5 Amazing Performances by Actors Who Weren't Acting (Part 3)
Sometimes the acting in a movie feels so genuine that you can't help but think the performer should take home every Oscar that year -- even the ones they're not nominated for. Best Movie? Whatever Daniel Day-Lewis is in. Best Actor? Daniel Day-Lewis. Best Special Effects? Fuck it: Daniel Day-Lewis. But sometimes it turns out that these moments only feel so real because they absolutely are ...
Conan the Barbarian Tried to Murder Arnold Schwarzenegger; Everybody Else
If you're not familiar with the filmic masterpiece Conan the Barbarian, first things first: Shame on you, Philistine. Second: Imagine watching someone else play a German-language copy of Skyrim with poorly translated English subtitles and lots of titty/gore mods. That's Conan the Barbarian, and it was pretty badass. Especially when you consider that Conan wasn't so much a fictional epic as a Funniest Home Videos compilation of Arnie clumsily falling off things and getting attacked by animals.
In one scene, we see the barbarian, Conan (that's what it says on his license), being chased by vicious wolves. Or, to put it more accurately, in a piece of disturbing candid footage, we see Arnold Schwarzenegger being chased by actual vicious dogs. Here's the "wacky" blooper where one of the dogs catches him before the camera cuts away and tries to tear his face off, but only partially succeeds.
Luckily he was rescued by the dog's trainer and survived to bring us Junior.
It wasn't just Arnold's infamous dog-infuriating musk, either: During the scene where Conan's father is killed by Rottweilers in leather jackets ...
And tea-bagged for good measure.
... the actor claims that they were actually mauling him pretty bad, and one was trying to get at his throat. Luckily, the director yelled cut just before the dog sank its teeth into his arm and dragged him 50 feet.
This is the sort of thing the Baha Men were trying to warn us about.
Now, for your amusement, here is the future governor of California awkwardly falling into a cave:
Once again, that's not a stuntman, and there were no hidden pads. Or at least none that helped. As soon as the cameras cut away, Arnold told director John Milius that he was bleeding, to which Milius replied, "The pain is only momentary, but the movie is forever."
Further, the actress playing Valeria had her index finger severed during a fight scene where they inexplicably used a real sword instead of a prop, and then even more inexplicably gave it to an extra instead of a trained stuntman. The random dude parried the actresses' blow, the sword slipped, and off came her finger.
It's less like a movie and more like somebody got permission to enter Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Hunger Games and film the results.
The Director of Kes Traumatizes Children Emotionally and Physically
Kes is the 1969 British equivalent of Old Yeller, except it's set in a world where the sun never shines, human beings have been replaced by pale wights, and hope has been forgotten from the land forever: Yorkshire, England.
Young Billy, wondering if one simply walks into Yorkshire.
The story centers on a troubled young boy named Billy Casper, who forges an uplifting friendship with a kestrel called Kes. If you still believe there's magic in the world, you should probably stop reading now. Still here? Good for you, you cynical bastard. Later in the movie, Billy's brother kills Kes and dumps it in the trash after an argument. Here's the scene in which Billy, an emotional wreck, confronts his older brother about the birdicide.
The kid's a good actor, isn't he?
Maybe. Or maybe he had a little awful, soul-crushing help. You see, in order to get an authentic emotional reaction for the scene, director Ken Loach told David Bradley -- the boy playing Billy -- that the actual kestrel he'd been working with and grown attached to had been killed just before filming the scene. Then they handed him its corpse and fired up the cameras. If that sounds like an excessively bleak and cold-hearted move for a kids' film, we would like to once again remind you: Yorkshire.
They then made him eat the bird with savory pudding.
Of course, the real bird wasn't actually dead -- the world isn't quite that awful. They'd just procured a dead one from an animal sanctuary (don't worry: natural causes). Unfortunately, because the world is very nearly that awful, no one ever told the child actor that. It was a full year after filming before Bradley would travel to Scotland and find his bird friend alive and well.
But that wasn't the worst abuse that Loach subjected his child actors to: In another scene, featuring children being caned by a teacher, the director insisted that the actor actually hit the kids with a cane so their expressions would be genuine.
Of course, this was the 1960s, when men were men, women were objects, and children were an inconvenience. We're pretty sure they have laws against this kind of thing now.
Or do they?
Adam Sandler Really Beat Up Some Kids in Billy Madison
Billy Madison was a movie in which Adam Sandler played a loud, mentally impaired man-baby. Wait, that may need clarification. OK, Billy Madison was a movie in which Adam Sandler played a character who was loved and cared for despite being dumb, violent, and borderline psychotic. Still needs narrowing down? Fine. Billy Madison was the one where he went back to school.
A court-mandated course to deal with his ... wait, no, hold on.
In regard to the mannish babyism, one scene has Sandler using his adult strength and unfocused rage to smash a bunch of 6-year-olds with a dodgeball. Now, obviously most of that scene was careful editing, soft foam prop balls, and skillful acting -- nobody is going to let Sandler use his idiot-strength to maul children for our entertainment ...
Wrong! The night before filming, Sandler called the director and suggested that he really bash kids in the face as hard as he could with actual dodgeballs. Contrary to all common sense, he somehow managed to get permission from the director, the kids, and the kids' (almost certainly negligent) parents, all by simply insisting that "hurting kids is funny." Which is technically true, but still ...
According to director Tamra Davis, the reason that there are so many jump cuts in that scene wasn't to cleverly hide the fakeness of the blows behind careful editing, but because the kids would start crying immediately after Sandler pummeled them for real, and they needed to cut away before they accidentally wound up making a snuff film.
The Actors in Easy Rider Were All High as Balls
If every decade gets one film that perfectly encapsulates the era (like, say, Wall Street did for the 1980s), Easy Rider would be the film for the 1960s. It's Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, and Peter Fonda on a drug-fueled road trip across America. So how would the filming of something like that stray into "dangerously realistic" territory? What, were the stars smoking real drugs? Yep!
In the famous scene where Nicholson, Fonda, and Hopper sit around a campfire smoking weed and talking about UFOs, the unfocused stares, word stumbles, and "Far out, mans" were all legit. The actors were, in fact, as high as a sophomore in gym class at the time. Which is probably why Hopper sounds like a man just learning to speak here:
According to cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, "There were a lot of drugs around the set ... we can't make any secret about it ... and they were high, you know? And they enjoyed it, it was part of the scene, part of the characters." The director, Hopper, didn't even like smoking weed because it made him too paranoid. But if you're shooting for authenticity, there's no substitute for the real thing. Way to take one for the team, buddy.
Though some say he rebelled without cause.
Oddly, despite being high as a kite, Jack Nicholson was able to recite his lines from the script verbatim without stumbling or forgetting a single word. That's especially impressive when you consider that Jack Nicholson was never supposed to be in this scene, or even this movie. He was hired to replace Rip Torn at the very last second and had to do his first scene in his big break while higher than a Colorado pizza delivery driver. And all while sitting next to Dennis "I May Bite You in the Face at Any Time and for Any Reason" Hopper, who was already both stoned and paranoid.
Spielberg Almost Broke an Actress's Back in Jaws
Jaws is the movie that made us so afraid of the water that we stopped surfing, swimming, and even bathing. At least that's the story we're going with. And it all started with the very first scene in the film, in which a hippie girl named Chrissie went skinny dipping in shark territory and wound up food.
The scene is visceral, disturbing, and extremely physical: Chrissie screams for her life while being jerked violently back and forth by some massive, unseen force beneath the waves. She really sold the hell out of the pain and distress in that scene. Probably because the actress, Susan Backlinie, was in a hell of a lot of pain and distress.
The filmmakers had to use practical effects to make the girl's body rag-doll around like that, which meant rigging up a series of ropes that stretched from Backlinie's torso all the way to the shore, where two large groups of men were yanking her about like a dog with a chew toy. The filmmakers were warned that they could cause the actress serious injury if too many people on either side yanked at the same time. But then again, the more authentic the distress they could inflict on the actress, the more convincing the scene would be. History knows which way the filmmakers erred:
They nearly snapped her backlinie.
When Backlinie crawled up on that beach, she probably thought her ordeal was over. Not so: The sound of Chrissie's screams still had to be added later in the studio, and to make her shrieks more convincingly like those of a drowning woman ... they went ahead and waterboarded her while she did it. Remember: waterboarding -- lying back, restrained, while an assailant pours a constant stream of water into your airways -- is so inhumane that the practice violates the Geneva Conventions. So technically, Steven Spielberg is guilty of crimes against international law.
But hey, Jaws was an awesome flick, so what's a little torture between friends?
You can join Aaron Short on Twitter if you share an unnatural love of films starring Bill Murray. Except Garfield. Fuck Garfield.
Related Reading: Funny story- Michael J. Fox was almost hung filming Back to the Future 3. Likewise, that infamous vomiting scene from The Exorcist was 100% acting-free. For a look at the great background performances of all time, watch this Cracked video.
Want to know how to go mano-a-mano with a president? Daniel O'Brien can help, with How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country!