8 really disturbing ways actors were manipulated

From Digital Spy

It can be hard to get a realistic performance from an actor, no matter how brilliant they are. Anyone who's seen The Room will tell you that.

So, while we feel for filmmakers who have to go the extra mile to get a believable turn from one of their performers, this lot went just a little bit too far. And by "just a little bit" we mean WAAAAY.

Brace yourself, there's a lot of merciless behaviour below.

1. Threatening to shoot a dog - Skippy (1931)

Despite the fact there's probably a number of ways to convince an actor to cry on command – you know, such as asking them to feel 'a bit sad' – director Norman Taurog decided to cut to the chase on the set of Skippy by threatening to shoot child star Jackie Cooper's dog if he didn't tear up immediately. For some reason, the tactic worked. Go figure!

But, don't worry, it definitely didn't traumatise Cooper – if you ignore the fact he titled the autobiography he wrote when he was an adult Please Don't Shoot My Dog.

2. Bringing up a recent bereavement - Kramer Vs Kramer (1979)

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

At the time of filming Kramer Vs Kramer, Dustin Hoffman was a method actor. Meryl Streep was not. But Hoffman took it upon himself to use method tactics on Streep, in the most harrowing possible manner.

Mere months before the shoot, Streep had lost a man she described as "the love of [her] life", fellow actor John Cazale, to cancer. (He only appeared in five films, incidentally, but all of them were nominated for Best Picture.)

Hoffman could see Streep was still reeling from the loss and thought it would be a useful tool for the film they were making.

"He was goading her and provoking her," producer Richard Fischoff recalled, "using stuff that he knew about her personal life and about John to get the response that he thought she should be giving in the performance."

Hoffman whispered 'John Cazale' into Streep's ear before shooting a key confrontation – on the second day of filming. Streep left the studio in a rage, but came back to complete filming, going on to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role (her first of many).

Dustin Hoffman was the first person she thanked in her acceptance speech, but it's worth noting that they've not shared a scene together in the 40-odd years since.

3. Threatening to separate children from their mothers - Exodus (1960)

Otto Preminger was so intimidating he was given the nickname 'Otto the Terrible' by those who knew him. In fact, he was so scary, the New York Times included the following anecdote in his OBITUARY, about the making of Exodus.

"One day he was shooting a scene for the film involving a dozen small Israeli children, who were supposed to cry on cue as Arabs attacked their home.

"'Cry, you little monsters,' Mr Preminger repeatedly shouted at the children, who simply stood there, bewildered, gazing at their mothers behind the cameras. Finally, Mr Preminger whispered instructions to an assistant, who led the mothers over a hill, out of sight. 'You see, your mothers have been taken away,' Mr. Preminger told the children threateningly. 'You are never going to see them again – never!' The children burst into tears."

That's just a little bit hardcore.

4. Setting a dog on your lead actor, and also caning him - Kes (1969)

Photo credit: Park Circus
Photo credit: Park Circus

Ken Loach is known for using improvisational techniques to create important social realist movies that throw a light onto marginalised people. But, for Kes star David Bradley, he's probably better known as the man who chucked an angry dog at him.

"He would play tricks to see if he could get a reaction," says Bradley.

For the scene in which Bradley runs away from a barking dog, Bradley believed Loach had someone hiding who "threw the dog into the middle of the road".

The theory lines up with something Loach said about the film's caning scene.

"You can't imitate that expression, the point at which the cane strikes the hand," Loach later explained. "So we just caned them, really."

5. Making refugees cry - Casablanca (1942)

It's one of the most memorable moments in Casablanca. The Nazis sing 'Die Wacht am Rhein' in Rick's cafe, before a refugee chorus drowns them out with 'La Marseillaise'.

The scene is incredibly powerful – for a good reason: they were real refugees.

"So many actors were refugees from Europe," novelist Leslie Epstein said. "Their lives were in danger. Some, like the Dalios and others, escaped by the skin of their teeth. Hence the real tears when the 'Marseillaise' is sung."

6. Letting children think they've lost their friends - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

While 'cruel' probably isn't the first word you'd use to describe Steven Spielberg, he's certainly dedicated to his craft.

Dedicated enough that when he told first-time actor (and 4-year-old) Cary Guffey to say goodbye to his friends (the aliens), he didn't correct him when he started to break down on camera because he thought he was saying goodbye to them forever – not just for the scene.

While it's not quite as extreme as some of the entries on this list, it's not exactly nice. (And incidentally, Drew Barrymore recalls a similar story from the set of ET the Extra-Terrestrial.)

7. Killing a donkey - Manderlay (2005)

Lars Von Trier has done many, many intense and horrible things to his actors over the years, but one of his weirder approaches to getting a performance from his cast involved making the actors in Manderlay watch a donkey being killed before asking them to eat it.

We know it sounds like we're making this up, but we're not.

John C Reilly was so sickened by the event, he left the movie.

Still, producer Peter Aalbaek Jensen says the entire process was monitored by a veterinarian. "We were very conscientious about that, because we didn't want 70,000 American animal rights groups on our back."

But then he also said: "We could probably kill six children for a film without anyone raising a fuss."

So who knows what to think?

8. Actual use of firearms - The Exorcist (1973)

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

When William Friedkin wanted Jason Miller (Father Karras) to react with shock to a ringing phone, he did what anyone sane and normal would do: he unexpectedly fired a gun behind the camera. Remarkably, Miller reacted perfectly like a man living on the edge of his nerves instead of ducking for cover and calling the cops, and the shot stayed in the film.

On the subject, also worthy of note is the "complicated" relationship between director Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. On the set of Aguirre: Wrath of God, the director threatened to shoot Kinski if he left the set, and on Fitzcarraldo, he came even closer by actually going to set fire to his house. A dog disturbed him, however, and he gave up. Amazingly, the two considered each other friends...

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