17 Surprising Facts About Misery

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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.

Caan recalled that his co-star was crying when it came time to shoot that infamous scene. Bates also cried before shooting the fight sequence at the end.

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.

He watched every Hitchcock film. Reiner had Hitchcock on the brain so much that Caan overheard Reiner chastising himself one day on set, asking himself, “Who do you think you are, Alfred Hitchcock?”

10. IT WAS SHOT IN GENOA, NEVADA.

“Nevada’s oldest town” stood in for Silver Creek, Colorado. The crew built a cafe, a radiator shop, a sheriff’s station, and a general store. Cast and crew also utilized the Genoa Bar and Saloon.

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.

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The Many Lives of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In the late 1970s, Leonard Cohen sat down to write a song about god, sex, love, and other mysteries of human existence that bring us to our knees for one reason or another. The legendary singer-songwriter, who was in his early forties at the time, knew how to write a hit: He had penned "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Lover, Lover, Lover," and dozens of other songs for both himself and other popular artists of the time. But from the very beginning, there was something different about what would become "Hallelujah"—a song that took five years and an estimated 80 drafts for Cohen to complete.

In the 35 years since it was originally released, "Hallelujah" has been covered by more than 300 other artists in virtually every genre. Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Brandi Carlile, Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix, and Alexandra Burke—the 2008 winner of the UK version of The X Factor—are just a few of the individuals who have attempted to put their own stamp on the song. After Burke’s soulful version was downloaded 105,000 times in its first day, setting a new European record, “Hallelujah” soon became a staple of TV singing shows.

It's an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you consider that "Hallelujah"—one of the most critically acclaimed and frequently covered songs of the modern era—was originally stuck on side two of 1984’s Various Positions, an album that Cohen’s American record label deemed unfit for release.

“Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen recalled CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff telling him, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.”

 

Yetnikoff wasn’t totally off-base. With its synth-heavy ’80s production, Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” doesn’t announce itself as the chill-inducing secular hymn it’s now understood to be. (Various Positions was finally released in America on the indie label Passport in 1985.) Part of why it took Cohen five years to write the song was that he couldn’t decide how much of the Old Testament stuff to include.

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end,” Cohen said. “Finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore. And I rewrote this song; this is the ‘secular’ ‘Hallelujah.’”

The first two verses introduce King David—the skilled harp player and great uniter of Israel—and the Nazarite strongman Samson. In the scriptures, both David and Samson are adulterous poets whose ill-advised romances (with Bathsheba and Delilah, respectively) lead to some big problems.

In the third verse of his 1984 studio version, Cohen grapples with the question of spirituality. When he’s accused of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Cohen responds, hilariously, “What’s it to ya?” He insists there’s “a blaze of light in every word”—every perception of the divine, perhaps—and declares there to be no difference between “the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Both have value.

“I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world,” Cohen once said. “The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

 

Amazingly, Cohen's original "Hallelujah" pales in comparison to Velvet Underground founder John Cale’s five-verse rendition for the 1991 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. Cale had seen Cohen perform the song live, and when he asked the Canadian singer-songwriter to fax over the lyrics, he received 15 pages. “I went through and just picked out the cheeky verses,” Cale said.

Cale’s pared down piano-and-vocals arrangement inspired Jeff Buckley to record what is arguably the definitive “Hallelujah,” a haunting, seductive performance found on the late singer-songwriter’s one and only studio album, 1994’s Grace. Buckley’s death in 1997 only heightened the power of his recording, and within a few years, “Hallelujah” was everywhere. Cale’s version turned up in the 2001 animated film Shrek, and the soundtrack features an equally gorgeous version by Rufus Wainwright.

In 2009, after the song appeared in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Cohen agreed with a critic who called for a moratorium on covers. “I think it’s a good song,” Cohen told The Guardian. “But too many people sing it.”

Except “Hallelujah” is a song that urges everyone to sing. That’s kind of the point. The title is from a compound Hebrew word comprising hallelu, to praise joyously, and yah, the name of god. As writer Alan Light explains in his 2013 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah,” the word hallelujah was originally an imperative—a command to praise the Lord. In the Christian tradition, it’s less an imperative than an expression of joy: “Hallelujah!” Cohen seemingly plays on both meanings.

 

Cohen’s 1984 recording ends with a verse that begins, “I did my best / It wasn’t much.” It’s the humble shrug of a mortal man and the sly admission of an ambitious songwriter trying to capture the essence of humanity in a pop song. By the final lines, Cohen concedes “it all went wrong,” but promises to have nothing but gratitude and joy for everything he has experienced.

Putting aside all the biblical allusions and poetic language, “Hallelujah” is a pretty simple song about loving life despite—or because of—its harshness and disappointments. That message is even clearer in Cale’s five-verse rendition, the guidepost for all subsequent covers, which features the line, “Love is not a victory march.” Cale also adds in Cohen’s verse about sex, and how every breath can be a Hallelujah. Buckley, in particular, realized the carnal aspect of the song, calling his version “a Hallelujah to the orgasm.”

“Hallelujah” can be applied to virtually any situation. It’s great for weddings, funerals, TV talent shows, and cartoons about ogres. Although Cohen’s lyrics don’t exactly profess religious devotion, “Hallelujah” has become a popular Christmas song that’s sometimes rewritten with more pious lyrics. Agnostics and atheists can also find plenty to love about “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered more than 300 times because it’s a song for everyone.

When Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82, renewed interest in “Hallelujah” vaulted Cohen's version of the song onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Despite its decades of pop culture ubiquity, it took more than 30 years and Cohen's passing for “Hallelujah”—the very essence of which is about finding beauty amid immense sadness and resolving to move forward—to officially become a hit song.

“There’s no solution to this mess,” Cohen once said, describing the human comedy at the heart of “Hallelujah. “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all—Hallelujah! That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

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