17 Facts About Misery On Its 25th Anniversary
Based on a 1987 Stephen King novel, Misery starred Kathy Bates in an Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes, a nurse and huge fan of author Paul Sheldon, portrayed by James Caan. When Annie finds Sheldon after a car accident, she takes the author into her home and holds him hostage, torturing him and preparing to kill him once she discovers that he has killed off her favorite character, Misery Chastain. Here are some facts about the movie that will keep you from being a lying ol’ dirty birdy.
1. ANNIE WILKES WAS A METAPHOR FOR DRUGS.
The author had substance abuse issues during the time he wrote the novel. King told The Paris Review, “Annie was my drug problem, and she was my number one fan. God, she never wanted to leave.”
2. KING WOULD ONLY SELL THE MOVIE RIGHTS TO ROB REINER.
After Reiner’s work on his Stand By Me, King would only agree to let Reiner’s production company, Castle Rock, get involved with Misery if the former All in the Family actor either produced or directed it. At a Misery screening, King was enjoying himself so much that he yelled, “Watch out. She’s got a gun!” during the film’s climax.
3. BETTE MIDLER TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF ANNIE WILKES.
Midler thought it was too violent. She later called herself “stupid” for her decision. The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and All the President's Men screenwriter William Goldman wrote Misery with then unknown but respected theater actress Kathy Bates in mind.
4. JAMES CAAN WAS FAR FROM THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY PAUL SHELDON.
Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, and Robert Redford all said no to the role of Paul Sheldon. William Hurt said no twice. Warren Beatty showed a lot of interest and gave Reiner and Goldman ideas for the character before having to turn them down, too, because he had to keep working on Dick Tracy.
5. THERE WAS A BIG DEBATE AS TO WHETHER TO KEEP THE FOOT AXING SCENE IN THE MOVIE, AND IT COST THEM A DIRECTOR.
In the book, Annie chops off one of Paul’s feet with an axe. George Roy Hill—director of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Slap Shot—agreed to direct Misery, then quickly changed his mind once he realized he couldn’t handle the lopping scene, which Goldman insisted be left in. This led Reiner to just direct it himself. It also may have influenced him to change the script for Annie to “just” break Paul’s ankles. Goldman later admitted Reiner was right.
6. BATES WASN’T HAPPY THAT THE SCENE WAS CHANGED.
Bates was initially disappointed that the axe scene was changed to the sledgehammer.
7. BATES ENDED UP GETTING UPSET OVER THE VIOLENCE.
8. CAAN’S FAKE LEGS WERE MOLDED OUT OF GELATIN.
Armatures with wire were inserted into the prosthetic ankles so that after Annie hit them with the sledgehammer, they would bend at the desired, gruesome angles. There were holes so that Caan could slip his real legs up to the knee.
9. REINER STUDIED ALFRED HITCHCOCK MOVIES TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO SHOOT A THRILLER.
10. IT WAS SHOT IN GENOA, NEVADA.
11. CAAN HAD TO STAY IN BED FOR 15 WEEKS OF SHOOTING.
Caan said he thought that Reiner was playing a “sadistic” joke on him, knowing the actor wouldn’t enjoy not moving around for so long. Caan wasn’t used to playing a reactionary character, and found it much tougher to play.
12. FUTURE MEN IN BLACK DIRECTOR BARRY SONNENFELD WAS THE CINEMATOGRAPHER.
For a scene where Caan had to crawl out of bed, Sonnenfeld spit on the hardwood floor to indicate where Caan should crawl up to. The Godfather actor claimed to Reiner and Sonnenfeld it was the only movie he ever worked on where someone was hocking his marks.
13. BATES AND REINER AGREED ON AN UNWRITTEN, UNSPOKEN ANNIE BACKSTORY.
Used to giving her characters rich backgrounds to help her find her voice, Bates and Reiner agreed that Annie was molested by her father as a child. It helped explain for Bates why Annie had a history—as explained in the book and in the movie—of killing infants and old people in her nursing care.
14. CAAN AND BATES CLASHED OVER THEIR ACTING METHODS.
Caan believed in as little rehearsal as possible. Bates, with her theater background, was used to practicing a lot. When Bates commented to Reiner that Caan wasn’t attempting to relate or listen to her, Reiner told her to use that frustration toward her character.
15. BATES TOOK HER FRUSTRATION PRETTY FAR.
Reiner picked up on Bates getting more and more isolated as the shooting progressed, and told Bates to leave Annie Wilkes behind when the work day was done.
16. CAAN ONCE SHOWED UP TO THE SET HUNGOVER.
All of the scenes he shot that day were unuseable. Reiner told Caan he had to do the scenes again because there was “a problem at the lab.” When Caan learned it had nothing to do with labs, he offered to cover the money he lost the studio.
17. GOLDMAN ADAPTED THE SCRIPT FOR THE STAGE.
The theatrical version of Misery premiered in 2012, and just debuted on Broadway starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf.