to develop the character of the infamous villain. According to those close to the actor and a diary kept by the star, Ledger went through an excruciating process of method acting by locking himself up in isolation for weeks on end. This was so that he could get into the head of a character he felt was completely psychotic and devoid of any type of conscience. Not only was this experience of cutting himself off from the rest of the world psychologically traumatic, but it also proved to be deeply troubling for him as he further explored exactly who the Joker is and how he would live in reality.
1. Malcolm McDowell – A Clockwork Orange
The great director Stanley Kubrick was never afraid of putting his actors through some painful experiences in order to ensure that a film turned out the absolute best it possibly could. He is infamous for putting cast and crew through endless retakes to get the perfect shot and has even been willing to be very harsh to actors to get the required reactions, such as with the hard time he put Shelley Duvall through in The Shining. Things got so bad during that shoot that her hair actually began to fall out due to the stress.
The worst instance of Stanley Kubrick essentially torturing his cast came in A Clockwork Orange, where he put Malcolm McDowell through a series of extreme actions. This included having the actors’ ribs broken, forcing him to be near a snake even though he had a fear of them and actually prying his eyes open during one particular scene. This actually scratched his cornea and needed constant attention from a Doctor to ensure he wouldn’t permanently damage his eyes.
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