While actors, directors, and screenwriters might want to try something new and innovative, studio executives are businesspeople who would prefer everyone do exactly what worked the last time. Maybe this time, throw in a giant spider or two. Hollywood is basically a staring contest between folks who try to break the mold and the guys who built that mold in the first place. So it should come as little surprise that many of the iconic characters you know and love are the result of actors stepping up and refusing to blink. Like …
#5. The Producers Feared Johnny Depp’s Performance In Pirates Of The Caribbean Would Kill The Movie
Most people don’t realize that in the script for Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow was written as a much more conventional action hero. The writers actually modeled him after Burt Lancaster. Depp decided to take his inspiration from a slightly different source: a combination of Keith Richards and Pepe Le Pew. Lancaster was cool and all, but what Sparrow really needed was a drunken stumble and floppy wrists.
And a trip to the dentist.
So when Depp started hip-thrusting his way across the high seas, producers were apoplectic. The head of Disney Studios at the time, Michael Eisner, reportedly exclaimed “Goddammit, Johnny Depp’s ruining the film!” After seeing the initial footage, he asked his cohorts “Is [the performance] gay? Or is it drunk?”
Depp has revealed in interviews that he was frequently asked “What the fuck are you doing?” by Disney higher-ups, and that at one point they even discussed putting subtitles under him. An Oscar nomination and the approximate GDP of a large country in box office dollars later, the producers were left wiping the egg off their faces with hundred-dollar bills.
#4. Nobody Wanted Al Pacino To Star In The Godfather
The Godfather is the movie that put Al Pacino on the map, even if it did pigeonhole him as an organized crime boss for most of his career. Which is why it’s so weird that almost everyone on set hated Pacino’s performance as Michael Corleone. In fact, the studio heads tried their best to fire him before he could destroy the movie. They thought Pacino was slow, quiet, and boring at the beginning — which, if you’ve seen the film, is kind of the whole point. While Pacino understood an obscure literary device called a “character arc,” it seemed the producers would have preferred him to burst into the wedding scene waving a Tommy gun and foaming at the mouth like uh … well, like in Scarface.
“”All I have as an actor is my balls and my character, and I don’t break them for no one.”
Even the film’s director, Francis Ford Coppola, was disenchanted with Pacino’s meek performance, pulling him aside to tell him, “I had a lot of belief in you, I hired you, I wanted you, I just thought you could do this thing, and now … you’re not cutting it for me, kid.” He then forced Pacino to watch the footage to see exactly how bad a job he was doing. Pacino, who thought he was doing fine, humored Coppola and pretended to see the error of his ways. Fortunately, the cast and crew were finally won over after the now-iconic restaurant shooting scene. Pacino stayed in the film, and the movie received a bit of positive attention.
“He was OK … I guess …”
#3. Lauren Bacall’s Iconic Role In The Big Sleep Came At The Expense Of Her Co-Stars
The Big Sleep is one of the most iconic movies in history. It put film noir on the map, and Lauren Bacall’s role essentially invented the cinematic femme fatale. But when they finally saw the finished film, the producers thought Bacall stunk so badly that they panicked and forced director Howard Hawks to reshoot the entire movie. Luckily, Bacall’s co-star Martha Vickers was so electric in all of her scenes that she made Bacall look like a Mr. Potato Head doll. No problem, right? Simply focus the reshoot on Martha, and a star is born!
“Hello, everybody. This is Ms. Martha Vickers.”
Wrong! While The Big Sleep was in post-production, Bacall’s previous film, Confidential Agent, was released in cinemas as an immediate critical flop. Bacall’s representative met with studio head Jack Warner, telling him, “Bear in mind, Jack, that if the girl receives the same type of reviews and criticisms on The Big Sleep, which she definitely will receive unless changes are made, you might lose one of your most important assets,” presumably while slowly laying a Beretta on the desk.
With the exact same face and lighting.
So the producers yanked the film from the release schedule and had Bacall’s scenes re-shot, with instructions to give her a bigger, sexier screen presence. In fact, to make room for several additional scenes of Bacall giving Bogart the sex eyes, they had to cut out a few scenes that explained crucial plot elements, making the movie more confusing for viewers and giving it a reputation for incomprehensibility. Also on the chopping block were several of Martha Vickers’ scenes, leaving much of her performance on the cutting room floor. All for the crime of acting too well and overshadowing the movie’s star. Welcome to Hollywood, Martha.
“You’re brilliant! You’ll never work in this town again!”
#2. Benicio Del Toro’s Gibberish In The Usual Suspects Was Completely Ad-Libbed
The breakout character of The Usual Suspects was unquestionably Benicio Del Toro’s Fenster. Stealing every scene he was in, Del Toro’s hilarious, incomprehensible dialogue made the character immediately endearing and memorable. But the character wasn’t written that way. In fact, he didn’t have any kind of personality, since he was the first one to die and the writers couldn’t be bothered doing anything else with him. It was Del Toro who decided that if the character’s only purpose was to die, it really didn’t matter what he said, so he showed up on set and squawked his lines like an alcoholic parrot.
“Flip ya, motherfuckah, d’you shpeak ih.”
Director Bryan Singer thought that Del Toro was fucking around at first, but eventually he approached him and awkwardly asked, “Is that the way you’re going to do it? For the whole movie?” Which is exactly the kind of feedback every actor hopes to receive from a director on set. After confirming that Del Toro wasn’t having a stroke or something, he decided to run with it and see what happened. But the other cast members were no less confused. According to Stephen Baldwin, the first time he shared a scene with Del Toro and heard him speak, he was so perplexed that he forgot his next line and just turned to Singer and gave a “What the fuck?” gesture.
Which is usually a look other Baldwins give when Steven speaks.
Later, the cast mutinously approached Singer in his office to tell him that while they respected Del Toro as an actor, none of them could figure out what the hell he was trying to do.
Singer was willing to stick by Del Toro’s unconventional decision, and he told the cast that any time they didn’t understand what he said, they should ask him to repeat himself in character, if only to signal to the viewers that they themselves were not going crazy and he was indeed talking like Mushmouth after dental surgery. So thanks to Del Toro, the one character who was designed to be completely forgettable wound up being one of the most memorable aspects of the movie.
#1. Judy Garland Was Horribly Abused While Filming The Wizard Of Oz
From the very beginning, studio executives were worried that Judy Garland was too fat to play a happy-go-lucky Kansas farm girl, so in an effort to prevent her lumbering, gelatinous ass from literally sinking the production, they put her in a corset and shoved amphetamines down her throat hand over fist. She was 16 at the time, but this was the 1930s, when forcing children into meth addiction was standard Hollywood practice. As opposed to today, where it’s totally different. (We use prescription pills now.)
MGM executive Louis B. Mayer was so committed to making sure Garland got down to an acceptable weight that he had people follow her around to make sure she wasn’t cheating on her diet. That diet, by the way, consisted of chicken soup, coffee, and … 80 cigarettes a day. Holy fuck, 1930s.
“Somewheeeere over the rainbow, IIIII eeeat fooooood …“
Garland’s co-stars didn’t treat her any better, either. The actors who played the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Wizard refused to even talk to her between takes, insisting that they were serious actors and resented playing second fiddle to a woman. Even on screen, they would attempt to shove her to the back of the scene like a bunch of schoolyard bullies. Ironically, the only friend she made on set was Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch.
Director Victor Fleming was an utter bastard, too. Garland had an unfortunate habit of laughing at Bert Lahr’s (Cowardly Lion) antics during filming, so Fleming would have to occasionally take her into the back and slap the humor out of her. The fucking Land of Oz is no place for whimsy, Judy.
“Too bad this doesn’t work in real life.”
For more behind-the-scenes looks at Hollywood, check out 20 Stupid Roles That Still Haunt The World’s Biggest Stars and 5 Famous Actors Who Hate Their Most Iconic Roles.