They Moved Into a Mental Home
The cast and crew moved into the Oregon State Mental Hospital to shoot the film. Director Miloš Forman’s strong commitment to method acting found many of the inmates serving as extras and others being shadowed by the actors. To keep it real, the cast agreed to reside in the hospital barracks during filming in order to know what it’s like to be committed.
In retrospect, Douglas said the film site was crazy but effective. It got dark by 3 pm, which was one challenge, but also, he said, “I didn’t realize until later that many of them were criminally insane.”
It Almost Got Cut
The classic fishing boat scene hilariously depicting McMurphy escaping with the patients almost did not happen. At the last minute, Director Miloš Forman decided to include it. The memorable moment, filmed at Depoe Bay in Oregon, the smallest harbor in the world, was the movie’s final shot.
Tidbit: the entire crew, except Nicholson, got violently seasick.
And So Did The Beard
Nicholson was totally convinced a beard would suit McMurphy. So, on the first day of shooting, he showed up with a full beard—only to have Forman force him to shave it.
This would not be the last time the two egos clashed. Perhaps Delos V. Smith as inmate Scanlon, pictured here, provided plenty enough beard for the cast?
A Search for The Perfect Director
Acquiring the perfect director took more than one take. Ten years, to be exact. Initially, Kirk Douglas’ determination to secure Czechoslovakian cinema mastermind Miloš Forman, whose dark and sardonic style was the perfect fit, flopped. Kirk Douglas had reached out to Forman sending him a copy of the book, but the effort was ill-fated, Czech customs confiscated it.
Both men thought the other had slighted him. Finally, a decade after the Broadway version, the younger Michael Douglas contacted Forman and mailed another copy. He enthusiastically embraced the venture.
Like Father Like Son
Michael Douglas took over the project from Kirk Douglas. Entreating his father, “Let me run with this,” it became his passion project. Michael absolutely loved the book. “It was a brilliantly conceived story of one man against the system,” and he dreamed of bringing it to the big screen.
With Michael at the helm, they went about casting McMurphy. Jack Nicholson clinched it over Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brandon and several others who didn’t make the cut.
Casting Chief Bromden was a no-brainer. Will Sampson, member of the northern Oregon Celilo tribe, was an unknown actor and park ranger.
He was the only Native American screened who was large enough to fill the part. Size mattered. At 6’7”, he was plenty tall.
Filmed on a $3 million shoestring budget, Jack Nicholson was the cast’s only A-lister. To ink his signature, producers negotiated a box office share of the proceeds, on top of a $1 million cut.
It paid off, the film cashed in with an astounding $160 million profit.
Nurse Ratchet Went Crazy
As Nurse Ratchet, Louise Fletcher stayed in character diligently, refusing to hang out with the “patients.” The isolation got to her, so, one day, she did a crazy thing to prove she wasn’t really so mean and prudish.
Posing half-naked, she said she “re-enacted that Betty Grable wartime poster, looking over my shoulder” and snapped the photo. The entire cast got a signed copy.
DeVito and His “Friend”
Lonesomeness caused Danny DeVito to invent an imaginary friend. Worried about his mental health, he consulted Dr. Dean Brooks, the hospital’s actual superintendent, who told him there is nothing to worry about as long as he knows his imaginary friend is fictional.
DeVito played his character in the stage production, so it was an easy call to cast him as Martini.
No One Cared About The Facilities
At $250 per day, shooting at the facility was a bargain. Dr. Brooks, director of the Oregon state hospital, gave permission to film there, as long as the inmates could take part in the process.
Unfortunately, the cast and crew left the facility in shambles.
The Director’s Candid Style
Miloš Forman clandestinely let the film roll to catch actors in candid shots bringing to life the naturalistic style he was aiming for. It worked. Many realistic scenes made the cut. At one point, Forman caught an icy glare from Fletcher’s Nurse Ratchet.
In the film, it’s aimed at McMurphy, but actually she was giving director Forman the stink eye.
Dr. Dean Brooks was not only the facility director, but he also played the facility director in Cuckoo’s Nest. It was a large role and his only acting gig. At his request, nearly all patients played extras or were involved in the film’s production in some way.
Sadly, during the time of the filming, Dr. Brooks diagnosed actor William Redfield (pictured on the left) who was ill with leukemia. He died just after the film was released.
Fox Found It Too Disturbing
The quest to find a distributor stalled at 20th Century Fox. To finance it, the movie company required a significant change. They wanted a happy ending.
Though the producers were desperate for a studio, they flatly refused to alter the final scene depicting McMurphy’s devastating lobotomy. Finally, United Artists stood up to the plate.
A Rigid Writer
Author Ken Kesey was just as stubborn. He absolutely refused to view the film after the producers decided against using Chief Bromden as the narrator. He was so angry he sued. He won just over 2% of the proceeds. Kesey’s novel was inspired by spending time working as an attendant at a VA hospital mental ward in Palo Alto, and also by his experiences as a graduate student when he participated as a paid lab rat to take LSD for a study by the U.S. Army.
As a nonconformist, he was part of the counterculture, and frequenting gigs like the Trips Festival. Kesey believed psychedelic drugs are the gateway to individual liberation.
The Producers Got Scared
Sydney Lassick was yet another of the cast members to succumb to the stress of staying in character at a mental ward. Lassick, who played Charlie Cheswick, dove into his part so deeply that the producers feared for his sanity.
They were told not to worry about his erratic behavior; medications were on hand. During one scene, Lassick, viewing from the sidelines, flipped-out so uncontrollably that he had to be removed from the set.
Cuckoo’s Nest scripted Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd as Martini and Max as unknowns. Together, they would hit it big with Taxi in 1978.
Once again, they worked together on Man on the Moon (1999), another film directed by Miloš Forman.
It Made Bank
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest opened as the second-highest-grossing film in November of 1975 at the Sutton and Paramount Theatres in NYC. It went on to be the seventh-highest grossing film of all time.
In Sweden, it played continuously for 12 years, from 1975 to 1987, a standing record. It is United Artists’ biggest success.
Louise Fletcher made Oscar history when she thanked her deaf parents. She signed, “I want to say thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true.” Afterward, she heard from countless adoring deaf fans from around the country who expressed overwhelming affinity with her gesture.
She won the Best Actress Award for her unsurpassable role as the nasty Nurse Ratchet.
Oscars For All
Louise Fletcher was not the only one to come away with an Oscar. Jack Nicholson won Best Actor, Forman won Best Director, Best Picture went to Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, and Best Adapted Screenplay went to Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman.
Scoring all five major Academy Awards, Cuckoo’s Nest made history at the 48th Oscar ceremony, matching the success of Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night. Silence of the Lambs would follow suit.
Nicholson Dove Deep
Jack Nicholson’s commitment to method acting in preparing for the film spanned from living in the psychiatric ward amongst the patients to participating in real-life group therapy sessions. Yet fully immersing himself in the rebellious mind of McMurphy triggered some hitches. In developing the character, Nicholson sparred often with director Forman.
First, they clashed over Nicholson’s beard idea, then, the two butted heads so squarely over the telling of the story that they were not on speaking terms during most of the filming. To communicate, cinematographer Bill Butler had to serve as a go-between.
No Stranger To The Crazy
Nicholson is known for getting into his roles. Later, in Kubrick’s The Shining, he was caught on tape preparing for the axe scene by running around the set screaming maniacally, “Axe, murder, kill!”
The actor is one of the most terrifying characters in film, immortalized for all eternity by Nicholson’s freaky improvised line, “Heeeere’s Johnny!” Nicholson is not the only method actor. Other film legends have gone to shocking extremes to create outstanding and memorable characters. Here are 9 more of the very best.
Seriously Method Acting
When it comes to method acting, Robert De Niro is the champ. He had his teeth shaved down for Cape Fear and worked as an NYC cabbie preparing for his iconic role in Taxi.
What he does to prepare for roles is truly astounding.
De Niro Got Ripped
Portraying Scorsese’s Raging Bull star, world champion boxer Jake LaMotta, took role prep to an entirely new level. De Niro packed on a mind-blowing 60 pounds, ameliorating the ripped boxer physique he trained for in the first part of the film.
He achieved the authentic old Italian guy look by traveling to Sicily and consuming as much pasta as possible while hanging out with elderly Italians. He won the Oscar for Best Actor.
Hoffman Didn’t Sleep
Dustin Hoffman is another actor who trained at the celebrated Actor’s Studio in NYC. In Marathon Man, he played opposite Laurence Olivier, a classically trained actor. When Hoffman had a scene in which his character did not sleep for three nights, Hoffman stayed up for three nights.
Legendarily, when he told Olivier his method, the response of the classically trained actor was, “Why don’t you just try acting?” Hoffman had the last laugh. Method acting made him a two-time Oscar winner (Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man).
Then There Was The Slap
But it took a toll. Sleep deprivation nearly compromised his sanity. Hoffman narrowly averting a psychotic break. And in Kramer vs. Kramer, he went overboard accosting Meryl Streep in off-camera clashes.
On camera, an unscripted slap in the face was as unwelcome as his heckling of the actress over her recently deceased boyfriend.
Kate Winslet Became a Nazi Prison Guard
Diving into a role a Nazi prison camp guard in The Reader, Kate Winslet immersed herself in WWII Germany.
She annoyed her kids when she took on a German accent. She didn’t break character, not even when she read them bedtime stories. They said, “Mum, just be plain. Don’t do any funny stuff like voices.”
There Were Some Dark Moments
In the end, it was worth it. While the actress felt that the role took her to a dark place, she did end up grabbing an Oscar for it.
“It’s like I’ve escaped from a serious car accident and need to understand what has just happened,“ she said about the film.
Marlon Brando Went Pscyho
Marlon Brando needs no introduction, but you might not know how the fabled actor physically tortured himself each night during the 1946 Broadway run of Truckline Café. The final scene depicts his character, a psychopathic murderer, emerging from an icy lake.
Brando had a stagehand dump an ice-cold bucket of water over his head as he ran up and down the stairs getting properly winded for the lake scene.
The Master of Method
He also spent a month bedridden at a VA hospital to convincingly portray an injured WWII lieutenant in The Men. Brando is responsible for popularizing method acting.
He was one of the NYC Actor’s Studio’s original students. One of Brando’s best examples of method acting is found in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Leto Can’t Let Go
6. Jared Leto: Known for his insane dedication to various roles, none of Leto’s characters seem like they’re played by the same person.
For Dallas Buyer’s Club, he lost thirty pounds, waxed his entire body, and arrived on-set already in costume every day. For a later role, he upped his game…
He Was Not Joking Around
As the Joker, Leto sent creepy gifts to his fellow actors, including a live rat to Margot Robbie. For his role in Requiem for a Dream, the actor was gone for ages and even lived on the streets of Brooklyn for a week.
Leto outdid himself in Requiem for a Dream. He lived homeless, wandering the streets of Brooklyn for a week to become heroin addict Harry Goldfarb. Additionally, he stayed abstinent for two months. Sometimes it pays off. Jared Leto won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a SAG for best supporting actor in Dallas Buyer’s Club.
He Czeched In Day-Lewis
As the only film star to win three Best Actor Oscars, Daniel Day-Lewis must be doing something right. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Lewis learned to speak Czech. All it required was a Czech accent, but he did it the hard way.
For the Last of the Mohicans, Day-Lewis built a canoe from scratch, this on top of a brutal fitness regimen.
And Became a Fighter…
And that wasn’t all. Oh, no. He felt a proper preparation of Hawkeye should include killing and skinning animals, learning to fight with tomahawks, and carrying a gun with him everywhere. For The Crucible he kept it real by living in a cabin without electricity or running water, just like they did in the 17th century.
Rumor has it, he did not bathe for the entire shoot. In Gangs of New York he refused to wear a contemporary jacket and caught pneumonia. As Abe Lincoln, he sent texts, in character, to his castmates.
The Mystery Character
Donald Glover When asked by local ABC WTVC if he’s a method actor, Danny Glover said that people like to call it that, but “I call it ‘emersion acting.’” Adding, “I’ve studied the great theories about acting, and sometimes you read something and start thinking, I do that organically, I don’t have a name for it, but organically that’s where I go.”
He also told WTVC that he was heavily influenced by his parents and their dedication to the Civil Rights movement.
In 2018, Glover astonished everyone as Teddy Perkins on the series Atlanta. Unrecognizable, he wore a white face and stayed costumed and in character for the entire shoot. People didn’t even know who he was!
Derrick Haywood, another actor on set told Vulture he had no idea whatsoever who played the white face character, “I’m like, ‘Okay, who is this Teddy guy and why is his opinion so important?” After he found out, he was dumbfounded by Glover’s fortitude. “There was no Donald on set whatsoever.”
The One and Only
Heath Ledger Heath Ledger’s Joker portrayal in The Dark Knight was an all-encompassing journey into the clownish villain’s mind. Fully absorbed into the creepy criminal mind, Ledger totally isolated himself in a hotel room for a month.
Between filming, the actor would write in his journal and read nothing but comics and source material related to the film. Rumors say the extreme role prep caused his untimely death.
Christian Bale (Batman) remembers Ledger being aggressive, saying he “was kinda egging [him] on.” Pushing for an authentic physical altercation during the interrogation scene, Ledger violently smashed into walls, damaging tiles of the prison set. After it all, some said depression led to an overdose suicide, but Ledger’s sister Kate said he loved doing the film and looked forward to another Batman movie.
He died before the film was released. It was called an accidental overdose. Posthumously, he was awarded an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor.
As it turns out, Christian Bale also adheres to extreme role-prep measures.
In The Machinist, he nearly starved to death, shriveling down to almost nothing and shedding over 60 pounds.
Packing on The Pounds
Swinging the other way, Bale packed on 42 pounds to play Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle.
Not just that, but he shaved a receding hairline into thick mop to achieve the perfect comb-over look.
Not every successful actor sacrifices physical or mental health to play a role. In these cases, a stuntman comes in handy to fill in for the death-defying feats. Check out these striking images of Hollywood heavyweights posing with their stuntmen.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson The Rock’s double is Tanoai Reed. He’s been filling in for the Rock since Waterworld in 1995. How does he achieve the stunning likeness? Reed is Johnson’s cousin! He also worked with the actor on The Scorpion King.
Andrew Garfield Spiderman always looks the same, no matter which actor plays him. But in this case, the double for Peter Parker is seen wearing sweatpants. Garfield’s performance in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).
Though he doesn’t mind having a stunt-Spidey, he did prepare by studying the movements of athletes and spiders, mimicking both.
Charlize Theron Mad Max: Fury Road demanded scene after scene of reckless maneuvers, so Charlize Theron wisely opted for a stunt double as Furiosa.
The on-set feud between Theron and Tom Hardy did not stop their stuntman from falling in love and getting married!
Ian McKellan Ian McKellan required more than one stunt double. The giant on the right served as a scale actor, giving a size perspective to the hobbits.
And the one on the left jumped in for dangerous stunts.
A pro wrestling background was not enough for Dave Bautista to pull off every stunt in Guardians of the Galaxy.
His double in the Marvel flick is Rob de Groot who comes from Holland. Any relation??
When it comes to child actors, the law requires producers to bring in doubles to take over for scenes that could be potentially dangerous. This happened in the case of Quvenzhané Wallis.
Quvenzhané’s double is much older than her, but you’d never notice in the film. We can thank movie magic for that!
Michael J. Fox Four Marty McFlys?? That’s right. Michael J. Fox employed three different movie doubles in Back to the Future Part IV.
Pictured here on the film set, he has a photo double (Kevin Holloway), a stand-in (Robert Brunnett), and a stunt double (Charlie Croughwell).
Age Gap Take 2
9. Chandler Riggs: Next time you’re freaking out during a Walking Dead episode, here’s a fun fact to cheer you up.
While playing teenage zombie killer Carl Grimes, Chandler used a 33-year-old woman as his double.
Tarantino’s Fave Stuntwoman
Uma Thurman Zoë Bell covered for Uma Thurman in several of Quentin Tarantino’s films; both volumes of Kill Bill, Deathproof, and The Hateful Eight. In Deathproof, Tarantino gave her an actual part for which she obviously performed her own stunts.
Memorably, she’s the woman clinging to the hood of the Dodge Challenger commandeered by its psychopath driver.
Just Hanging out
Carrie Fisher Here’s Carrie Fisher hanging out on the set of Return of the Jedi with her friend and stunt double Tracey Eddon.
Princess Leia’s metal bikini made of gold has its own history, forever enshrined within Star Wars nostalgia.
Even The Stuntman Bailed
Johnny Depp Tony Angelotti is no longer Depp’s stuntman. His double was nearly killed in a “human yo-yo” maneuver and sued Disney for negligence. The move in question featured Captain Jack Sparrow falling hard from a height of 30 to 40 feet and tumbling in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
For the fall, Angelotti was released from a crane.
Margot Robbie Stuntwoman Ingrid Kleinig steps in for Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Her skate stunts are widely admired.
She’s also a stunt double for Evangeline Lily
An Aging Cruise Can’t Do It All
Tom Cruise Some actors are very proud about pulling off their own stunts, Tom Cruise is one. The Mission Impossible star is passionate.
As he gets older, however, he has had to defer to a stunt professional. He used a double in The Mummy.
Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz In The Mask, both Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz needed stunt doubles. The zany antics get comically wild. Which was more difficult?
The tedious makeup sessions, piling on green paint, taking four hours? Or the stunts?
Bowie’s Stunt Guy
Nick Gillard performed stunts for David Bowie in Labyrinth. He was also Mark Hamill’s first lightsaber fighter.
For Bowie’s Jareth, he jumped in to provide lighter-than-air stunts on the castle stairs.
A Lot of Car Crashes
The two massive men on the right step in for Bruce Willis in A Good Day to Die Hard. With more car crashes than you can count, they were a great help.
Larry Rippenkroeger, Willis’ double for over ten years said, “The hardest thing is when the director wants me to deliver a line.”
Even Arno Has One
Arnold Schwarzenegger Even the Terminator needs some back up. Here he is posing with Pete Kent. In Commando (1985), a $10 million budget surely covered plenty of stunts and CGI. According to Ranker, since Schwarzenegger could bench 520 and deadlift 710, the Commando director assumed he could do his own stunt, holding a dude over a cliff.
Nope. They ordered a crane the next day.
Pictured here Will Smith is posing with his stunt double in Collateral Beauty (2016). Cory Dunson was the one clinging to a helicopter tether.
You can’t blame Smith for opting out of that one!
Chris Pratt The Jurassic Park foundation did not clone Chris Pratt. That’s his stunt double Tony McFarr!
They also teamed up in Guardians of the Galaxy volumes 1 and 2.
Hemsworth has worked with stuntman Bobby Holland in more than 10 films. Pictured here they’re on the set of Thor: Ragnarok.
He says Hemsworth likes to do his own stunts but calls in Holland when he thinks an injury will risk holding back production.
Sylvester Stallone Stallone should have opted for a stunt double in Rambo. Falling from a cliff, Stallone broke his fall using a tree. After three takes, he broke three ribs.
Here he is pictured filming First Blood.
Smashing It Up
Tom Cruise He does all his own stunts. His latest Mission: Impossible may have him rethink things. During a rooftop pursuit chase, Cruise missed his jump and broke his ankle after smashing his foot.
Production was delayed months. On the upside, the shot made the final cut. It’s in the movie.
It’s Got a Little Chilly
Kate Winslet During the sinking ship scenes of Titanic, Winslet tried to take every precaution, but she was lucky she didn’t drown. First, she suffered a serious case of hypothermia submerged in the frigid sea.
In another underwater scene, her coat got stuck on an underwater gate and she came close to drowning.
Too Much Horse Action
Charlton Heston Heston’s stuntman in the Ben Hur chariot race scene was almost trampled to death. The 1959 production featured stunt double Joe Canutt with reins in hand.
Being thrown from the chariot may have sealed the Oscar for Heston, but Canutt barely survived.
The wingsuit flight scene in Point Break (1991) was extremely hazardous. “It’s one of the most dangerous stunts that’s ever been filmed,” according to film technical adviser Jeb Corliss.
A team of Red Bull athletes pulled it off in this extreme sports flick.
The tractor-trailer flip-scene in The Dark Knight (2008) used a full-sized eighteen-wheeler despite the film special effects supervisor’s recommendation to use a small-scale truck.
Christopher Nolan was set on a real semi-truck for a the180-degree flip. Stuntman Jim Wilkey was in the cab, protected by large bars.
29. Isla Fisher was lucky to go away from Now You See Me unscathed. In the water-escape scene, a technical glitch snagged her.
She was trapped underwater while the crew thought she was performing an awesome take. Three minutes later, they realized rescue was in order.
Shipwrecked In Waterworld
Kevin Costner was trapped, tied to the top of a ship when a surprise storm broke out.
The unscripted weather event doused him relentlessly for almost a half an hour. Afterward, he had a few choice words for director Kevin Reynolds.
Stuntman Wayne Michael hurled himself over the Contra Dam in this crazy scene.
The Golden Eye stuntman lost consciousness after falling at too rapid a pace during the bungee jump stunt.
The Wizard of Oz was more dangerous than you might think. Margaret Hamilton’s 1939 performance of the Wicked Witch of the West’s fiery exit from Munchkinland did not go as scripted.
The flames shot up, but the trapdoor failed to release, stranding the actress in the flames and leaving her with severe burns.
Whip It Up
As it turned out, Jim Caviezel endured real-life medieval torture in The Passion of the Christ. The actor was whipped, for real, several times.
He dislocated a shoulder, became hypothermic and, most surprising, he was hit by lightning.
Depp Was Thrown
Johnny Depp risked his life in The Lone Ranger. Refusing to get a stuntman, Depp attempted to do the high-speed horseback scene on his own.
After being thrown from the saddle, he was nearly trampled by his own horse.
High Speed Uma
Actress Uma Thurman wanted to sue after Quentin Tarantino forced her to perform a high-speed car stunt that injured her so severely she almost died.
Tarantino responded saying, “It was heartbreaking. Beyond one of the biggest regrets of my career, it is one of the biggest regrets of my life.”
A freak accident during the shooting of a cycling scene in Premium Rush found Joseph Gordon-Levitt crashing through the rear window of a wayward taxicab, lacerating his arm.
After 31 stitches, he was back on set the next day.
That’s Not Harrison Ford
This iconic scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark was actually performed by stuntman Terry Leonard.
The man risked his life being dragged by the big truck and then, of course, climbing underneath it.
We don’t think of The Exorcist as a stunt-heavy movie. But there is one scene that injured actress Ellen Burstyn. The possessed Regan slaps her, launching her mother across the room.
In the process, a stunt cable yanked her so violently that she fell and broke her tailbone.
Jamie The Dangler
Jamie Lee Curtis spent her 36th birthday dangling from a helicopter over the ocean for True Lies (1994).
Also in that movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger nearly died when his horse got spooked and reared near a cliff, a 90-foot drop. Luckily, he was able to escape in time.
In The Princess Bride, actor Cary Elwes took on too much. In one scene, his character gets hit over the head with the butt of a sword, so he asked Christopher Guest to hit him for real.
Hopefully, they clinched the scene because, next, Elwes was in an ambulance heading to the hospital to be treated for a mild concussion.
The 11-year production of Roar is one of the most dangerous films on record. Seventy members of its cast suffered serious injuries.
This was the film in which Tippi Hedren legendarily starred. She was nearly mauled to death. Her brutal injuries included gangrene, bone fractures, and being scalped.
J.K. Simmons received a violent blow, worse than he expected, on the set of Whiplash. Miles Teller says his favorite part of filming was when he attacked and leveled Simmons, cracking his rib.
“I always dug that scene because he just finally snaps,” says Teller.