Some of you are reading this and saying, “Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and stunts? What?” It’s true, she’s not known for stunts. But what she is known for is realistic, gutsy, 100%-all-in, committed-to-the-role, fantastic acting. If you don’t know what I mean, see Scarface.
In the case of the movie, The Abyss (1989), however, this full commitment may have been too much. The shoot, because of its 16-18 hour work days, mostly all underwater, was already going down in history as one of the most grueling movie shoots ever. So much so that cast and crew had T-shirts made later that said, “I survived The Abyss”.
Then to top it off came what has to be one of the most uncomfortable and brutal scenes ever put to film. The scene is this: Mary’s character Lindsay has sacrificed herself for her husband, Ed Harris’s Virgil (Bud), by literally drowning and letting him tow her body back to the main underwater rig. He pulls her out of the water with a handful of his crew and they proceed to rip her shirt off her and perform CPR to try and bring her back. It’s an intensely dramatic scene that seems to last a good 20 minutes. At one point in the scene, they even pull out the emergency paddles with an electric current to shock her alive several times.
Its hard to watch as an audience as its relentless, but you can imagine how hard it was to film. Virgil pounds on Lindsay’s chest, screams at her and slaps her several times. Lindsay is finally revived after several stops and starts simply because her husband refuses to give up. It’s a great and exciting scene with a powerful and happy outcome, but behind the scenes it was very hard on the cast.
First off, Mastrantonio was wet, from just being pulled from the water and had to stay wet for the entire scene, which took a whole day to shoot. Second is, she was exposed from the waist up as they tore her shirt off of her, and lastly had to endure all the pounding, slapping and shocking all while not breathing or moving as she was playing a person who had already died.
After several hours of this, she had a complete nervous breakdown, screaming, “We’re not animals,” to Cameron as she ran back to her dressing room. It took a while for them to coax her back out to finish the scene, but was a real trial of patience. I’m adding her to the list of great stunts, because of the sheer superhuman willpower it had to have taken to complete the scene. And I’m so glad she did too, because it is an incredibly awesome bit of filmmaking. I’m sure she had nightmares after this was filmed but now I hope she can look back at that experience and be proud to have done it and gotten through. Great scene, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Great scene.
I’m going to finish off here with one of my favorite quotes about the film, (I truly love this movie by the way) she said, “The Abyss was many things. But fun to make was not one of them.”
People to look up on IMDB:
- Mary Elizabeth Matsrantonio
- Ed Harris
- James Cameron