Movie Club Weekly – American Film Institute


September 23, 2020

MISERY

(1990)

 

The character of Annie Wilkes in MISERY – chillingly portrayed by Kathy Bates in her Academy Award®-winning performance – is recognized by AFI as one of the great villains in cinematic history.

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FROM THE AFI ARCHIVE

In this exclusive clip from the AFI Archive, Kathy Bates talks about working on MISERY.

Stephen King based the novel “Misery” partly on an encounter with the infamous Mark David Chapman, who, before murdering John Lennon of The Beatles, introduced himself to King as his “number one fan” and asked him to sign an autograph with a special pen.

After previous film adaptations of his work had proven disappointing, author Stephen King initially refused to sell the rights to “Misery,” which he considered a highly personal novel. The author changed his mind, however, when director Rob Reiner expressed interest, as Reiner had previously directed STAND BY ME – King’s favorite adaptation of his own work to that time.

According to screenwriter William Goldman, he wrote the part of Annie Wilkes with Kathy Bates in mind – even though she was, at the time, a stage actress relatively unknown to broader mainstream audiences. Bette Midler was first offered the role of Annie Wilkes, but turned it down. Bates went on to win the Academy Award® for Best Actress for her portrayal of Wilkes.

According to director Rob Reiner, Warren Beatty was interested in the script and introduced some ideas about the character of Paul Sheldon, making him far less passive in the story. Due to conflict with the DICK TRACY post-production schedule, Beatty had to turn the part down. A number of other actors – including Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford and William Hurt – were offered the role before James Caan joined the production.

In the original MISERY script and novel, the character of Annie Wilkes does not break Paul Sheldon’s ankles but instead amputates one of his feet and cauterizes the wound with a blowtorch.

According to screenwriter William Goldman, Academy Award® winner George Roy Hill had originally agreed to direct MISERY, but dropped out when Goldman refused to remove the amputation scene. Instead of looking for another director, producer Rob Reiner took on the role himself. On a final pass through the script, Reiner changed the amputation to the infamous sledgehammer moment seen in the film. Goldman said he was upset about the change at the time, but later conceded that he was wrong.

Genoa, Nevada, stood in for Silver Creek, Colorado, in the film. The crew added four fully functioning buildings on Genoa’s main boulevard – including a café, radiator shop, sheriff’s station and a general store.

James Caan had to stay in bed for 15 weeks of the MISERY shoot. Caan said he wondered if it was some sadistic joke on director Rob Reiner’s part.

MISERY was adapted by screenwriter William Goldman into a play that opened on Broadway in 2015. The play starred Bruce Willis as writer Paul Sheldon and Laurie Metcalf as Annie Wilkes. Metcalf was nominated for a Tony Award® for her portrayal of Wilkes.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits. Engage with your family, friends and others like you who love the movies. Check out the AFI Movie Club Discussion Questions for this movie and post your responses in the comment section!

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