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On-Screen Actor Meltdowns That Were Actually Real

Actors have to be able to turn their emotions off and on at the drop of the hat. However, that's easier said than done. After all, movie sets are often crowded and hot, and more often than not, CGI has become commonplace, meaning actors can only imagine what things will look like in the final cut. This makes conjuring those passionate emotions, like sorrow and rage, even more difficult on occasion. And some actors and directors have found clever ways around that — don't pretend.

Today, we're taking a look at some of the best moments of acting that weren't actually acting. These are moments that actually made it to film where an actor's true feelings bubbled up and were captured for all the world to see. Some of these moments were carefully planned by the actor and the crew, who created a situation to allow those emotions to come alive. Others were secretive, with an actor taking a risk to get a legitimate reaction or a director deliberately deceiving an actor to trigger an emotional response. Here are our favorite on-screen meltdowns that were actually real.

Martin Sheen got drunk during Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is a wonderful movie that has a legacy as one of the most problematic film shoots of all time. Director Francis Ford Coppola put up millions of collateral to help keep the bloated, over-budget film afloat, and he faced such financial ruin that he contemplated suicide multiple times during the production. Things were made even more complicated when star Martin Sheen was brought in to replace Harvey Keitel very early on, and Sheen's struggles with substance abuse drove the actor to the brink on the troubled shoot.

However, Sheen and Coppola were able to harness that dark energy for one memorable scene at the beginning of Apocalypse Now. In it, Sheen's character, Willard, wakes up, still drunk from the night before. Sheen himself was actually very drunk while shooting the scene, and he began shadowboxing around his hotel room. He then punched a very real mirror, which sliced his hand open. Sheen continued to act out the scene, completely drunk and with blood pouring out of his hand. If you ever wondered how they got the effects at the beginning of Apocalypse Now to look so good, it's because they weren't effects.

Everyone was freaking out in The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project, for better or worse, helped change the horror genre for a long time. It showed that found-footage films could be extremely lucrative, and it inspired copycat films for a long time after. Though the found-footage genre may seem a bit played out now, it was extremely innovative at the time, and the philosophy behind it moved into other parts of the project, like the film's marketing and the way it treated its stars.

For one, the film was sold as a true story. Plus, the filmmakers used unknown actors with skills in improvisation to keep up the illusion, and they didn't have a true script. They were even reported as "missing" after the film's release. However, to really ramp up the terror, the filmmakers absolutely terrorized their tiny cast.

The directors rationed their food, kept them awake at night by stomping around outside their tents, and deliberately avoided giving them feedback. The three actors were actually starving, exhausted, and terrified. It's great that it worked, but we imagine a lot of movies tried this trick and didn't rake in millions. What a rip.

Steve Carell was in real pain during The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The 40-Year-Old Virgin helped propel Steve Carell into superstardom, and there's one scene that stands out vividly in nearly everyone's memory — the chest waxing. Carell is a hairy dude, and faking a scene like that while still making it look convincing would've been costly and nearly impossible. So, the filmmakers and Carell took a much smarter route. They just waxed his chest for real and filmed it.

Since they were actually waxing Carell's chest, they only had one shot to get things right. Luckily, the actress who played the woman actually doing the deed had experience with waxing. Well ... she told the casting department she did. She absolutely did not, making the experience even more painful (and bloody) than it should've been.

Carell is a consummate professional, so he managed to keep his head on straight as best he could while being laughed at by Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, and Romany Malco. Still, it's pretty rough to know that Carell's pain was real as a non-experienced waxer took off years' worth of hair.

Viggo Mortensen was really suffering in The Two Towers

Viggo Mortensen has always been willing to go to some dark depths for his roles, and he brought some serious gravitas to his performance as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of course, even the most talented actors can use a little real world help when expressing their pain on camera, but in Mortensen's case, this one was reportedly an accident.

In The Two Towers, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli come across a group of bodies after a recently finished battle. The trio searches through the corpses to look for evidence of their friends, and they find reason to believe that their hobbit buddies have been killed. In frustration, Aragorn kicks an orcish helmet and lets out a scream.

But Mortensen didn't realize how heavy that helmet was, and he shattered one of his toes when kicking it. The scream that followed could just as much be in reaction to the physical pain as it could be to his character's pain at the loss of his friends. Reportedly, the shot used in the final film was the one where Mortensen's toe broke.

Gene Wilder kept Peter Ostrum on his toes during Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Gene Wilder pulled out all the stops to get genuine reactions from his young costars in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket, recalls that Wilder would frequently go off script or utilize tactics that few knew he was going to do in order to ensure the many inexperienced actors would come across as believable.

Ostrum recalls the very first time the children met Wonka in the film, they had no clue what Wilder was doing as he limped towards them down the carpet. When he fell forward and quickly somersaulted back to his feet, the children were truly surprised and overjoyed. He also recalled that the horrifying scene in the tunnel, where Wonka begins singing his haunting melody before screaming, was a big surprise. "I wouldn't say it was disturbing — but it was, 'Whoa, Gene is really getting into it today,'" recalls Ostrum.

One final surprising scene is the one where Wonka breaks Charlie's heart, shouting at him about the rules and that he's lost the contest. Ostrum recalls that he had no idea Wilder would get that intense, and that his reaction to Wilder's outburst was entirely the real him and not his character at all.

Leonardo DiCaprio's on-screen meltdown in Django Unchained was a bloody affair

One of the most memorable scenes in Django Unchained involves an unhinged rant at a dinner table. Leonardo DiCaprio's villain, the slave owner Calvin Candie, holds the audience's attention for about five straight minutes, taking his volume and intensity on a rollercoaster ride while dripping blood from his hand. That blood, however, wasn't supposed to be there. DiCaprio got so into the scene that he sliced his hand open while filming it.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, DiCaprio's co-star Samuel L. Jackson recalls that around the sixth take of that scene, DiCaprio slammed his hand on the table and smashed a drinking glass. Co-producer Stacy Sher recalls the glass "disintegrated" into Leo's hand, but he just kept on with his monologue.

DiCaprio himself said most people think the scene was done with special effects. However, he's glad director Quentin Tarantino left that take in the final film, as he was able to play up his intensity and menace while "pouring blood all over the table."

These Alien actors were legit scared of the Xenomorph

Over 40 years later, Alien still holds up. It's a well-thought out haunted house film (only set on a spaceship, of course), and you can feel the characters' fear throughout the movie. However, no scenes have quite the effective scare as the first time we encounter the Xenomorph when it bursts from poor John Hurt's stomach at the dinner table.

Apparently, all the script said about the now infamous scene was "the creature emerges." When it was time to film, all the actors (besides Hurt) were sent back to their trailers so the crew could set up the needed effects. When the actors returned, they knew something crazy was going to happen — they just had no idea what.

Director Ridley Scott told them to just react to what happened in character, then called for action. As Hurt's character was writhing around the table in pain, technicians rammed the baby Xenomorph through a carefully placed false body. As a result, the reactions you see from the other actors are their genuine terror and surprise at what's happening in front of them.

Tippi Hedren's on-screen meltdown in The Birds was feathery and frightening

Alfred Hitchcock is a giant of film, having created some of the most memorable horror and noir films in existence and changing the way we look at movies as a whole. He also was an extremely problematic power broker in Hollywood. Decades before the #MeToo era, Hitchcock was known to torture, harass, and abuse his female leads, even ruining the careers of some who rejected him. Few experienced the brunt of this behavior like Tippi Hedren.

Hedren appeared in a few of Hitchcock's films, but she's probably best known for The Birds, which wasn't a pleasant experience for her. When getting ready to film the horrific scene where Hedren's character is swarmed by murderous birds in a bedroom, she recalled Hitchcock telling her she would be safe because the birds were mechanical. However, she got some bad news the day of the shoot. She told Vogue that her agent found her in her trailer and informed her, "The mechanical birds aren't working, so we're going to have to use live ones."

When you watch that scene, just remember that it's real terror on Hedren's face, as people are standing just off camera throwing live, angry birds directly at her. Cary Grant, who was visiting the set that day, told her, "You're the bravest woman I've ever seen."

The French singers showed their true emotions in Casablanca

Casablanca is often listed as one of the greatest films ever made. It remains infinitely quotable and set standards for film sequences that are still imitated today. But for our money, no scene in Casablanca quite matches the dueling national anthems, when singing German troops are drowned out by French patriots belting out their own national anthem. It's an emotional moment and a powerful scene, even without knowing the story behind it.

Something to remember about Casablanca is that it was filmed when the Nazis looked every bit an unbeatable war machine. It was released in 1942, not long before Germany started losing serious ground in World War II. Director Michael Curtiz used actual European refugees, many from France itself, as his extras for the scene, so the emotions are all real. Reports from the set indicate that many extras were moved to tears just filming the scene.

Next time you watch Casablanca, take a look at some of the background characters and watch them breaking down or swelling with pride. There's a reason that scene stands out after all these years.

Emma Watson got really ill during Noah

Darren Aronofsky is known to make some odd decisions on the sets of his films, and he took the environmental message of his film Noah a bit too far. Seeking to practice what he was preaching, Aronofsky banned plastic water bottles on his set. While that's a noble gesture, it seems a little bit rough that he seemingly didn't plan for an alternative.

Emma Watson, who starred in the film, recalled that the long filming hours and lack of available water on set had her feeling dehydrated. In an exhausted haze, she grabbed a glass of water that had been sitting in her trailer for about three months and took a drink. The stale water made her incredibly ill, which she reported to Aronofsky before shooting that day. He reportedly told her that was "great" and that she should use her illness for the scene.

There are definite moments of watching Noah where Watson looks ill and feverish, so apparently she took Aronofsky's advice to heart. Probably not a big surprise that she hasn't worked with the director since, however.

Shelley Duvall had one long meltdown in The Shining

Few directors have quite the infamous reputation of Stanley Kubrick, and perhaps no film shows off just how far he would go to achieve his vision as The Shining. Some of the actors were treated extremely well. For example, Danny Lloyd, who played Danny Torrance, didn't even know he was making a horror film to keep from being traumatized. However, one actor in particular didn't receive very nice treatment — Shelley Duvall.

In the film, Duvall plays Wendy Torrance, who slowly witnesses her husband going insane and eventually has to destroy him and the hotel in order to survive. Reportedly, Kubrick terrorized Duvall on set in order to get a truly traumatized performance from her. He constantly degraded her in front of cast and crew, kept her isolated, changed her script without warning, and forced her to reshoot emotionally difficult scenes dozens of times. The scene of her pleading with Jack while wielding a baseball bat and sobbing was reportedly shot over 120 times!

Duvall was a big star when Kubrick signed her onto The Shining, but she almost left acting after working with the director. She claims things were so bad that her hair began falling out. So, it isn't really one particular scene in The Shining where Duvall is melting down ... it's basically the entire film.