Movies can provide a great emotional release for the audience, by depicting scenes that we might never expect to happen in real life. We can watch people act out fantastic or dire circumstances and feel safe in the assumption that it is all make-believe and that no one was harmed during the making of the movie. However, this is not always true. Sometimes the actors know exactly how the characters feel because they have lived through almost the exact same experience.
Movie making is often physically grueling, with actors enduring conditions very similar to their characters in order to portray the right amount of realism. They can also be emotionally devastating, as actors take on the personas of their characters and deal with the fallout involved in personality conflicts and method acting.
The best movies often have the worst working conditions, as harsh conditions can contribute to the believability of what we see on screen. This was especially true in the past, when filmmakers were not protected by law to the extent that they are now, and actors were often placed in positions that would be unthinkable today. But even modern actors can encounter conflicts with settings and their fellow cast members. And sometimes things just go wrong and the cast and crew have to pay the price. Here 15 actresses have paid an emotional or physical price while playing the characters in well-loved films.
15. Jodie Foster Was Attacked By A Feline Co-Star
Jodie Foster has been in show business since she was toddler and is often considered one of the best actresses of her generation. However, her long and varied career could have ended before it began when the actress was mauled by a lion on the set of her second feature film in 1972. Napoleon and Samantha centered around an orphan boy and his old circus lion, with Foster playing the girl who befriended them both. The actress, who was nine years old at the time, worked with two feline co-stars while making the movie.
The stand-in lion was filming a scene with Foster, being led by “invisible” piano wire up a hill when he became impatient with her slow pace and attacked. The lion picked up the actress in his mouth and shook her “like a doll.” He only dropped the young girl when his trained told him to “drop it.”
Foster was scarred by the event, both physically and mentally. In 1992 she was described as having by People magazine as having “faint lion-bite scars on [her] stomach and back.” She has also admitted to an enduring phobia of cats, precipitated by the attack.
14. Linda Blair Was Injured In A Demonic Scene
Forever associated with pea soup vomit, Linda Blair was made famous at 14 by her Oscar-nominated role in The Exorcist. The special effects in the film were terrifying and it has been named one of the scariest horror movies ever made. Audiences winced at the terrible contortions the fictional Regan endured while she was possessed by a demon, but may have been reassured by the idea that of course it was all a deception. Just movie effects and camera tricks, made to look real.
Unfortunately this wasn’t entirely accurate. To emulate the supernatural thrashing movement, Blair was rigged to a mechanical harness that pulled her around on the bed. While Regan was presumably none the worse for wear once the demon was ejected, Blair herself was not so lucky. She suffered a slight fracture of the spine after the harness failed. This injury and a second back injury from a motorcycle accident later in life have contributed to her suffering from scoliosis as an adult.
13. Kate Winslet Almost Drowned Filming Titanic
Kate Winslet launched a global career with her performance of Rose in the film Titanic. Lauded for the incredible special effects and the detailed scale models used to recreate the sinking of the HMS Titanic, the film also achieved realism through the endurance of its actors, who may have suffered almost as much as some of the characters they portrayed. Winslet has called filming it “an ordeal.” She was expected to work multiple 20 hour days, often filming at night, as that was when the ship went down. Winslet caught pneumonia from being suspended in cold water for long periods of time without a wetsuit, and chipped a bone in her elbow when she slipped on the recreated deck.
However, her most harrowing experience involved a near death escape. Just like Rose, Winslet came close to drowning in a scene where her character was running from a giant wave of water. Her long coat caught on a part of the set and she was submerged by the wave, almost asphyxiating before she could struggle free of the garment.
12. Melanie Griffith Almost Lost An Eye In Roar
Roar has been called the most dangerous movie ever made, and considering 70+ human cast and crew members were reportedly injured during filming this might not be complete hyperbole. The script called for dozens of big cats to be filmed in scenes together. Hollywood animal trainers refused to do it, stating that the idea was “completely and utterly insane,” as so many big cats would fight each other when placed in such close proximity.
Rather than change the script, Noel Marshall, the writer and director of Roar, and Tippi Hedren, the producer, decided instead to purchase their own, untrained animals and gradually introduce them to each other over a period of years. In this way, they hoped the cats would grow acclimatized to each other and could then be filmed for the movie.
Both Hedren and her daughter Melanie Griffith were severely injured by the animals during filming. Hedren was thrown by an elephant, the fall breaking her ankle and ripping up her scalp, resulting in skin grafts and gangrene. Griffith was attacked by a lion, and needed 50 stitches to her face. It was feared that she might lose her eye but fortunately she was not permanently disfigured by the attack. While the film itself was a critical and commercial failure, it did result in the founding of The Shambala Preserve, a wildlife sanctuary in California that takes in abandoned and abused big cats.
11. Linda Hamilton Was Deafened By Gunfire In Terminator 2
Sarah Connor is an unforgettable bada*s of a character in the Terminator franchise, but never more so than in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. In preparation for her pivotal role as the paranoid survivalist mother of John Connor, Linda Hamilton trained for hours each day, six days a week, with both a personal trainer and an ex-Israeli commando. She learned to “load clips, change mags, check out a room upon entry, verify kills,” as well as how to pick locks and other skills so that she could portray Sarah Connor accurately. However, unfortunately, while the magic of the movies protected the character during multiple hardcore action sequences, the actress wasn’t always so lucky.
Hamilton suffered from several injuries during the filming, including permanent damage to her hearing after forgetting to replace her ear plugs and then firing a gun in an elevator. However, what she may have found most traumatic was the scene where her character dreams about a nuclear explosion. Her own son played the toddler in the playground who exploded as the concussive wave hit. While devastation was filmed using a dummy, Hamilton still found it “very upsetting.”
10. Diane Kruger Was Strangled By Her Director
Quentin Tarantino is known for the stylized violence of his movies, and the film Inglourious Basterds is certainly no exception. However, in his pursuit of realism he may have gone a bit too far for one of his female stars.
Diane Kruger, as the fictional Bridget von Hammersmark, is strangled by an SS colonel in a brutal, graphic sequence in the movie. However, the actor playing the colonel is not the one with his hands around Kruger’s throat for the scene. In fact Tarantino convinced Kruger that in order for the scene to look realistic, he would have to do it the strangling himself to get it to look right. He told her his intention was to actually cut off her air, to capture the look of real panic on her face when it happened. While the actress agreed to the scene, she may not have expected to actually lose consciousness for a few moments as Tarantino, dressed in an SS uniform, actually strangled her. Reportedly, the actress needed a 15 minute break afterwards to recover her breath, but the scene made it into the final cut of the film.
9. Halle Berry Was Restrained By Her Co-Star
Gothika was panned by most critics for its unrealistic storyline. The one positive aspect of the film most of them agreed on was Halle Berry’s performance as the psychologist turned mental patient Miranda Grey, and Berry really suffered for the role.
Though she is infamously prone to injury while filming, this particular accident was entirely the fault of her co-star. During one scene her character was being restrained by Robert Downey Jr., who played a psychiatrist in the film. Downey Jr. heard a pop, and realized that he had injured his co-star. In fact, he had unintentionally twisted her arm to the point of fracturing it.
8. Sandra Bullock Experienced Painful Isolation In Gravity
Gravity was one of the best films of 2013, a realistic science fiction-based on current technology, and involving a female astronaut who is trapped alone in a space shuttle and must figure out a way to get herself safely back to Earth.
Sandra Bullock starred as the main character Ryan Stone, and has said that filming was a “frustrating” experience, involving “painful isolation.” While Bullock worked with co-star George Clooney for some of the film, when he finished his part, she said she was hit by depression.
As her character was weightless for much of the film, Bullock was often strapped into the closed set by harnesses for up to ten hours a day, often in complete silence except for instructions that were fed to her through an earpiece. She was required to perform precise movements in the harness, over and over for different shots. The strain of filming required her to see physiotherapist regularly to “put her back together.”
7. Uma Thurman Was Trained Like A Samurai In Kill Bill
Kill Bill (1 & 2) are stylistic bloody revenge flicks, directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring his “muse” Uma Thurman. The film was conceived by Tarantino and Thurman together and was written with her in mind to play the main character, The Bride. Thurman became pregnant right as the filming was supposed to begin, delaying it for several months. She started her gruelling training for the role three months after giving birth, while still breastfeeding her infant son. As The Bride is wreaking vengeance on behalf of her own lost child, Thurman had no trouble imagining the emotional anguish her character had experienced.
She gained first hand experience of the physical trauma involved in the long and brutal training and fighting sequences depicted in the film. Tarantino wanted everything in Kill Bill to be done “the Chinese way,” i.e. without computer generated effects. When Thurman first tried to swing a samurai sword in training, she knocked herself in the head, burst into tears, and expected from then on that they would “fake it.”
Instead she was put through a punishing training regime, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for three months and, in the process, learned many of the skills her character possessed in the films, including “three styles of kung fu, two styles of sword fighting, knife throwing, knife fighting, hand-to-hand combat, [and] Japanese speaking.”
6. Jobeth Williams Swam With Skeletons In Poltergeist
Jobeth Williams is probably best known for her turn as suburban housewife Diane Freeling in the 1982 film Poltergeist (as well as its 1986 sequel). The movie was filled with supernatural happenings that had to be displayed believably on screen, even though the filming predated many of the film tricks you might see today. So scenes like the one where Diane is rolled around the walls and ceiling of her room by an unknown force had to be filmed the old-fashioned way, by putting the actress in a rotating room that would actually physically roll her around on the walls and ceiling.
However the most disconcerting “real effects” used in the film were in the scene where Williams slips into a muddy swimming pool that fills with human skeletons. After the shoot was finished, the director revealed to the actress that many of the skeletons were in fact real human bones from a medical and science supply company, as these were much cheaper at the time than plastic props. Williams was reportedly unconcerned by the revelation, claiming she had been more afraid of being electrocuted by the filming equipment during the scene.
5. Charlize Theron Feuded With Her Co-Star In Mad Max: Fury Road
Filming Mad Max: Fury Road was always going to be a challenge for South African actress Charlize Theron and her co-star Tom Hardy. The Australian movie is set in an post-apocalyptic wasteland and was filmed in Namibia (after unexpected rainfall made the first choice of location in Australia too lush and green as a backdrop).
Many of the stunts seen in the film were done without CGI. This required actors and crew to shoot in gruelling conditions, often harnessed up jury-rigged contraptions and filming for long hours. The men vaulting on poles in one scene, for example, were actually up there, counterbalanced by car engines. For another scene the cameras and crew drove for over 25 miles to get the shot they needed. Theron herself drove the “war rig,” the massive 18 wheel truck commanded by her character, Imperator Furiosa.
Notoriously, the harsh conditions bred discontent among the cast, and kicked off a feud between main stars Theron and Hardy. Rumors asserted that part of the problem may have been Hardy’s penchant for method acting, which led to him adopting his character’s morose personality between takes. However, as the characters also only grudgingly cooperated in the film, Theron considered the feud a good thing for the movie: “Maybe the movie is what it is because we struggled so much with each other… If we were chum-chum, maybe the movie would have been 10 times worse.”
4. Adèle Exarchopoulos & Léa Seydoux Were Pushed To The Point Of Tears
Blue is the Warmest Colour is a French romance, depicting two women falling in love and coming of age in their relationship together. The lead actresses are the only women, aside from Jane Campion, to have won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
The film was controversial not only in its depiction of a gay relationship, but also in the way the cast and crew were treated by the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, during filming. The lead actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos have been quoted as saying that working on the film was “horrible” and “you can see that we are really suffering.” Exarchopoulos was only 18 at the time of filming and the actresses were expected to work up to 18 hours a day in immersive conditions with no room for privacy. In fact, she once woke up on her day off to the director filming her, and insisting she continue to act normally on camera as he did so.
During the pivotal breakup scene, one character is pushed through a glass door, and the actress actually cut her hand on the broken glass. Though bleeding and crying, the actresses were ordered to film the scene again without a break.
While the actresses admit that they learned a lot from making the film, both of them have stated that they would never willingly work with Kechiche again.
3. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio Was Dehumanized In The Abyss
James Cameron has a reputation for being difficult to work with, but even he has said that filming The Abyss was incredibly difficult, stating, “I knew this was going to be a hard shoot, but even I had no idea just how hard.”
Many of the scenes called for filming underwater and for the crew to use scuba gear for extended periods of time. The cast and crew worked gruelling 70 hour weeks, on a dangerous and isolated set, similar to the conditions experienced by the characters in the film, who are living in an underwater drilling station during the story and begin to crack from the strain. Time was at such a premium, at one point the director suggested his actors should urinate in their wetsuits to save time between takes.
The lead actress, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio suffered from a physical and emotional breakdown while making the film. She infamously snapped when pushed one too many times to film a scene where her character is resuscitated after drowning. She was soaking wet, half naked and pounded on the chest repeatedly for the scene and eventually ran out of patience and stormed off set yelling, “We are not animals!”
2. Streep Vs. Hoffman In Kramer Vs. Kramer
The antagonism between the husband and wife on the screen in Kramer Vs. Kramer was shared by the actors playing the roles. Meryl Streep was not the initial choice for Joanna, however the actress had something unique to offer the director. Her boyfriend had recently died from lung cancer and her emotions were still raw and filled with pain, perfect for a movie dealing with divorce.
Streep initially felt the character of Joanna was too murky, without clear motivations for her actions. Before she had even been hired for the part, she was demanding rewrites and helped to shape the character for the film.
Dustin Hoffman played the estranged husband and he admitted that due to her insistence on rewrites that he “hated [Streep’s] guts” though he respected her as an actress. His own insistence on method acting, not only for himself but for the other actors around him, became a massive point of contention.
During the production he went to great lengths to pull what he considered to be the right reactions from Streep on camera. At one point Hoffman slapped the actress’s face hard enough to leave a mark, right before filming an emotional scene. He also taunted her about her deceased boyfriend to upset her, and neglected to tell her he was going to smash a glass against a wall to ensure her shock at the right time. Streep went on to win an Oscar for her performance, but understandably never wanted to work with Hoffman again.
1. Margaret Hamilton Was Burned As A Witch
By all accounts filming The Wizard of Oz was a nightmare for many of the actors on set. The original Tin Man was severely allergic to the metallic makeup used and had to be replaced at the last minute. Some of the actors playing munchkins were infamously rowdy and harassed their 16-year-old co-star, Judy Garland. Garland herself was badly mistreated by the studio, encouraged to take drugs to lose weight, and strapped into an extremely tight corset for the role.
However, the most unfortunate accident occurred with Margaret Hamilton, who played the iconic role of the Wicked Witch. During the initial scene with the munchkins, when the Wicked Witch disappears in a blaze of smoke and flame, the smoke machine was set off before the trap door was ready to whisk the actress to safety. Hamilton was badly burned by the accident.
The actress wore bright green, copper-based makeup as part of her costume, which was so poisonous that she was not allowed to feed herself or handle food while she was wearing it. It was also difficult to remove, and had to be stripped off with alcohol after the actress suffered from the burns, which was an extremely painful process. Hamilton took weeks in hospital to recover and had to wear green gloves when back in character, to hide the injury.
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