What Actors Said About Working On Classic Summer Blockbusters

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Every movie set has tales to tell. These insider stories from actors in summer blockbusters offer a little peek into what really goes on behind the scenes.

On-set rivalry, cast resentment, and a young actor freezing in his underwear are just a few stories of what it was like to film these classic movies. 


  • Steven Spielberg has a natural ability to work with child actors. He needed that superpower for his 1982 family science-fiction movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Among the talented young cast was 7-year-old Drew Barrymore. 

    In a behind-the-scenes clip, young Barrymore talks about how much she likes Spielberg and proudly explains that he is much nicer than other directors. 

    Robert MacNaughton, who played the older teen brother of Gertie (Barrymore) and Elliott (Henry Thomas), said Barrymore would chat with E.T. between scenes: 

    His face could react; he had like 85 muscles in his face he could move, his eyes looked exactly the same... I’d never seen anything like it. I mean, you say “puppet,” but puppet sounds so basic compared to what it could do. They used to pretend with Drew, because she believed he was real and she would have conversations with it.

    Sometimes when it wasn’t filming, the guys that operated it would actually make it react to what she was saying [laughs] just to confuse her even further. But yeah, it was not CGI or anything added.

    Nearly everyone saw E.T. in 1982. When adjusted for inflation, Spielberg's movie ranks an all-time fourth at the box office. 

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  • Tom Hanks already had one Oscar under his belt when he took on the title character in 1994's Forrest Gump. Forrest is a mentally challenged, good-hearted man with wisdom that stretches well beyond his IQ score of 75. 

    Hanks, who earned his second Academy Award for best actor for his performance in the summer blockbuster, said that at first he struggled to play the character

    [Director Robert Zemeckis] said, "Look, I know what you are trying to do. I know how nervous you are and how self-conscious this can be before we get into the groove. But we’re not going to use any of these first three days because I don’t think you have it. You haven’t got the character." 

    I said, "I don’t. I don’t. You’re right. So walk me though this." And he just said, "Don’t try so hard"... And from that, everything settled down... in a moment’s notice.

    Forrest Gump earned six Academy Awards overall, including trophies for Zemeckis and best picture. The feel-good movie topped the box office in 1994 and raked in nearly $330 million worldwide.

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  • Director Steven Spielberg wanted to make his 1998 WWII epic Saving Private Ryan as realistic as possible. That meant putting the main cast of Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, and Giovanni Ribisi through a grueling seven-day boot camp filled with 6-mile runs, limited food, and freezing conditions.

    In the movie, members of Company C are ordered to risk their lives and go behind enemy lines to find Pvt. James Ryan (Matt Damon). Many of the soldiers wind up resenting Ryan, and Spielberg wanted to make sure the actors resented Damon in real life.

    Although the cast was forced to take part in the exhausting boot camp, Spielberg would not allow Damon to join them. Damon recalled:

    I was such a young diligent actor. I was all ready to go to boot camp. [Spielberg] said, "Absolutely not. You can train however you want, but I’m separating you from the other guys." They were - they were totally resentful every time they brought up boot camp. Because I think it rained the whole time. I think they had a tough few days.

    And that's not all. Damon also revealed that Spielberg goaded the cast into making them dislike their co-star. 

    Spielberg's plan worked. The movie is largely regarded as one of the best war movies ever made and became the third-highest-grossing movie of 1998. 

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  • Before the game-changing success of Jaws, Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss were still working their way up the Hollywood ladder. Jaws not only created the entire concept of the summer blockbuster, but also launched the careers of its director and star. 

    Dreyfuss played scientist Matt Hooper, who is summoned to Amity to help find the great white shark terrorizing beachgoers. Spielberg's thriller was plagued by numerous difficulties, including a brewing on-set feud between Dreyfuss and co-star Robert Shaw.

    Spielberg reportedly gave Shaw permission to drink to prepare for his gin-soaked role as shark hunter Quint. 

    Shaw apparently had two sides when it came to Dreyfuss, the latter recalled:

    While privately, Shaw was the gentlest, funniest guy, he was possessed by some evil troll who would then make me his victim.

    Co-star Roy Scheider added, "Shaw would say, 'Look at you, Dreyfuss. You eat and you drink and you're fat and you're sloppy. At your age, that's criminal. Why, you couldn't even do 10 good push-ups.'"

    Before the release of Jaws, Hollywood treated summer as a period to distribute movies that studios didn't believe would be successful. When Spielberg's film went on to be the biggest blockbuster in movie history (at the time), Dreyfuss was more than just a little surprised. 

    "So when the film was released, I found myself going back to the talk shows and saying, 'I'm the guy who didn't believe in it,'" Dreyfuss said.

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  • Some of the stories of the problems that plagued the 1985 time-traveling science-fiction comedy Back to the Future - such as every studio in Hollywood passing on the script, and needing to replace the star of the film a month into production - are legendary.

    So was Michael J. Fox's ability to even play Marty McFly. 

    In the early '80s, Fox was the biggest star on television. After Eric Stoltz exited the role of the movie's hero Marty McFly, producer Steven Spielberg wanted Fox to take over. The only problem was that Fox already had a full-time job being the star of Family Ties.

    He and the production team figured out a way for Fox to do both. “My performance in that movie was just trying to be alive," Fox said. 

    The actor recalled his three-month daily schedule pulling off double duty:

    A teamster driver would pick me up at 9:30 am and take me to Paramount, where I would spend the day rehearsing that week's show, culminating in a run-through at approximately 5:00 p.m. each afternoon.

    Then at 6, another teamster driver would pick me up and shuttle me to Universal Studios or whatever far-flung location we were based that evening, where I would work on [Back to the Future] until just before sunrise.

    At that point, I'd climb into the back of a production van with a pillow and a blanket, and yet another driver would take me home again - sometimes literally carrying me into my apartment and dropping me into my bed.

    I'd catch two or three hours [of] sleep before Teamster driver number one would reappear at my apartment, let himself in with a key I'd provided, brew a pot of coffee, turn on the shower... then rouse me to start the whole process all over again.

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  • "I see dead people." That simple line of dialogue is instantly recognizable and just as famous as the 1999 horror thriller's jaw-dropping twist ending. 

    Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan cast 10-year-old Haley Joel Osment to play Cole Sear in his film The Sixth Sense. Osment is so good in the role of a haunted child who can literally see dead people that he earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. 

    In the ghost story, when dead people visit/haunt/scare young Cole, the temperature drops to freezing. The audience gets the visual, as well, and can see the character's breath. 

    Shyamalan aimed for authenticity and wanted to skip the use of special effects. The director instead opted to film those scenes with the heat turned all the way down. Osment recalled:

    [T]hey would drape this huge plastic sheeting over the sets and then pump in freezing cold air so that it would be below freezing and you could see our breath. There was a limited time that we could be in there because it was so cold, and most of the scenes I’m in my underwear or something. It’s a tough environment, but it’s great when you’re in a scene where you’re supposed to be frightened and shivering and it really is that cold.

    The Sixth Sense went on to gross $672 million worldwide

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