Throughout the years, Hollywood has produced films that stick with us forever because of their heavy storylines and deep characters. These melancholy movies resonate with the audience - often because we feel a connection to a particular character.
From Hilary Swank to Jake Gyllenhaal to Meryl Streep, some of Hollywood's biggest names have worked on movies that made them re-evaluate why they took on the roles. And while you may have an idea of what it was like to work on the movies behind the scenes, these firsthand accounts from the actors who portrayed the characters give a glimpse into the realities of filming.
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Jennifer Lawn Lejeune On 'Sophie’s Choice'
Jennifer Lawn Lejeune was just 4 years old and had never acted before when she was cast in the war drama Sophie's Choice. One of the more notable scenes portrays a young Lejeune being ripped from the arms of her mother Zofia "Sophie" Zawistowski (Meryl Streep), and Lejeune recalls that day of filming being as harrowing for her as it was for her character.
She shared her experience filming the scene in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, recalling how real it felt to her:
I totally thought it was the end of the world... People tried to explain it to me, but I had such a bond with Meryl, so I think I got into the whole emotional part of it. Just as she was getting more emotional and scared, so was I. The guy who was playing the German was always hidden from sight from me until the actual film was rolling, and as I soon as I saw him, I was terrified of him.
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Meryl Streep portrayed Zofia "Sophie" Zawistowski, one of the lead roles in the 1982 drama Sophie's Choice. On numerous occasions, Streep has discussed how hard it was to film such a dark, depressing story, and to portray such a deep and broken character.
She openly talked about how the book behind the film first gave her an understanding of the horror of humanity:
I think that people who go through a certain kind of horror become numb and have no feeling sometimes. And I think Nathan [Landau, Sophie's partner] made her feel alive in the most horrific moments of their relationship. I think that whatever kept Sophie alive across that journey to get to Brooklyn, across Europe and over, there was hope in her.
I just remember the end of my childhood when I was 10 and my mother dropped me off to the library. I opened a book and there were photographs of the "Lebensborn" program where children were taken in transports, supposedly to be adopted. And one of these transports just ran out of gas and the drivers walked away and left these children who died... the piled-up bodies on the truck. I will never ever forget that image. It forms the basis of my emotional understanding of unimaginable horror.
- Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures3227 VOTES
Steve McQueen's 2013 history drama 12 Years a Slave follows Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free Black man from upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery.
Lupita Nyong'o, who starred as Patsey, touched on the physical and emotional transformation she underwent for the part in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
I was really uncomfortable with having all the makeup on my back - and I was confronted with the fact that Patsey’s wounds were permanent, they were not temporary, and that really grounded me and centered me in a way.
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The 1991 family drama My Girl starred Anna Chlumsky and Macauley Culkin as Vada Sultenfuss and Thomas J. Sennett, respectively. The child actors played best friends in the film, and had to act in intense scenes, including one where a character dies.
Chlumsky recalled what it was like to channel those emotions as a child, crediting her mother for helping her prepare her for the casket scene. Chlumsky said in a 2014 interview with the Huffington Post:
My mom [said], "Well, picture me in that casket." That's how that happens... Kids say lines right because they're in it.
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Leaving Las Vegas follows Ben Sanderson, a Hollywood screenwriter who arrives in Las Vegas to drink himself to death. He is played by Nicolas Cage, who had to spend time studying what it would be like to be an alcoholic.
Cage reflected on preparing for the role in a 1995 interview:
I drink socially with my friends. Having a glass of wine at dinner is not a problem. It blew my mind that people who drink too much over long periods of time can actually develop hallucinations, go into delirium tremens. I tried to get my hands on videotape of this happening. I recall seeing heroin withdrawals on film but for some reason, it's very difficult to get alcohol withdrawals on film and so I had to use my imagination of what that must feel like.
I spoke to many drunks; I spoke with people who are running programs for this problem and what I could gather was, the stomach shrinks and contracts like a fist, and the alcohol's like this injection that goes into the body and relaxes the stomach. So the performance really largely came from the stomach for me.
- Photo: Artisan Entertainment6112 VOTES
Ellen Burstyn, who played Sara Goldfarb in the 2000 drama Requiem for a Dream, has discussed what it was like portraying such a dark character. The film revolves around the drug-induced utopias of four Coney Island people that are shattered when their addictions run deep.
In an interview with Vulture, Burstyn reflected on what she was thinking when her agent first called her about the role:
My agent sent me the script and I read it and I called her and I said, “This is the most depressing script I’ve ever read. Who on earth is going to want to see this movie? I can’t imagine.”
And she said, “Before you turn it down, there’s a little movie called Pi you should look at.” I had never heard of it. Within the first three minutes I went, “Oh, I get it. The guy’s an artist. Okay.” So I said, "All right, I’ll do it."