We know that cinema is not a big family, a world where everything is beautiful and everyone is a friend. We know that. What we know less is that sometimes actors and actresses have put their lives in danger for a role: it’s even almost a tradition in the films that have marked the history of the 7th art. And be careful, we are not talking about endangerment in promo because there is no more champagne but many actors who have sacrificed themselves on a set, or who have suffered dirty tricks from the production: what wouldn’t we do to win a César or an Oscar, huh?
1. Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now” (1979)
Locked in his hotel room with boxes of alcohol to put himself fully in the skin of his character, the father of Charlie-la-déglingue does so well that he literally destroys the glass of his mirror (Coppola wishes to interrupt the filming, which the actor refuses). But above all, he suffered a serious heart attack in the middle of filming, at the same time as the whole team contracted malaria, dysentery or pneumonia. Not wishing to leave Francis Ford in the mess, the actor limits his rest to a minimum (one month) to return to the set (the quagmire rather), and only accepts a real cure once the film has been shot. It was well worth a small Palme d’or in Cannes all these tiles. And still, there are still a lot of crazy things that happened on the set of Apocalypse Now to see.
2. Natalie Wood in “The Green Promise” (1949)
A story well known to moviegoers: for the purposes of William Russell’s film, the pre-teen has to cross a makeshift bridge in a torrential rain. The whole team knows that the bridge was designed to collapse halfway, except for the interested principal. After a violent fall, Natalie breaks her wrist, and the child star cannot even protest: her cruel mother has forbidden her to speak, for fear that the story will make noise and that the director will fire her. Accents (already) very tragic for the actress, who will be found drowned on the Californian coast in 1981, in circumstances still very troubled today…
3. Patrick Dewaere in “Black Series” (1979)
Patrick Dewaere was known for not skimping on drugs and the bottle, which did not prevent him from being a great professional on the sets. In the midst of depression during the filming of Alain Corneau’s masterpiece, the actor let himself go, for one of his most beautiful roles, to literally smash his head against the hood of his car in a memorable scene. All without protection or lining, of course. We wonder which actor could repeat the thing today, at a time when the smallest junk starlet has a dressing room twelve times too big for her on any set… Intense until the end
4. Charles Vanel in “The Wages of Fear” (1953)
To tell the truth, it is the whole team who tasted on the set of the formidable road-movie of Clouzot. For the famous scene of the U-turn on the platform, the director chooses to film the sequence on a real bridge: the assistant in charge of driving the truck stops only 35 cm from the precipice, and the boards really give way under the weight of the vehicle. In addition to the real nitroglycerin that blew up the rock, and which almost spattered the whole team with debris, the director subjected his actors to other ordeals: for the final scene of the fire pit (a flame rising at a height of 50 meters and which worries all the firefighters in the region), only Charles Vanel, unlike all the extras, agrees to approach the furnace. And again, we pass on to you the moments when Clouzot made him take oil baths… Enough to justify the place of the film in the best rated French films on IMDB.
5. Margaret Hamilton, aka the Wicked Witch from “Wizard of OZ” (1939)
The drama occurs during an explosion which should normally see the Wicked Witch of the West disappear under a thick cloud of smoke. But the makeup of the actress, made from petroleum, will react very badly to the implosion. Result: 3rd degree burns on the arms, 2nd degree on the face, combined with hospitalization and six weeks off work. The balance sheet is heavy, of course, but at the same time, it remains one of the most viewed films in the history of American cinema, so we understand that the actress has never attacked the studios (nice Margaret) .
6. Isabelle Adjani in “Possession” (1981)
Both a great film on the hell of married life and a clear parable on the monstrous hell of communism, “Possession” will earn a double prestigious award for Isabelle Adjani (interpretation prize at Cannes + César for best actress). However, this performance remains one of her worst nightmares, a role that she now says she regrets: like her character seized by a trance, the actress also tastes the “joys” of madness on the set (we even wonders if she hasn’t really copulated with the beast). Besides, we will never see her again – alas – ever so convincing in the rest of her long career.
7. Eli Wallach in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1968)
A quick reminder: to get rid of the corpse of a corporal to which he is handcuffed, Tuco places the body on the rails, so that the train cuts the chain as it passes. Only here it is: no one in the film crew seems to notice that small metal strata emerge from the train carriages. In other words, if Eli Wallach, unaware, had raised his head 30 small centimeters during the filming of the sequence, he would probably have ended up decapitated. And Leone’s masterpiece would never have happened, except perhaps in the manuals listing the disaster shootings of history or the unfinished films. We have not gone far from the drama.
8. Ellen Burstyn in “The Exorcist” (1971)
Young hothead of New Hollywood, Billy Friedkin has always shown a perfectionism close to unreason, which will also lead him to the Dominican ordeal of Sorcerer (1977), his terrible public failure. Earlier in his career, for The Exorcist, “Hurricane Billy” already showed great megalomania, and did not care about the state of health of his actors. Powerless in the face of her possessed daughter (Linda Blair), Ellen Burstyn is violently thrown backwards using a harness attached to her waist for the purposes of a scene, and the actress violently bangs her coccyx on her landing on the floor. The actress will try in vain to have the sequence deleted (she will never succeed), but above all, she still complains today about the pain caused by the man’s perfidy. We understand better why these two – two immense talents of American cinema – have never worked together again…
9. Véra Clouzot in “The Devils” (1955)
Being the filmmaker’s wife is not necessarily a guarantee of preferential treatment on set. In the case of Henri-Georges Clouzot, it is even downright the opposite: already suffering from serious heart failure in 1955, the actress of Brazilian origin will undergo all the whims of her demiurge husband on the set. of the cult film (which means, for example, replaying the same scene 57 times). Victim of numerous blackouts on the set, plunged into an alarming physical and mental state, poor Véra will indeed succumb to a heart attack five years later, at almost 47 years old. Love stories end badly, in general.
10. Denis Lavant in “The Lovers of the Pont-Neuf” (1991)
Probably the most difficult filming in the history of French cinema, and not just for Juliette Binoche, the director’s ex-girlfriend who also had a hard time: while repairing the sole of a shoe, Denis Lavant accidentally cut his thumb, which leads to an interruption of filming for a month (we still film a few “static” scenes during this break). With galleys like this (budget overruns, pharaonic reconstitution of Paris…), it is easy to understand why Leos Carax has been so discreet for more than 25 years. And why no longer does any French producer deign to entrust him with a budget worthy of the name.
11. Janet Leigh in “Psychosis” (1960)
Playing with the master of suspense can be painful and Janet Leigh paid the price on the set of Psychosis. And it is obviously the famous shower scene that marked the actress for life, forced to replay the scene a large number of times for good old Hitchcock to get what he wanted. The result ? Leigh developed a phobia of showers and preferred to take baths with the shower curtains open for much of the rest of her life, obviously with windows and doors locked.
12. Isla Fisher in “Elusive” (2013)
It was during the filming of a sequence featuring the famous trick of the woman in the water tank that Isla Fisher came close to death. Basically the trick is dangerous since the person has his hands chained and tries to free himself before drowning (a bit sadistic anyway). The chain had then blocked and the poor woman had been saved in extremis by a stunt coordinator who was the only one on the set to realize that the actress was still moving a little too much underwater, like trying to pull the chain at its base to free itself.
13. Viggo Mortensen in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)
Since we are here quietly talking about drowning, it is the brave Viggo who also almost experienced a similar disastrous fate. The idea of the scene was that Aragorn had to fall forward into a river after taking an arrow in the back. So far not really a problem except that we had not necessarily measured that with the current of the river and his armor it could be difficult for the actor to get up. And it happened. Fortunately the man was rescued, the film is still great and Aragorn is still one of the best characters in Lord of the Rings.
14. Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange” (1971)
An eternal Kubrick classic, “A Clockwork Orange” has been the center of much debate since its release. Its visual violence and its subject remain impregnated in the retina of its spectators for a long time, which gives me a ready transition on the fact that the actor Malcolm McDowell had almost lost his sight following the shooting. The cause was the number of sequences shot where the character of Alex was with wide-eyed eyes by a machine forcing him to see certain images. The thing had cut the cornea of the actor who had then suffered from a temporary loss of sight. Good after Kubrick was not known to be a soft on the set. Which really doesn’t excuse anything.
15. Johnny Depp in “Las Vegas Paranoid”
The completely crazy film by the no less crazy Terry Gilliam had cost Johnny Depp a lot of energy. In order to put himself in the role of the character of Hunter S. Thompson as well as possible, Depp had simply gone to settle in his house for several months. A good idea on paper, much less good in practice since between the completely offbeat pace of life of Thompson and his appalling drug use, Depp was forced to undergo a major detoxification treatment after filming. From there to say that it goes too far, it’s up to you, but without that we couldn’t have had the best lines of Las Vegas Parano, it would have been stupid.