Welcome to The Basics, a new semi-regular column we're trying out. Everybody has to start someone when it comes to loving and knowing films, and The Basics is a place where Badass Digest's writers can explore stuff that is well known but could be new to you.
The one true rule of show business is “The show must go on.” Whatever happens behind the scenes, the troupe must regather and get on stage and do what the good lord put them on earth to do: entertain the crowd. Illness, tragedy and death cannot stand in the way of the show.
That sentiment comes from the stage, but it has extended to the screen. When star Paul Walker died in a tragic off-set car accident while shooting Furious Seven the cast and crew of the film were left with a dilemma: should they complete the unfinished film, and how could they do it without their star? In the end they decided to honor Paul by finishing his final work, and they did it by rewriting sequences, reconceptualizing scenes and bringing in Paul’s brothers to work as doubles. And they capped it all off with an incredibly emotional final few minutes that left people across the country sobbing in theaters. This new video for See You Again, the Wiz Khalifa song that plays at the end of the movie, includes that footage where Paul Walker's Brian O'Connor forever takes his own road:
Pablo, this weekend you turned the world into a family...Thanks for the love...Posted by Vin Diesel on Sunday, April 5, 2015
Director James Wan and his crew are by no means the first to deal with this kind of tragedy (or the last - Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away before finishing his work on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II). And some productions have faced situations where the actor was still alive but, for some reason or another, needed to be replaced. Here are how some other movies made sure the show would go on.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - It takes a lot for a production to out-trouble Terry Gilliam’s famous The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, but Heath Ledger dying during production of The imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was certainly one of the most difficult moments in the filmmaker’s career. Gilliam came upon a genius solution to losing his leading man - recruiting his peers to play the role in different scenes, creating a much stranger movie and also one where Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell could pay some homage to late Ledger.
The Matrix Reloaded/The Matrix Revolutions - The sequels to The Matrix ended up losing not one but two actors during their long back-to-back shoot. Singer Aaliyah was playing the role of Zee, resident of Zion and widow of Tank, and had shot some scenes when she died in a plane crash in August of 2001. Her role was recast and those scenes were reshot.
Gloria Foster, who played the Oracle in The Matrix, returned for an expanded role in The Matrix Reloaded, but died after filming most of her scenes for the sequel. The Oracle still had plenty to do in The Matrix Revolutions, and the Wachowskis opted to recast the role. I’ve always thought this was a missed opportunity - as the world inside The Matrix is malleable, why couldn’t The Oracle show up in a new form in the final film?
Back to the Future - I sometimes wonder if Eric Stoltz has even seen the Back to the Future movies. The actor was hired to play Marty McFly, and he shot a few days worth of work before the filmmakers decided he simply wasn’t right for the part. He was fired, Michael J. Fox was brought on and history was made. Back to the Future fans still clamor to see the scrapped footage of Stoltz, which is hidden away in a vault, although photographs of the actor in Marty’s trademark orange vest have surfaced.
The Lord of the Rings/The Lovely Bones - Beware working with Peter Jackson. At least that’s what Ryan Gosling and Stuart Townsend might tell you. Both actors had been hired and done extensive prep for Jackson movies, only to be let go either right before had begun. Townsend had two months of sword and horse training to play Aragorn, only to find that he was being dumped in favor of Viggo Mortensen one day before shooting began. Gosling showed up to set for The Lovely Bones 60 pounds overweight, a choice he had made that surprised Jackson, who fired the actor the Friday before shooting began. Mark Wahlberg replaced him three days later.
The Crow - For an entire generation the story of The Crow is inexorably tied up with Brandon Lee, son of the famed martial artist Bruce Lee (who himself died before he could complete his final film, Game of Death). Brandon was killed during filming when a gun, thought to be loaded with blanks, was mishandled and he was shot with what was, essentially, a live round.
Lee had three days left to shoot, but he wasn’t the only cast member lost - co-star Sofia Shinas was on set when he was killed and opted to leave the production. The movie, which almost lost all funding, shut down for rewrites of flashback scenes to accommodate a double. Lee’s face was also digitally mapped onto a stuntman, allowing The Crow to be completed and become a cult favorite.
Gladiator - Cinema legend Oliver Reed had a life of boisterous boozing and carousing, and it caught up with him on the Malta Set of Gladiator, where he died of a heart attack. Reed wasn’t done with his role, so director Ridley Scott had to figure out how to finish up Proximo’s scenes. The solution was a mix of old school and new: a computer generated Reed face was used in some scenes, while a plain old mannequin in costume was used in others.
Plan 9 From Outer Space - In his final years the great Bela Lugosi was reduced to working with hyper low budget maven Ed Wood. He and Wood had been working on a few amorphous projects, including films titled The Ghoul Goes West and Tomb of the Vampire; when Lugosi died suddenly of a heart attack Wood decided to take the weird, disconnected footage he had of the horror icon and work it into his next film, Plan 9 From Outer Space. It didn’t matter that none of it made sense, and it didn’t matter that nothing connected; Wood hired his wife’s chiropractor (who was taller than and in no way resembled Lugosi) to double for the legend, holding a Dracula cape in front of his face while stalking around the frame. In the end Ed Wood was able to put Bela Lugosi’s name on the film once - in a simpler time - touted as the worst ever made.
This article originally appeared in the April issue of BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH.