Acting Deaths and How the Show Went On
Death can be an unfortunate, and also tricky, thing for anyone to deal with. In Hollywood, where the movie-making machine gears are always turning, Death is dangerous. Sometimes it causes a delay. Other times, it causes complete rewrites. Other times, it kills not only an actor, but the film project as a whole.
As a writer, I’m always interested by the idea that writers (and filmmakers by extension) can “create” their way out of anything. If someone dies during a play, the understudy takes over. But in the middle of making a film, with a script already finalized and half of the filmed scenes in the bag, well… sometimes, it can be more than a little tricky to salvage what you can. But more often than not, the show must go on. Here are a few interesting instances where the show went on.
Actor Brandon Lee (child of the famous Bruce Lee) met an untimely death while filming The Crow. In the scene, Brandon’s character is supposed to be ‘shot’ with a revolver. In real life, this is exactly what happened. The prop gun that they were using wasn’t fully emptied, and so when it was fired, Brandon was shot in the abdomen. Despite being rushed to the hospital, Brandon didn’t make it.
Since filming wasn’t fully complete, a body double was used and then Lee’s face was superimposed on top. This didn’t seem to phase the audiences or the publicity of the film: the film more than quadrupled its budget in its worldwide earnings.
When I heard that Hoffman had died of a drug overdose, the first thing I thought of was his role in the film Twister. The second was whether or not they were still filming Mockingjay, the third and final book of the Hunger Games trilogy which will be split into two films. After all, he plays a major role in the films, and with only having the fourth and final piece to film, it would be next to impossible to replace him and still maintain story continuity.
The first wave of news that was released following the actor’s death assured audiences that all of the major scenes had been filmed, and that Hoffman’s death did not affect the development of the film. The second wave of news, however, was a little more telling. As it turns out, Hoffman did have one more scene to film, and reports suggest that it is a major one. The current plan seems to involve a digital body double of him (similar to Lee), and rearranging the scene so that Hoffman’s character is present, but not necessarily actively engaged in dialogue. Only time will tell whether or not the filmmakers are successful at pulling it off.
I found this to be one of the more imaginative ways of dealing with an actor’s death. Sometimes when an actor dies early enough in filming, they can be replaced entirely. The same can be said when an actor is nearly done all of his scenes, when the remainder can be improvised. But what happens when you’re past the point of no return?
If you’re Terry Gilliam, you go back to the drawing board and see what you have to work with. When Heath Ledger died in the middle of filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Gilliam was left without one of his leading men. Due to the nature of the story (which fortunately features a magic mirror), Gilliam was able to rewrite the film and adapt it so that Ledger’s role could also be played by three of Ledger’s friends: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. Each of them play a different version of Ledger’s character, and so the film was saved from being scrapped.
With the development of technology and its potential growing more and more incredible every day, it’s little wonder that films continue to march on, with or without its lead. Although there have been times that roles have needed to be recast or films have been scrapped, there are even more instances when the show simply continued to carry on. But with millions of dollars riding on the films, can we really blame them?