"Method actors" will do all sorts of crazy shit to get into character, because acting is hard and it's easier to just subject yourself to actual pain than figure out how to fake it. But there's a limit to what they're doing: You can force yourself to, say, lose a bunch of weight to portray a sick person, but the difference is you're still doing it by choice.
Well, the people in these roles didn't have to pretend ...
Question: How soon would be too soon to make a movie about a disaster in which 1,500 people died horribly? A few years? At least?
Well, Saved from the Titanic is a 1912 silent film about the sinking of the famous ship that was released less than 30 freaking days after the disaster. That shit was filming while the bodies of its victims were still warm and ... well, maybe not warm but the whole thing was still a giant dick move. Just who was so crass and greedy that they couldn't even wait until the end of the summer to profit off the victims?
That would be Dorothy Gibson, co-writer and star of the movie, not to mention a real Titanic survivor. It turns out that Gibson was aboard the very first lifeboat launched from the sinking ship, probably because she wanted to get a head start on filming a fictionalized version of her story before someone with even less of a conscience could beat her to it. The character that she'd specifically written for herself even wore the actual clothes Gibson had on when she was rescued.
Eclair Film Co.
Unsurprisingly, putting oneself through a realistic re-enactment of a horrible maritime disaster ended up destroying Gibson mentally, and she never acted again. As for Saved from the Titanic, the only known print of the movie was lost in a studio fire two years later. And, although it was never proven, we have a hunch that the previous two sentences might be connected.
Eclair Film Co.
It's impossible to make a non-depressing movie about the Holocaust (though we're guessing Jim Carrey turned down at least one such project in the '90s). But even then, Schindler's List is so bleak and haunting that during filming, director Steven Spielberg would ask Robin Williams to tell him jokes over the phone to keep him from having a breakdown (take a moment to contemplate the cruel irony there). But hey -- if your Holocaust movie is authentic, it should cause everyone in the vicinity to sink into a black pool of despair.
And Schindler's List was authentic as hell. For instance, all the soldiers were played by native Germans, some of whom were descendants of honest-to-God Nazis. The only way to get more authentic than that would be to ... oh God no.
Yes, another way that Schindler's List stayed true to history was by employing an extra who actually survived the Holocaust, to come and relive the whole thing in front of the cameras. There is a sequence in the movie when a bunch of women are being stripped and led to the camp showers. According to Spielberg, that was the most difficult thing for him to shoot, because one of the actresses in that scene was born in a Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.
Sure, the woman was only a year old when her camp was liberated, but she'd heard enough stories from her mother, and seen enough photographs, to make the shoot too much for her to bear. She and several other actresses ended up having complete psychological breakdowns during filming, which was probably known to the on-set doctor as "Code Duh."
Friends is the epitome of inoffensiveness. In over 10 years, the most difficult thing that ever happened to the people on the show was when Courteney Cox had to pretend that her character Monica would ever be interested in a guy like Chandler.
Despite the show being as edgy as Family Circus drawn by an actual Care Bear, the last two seasons got a little braver by focusing on Monica struggling to get pregnant. This was inspired by the problems that Cox and her then-husband David Arquette were having with Cox's frequent miscarriages, brought on by a rare blood antibody that kept killing the fetuses. And, sure enough, one such loss coincided with the episode where Rachel gave birth to her daughter Emma. Can you imagine losing a child in real life, and then having to appear on the set of a silly comedy and play make-believe while fawning over a stunt baby?
Cox has actually lived through that in front of millions of strangers and, according to her, you can actually see all of her pain and anguish on Monica's face if you just look closely.
If you're too young to remember, Diff'rent Strokes was an enormously popular 1970s-'80s sitcom in which Gary Coleman said "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" a lot. It's best remembered today for the episode where Coleman's character and his friend get molested by the most obvious pedophile ever.
While a "very special episode" about pedophilia isn't specific to this series, the infamous "The Bicycle Man" episode deserves special notice because of what it did to Todd Bridges, who played the eternally-cryptic Willis. See, in 2010, Bridges admitted publically that he was sexually abused by his publicist at age 11. According to the man himself, even though he wasn't in any of the scenes where a bicycle shop owner lures young boys to his store and takes topless photos of them, just being on set during all of it felt like reliving his horrible experience all over again.
Of course you might be thinking "But the studio didn't know that when they were making the episode," only it turns out that they did know. Bridges claims that he begged the execs to write him out of "The Bicycle Man" because of, you know, the repressed trauma. They didn't go for it.
Then again, in the episode, Willis is the one who outs the pedo bicycle shop owner, which might have been the writers' way of giving Bridges a kind of symbolic closure. You know, because acting this shit out in front of a live studio audience really is the best therapy. And while we're on this terrible subject ...
West Side Story is what happens when you take the plot of Romeo & Juliet and replace the noble families with street gangs, and all the fight scenes with dancing and rape. What, you didn't know about the rape stuff? Near the end of the story, it's heavily implied that a few white gangsters sexually assault the rival gang leader's girlfriend, Anita, played in the 1961 adaptation by Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno.
In her memoir, Moreno admitted that she was raped twice, and then almost a third time at a Columbia Pictures party. That would certainly explain why, in the middle of Anita's rape scene, Moreno had a breakdown and cried for a good 45 minutes. She later said that the sequence, "opened up some wounds that I thought had been healed" but, depressingly, she wasn't talking about just her sexual assault. She was probably also referring to her experiences with racism.
As a native Puerto Rican, Moreno had to fight tooth and nail against racial prejudices since she was a kid, and then found out Hollywood still only wanted to cast her in "gang-related and hooker-related parts." So the experience of having a bunch of white boys sling racial slurs at Anita before raping her must have felt to Moreno like being punched by a gigantic Voltron made up of all the horrible shit that's ever happened to her.
The Killing Fields (1984) is a British drama about the barely remembered (in the West) Cambodian mass killings perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. It won an Oscar for Haing S. Ngor for his portrayal of Dith Pran, a real-life photojournalist who survived the slaughter of 3 million Cambodians by pretending to be simple-minded (Pol Pot's Khmers hated intelligence so much they actually killed people for reading books and wearing glasses.)
Ngor once said that The Killing Fields was "not cruel enough, not violent enough," and he knew what he was talking about.
During the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, Ngor himself spent years in the regime's labor camps, surviving on a diet of snails, leaves, and mice, being made to plow the fields like an ox while sadistic guards whipped him. He later watched his fiance die of starvation, had one of his fingers chopped off, and was almost burned alive twice, all to keep up his story that he was just an uneducated taxi driver. That's right -- just like the guy he was playing in the movie.
Ngor actually used to be surgeon (one of the intellectuals Pol Pot so bitterly feared and despised) who once barely escaped a Khmer patrol by abandoning his patient and letting him bleed out on the operating table. So maybe it was partially because of guilt that he'd agreed to audition for The Killing Fields after emigrating to the U.S. where a talent scout noticed that he looked "traumatized" enough for the gig. He won the role, and ultimately an Oscar, but the experience of reliving Holocaust Lite was so hard on Ngor that at one time he had to flee the set in a panic.
ROB BOREN/AFP/Getty Images
Being an actor isn't just about reliving horrible moments. Sometimes its experiencing them too. Read how Martin Sheen nearly died in 12 Classic Movie Scenes Made Possible by Abuse And Murder, and in 5 Actors Who Weren't Acting In their Most Iconic Scenes Denzel Washington gets flogged like a slave.
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