Like any workplace, injuries happen all the time on set – the only difference is that you don’t tend to burn your genitals while organizing a meeting or suffer major brain injury while carpooling for lunch, unless you suck at driving. On film sets, despite every precaution, these things seem a lot more organic.
That said, it’s way more rare when an actor or actress willingly undergoes physical harm, either for the sake of the art or through sheer dedication to the role. I’m not talking about poor Tippi Hedren or Peter Lorre being forced to by their directors – no, these are actors who only had themselves to blame.
For the sake of brevity I’ve also excluded crazy people who like to flip around, like Jackie Chan and Jet Li, from the list. They transcend a list like this, but there are plenty of other actors who gave their bodies to the craft in big ways
7. Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin
It was a favorite for anyone looking to sell this film to the public – dude done gets his chest hair yanked off while yelling silly shit. Of course, comedy is nothing without the people passionate about making it, so obviously Steve Carell opted to do it for real. In fact it was his idea from the start.
The scene itself was completely made up on the fly – and Carell took absolutely no steps to make the pain any easier on himself, something he later said he regretted. The worst detail has to be the lady doing the actual waxing – who they picked more for her acting ability and less for her ripping-hair-off-a-guy skills. That proved to draw blood.
6. Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman
I’ve seen this movie, and I wish I could say that I remember anything from it. I recall feeling hungry at one point – and I believe there were a lot of slow motion shots… or not. There may or may not have been slow motion shots in this film. This film is like trying to watch The Avengers – but not that new one; that Uma Thurman/Ralph Fiennes one that no one actually can remember, remember? Every ten years I get it in my head that it might be good, because I don’t remember it being bad, and I watch it. It’s never good, but it’s not so bad that I have to tell myself that either. That’s this.
Anyway – Charlize Theron actually dedicated herself enough to the role of whatever she played to tear a stomach muscle from projecting her voice i.e. screaming a shit ton. She gave it her all for this role apparently, I think, I don’t actually remember. But seriously, how do you tear a muscle with your voice?
5. Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
It’s only fair; actual wrestlers pull shit 10 times worse than pretty much everything I’ll mention today – the least Mickey Rourke can do is get in on the action. During the scene where Rourke’s character
gets bloodied because wrestling is totally real makes himself bleed – the idea is that he hides a little razor blade on his body to cut himself with to simulate an injury.
While director Darren Aronofsky did have a prosthetic forehead created for the gag, the actor decided to fake faking the injury with real razors with a real razor. Did that make sense? He cut himself in real life to pretend to be someone cutting himself in a movie to pretend to get cut in a wrestling match. It’s simple. The point is that he really did it.
4. Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained
Everyone has a hardon for this story so I’m sure you know it by now. During a quite powerful scene where DiCaprio’s character goes all crazy pants on his house guests after realizing their ruse to take Broomhilda from his possession, the actor got so worked up that he gashed his hand wicked bad. Stitches bad.
Having just smashed a prop with his stupid hand, Mr. Dawson had very few options: either stop the scene because he’s a dummy who can’t not break shit, or work with it. Y’all know what happened – he kept it going, making the scene that much more visceral as he smeared his blood all over Kerry Washinton’s face, which we all have to imagine she was just thrilled about. I’d like to think that somewhere a greeting card company was hired for a specialty “Sorry I Smeared My Blood On Your Face.” Disgusting. And awesome.
3. Ellen Sandweiss in The Evil Dead
While every aspect of this production was total hell – and lord knows Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi gave it their all – the one that really impresses is Ellen Sandweiss. She played Ash’s sister Cheryl in the film – you know, the one with the trees. There was a particular scene while shooting where she had to run over and over again through the woods. It took hours to do during what was apparent one of the coldest nights of the shoots. She ran and ran and ran in a little night gown until finally standing up and saying that she was done.
As they packed up, they only then noticed that the area she had ran was covered in her blood – as she had been cutting herself on various roots and branches the whole damn time. What amazes me is the fact that while Campbell and Raimi may have bet it all on this film – she certainly didn’t. She was just being a badass.
2. Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot
We all knew he’d be on this list at some point. Daniel Day-Lewis is crazy for method acting. When Day-Lewis dresses up as a ghost for Halloween he has a doctor medically stop his heart first just to see what it’s like to be dead. Day-Lewis once played “peek-a-boo” with his kid and had to be hospitalized for pouring a quart of bleach in his eyes to simulate the effect of not seeing.
To play the role of Christy Brown in My Left Foot, the actor clearly knew the answer was to act completely paralyzed the same way his character was. He had himself hunched in a wheelchair and insisted on being carried around at all times as well as spoon-fed by the crew. I’ve heard a story of his agent storming out of the set because he couldn’t deal with his bullshit. After all – spoon-feeding isn’t usually a crew job. And apparently Day-Lewis ended up damaging two ribs because of it all. Turns out it’s not healthy to remain hunched in a wheelchair all the time if you don’t actually have to be there.
1. The Cast Of Singin’ In The Rain
Just once I’d like to see that “I’m dancing and singin’ in the rain” defense work against these drunk and disorderly hearings I keep having. I guess I just don’t have the same charm that Gene Kelly does.
Anyway, leave it to a musical to show the raw determination bordering on sick obsession that comes with true talent. Everyone in this film went through hell whist shooting their most iconic and fun-loving scenes. Donald O’Connor was bed-stricken for three days after “Make ‘Em Laugh” because of exhaustion, which makes the actual scene much more terrifying to watch. Poor Debbie Reynolds had bloody feet by the end of “Good Morning” because she was pushed so hard by Kelly to get it right. And of course there’s the co-director/star himself, who had a fever during his iconically wet number. Not to mention that it was a production nightmare, taking a day and a half – the crew losing water pressure at one point for the rain effects.
Like watching a clown car explode in fire and confetti, it goes to show just how much suffering can go into making a moment beautiful.