2. The Abyss

So with most of the previous on this list it’s been focused more on specific people who went through terrible ordeals on set either because of other actors or the director or copious amounts of drugs and alcohol – in this instance the villain was the set itself:

That there is the containment building of the unfinished Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant in Shelby, North Carolina. In order to effectively shoot the underwater scenes they needed, the giant concrete structure was filled with 7 million gallons of water at a depth of 40 feet, making it the largest underwater set ever constructed. That’s the cool part – the rest is horrendous.

To start things off, on the first day of shooting the tank sprang a leak that spit roughly 150,000 gallons of water a minute and had to be repaired by specially brought in experts. That was probably the least terrible thing that happened during the following six month, 70 hour a week shoot that featured Ed Harris nearly drowning and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio storming off the set screaming “We are not animals!” But those two incidents aside, what made this particular set so incredibly unbearable was that even when things were going exactly right, everything still sucked.

The water, for example, was treated with so much chlorine that the crew developed skin rashes and loss of body hair – not to mention that they were all slowly turning into blondes. There was a giant tarp being used to make the set dark that ripped early on during a thunderstorm, so all shooting afterward had to be done exclusively at night. Oh, also it was cold. Really cold – outside of the water all production meetings had to be done in hot tubs because the outside air was downright frigid.

To top this off, the average time people were spending submerged was five hours – so much time that they actually had to undergo decompression before getting out. And of course, in the water for 5 hours there really isn’t a place to take a leak, so they just… you know… went. Some cast and crew members were even seen nodding off while underwater, for the process of shooting was so slow that they never even completed a single scene in a day.

Most of the actors said that the waiting, combined with being submerged underwater in the dead of night, was the absolute worst part of the experience. Michael Biehn claims that out of the five months he was there he only acted for about four weeks, Ed Harris claims to had randomly broken into tears from the frustration – and many of the cast actually trashed their dressing rooms in anger, going so far as throwing couches from the windows.

A lot of the actors still express some grievances with director James Cameron to this day for his demanding nature, however in his defense, according to the cast and the crew he spent an average of 12 hours a day without ever getting out of the tank, often seen in full dive gear watching the dailies for the previous day on his giant underwater monitor. The man was dedicated.


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