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“I love you,” says Kathy Bates’ character in Misery, just after taking a sledgehammer to James Caan’s ankles. That horrifying scene was originally much, much worse…
When screenwriter William Goldman was asked to adapt Misery for the screen, he was enthusiastic. He had always been a fan of Stephen King’s work and felt that Annie, the nurse and tormentor to a helpless writer, was “one of King’s best creations.”
When he read the memorable hobbling scene, Goldman was shocked.
“I knew she wasn’t going to tickle him with a peacock feather, but I never dreamt such behavior was possible. That scene would linger in audiences’ memories as I knew it would linger in mine.”
In the novel, Annie didn’t break the writer’s ankles though. She cut off his feet. And Goldman, who wanted to adapt it faithfully, wrote the scene just as King had described.
The graphic nature of Annie’s attack, however, caused many to turn down roles in the film.
Bette Milder, who was offered the lead, later revealed that’s why she passed on the part (though she did regret her choice after Bates won an Oscar).
But she wasn’t the only one unwilling to touch it. Robert Redford, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, and Al Pacino also said no.
Warren Beatty was the closest to taking the role, but eventually, he declined due to scheduling conflicts with Dick Tracy. His criticism of the scene, however, left an impact. While he would have been willing to film it as originally written, he felt that it would negatively impact the story. In his mind, if the writer lost his feet, it felt like too much of a defeat, too big of a price to pay.
Director Rob Reiner and producer Andy Scheinman eventually agreed and reworked the scene so that Annie severely injures the author rather than maiming him.
The change infuriated Goldman, who vehemently defended the original scene – that is, until he saw the final product.
“I was wrong. It became instantly clear when we screened the movie,” he said. “If we had gone the way I wanted, it would have been too much.”
Reiner said, “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.”
Bates joked, “I’m curious to see if people run away from me in the grocery store.”