Acting isn’t easy. If a production is lucky, they might be able to draw a great performance from their cast without physical injury, behind-the-scenes drama, or cringe-worthy script changes. But not every production is so lucky. Actors and writers alike have attempted, or just pitched, some wild ways to make movie (and TV) magic. Here are 42 baffling facts about weird to downright bad ideas in the history of acting.
42. From Spit-take to Take Down
Jim Carrey refused to ever break character while shooting the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon. For months, he was the legendary comedian. The film recreated Kaufman’s real-life feud with WWE wrestler Jerry Lawler on The David Letterman Show with the real Lawler actually present. Carrey demanded that Lawler put him in the wrestling hold that landed the real Kaufman in the hospital for three days. When Lawler—and the film’s insurance—denied Carrey his precious headlock, an enraged Carey spit in Lawler’s face, triggering a real physical fight.
41. Flipping the Bird
In the 1969 British film Kes, a young boy befriends a kestrel bird amidst a dystopic European backdrop. After an argument, the boy’s brother later kills the bird and dumps it in the trash. David Bradley’s reaction is startling authentic because he really befriended the bird-actor. The film’s director falsely informed him that his winged buddy had died in real life right before they filmed the scene. As “proof,” they had a real bird corpse brought for him to hold! And they never told him the truth themselves: one full year after filming, Bradley traveled to Scotland and found for himself that his bird friend was alive and well.
40. Bella Swan: FBI
An action-packed Twilight? It almost happened when studios first optioned Stephanie Meyer’s famous vampire novels. Imagine Kristen Stewarts’s Bella as an action heroine, or Robert Pattinson as a genuinely scary vampire who murders swarms of army commandos when he’s not fighting against his nemesis, a Korean FBI agent who hunts vampires across the country. Of course, the final version was a little more faithful to Meyer’s literary ethos of PG-13 violence and sparkles.
39. My Dear Watson Has Some Trippy Ideas
Jude Law proposed “time travel” as the theme for the third Sherlock Holmes. Specifically, time travel on drugs. Robert Downey Jr. himself came around to the idea, suggesting that the drugs should be edible. Speaking from experience, Jude? To quote the eloquent Downey, “You eat it and you go, ‘Oh my God, I’m in 2024!” Unfortunately, the people in charge were not on board and Sherlock Holmes 3: The Case of Futuristic Fungi remains a sequel only in theory.
38. Break a Leg (and Other Bones)
Daniel Day-Lewis asked to be wheeled around the set of My Left Foot as if he were actually paraplegic like his character. After hunching over the wheelchair for weeks on end, Day-Lewis ended up breaking two of his own ribs.
37. Catching the Acting Bug (and Pneumonia)
Hi, it’s Daniel Day-Lewis again! Here to catch pneumonia on the set of Gangs of New York because he refused to change his threadbare coat for a warmer one, since the warmer coat didn’t exist in the 19th century. For this same movie, you should know that Day-Lewis also wandered the streets of Rome and picked fights with strangers—he could truly fill up this list all on his own.
36. Not Quite White
In 2015, the producers of Aloha cast the decidedly not-Hawaiian and not-Asian Emma Stone as the Hawaiian and Asian character, Alison Ng. The film received a fair amount of criticism for whitewashing. Stone herself felt like “the butt of many jokes” for her part and tried to defend her casting by saying, “The character was not supposed to look like her background, which was a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese.” Her input was met lukewarm response.
35. Hollywood Roughhousing
Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo came to blows on the set of Foxcatcher. At first, Ruffalo was holding back, so Tatum began yelling at him to get him in the zone. Ruffalo got so into it that he broke Tatum’s eardrum when he was only supposed to smack him. Tatum perhaps paid him back in another scene, when he inflicted a permanent neck injury on Ruffalo’s precious person.
34. Bad Grief
To prepare for his role as a grieving father in Rabbit Hole, Aaron Eckhart impersonated a bereaved parent, so he could infiltrate a grief support group. He proceeded to participate in the counseling with other parents, pretending all the while that he really did have a dead child. He later admitted on the Howard Stern Show that what he did wasn’t exactly kosher, saying “It’s rude.”
33. Cheat Sheets
Not all bad acting ideas are the result of over-eager method actors. Some are the result of laziness. Take Marlon Brando, who instead of learning his owns lines, had his The Godfather co-star Robert Duvall hold up cue cards to his chest offscreen to be read in the moment.
32. What’s Your (Dental) Damage?
To embody a schizophrenic, homeless cellist in The Soloist, Jamie Foxx had his teeth chiseled down in order to make them actually crooked. In the words of my dentist, “You’re only given one set of adult teeth! Don’t waste them!”
31. Extreme Spring Cleaning
To enter the persona of someone who’s lost everything in The Pianist, Adrien Brody dumped his apartment, his car, his phones, and even his girlfriend!
30. Growing Pains
In Billy Madison, Adam Sandler hit child actors in the face as hard as he could with real dodgeballs. That’s why the camera cuts away so fast after impact: kids would begin crying immediately after Sandler pummeled them. Pick on someone your own size, Sandler.
29. The Not-So-Glory Days
At the age of 23, Kevin Bacon went back to high school…to prepare for his role in Footloose. It wasn’t any more pleasant the second time around, as Bacon’s classmates allegedly mocked his hair and clothes, and “mean girls” would follow him around to giggle at him.
28. We Hope She Got Her Shots!
To prepare for her role as Enchantress in Suicide Squad, Cara Delevingne got naked…off-set. She took to stripping to her birthday suit, taking to the woods, and howling at the full moon outside her sister’s country house. Since she was also convinced that Enchantress’ lair was a steamy, swamp-like place, Delevingne spent hours crawling around a hotel steam room.
27. The Only Limit is Your Imagination
Obviously, most of Nicolas Cage’s performance in Ghost Rider was abetted by CGI. Not wanting technology to undermine the intensity of his performance, Cage coated his face in corpse paint and blanketed himself in a costume of Egyptian symbols and amulets while screaming straight into the mouths of his castmates. He called this technique “Nouveau Shamanic,” based on practices of ancient African performers. If you’ve never heard of “Nouveau Shamanic,” it’s because Cage completely made it up for this role.
26. Forbidden Fruit for a Reason
How does one embody the founder of Apple? According to Ashton Kutcher, who played Steve Jobs in Jobs, you become a fruitarian—a person who only eats fruit. It’s a diet that Jobs himself was obsessed with. The result? Just two days before filming, Kutcher was hospitalized for reported vitamin deficiencies and decreased bone density.
25. It’s an Inside Joke, But No One’s Laughing
Jared Leto made headlines in 2016 for his inappropriate behavior while filming Suicide Squad. Among other off-putting “pranks,” Leto sent his co-star Margot Robbie creepy love letters and a dead rat in the mail. He also sent bullets to Will Smith (Get it? Because Smith played Deadshot?) and broadcast a video showing himself with a dead pig to the rest of the cast.
24. Tank(ed) Hygiene
Shia LaBeouf went four months without showering, and even cut his own face in order to realistically embody a tank crew worker in Fury (2014).
23. The Island of Dr. Big Ego
As an acting legend by the time he filmed The Island of Dr. Moreau, Marlon Brando’s diva-like demands could not be denied by the producers. Perhaps that’s why he demanded that he could not work without (1) a bucket hat and (2) a personal dwarf to befriend on set.
22. All Work and No Play Make Kubrick An Uncool Boss
Shelley Duvall’s memorably terrified performance in The Shining is the result of long-term mental abuse. The film’s director, Stanley Kubrick, had the bright idea to put intense pressure on the actress and tell her that she was wasting everybody’s time and that all her ideas were terrible. He would also openly tell crew members “Don’t sympathize with Shelley.”
21. A Lukewarm Reception
As the original Star Wars trilogy came to a close, Mark Hamill had the idea that Luke Skywalker should be successfully won over to the Dark Side. In his version, evil Luke would try to kill Han before being pulled back to the Light Side at the last possible second. George Lucas shot down that idea like it was a stormtrooper.
20. Down the Drain
Kevin Costner turned down the lead in The Shawshank Redemption to complete a film he deemed more important, Waterworld. Shawshank was nominated for multiple Oscars and is still a classic in the hearts of film buffs. In contrast, Waterworld was the biggest financial disaster of its time.
19. Oh Hai, Recasting
As if the making of The Room wasn’t chaotic enough, director and star Tommy Wiseau fired the actor he’d originally cast as Mark on the first day of production and replaced him with the film’s line producer, Greg Sestero.
18. Creepy Caper
Val Kilmer proposed a sequel to the 1995 crime thriller Heat. The problem? It was basically a vehicle for his character to make out with Natalie Portman. To add an even creepier layer to this pitch, a very young Portman had played the Al Pacino character’s stepdaughter in the first movie.
17. Last Minute Mistakes
Originally, Winona Ryder was lined up to play Mary Corleone in The Godfather III. Unfortunately, she had to drop out after coming down with a 104-degree fever and upper-respiratory infection while filming Mermaids with Cher. Director Francis Ford Coppola quickly recast her with his daughter, the inexperienced Sofia Coppola, and the rest is Universally Panned Acting History.
16. Passed the Juice
O.J. Simpson was one of the first actors considered for the iconic T-800 in The Terminator. However, James Cameron passed because he just couldn’t realistically see Simpson as a killer…
15. Ice Cold Success
While filming Way Down East, silent film star Lillian Gish suffered permanent nerve damage in several of her fingers. The film’s climax featured Gish floating unconscious down an ice floe headed towards a raging waterfall. It was Gish’s own idea to drape her hair and hands in the ice-cold water, a strike of dramatic inspiration that paid off in fame and frostbite.
14. Ghastly Sequels
Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Rupert Giles as a ghost hunter? If Anthony Stewart Head would have had his way, this might have happened. The Buffy actor suggested a spinoff for his Watcher character. Not so weird, right? Well, it was inspired by his stories of his own house which he claimed was haunted by “a little girl and her nanny.” Obviously, Buffy creators ghosted Head’s idea.
13. A Make-Under for the Better
Once upon a time, Jabba the Hutt wasn’t the gigantic slug was that we all know and love today. Instead, the Irish actor, Declan Mulholland was going to embody the Hutt in full human glory. George Lucas even filmed footage a jolly, human Jabba haggling with Han Solo …in English, no less! After production, however, Mulholland was completely cut from the film and replaced with a slimy puppet, just as the universe intended.
12. Imperial Inspiration
We all remember Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, played with a dashing cockney accent by American actor James Marsters. The character was originally conceived to be Southern, so Marsters auditioned with a Southern Cajun accent. Luckily, they settled on a British accent and Spike made his name as the Sid Vicious-inspired Big Bad instead of as some pale guy from Bayou.
11. A Rocky Landing
While shooting Rocky IV, Sylvester Stallone asked Dolph Lundgren to try and truly “knock him out.” It did not go well: later that night, Stallone noticed his blood pressure spike to 260, and he had to be taken via emergency jet to an intensive care unit. Lundgren had hit Stallone so hard that he banged his ribs, which caused swelling—an injury often seen in high-impact car accidents.
10. Step by Painful Step
Was the Oscar nomination worth it? Billy Bob Thornton put crushed glass in his shoe to simulate his character’s limp in Sling Blade.
9. Gout Out
Jared Leto came down with gout as he gained 62 pounds to embody John Lennon’s killer in Chapter 27. Well, gout is often referred to as the ‘rich man’s disease,’ so how terrible could it have been?
8. Dirty Halle
Halle Berry visited a real crack den to prepare for her role in Jungle Fever. She also didn’t bathe for two weeks.
7. Shiver Me Timbers
When it came time to film his most famous role as Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp had some great ideas. And also, some not-so-great ideas. Depp thought it would be cool for Sparrow to have lost his nose in a swordfight. His character would have tried to stitch it back to his face, leaving him with a blue nose from poor circulation. For a while, director Gore Verbinski tried to sell a noseless Jack idea to Disney, but—perhaps fortunately—it didn’t smell right to the studio.
6. TBH, I’d Watch It?
We all remember Adam West as the original caped crusader from the 1960s Batman TV series. Decades later, in 1989, West had big-screen aspirations for himself…as Batman’s dad. Did he forget Batman’s entire origin story? In West’s version, Batman’s dad would be alive—and West would somehow play Batman too.
5. To Boldly Retcon
Unsatisfied with Captain Kirk’s death in Star Trek: Generations, William Shatner wrote a Star Trek novel wherein Kirk came back to life. In the novel, Star Trek: The Return, Romulans smuggle Kirk’s body away and use Borg technology to revive him…before he dies again to save the galaxy. Don’t worry—Kirk and Shatner’s ego survived another day in the afterlife to go on sick adventures with Spock’s dad.
4. Dermatologists Hate Him
To personify an injured Vietnam War veteran in Birdy, Nicholas Cage not only removed his teeth without anesthesia (his character wouldn’t have had the option), he also wore bandages on his face for five weeks. When he finally removed them, his skin was infected and riddled with ingrown hairs.
3. Sweet, Chocolaty Irony
Ryan Gosling drank melted Haagen Daz ice cream bars to gain 62 pounds, all because he was concerned he looked too young to play a middle-aged dad in The Lovely Bones. Director Peter Jackson still didn’t like Gosling’s characterization, so he recast the role with Mark Wahlberg.
2. Stalking His Way to Acclaim
Invading someone’s personal space is uncool—to make an understatement. But tell that to Jamie Dornan, who stalked a random woman off the train to get in a “serial killer” mindset for The Fall. Keeping a distance from his “target,” Dornan managed to see her reach her station and even lurk behind her for a couple of blocks. Did he take the same ‘method’ approach to his role in the Fifty Shades trilogy? I guess we’d have to ask his wife—who Dornan claims won’t watch the racy films anyway!
1. Haw-Haw Horrifying
Robin Williams was one of the names attached to play Jack Torrence in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It was decided that Williams was too “psychotic” for the part.
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