Scenes That Almost Made Actors Quit
These grueling scenes prove that acting isn't for the faint-hearted.
Being a movie or TV star may sound glamorous, but it’s not always as easy as it looks. Filming can often be pretty grueling for an actor, especially during particularly tough, emotional scenes.
While actors usually try to invest as much as they can in a project, everyone has their limits. These stars were pushed so far, they came close to quitting their roles altogether.
Lauren Cohan, ‘The Walking Dead’
AMC’s zombie drama isn’t exactly short on blood and gore, but one moment almost took it too far for actress Lauren Cohan. The star, who played Maggie on the show’s first eight seasons, came close to quitting in season three because of a particularly disturbing scene in which her character performs a C-section on Lori. Cohan shared on “Inside the Actors Studio” that she went to co-star Steven Yuen, who played Maggie’s husband, Glenn, and said “I have to leave the show, I don’t think I can do it.” She ultimately decided to stick with it.
Shelley Duvall, ‘The Shining’
Filming “The Shining” was brutal for Shelley Duvall, thanks both to the nature of the movie and to Stanley Kubrick’s scrupulous direction. The filmmaker’s methods caused production to run over schedule, forcing the actress to spend more time away from her family. She almost reached a breaking point while filming the famous baseball bat scene, for which Kubrick demanded a record-breaking 127 takes.
“Going through day after day of excruciating work was almost unbearable,” Duvall told Roger Ebert of the experience in 1980.
Ian McKellen, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’
Ian McKellen found performing in front of a green screen for the first “Hobbit” film, “An Unexpected Journey,” so demanding that he almost quit. The actor made the revelation during an interview on an extended DVD edition of the movie, according to The Guardian.
“I felt pretty miserable,” he said of the visual effects-oriented shoot, which caused him to work in isolation for long periods of time. “And [I] thought perhaps, has the time come for me to stop acting altogether if I can’t cope with these difficulties?”
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, ‘The Abyss’
In one scene in “The Abyss,” Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s character is frantically given CPR — which means the actress had to endure being pressed on, yelled at and even slapped while laying on a cold floor. The scene was hard to get through, so you can’t fault the actress for walking offset when it was discovered there was a mistake with the camera and they would have to re-film the whole thing. She eventually returned and director James Cameron was able to get the footage he needed.
John Cena, ‘The Reunion’
Earlier in his career, John Cena starred in the 2011 action movie, “The Reunion.” The film required the wrestler-turned-actor to perform certain stunts, most of which he was game for — except for one. Cena says a scene involving helicopters was particularly tough for him, as he’s afraid of heights.
As he told WWE, “I didn’t want to do it. I’m deathly afraid of heights. There’s a scene involving heights and helicopters. I hated it. I did it. Absolutely, I did it, but hated it.”
Mike Myers, ‘Wayne’s World’
One of the most famous scenes in “Wayne’s World” is one in which Wayne and Garth belt out the Queen song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” But Myers reportedly had to fight to get the song in the film. During a recent interview on the podcast “WTF with Marc Maron,” Myers revealed he battled over the choice of tune with the studio, who wanted to use a Guns N’ Roses track instead.
“I always loved ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ I thought it was a masterpiece. So I fought really, really hard for it,” he said. “And at one point I said, ‘Well, I’m out. I don’t want to make this movie if it’s not ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’”
Lily Tomlin, ‘9 To 5’
During a visit to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Lily Tomlin revealed she tried to quit the now-iconic movie after its very first week of shooting. Apparently, she saw the unedited footage, known as “dailies,” of Violet’s fantasy scene, in which she acts alongside animated birds. She hated her performance so much that she asked producers to let her go and even offered to return the week’s salary. What made her change her mind?
“I saw the next day’s dailies and I was so good!” Tomlin joked on the show.
Johnny Depp, ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’
Johnny Depp had a hard time filming “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” because the character was so close to his true self. Combined with the creative tension he had with the director over the incomplete screenplay and his heavy drinking during that time, there were some dark days for Depp on set. According to Entertainment Weekly, he struggled in particular with the scenes in which Gilbert was cruel to his mother. Depp even called actress Darlene Cates at her hotel at night to apologize for having to say what he said.
Stanley Tucci, ‘The Lovely Bones’
Stanley Tucci earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of George Harvey in “The Lovely Bones,” but the role didn’t exactly come easy. Tucci told AMC that playing the neighbor who sexually assaults and kills a young girl was “painful.”
As the actor explained, “It was grueling, because of the nature of the character and the nature of the story. You can’t do anything to make that any easier.”
Michelle Rodriguez, ‘The Fast And The Furious’
Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty played an integral role in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, but her involvement in the series wasn’t always certain. In an interview with The Daily Beast, the actress revealed that she almost quit during the first movie because she didn’t agree with her character’s romantic arc.
“Is it realistic for a Latin girl who’s with the alpha-est of the alpha males to cheat on him with the cute boy?” Rodriguez asked of the planned love triangle between Letty, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker). “I had to put my foot down. I basically cried and said, ‘I’m going to quit’ and, ‘Don’t sue me, please — I’m sorry, but I can’t do this in front of millions of people.”
Jessica Alba, ‘Fantastic Four: The Rise Of The Silver Surfer’
Filming “Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer” made Jessica Alba want to quit not only the movie but Hollywood altogether. In a 2010 interview with Elle, Alba recalled the notes she received from director Tim Story during an emotional scene.
“[He told me] ‘It looks too real. It looks too painful. Can you be prettier when you cry? Cry pretty, Jessica,’” she said. “He was like, ‘Don’t do that thing with your face. Just make it flat. We can CGI the tears in.’ And then it all got me thinking: Am I not good enough?”
Tippi Hedren, ‘The Birds’
The scene in which Tippi Hedren’s character Melanie gets viciously attacked by birds in the horror movie isn’t pretty to watch. So you can bet it was even worse to film — especially since, as the actress recounted in her memoir “Tippi,” the director ended up using live birds instead of mechanical ones, as originally promised.
“It was brutal and ugly and relentless,” Hedren wrote of the five-day filming process of the scene.
After the finishing the scene, Hedren’s doctor ordered her to take a week off before returning to finish the rest of the movie.
Brad Pitt, ‘Interview With The Vampire’
In a 2011 Entertainment Weekly cover story, Brad Pitt bluntly recounted just how unhappy he was while filming 1994’s “Interview with the Vampire.” When told he looks miserable in the movie, he responded, “I am miserable. Six months in the… dark.” Fed up with the role and the dreary conditions in London, he told EW he asked producer David Geffen if he could get out the project, but ended up sticking it out when he learned it would cost him $40 million to quit.
Jim Carrey, ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’
It wasn’t one particular scene that made Jim Carrey want to quit his role as the Grinch, but the hours of makeup he had to undergo to get the look of the character right. Producer Brian Glazer said that, at some point, Carrey said, “I can’t take it anymore, I have to quit.” To get him to stay, Glazer told ABC’s “20/20” that he flew in someone who trained FBI and CIA operatives to endure torture to talk to Carrey. After that, it didn’t take long for the actor to agree to stay.
Zoe Saldana, ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’
Before landing her breakout roles in “Avatar” and “Star Trek,” Zoe Saldana had a small part in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” and she says the experience was so bad, it almost turned her off acting altogether.
“It was a lot of above-the-line versus below-the-line, extras versus actors, producers versus PAs. It was very elitist. I almost quit the business,” she told The Hollywood Reporter, also adding, “People disrespecting me because they look at my number on a call sheet, and they think I’m not important.”
Daisy Ridley, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’
Daisy Ridley’s career almost ended before it even started. After landing a star-making role as Rey in “The Force Awakens,” Ridley told Glamour UK that she almost walked away from it all after director J.J. Abrams called her performance while filming “wooden.” The note, combined with the already high pressure of starring in the beloved franchise, made her so panicked she considered quitting. Luckily, she overcame her doubts and ended up earning high praise for her portrayal of Rey from both critics and fans alike.
Jake Gyllenhaal, ‘Zodiac’
Jake Gyllenhaal almost walked away from “Zodiac” due to his issues with David Fincher’s rigorously meticulous direction. As the actor told the New York Times, the director sometimes required up to 90 takes of one scene, leaving him to wonder whether he would even be able to continue the project.
“You get a take, 5 takes, 10 takes. Some places, 90 takes,” he said. “But there is a stopping point. There’s a point at which you go, ‘That’s what we have to work with.’ But we would reshoot things. So there came a point where I would say, well, what do I do? Where’s the risk?”
Carl Weathers, ‘Rocky IV’
What would “Rocky IV” have been without Apollo Creed? Well, audiences almost found out, as actor Carl Weathers nearly quit the movie after Dolph Lundgren (aka Ivan Drago) got a little too physical during filming. According to Entertainment Weekly, Lundgren once threw Weathers “three feet” into the corner while shooting a fight scene. Weathers was left so shaken by the incident, he threatened to leave the project. Sylvester Stallone eventually convinced him to stay on.
Faye Dunaway, ‘Chinatown’
Multiple people have spoken out about the tense environment on the set of “Chinatown,” mostly due to director Roman Polanski’s rigid and commanding nature. Faye Dunaway was involved in a particularly ugly incident in which Polanski refused to allow her to take a bathroom break. According to The Guardian, Dunaway asked to use the facilities while filming a scene in which she waited in a car. The director said no and, later, when he leaned forward to talk to her through the car window, she reportedly threw a cup of urine of his face. Dunaway, for her part, won’t comment on the alleged incident.
Jeremy Renner, ‘The Avengers’
Jeremy Renner was so frustrated with the story arc of his character, Hawkeye, in “The Avengers” that he asked Marvel to kill him off. Per The Independent, the actor grew tired of Hawkeye acting as “Loki’s minion” in the film and offered to act out a heart attack so the studio would have the option of writing him out. Marvel chose to keep the character in and gave him a more substantial storyline in subsequent movies, which Renner says he was happy with.
Milla Jovovich, ‘Resident Evil’
She enjoyed a 14-year run as the star of the “Resident Evil” franchise, but Milla Jovovich almost left the project during the very first movie in 2002. In an interview with Inverse, the actress revealed that she nearly quit the role after certain action scenes in the script were rewritten to highlight Michelle Rodriguez’s character, Rain.
“Paul [W.S. Anderson] rewrote the script for her. It pretty much made my character ‘the girl,’ and Rain was ‘the guy.’ She got all of my big action scenes, and she became like Alice. And then Alice became this tag-along,” she said, later adding that she decided to stay after having a long talk about her concerns with Anderson. Ironically, that conversation marked the beginning of their relationship — the two have now been married for almost a decade.
Jaimie Alexander, ‘Thor: The Dark World’
Jaimie Alexander had an incredibly harrowing experience while shooting “Thor: The Dark World.” While filming a scene on an elevated platform, the actress slipped and fell, dislocating her left shoulder, herniating a disk in her spine and chipping 11 of her vertebrae. The injuries were so bad, it initially wasn’t clear how long the recovery would be, let alone if she’d be able to complete the film. She ended up undergoing physical rehab for a month before returning to finish some fight sequences in the movie.
Michael Keaton, ‘Batman’
Every scene in the Batman costume was torture for Michael Keaton. The actor has said that the black rubber suit set off his claustrophobia, causing him to panic pretty much every time he donned the outfit.
“Literally, panic attacks,” he said, per the Daily Mail. “I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this, man. I’m feeling really, really scared.’”
Al Pacino, ‘The Godfather’
Al Pacino won an Oscar for his iconic role in “The Godfather,” but his portrayal almost didn’t happen. According to ABC News, the studio wanted to fire him while he was shooting the movie, and the environment was so hostile that the actor almost quit. He credits director Francis Ford Coppola for getting him to stay, saying, “If it wasn’t for Francis, I would’ve just not showed up one day and said, ‘Hey, look man, I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted.’”
Emma Watson, ‘Harry Potter’
Emma Watson almost quit “Harry Potter” multiple times throughout the franchise. Though she reportedly considered leaving after “Order of the Phoenix,” she ended up staying on after the studio made some accommodations around her school exams. She reached another low point while shooting “Deathly Hallows — Part 1,” which involved a scene where Hermione and Ron destroy a Horcrux in the water. The part required extensive filming in cold temperatures while soaking wet.
“I hate to sound whiny, but it’s horrible,” she told Entertainment Weekly at the time. ”This has definitely been the most intense, grueling period of filmmaking I’ve ever done.”