As much as we love violence in our movies, we apparently love it even more on our movie sets. Sometimes directors decide that the only way to make sure your actors look like they're about to die is by actually risking their lives, and society has punished these sadistic bastards by showering them with money, recognition, or both. For instance ...
#6. The Actor Playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ Was Really Whipped
With his current golden boy image, it's hard to imagine Mel Gibson overseeing a shoot where actual pain is carelessly, pointlessly inflicted. And yet it was so, and it was no less than his Christ surrogate to whom he had the pain brought.
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"Did you know he was JEWISH?"
Actor Jim Caviezel had a pretty lousy time playing Jesus for this movie -- it all started when he was literally struck by lightning while on the set. We can't pin that on Gibson, though, unless you consider the possibility that the bolt was actually meant for him.
Then there's the scene when Jesus was being flogged by the centurions, which ended up being a little too realistic for Caviezel's taste. For one take, Gibson told the actors playing the torturers to mix it up a little and change the swinging technique. As a result, one of the performers miscalculated and ended up whipping Caviezel for real, leaving a 14-inch gash on his back. Caviezel's very un-Jesus-like reaction was to turn around and curse at the other actor ... at which point the guy went ahead and "missed" again, flogging him right on top of his brand new scar.
"Whoops, accidentally looked at the camera and laughed my ass off. We'll have to do that one again."
They actually based Jesus' scars on the real one on Jim Caviezel's back, so we can't discard the possibility that Gibson planned it this way. The fun was far from over for the actor: During the part where he was mounted up on the cross, he not only suffered from hypothermia and developed a lung infection, but had a dislocated shoulder while shooting that scene and the ones leading up to it. When you see Caviezel painfully carrying the cross in the movie, he's not so much acting as wishing he had said yes to that romantic comedy with Kathy Griffin.
"OK, I understand the real crown of thorns. But what part of the salt enema or nipple clamps was biblical?"
In the end, all this suffering was worth it, because The Passion of the Christ became the highest-grossing R-rated film ever. Hundreds of years from now, they'll probably make films about all the shit Mel Gibson put Caviezel through.
#5. The French Connection's Unscripted, Illegal-as-Shit Chase Scene
The French Connection is known for having the grandmother of all car chases (the one in Bullitt being the granddaddy) and for making us wonder why there aren't more famous characters named Popeye. Seriously, just two seems like a damned waste. Anyway, in the film, Gene Hackman plays NYPD detective Popeye Doyle, who in one scene chases an elevated train through the busy streets of New York, running into a few bumps along the way. For example, at one point Doyle's car crashes with another vehicle ...
... and goes spinning out of control in the middle of the street:
Well, only one of those vehicles was being driven by an actor -- the one that crashes with Hackman's car was just some dude who came out of his house and drove into the middle of a Hollywood movie.
How could a real driver wander into a closed movie set, you ask? Mainly because no streets were closed for the scene, and no permission was asked. They just mounted a camera onto a car, went speeding in a residential area, and put that in the movie. Here's Hackman again, nearly crashing into a garbage truck:
We're guessing that "just drive like a New Yorker, basically" was the only instruction.
Sections of the chase were taken from Hackman's own reckless driving and a few planned stunts that were shot separately, but most of it actually comes from a single uninterrupted shot of stuntman Bill Hickman driving at 90 miles per hour for 26 blocks. Meanwhile, director William Friedkin was in the backseat operating the camera, and they also had an off-duty cop wrapped in a mattress in the passenger seat, for technical advisement and moral support. This didn't stop them from driving against traffic or sideswiping a bus.
In the Blu-ray version, you can see that everyone on the bus is flipping them off.
Friedkin explains that Hickman was compelled to drive this way because the director "questioned his manhood." They did take some safety precautions, though: They put a police siren on the roof of the car so that other drivers would stay away. Friedkin now says that he would never do something like this again. That's probably why you haven't won any more Oscars, Will.
#4. John Woo Almost Made Chow Yun-Fat Explode for Hard Boiled
In the '90s, John Woo was handed millions of dollars and allowed to make movies like Broken Arrow, Face/Off, and Mission: Impossible II, simply on the strength of the awesome action films he had directed in his native Hong Kong. However, some say that Hollywood forced Woo to water down his style: For instance, he hasn't even tried to burn a famous actor alive in 20 years now.
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"You have no idea how hard it was to resist that urge during Face/Off."
By his own admittance, Woo tended to overdo it a little with the explosions during his Hong Kong days, and his actors suffered the consequences. His last movie before going to work for Hollywood was a particularly over-the-top action film called Hard Boiled starring Chow Yun-Fat, who of course went on to appear in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and exactly zero John Woo films, for reasons that will soon become obvious.
There's a sequence at the end of Hard Boiled where a hospital gets blown up as Chow runs down a hallway carrying a baby, in a classic "outrunning the explosion" moment. On the first take, Woo was dissatisfied with how it didn't look like his actor was on the verge of death, so he decided to give him a little help -- Woo took over the pyrotechnics button-pushing duty and made sure to trigger the explosions before Chow was ready. The "oh shit" face you see here is completely real:
Chow was really running for his life. Woo admits in the DVD commentary that he may have gotten a little carried away here and "didn't play by the rules." We're surprised that he didn't demand that a real baby be put inside that bundle, or like a dog or something, just to raise the stakes. As for Chow Yun-Fat, he simply asked Woo if they'd gotten the take and then walked away saying "that motherfucker."
He then came back and asked if he could borrow some pants.
Considering what we know about Nicolas Cage and his fire fetish, he was probably extremely disappointed when Woo didn't so much as try to blow him up in Face/Off.