It's hard to think of the film Misery and not picture what Annie Wilkes did to Paul Sheldon. It's arguably the most harrowing moment of the film, and its bleak brutality has led to it becoming a bona fide part of cinema history. In the film, obsessed fan Annie Wilkes gets the chance of a lifetime when she discovers her favorite author hurt in the snow. She nurses him back to health, but refuses to let him leave without writing a book for her. In an effort to keep him with her permanently, she takes a sledgehammer and bashes his feet with it.
The "hobbling scene," as it's sometimes known, was not only difficult for viewers to watch. The vicious scene also took a toll on everyone involved with the project, and some genuine misery took place behind the scenes. This is the story of how a group of filmmakers attempted to tackle one of the most brutal scenes in cinema history.
Warren Beatty Passed On The Chance To Play Paul Because Of The Scene As Well
James Caan took a remarkable turn as Paul Sheldon, but he wasn't the first actor in line for the role. Warren Beatty had been offered the part and was interested, except for that one scene where he would be brutally mutilated. According to Goldman, Beatty was open to the idea of filming the scene but was uncomfortable with the implications.
In his mind, the scene was too traumatizing for the character to ever be the same again. His harsh thinking was that Sheldon would be a crippled loser for the rest of his life, which would make it impossible for the movie to have anything even remotely resembling a happy ending.
A Ton Of High-Profile Actors Turned Down The Role Of Paul Sheldon
It wasn't just Warren Beatty who turned down the chance to play Paul Sheldon. The filmmakers reached out to a number of high-profile actors, the majority of whom turned the film down outright. The list included names like Robert De Niro, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Kevin Kline, Robert Redford, William Hurt, Michael Douglas, and Richard Dreyfuss.
The role ultimately went to James Caan, and it helped revitalize his career. He had gone through an extremely rough period through the 1980s, and many believed his career was beyond salvation. That's likely why he was not as picky as other actors when it came to accepting the role of Paul Sheldon. He still had some choice words about the character, but the role did a lot to rehabilitate his career.
Director Rob Reiner Ultimately Rewrote The Scene To Satisfy The Other Producers
With so much backlash toward the foot-severing scene before production even started, Reiner felt like there was no choice but to rewrite the scene. He and producer Andrew Scheinman decided to take a crack at the scene. Reiner explained his reasoning in the DVD commentary for the film:
We wanted Paul Sheldon at the end of this movie to emerge victorious over Annie Wilkes, and if he wound up without a foot, even if he winds up beating her and she [perishes], then he maybe paid too high a price for that. Most of the people who have seen this movie say it was pretty darn painful to look at, so I don’t think we compromised it too much.
Screenwriter William Goldman Was Furious That The Scene Had Been Altered Without His Consent
Reiner and Scheinman came to the conclusion that they had to alter the scene, but they did so without considering screenwriter William Goldman. He was not included in the decision-making process or in the rewriting process, so it was a surprise to him when he found that the scene had been changed.
Goldman was initially furious that he hadn't been consulted, especially since this particular scene had been the thing that sold him on adapting the novel in the first place. He had no idea that people would be so unwilling to film the scene as written, and the sudden change hurt him.