3. Apocalypse Now
You can’t really have a list like this without putting Apocalypse Now on it. As far as hellish sets go, the 16 months of sporadic shooting for this film was everything you would expect the perfect production hell to be. Starting with a recast of the main character from Harvey Keitel to Martin Sheen along with a set-destroying typhoon that shut down production 2 months into the film, the shit hit the fan nice and early for the cast and crew.
Oh, it got worse. It’s hard to even know where to start – there was Laurence Fishburne, who had lied about his age to get the part of the 17-year-old Tyrone ‘Clean’ Miller. Laurence was actually 14 at the time of shooting, making the fact that most of his co-stars were either drunk or on some kind of drug a bit disturbing especially when you take into account that this whole ordeal was happening in some remote Philippine jungle. Sam Bottoms, who played Lance Johnson, at one point shot a scene on a triad of amphetamines, weed, and LSD.
Then of course there was the one-million-dollar man, Marlon Brando. One million being the money he got in advance for playing the role of Kurtz, which he did so drunk and overweight without ever reading the script or the original source material “Heart Of Darkness.” In fact the entire ending of the film had to be changed in order to accommodate and conceal Brando’s misshapen physique.
The winner has to be Martin Sheen, our ‘hero’ of the film, who suffered both a drunken breakdown and a goddamn heart attack on the set. Surely one of the finest moments of insanity has to be his inebriated kung fu demonstration that resulted in a broken mirror and fit of tears – All while celebrating his 36th birthday:
To be fair, having an alcohol-induced nervous breakdown on the set of a Francis Ford Coppola film isn’t a half bad way to spend a birthday. It’s certainly more memorable than cake and music.