10 Facts About Steven Spielberg’s Duel

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

A Steven Spielberg movie, made in the 1970s, about an unstoppable force and the regular American guy trying to stop it—no, we’re not talking about Jaws. In 1971, the legendary director was just a twenty-something directing TV shows and looking to break out with his first movie gig. He eventually found it in the TV movie Duel, about an anonymous truck driver stalking a hapless businessman driving around the lonely canyon roads of California.

Duel, which is filled with thrills and road rage, was the precursor to Jaws and effectively launched Spielberg’s career. Here are some things you might not know about the Golden Globe-nominated thriller.

1. THE MOVIE WAS INSPIRED BY A REAL-LIFE INCIDENT.

Carey Loftin and Dennis Weaver in 'Duel' (1971)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Author and screenwriter Richard Matheson based his original novella, which first appeared in the April 1971 issue of Playboy, on an actual road rage incident. Matheson had played a round of golf on November 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. On his car ride home, and in a daze after receiving the terrible news, he was ruthlessly tailgated by a truck driver.

Matheson initially pitched the idea to TV producers but, after it was rejected numerous times, he decided to put his real-life incident into prose form. In order to gather details of the open road, Matheson set out from his home in Ventura, California with a voice recorder in hand and simply described what he saw. Those descriptions of the desolate landscape ended up in the novella.

2. IT WAS STEVEN SPIELBERG’S SECRETARY WHO DISCOVERED RICHARD MATHESON'S STORY.

Spielberg got his start directing for TV at the age of 21, helming episodes of such shows as Night Gallery and Marcus Welby, M.D. But the aspiring filmmaker was desperately searching for a property he could turn into a feature film. It was Spielberg's secretary, Nona Tyson, who found Matheson’s story in Playboy and first sent it to her boss to potentially adapt into a movie.

“I started laughing because she's giving me a Playboy to read, and she said, 'Don't look at the girls, read the short story. It is right up your alley,'” Spielberg said. “She had a real intuition about me, and not since my own mom had anybody really had my number. She really understood my tastes, and my ambition, and my fear, my anxiety about wanting to do everything by Thursday morning.”

Tyson helped track down whether the movie rights to Matheson’s story had been optioned, and eventually discovered that a teleplay was in development at ABC and Universal with producer George Eckstein. Spielberg took a meeting with Eckstein, and brought a rough cut of his legendary 73-minute series premiere episode of Columbo, “Murder by the Book.” Eckstein was impressed, and gave Spielberg the job to direct Duel after a follow-up meeting where the filmmaker laid out how he envisioned the film from Matheson’s screenplay in full.

3. DENNIS WEAVER’S WORK WITH ORSON WELLES GOT HIM THE LEAD IN DUEL.

For the lowly protagonist, David Mann, Spielberg hand-picked character actor Dennis Weaver because he loved his performance as the jittery and feeble hotel night manager in Orson Welles’s 1958 film Touch of Evil.

Weaver drove more than 2000 miles while shooting his scenes, and did many of the stunts himself, including the dangerous phone booth scene at the "Snakerama" gas station in a single take.

Of working with the rookie director, the veteran Weaver later said, “I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I said, ‘There’s no reason for me to judge him because of his age. Let’s see what he does.’ And he did extremely well ... I really think it’s one of the most creative jobs he’s ever done.”

4. THERE WAS A CASTING CALL FOR THE TRUCK.

Matheson's script stated that the villainous, unnamed truck driver would never be seen besides the insert shots of his arms and boots. (Weirdly enough, Matheson’s novella actually names the driver: “Keller,” Matheson’s own spin on the word killer.)

Since the truck itself is the movie’s main antagonist, Spielberg chose to cast it like he would any other actor: an in-person audition. The filmmaker auditioned seven different styles of semi-trucks on the Universal backlot, finally settling on a 1955 Peterbilt 281 because he felt that the split windshield, rounded lights, and elongated hood represented the menacing features of the truck’s “face.”

For Mann’s car, Spielberg chose the relatively small red Plymouth Valiant to stand out in size and color from the enormous truck and the earth tones of the California landscape.

5. CAREFUL PLANNING AND LOW-BUDGET CAMERA TRICKERY HELPED CAPTURE THE HIGH-SPEED CHASES.

Spielberg was given just $400,000 and 10 days to shoot Duel, but the schedule ballooned into a full 13 days to shoot the entire movie after the rookie director fell behind. To save time in shooting the high-speed chases on location in California's Soledad Canyon, Spielberg strategically set up multiple cameras along a single stretch of road to capture the shots needed for multiple scenes in one take. He had the camera turned 180 degrees and the cars driven in the opposite direction to get multiple shots for additional scenes.

Instead of creating individual storyboards, Spielberg mapped out the entire path of Mann and the truck driver on a mural of drafting paper with notes about each plot point peppering the sheet.

6. A FEW VERY FAMOUS CAR MOVIES MADE DUEL POSSIBLE.

To capture the truck and the car at seemingly high speeds, Spielberg shot each at low angles. To create those harrowing shots, Spielberg borrowed the specially-made camera car from the 1968 Steve McQueen thriller Bullitt, which could lower the camera to only 6 inches off the ground.

Spielberg also enlisted 50-year stunt veteran Carey Loftin as his stunt coordinator. Loftin, who played the driver, also designed the legendary car chase sequences in Vanishing Point, Bullitt, and The French Connection.

7. SPIELBERG ONLY HAD ONE SHOT AT THE CLIFF CRASH.

Carey Loftin and Dennis Weaver in 'Duel' (1971)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Spielberg only had one take to pull off the climactic cliff crash because the initial shoot only had a single truck at their disposal. (A backup truck was built during reshoots in case the engine of the main truck stopped working. The backup truck is now owned by classic car restorer Brad Wike, who is based in North Carolina.)

Loftin rigged the truck with a dead clutch so the 18-wheeler could drive without anyone behind the wheel. Spielberg filmed the crash with seven cameras from multiple angles to be able to use some editing tricks to stretch out the scene.

As the truck rams the car over the cliff and falls off in the final film, there is a low roar sound effect that the filmmaker included to emphasize the death of the truck. Spielberg, who wanted the truck to seem Godzilla-like, took the effect from the creature’s roar from the 1954 Universal monster movie Creature From The Black Lagoon, and would go on to reuse the effect for the death of the great white shark in Jaws.

8. SPIELBERG HAD TO FIGHT TO NOT BLOW UP THE TRUCK.

Eagle-eyed viewers will catch the word “flammable” scrawled across the back of the truck, yet when it careens off the cliff at the end of the movie it doesn’t go boom. The studio wanted a big explosion, but the director wanted a slower demise for his film’s villain.

In an interview with filmmaker Edgar Wright, Spielberg explained, “[Producer] George Eckstein told me after the network saw it, ‘Well, we’re going back to the desert, they want to push the truck off the cliff again and blow it up again.' I told George why that was such a terrible idea. I’d worked so hard to give the truck a long and painful death and I thought that’s what the audience wanted out of the resolution. I said, ‘If the network does force you to blow the truck up again, you get another director to do it because I’m not going to do it.' George fought for me, and for himself because he agreed with me.”

9. SPIELBERG ADDED SCENES TO GET TO THE BIG SCREEN.

The movie debuted on November 13, 1971 as ABC’s Movie of the Week, and proved to be so successful that Spielberg was given the opportunity to shoot additional footage (the school bus scene and the railroad crossing scene) to be able to release it in theaters at feature length.

10. SPIELBERG HAS REVISITED DUEL MORE THAN ONCE—AND PEOPLE HAVE STOLEN FROM HIM, TOO.

Duel was something of lucky charm once Spielberg’s career began to take off, and he’d continually reference parts of the movie in subsequent films.

The Snakerama gas station seen in the film also appears in Spielberg's 1979 World War II comedy, 1941, with actress Lucille Benson again appearing as the proprietor. The two elderly people Weaver tries to flag down in a car also appear as helpless motorists in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

But it wasn’t all good luck. Spielberg was not happy when stock footage of both vehicles was later used in an episode of the television series The Incredible Hulk, titled "Never Give a Trucker an Even Break." The recycled footage was completely legal since the show was also produced by Universal.

Additional Sources:
Duel Blu-ray Special Features

9 Surprising Facts About James McAvoy

Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Whether you know James McAvoy from the X-Men movies or have been a fan since his early gigs on British television, there's no denying that 2019 has already been a very good year for the Scottish actor. In addition to his starring role in M. Night Shyamalan's Glass, McAvoy is set to star in June's Dark Phoenix, will be taking on the role of an adult Bill Denbrough in It: Chapter 2 in October, and will appear in the upcoming TV version of His Dark Materials later this year. And to top it all off, he’s turning 40 on April 21.

In celebration of McAvoy's big day—and even bigger year—here are some things you might not know about the Golden Globe-nominated actor.

1. He was raised by his grandparents.

James McAvoy was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to a psychiatric nurse and a builder. However, his parents split when he was seven, and because his mother was in poor health, McAvoy and his sister went to live with their maternal grandparents. While his mother lived with them on and off throughout his childhood, McAvoy hasn’t spoken to his father since he was a kid.

2. He considered becoming a priest.

McAvoy was brought up in the Roman Catholic church, but that wasn’t the reason he considered becoming a priest. Long before he decided to go the drama school route, he considered entering the priesthood because he thought it would give him an excuse to travel the world.

"I wanted to be a missionary, but it was only because I wanted a free ticket to go and explore the world," McAvoy told The Telegraph in 2006. "I realized I was using God and religion to get my kicks so I knocked that on the head."

3. He married his on-screen love interest.

Anne-Marie Duff and James McAvoy attends the Suffragette Premiere during the Opening Night Gala during the BFI London Film Festival at Leicester Square on October 7, 2015 in London, England
John Phillips, Getty Images for BFI

While working on the UK version of Shameless in the early 2000s, McAvoy met his on-screen love interest and future wife, Anne-Marie Duff. The pair started a relationship that they kept very private, and married in 2006. They went on to also star in 2009’s The Last Station together, but McAvoy later announced he would no longer be working with his then-wife.

"You have to weigh it up against how much of a headache it would be. It exposes you to a lot of questions," he told USA Today in 2011. "I'm very big in saying that I don't agree that if you put yourself in the spotlight, you have to accept it. I do think that if you work together as husband and wife, you're kind of asking for it." Ultimately, the couple split in 2016.

4. Acting was never his plan.

In addition to the priesthood, McAvoy considered a few others careers before he settled on acting. In fact, acting kind of happened by accident. While speaking to The Guardian in 2006, McAvoy explained that it wasn’t until director David Hayman came to his school to speak about the entertainment business that he knew he wanted to give it a go. He was so sure, in fact, that he reportedly approached Hayman after the talk and asked him for some work. (McAvoy's first credited role was in 1995's The Near Room, which Hayman directed.)

“I always believed that I never wanted to be an actor; I only did it because I was allowed to do it and I had to do something,” McAvoy explained. “I felt as if my career just happened to me. I hadn't actually engaged in it. I suppose I felt totally disempowered, just by this fate thing.”

5. Band of Brothers was his big break.

McAvoy’s big break came in HBO’s 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The actor played character James W. Miller in just one episode, but that’s all it took for his phone to start ringing; shortly thereafter, McAvoy scored notable roles on BBC’s Shameless (2004), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), and The Last King of Scotland (2006). He wasn't the only up-and-comer who made a name for himself with Band of Brothers: Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, and Dominic Cooper were among his co-stars.

6. He’s a Golden Globe nominee.

In 2007, McAvoy played Keira Knightley's love interest in Joe Wright’s period drama Atonement, based on the Ian McEwan novel. The role was one of the actor’s most moving performances to date, and scored him a Golden Globe nomination. Although he has wowed audiences in numerous parts since, such as the man with 23 different personalities in 2016’s Split (and 2019’s Glass), his role in Atonement has earned him the most critical acclaim. McAvoy, too, is a fan.

"[T]o find a film that was so epic, sweeping and romantic, yet be intelligent, was nice to me," McAvoy said. "Also the fact that it’s a very classic story, but it’s told in a very contemporary and modern way."

7. He was slightly tipsy the first time he met M. Night Shyamalan.

M. Night Shyamalan and James McAvoy attend the “Glass” Paris Gala Screening at la Cinematheque Francaise on January 07, 2019 in Paris, France
Kristy Sparow, Getty Images for Disney Studios

Speaking of Split and Glass: McAvoy was definitely in the right place at the right time—and in the right frame of mind—when he first met director M. Night Shyamalan. In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, McAvoy shared how he and Shyamalan just happened to cross paths at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015. "There was a big party, you couldn’t turn around without bumping into somebody off the telly," he said. "My mate Jesse was playing miniature golf in the middle of it. We were getting particularly drunk, and then I saw M. Night Shyamalan. He goes: ‘You’re James McAvoy!’ And I said: ‘You’re M Night Shyamalan! What do I call you?’ I was very drunk.”

Inebriated or not, Shyamalan saw something he liked. One month later, he was on the set of Split (in a role that Joaquin Phoenix was originally set to play, but dropped out of at the last minute).

8. He admires Samuel L. Jackson's no-nonsense attitude.

While promoting Glass, McAvoy participated in a lot of press events with Samuel L. Jackson, and was impressed by what he saw. "I saw examples of what I might be able to do when I got the balls he’s got,” McAvoy said. "That guy does not suffer fools, which is a positive quality. If he gets any kind of question that is in any way not thought out properly, he just drops the F-bomb and is like, ‘What are you talking about? What? What?’ He calls out [the journalist] so hard, and it’s the funniest thing."

9. He credits his success to a lot of luck.

When asked about the secret to his success, McAvoy doesn't mince words: "I got lucky," he told The Talks. "I got so f***ing lucky that I fell into the lap of a director when I was 16 and he gave me a part in a film and my horizons immediately exploded wide with all the weird people in it and all these crazy f***ing actors and directors and artistic people who were from all over the world. Through that one job I met people from England, I met people from America, and I met people from all over the place with challenging points of view and sympathetic points of view to mine. And then I went to a youth theater for six months as well, and that expanded my mind massively. It gave me so much more confidence to find out who I was and not be afraid of who I was simply because I’m in a scenario that I don’t understand ... I got really lucky. I got really, really lucky. It’s been a good ride for me."

Game of Thrones Star Sophie Turner Opened Up About Her Struggles With Depression

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

Playing one of the main characters on the most popular show currently on television isn't always as glamorous as it seems. Sometimes, the pressures of fame can be too much. Sophie Turner realized this while playing Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, and has recently revealed how being in the public eye took a toll on her mental health.

Turner took on the role of Sansa Stark in 2011, when she was just a teenager, and she quickly became a household name. Now, at 23, she's come forward to Dr. Phil on his podcast Phil in the Blanks to explain how negative comments on social media affected her self-image and mental health.

"I would just believe it. I would say, ‘Yeah, I am spotty. I am fat. I am a bad actress.' I would just believe it," Turned explained. "I would get [the costume department] to tighten my corset a lot. I just got very, very self-conscious."

Later on, these feelings led to major depression. Turner developed a sense of isolation after she realized that all of her friends and family were going off to colleege while she was pursuing a sometimes-lonely acting career.

"I had no motivation to do anything or go out. Even with my best friends, I wouldn't want to see them, I wouldn't want to go out and eat with them," Turner explained. "I just would cry and cry and cry over just getting changed and putting on clothes and be like, 'I can't do this. I can't go outside. I have nothing that I want to do.'"

The feelings of depression stayed with Turner for most of the time she was filming Game of Thrones, and it's a battle she's still fighting. "I've suffered with my depression for five or six years now. The biggest challenge for me is getting out of bed and getting out of the house. Learning to love yourself is the biggest challenge," she continued.

The actress shared that she goes to a therapist and takes medication for her depression—two things that have helped her feel better.

Between Game of Thrones ending and planning her wedding to fiancé Joe Jonas, Turner may not have the time to take on many new acting roles in the near future. However, we'll continue to see her as Sansa Stark in the final season of Game of Thrones, and as Jean Grey in Dark Phoenix, which hits theaters on June 7.

[h/t: E! News]

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