Maybe the prequels would be a lot better if Natalie Portman and the other dude had partied with 'NSync.
Artists are not exactly known to be D.A.R.E. poster children -- we owe half of our world's greatest achievements during the '60s and '70s to marijuana (and the other half to LSD). Fortunately, for every pop culture milestone that was clearly conceived while shitfaced, you can point to wholesome classics like Star Wars, It's A Wonderful Life, and that movie where Cuba Gooding Jr. inherits some sled dogs, all of which prove that you can create artistic masterpieces without drugs.
Yeah, uh, about that ...
It's kind of amazing that the original Star Wars movies turned out as well as they did, on a set where it was apparently no cause for concern for the boom mic operator to show up naked but for pink hot pants.
Given that this was the '70s and he's only the seventh-weirdest-at-the-time thing in that picture, you might think that the cast and crew must have been blasted out of their minds half the time -- and not in the plasma-gun sense. You would be right, to the extent that character animator Phil Tippett thought nothing of nipping off for a little acid break during production of Return Of The Jedi. He felt fine, so he went back to work, where he realized he was so not fine, maaaaan. But he powered on, having received a vision for the Rancor pit monster, which he describes as "a cross between a bear and a potato."
At least this explains Tippett's future failure at dinosaur supervision. He was far from the only one "expanding his mind" while making these movies. It's hard to tell how much of what we see on-screen is the result of creative genius and how much is just drugs, but one thing's for sure: Once you notice Carrie Fisher's coke nail, you will never unsee it.
Thankfully, Fisher didn't let the infamous partying that once prompted John Belushi to tell her she had a problem affect her performance -- mostly. Have you ever noticed how Han and Leia are smiling when they arrive in Cloud City, a dangerous mission that they should be not at all happy to embark upon? That's because, according to Fisher, they were both up partying with The Rolling Stones and Monty Python the night before and arrived on set still wasted. To paraphrase Fisher: Look, when The Stones come over, you don't turn them away, early calls be damned. It's hard to say she was wrong.
Tommy Swerdlow's life is like one of those '80s movies where a young rapscallion cons his way into a job for which he is woefully unqualified and soon finds himself in over his head, which makes it a real waste that he never wrote one of those. He did, along with partner Michael Goldberg, write some of the most famous family movies of the '90s and early '00s: Cool Runnings, Little Giants, Bushwhacked, and Snow Dogs. He also wrote the earliest outlines for Shrek. And he was high on heroin the entire time.
How could a junkie write some of the best family entertainment of the past 25 years? The answer is, he didn't mean to.
It turns out that Cool Runnings, Swerdlow's and Goldberg's first movie, wasn't supposed to be family-friendly at all. Swerdlow's original draft featured that scrappy Jamaican bobsled team "fucking the Scandinavian ski team and smoking spliffs," according to him. Which would have been truer to the spirit of the Olympics, actually. But when Executive Producer Chris Meledandri saw the script, he took a deep breath, arranged his face into a model of straightness, and began to fix it, doling out notes to the writers little by little ... until they woke up one day and realized they had written a PG movie. After its success, Swerdlow and Goldberg became known as the guys you go to for a family film, and Swerdlow, at least, was hardly in a position to refuse. Heroin is expensive, y'all.
At one point, he and Goldberg were even hired to write the original Chris Farley version of Shrek. While the final product is very different from their outlines, Swerdlow says, he came up with the buddy-comedy angle -- basing Shrek and Donkey's friendship on Midnight Cowboy (so one's a con man who dies, and one's a gigolo).
This could have been a real Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead situation, but the odd couple of Goldberg and Swerdlow worked surprisingly well together. Goldberg was the "social mouthpiece" for the duo, so no one had to see Swerdlow nod out on the conference table. This left him free to write and shoot up in solitude, after which Goldberg would provide the invaluable criticism that turned those dope-soaked drafts into after-school outings. One can only imagine what those notes must have looked like. "No, Cuba cannot get the snow dogs stoned."
There's method acting, and then there's getting drunk just because you want to, which is clearly what Robert Shaw was doing on the set of Jaws. Sure, he made a big to-do out of telling Steven Spielberg that he felt, as an actor, that since the characters in a scene where he delivers an important monologue had been drinking, he "could do a much better job" if he had a few in him first -- but the truth was that he was a woeful alcoholic. If Spielberg and Co. hadn't realized this before, they were about to find out.
Before the scene, Shaw disappeared just off-set, and it immediately became clear that he interpreted the concept of "a few drinks" rather liberally when he had to be carried out onto the boat and propped up in his chair like a corpse posing for a Victorian death portrait. He admirably attempted to perform anyway, but he was apparently in not-ideal shape, because Spielberg cut the shoot short. At 11 in the morning. It wasn't even noon yet and the man who got a dysenteric Harrison Ford through an entire Raiders Of The Lost Ark was telling Shaw to go home.
Later that night, at about 2 a.m., Shaw called Spielberg in a panic, remembering nothing that happened that day and begging the director to tell him he didn't embarrass himself. It's not known how Spielberg answered that question, so it was presumably a polite silence. According to Spielberg, a chastened Shaw performed expertly the next day, knocking out the speech in only four takes, although co-star Roy Scheider later insisted that at least some of the final product came from that fateful blackout. If you watch the scene and pay attention to Shaw's diction, you'll be inclined to believe Scheider (who himself will go down in behind-the-scenes history for deciding it'd be fun to beat the crap out of the producer of Jaws 2).
Method acting often involves violence, against good taste if nothing else, but in this case, we mean it literally. To really get into the scene in It's A Wonderful Life in which his character, pharmacist Mr. Gower, gets drunk and beats little George Bailey, veteran actor H.B. Warner decided he needed to ... get drunk and beat little George Bailey.
According to Bob Anderson, the actor who played young George, by the time the afternoon rehearsals rolled around, Warner "had been drinking all day." Most employers frown on that, but it enabled Warner to do something we'll be charitable and assume he would never have otherwise done -- smack the shit out of a small child.
This was back in the good old days, before all those P.C. laws that say you can't abuse child actors, so Warner really was drunkenly wailing on that poor kid, hard enough to make him bleed. Yeah, according to Anderson, the blood in his ears (which appears without explanation between shots) was real. So was the fear, we're guessing.
Anderson would spend hours getting knocked around, pausing only to rest or go to school for a little while, presumably startling his teachers with his baby Tyler Durden looks. But he didn't hold it against Warner, who he said grabbed him and hugged him after that particular scene, describing the experience as "an emotional high." We don't wanna speculate on Mr. Anderson's sex life, but there's an alternate universe where he couldn't get off unless a drunk old man beat him up.
20th Century Fox
The best Highlander film was also the booziest. The people who insured the paltry $13 million budget had forbidden drinking on the set -- obviously not a common thing, but they knew what kind of movie they were making. Although, apparently they didn't, if the thousands of extras who charged drunkenly into battle (for the movie's "ancient Scotland" scenes) are any indication.
20th Century Fox
Christopher Lambert, Highlander himself, remembers the extras pounding Scotch between takes, causing them to "[go] at it for real" right there on the set (hopefully he means fighting and not something else). Lambert doesn't say whether he partook, but that probably wouldn't have been a smart idea given that he was trying to act in a language he barely knew. Did we mention he couldn't speak English? When he was hired for the role, he spoke only French, having been chosen by director Russell Mulcahy from nothing but a photo. He spent four hours with an accent coach every day, which would have been pointless if he was going to slur anyway.
Curiously, nobody even bothered asking Sean Connery to change his accent to play a character named Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, because 1) you don't ask Sean Connery to change his accent, and 2) you certainly don't expect him to do it blitzed out of his kilt.
20th Century Fox
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Connery was the hardest drinker of all. Mulcahy recalls that on the plane ride to the shooting location, Connery produced a bottle of homemade Scotch, which is apparently a thing, and offered him a sip, which "blew his brains out." Later, after a mishap during a scene in which Clancy Brown was supposed to slice a table in two with his sword, a chunk of it nearly took Connery's head off. Brown called a special meeting to apologize to Connery, who waved him off with a cool "Maybe we'll use my stunt double more." That is not the reaction of a man who is not impaired by Scottish moonshine.
Warner Bros. Television
You don't have to get far into one of Aaron Sorkin's movies or TV shows, aka the Yelly White Guy Collection, to suspect he might be a fan of the screenplay polishing powder. Yet, it was still shocking when he was caught leaving a The West Wing wrap party and attempting to board a plane to Las Vegas with coke, weed, and shrooms in 2001, mostly because that's a pleasantly surprising variety. His writing may be one-note, but his drug choices sure aren't.
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But Sorkin has a long history of that sort of thing. His career began in the very un-sober atmosphere of the Palace Theater, where he wrote A Few Good Men on napkins while serving people who were decidedly not a few good men. By then, he'd already started experimenting with pot and freebase cocaine. You know Jack Nicholson's famous "You can't handle the truth" speech? It's hard to believe that probably shared space with his stoned dick doodles at one point.
Later, while writing The American President (the movie that inspired The West Wing), Sorkin says, he smoked crack every single day in his hotel room at the Four Seasons. He insists he always wrote sober, then put up the Do Not Disturb sign and crack'd it up all night. As a matter of fact, Sorkin points to these habits as the reason the movie took three years to write. Well, yeah, Sorkin, that's because you're doing drugs wrong; you smoke the crack, then you write the entire screenplay in two and a half days.
Sorkin decided it was probably time for rehab, and after that small slip-up amid the pressures of coming up with inspirational speeches for President Martin Sheen, quit for good. But not before, presumably, smugly lecturing the TSA about the meaning of freedom, which they (especially the women) didn't understand, not because it's nonsense that sounds convincing only while you're listening to it but because they were clearly too stupid to comprehend his genius.
Science fact: Manna's Twitter both exists and does not exist until you click on that link.
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