Don't you hate it when you tell a U.S. Marshal that you didn't kill your wife and all he says is, "I don't care"? It's enough to make you want to jump off a dam. That amazing moment is one of many indelible images from The Fugitive, the 1993 blockbuster that earned Tommy Lee Jones his only Oscar (so far) and served as about the tenth reminder that Harrison Ford was among the world's biggest movie stars. As befits a movie with an unnecessarily complicated plot, the behind-the-scenes story of The Fugitive is just as twisty. On the 25th anniversary of the film's release, let's take the plunge.
1. THE STORY WENT THROUGH A LOT OF DRAFTS, INCLUDING SOME RIDICULOUS ONES.
It was a five-year process during which nine writers wrote "at least 25 different screenplays," according to producer Arnold Kopelson. (This might be one of those stories that gets bigger each time it's told. The week the film was released, Kopelson said it was eight writers and 14 drafts. But still.) No surprise—the movie was to be based on a TV series that had run for 120 episodes and had a master plot running through it, in which wrongly convicted Dr. Richard Kimble searches for the one-armed man who killed his wife. There are countless variations of how that could be condensed into a single two-hour story. In one of the drafts, the big twist was that Tommy Lee Jones's Agent Samuel Gerard had hired the one-armed man to kill Kimble's wife as revenge for a botched surgery.
2. IT WAS ALMOST ALEC BALDWIN INSTEAD OF HARRISON FORD.
Kopelson, a fan of the TV series, had been trying off and on to get the film made since the 1970s. It was finally about to happen in the early '90s, with Alec Baldwin in the lead role and Walter Hill (48 Hrs.) as director, but Warner Bros. didn't think Baldwin had enough star power. "With an expensive movie, the consideration is, what star can 'open' it," Kopelson said, "and the studio wasn't certain at that time that Alec could do it." (By the way, this was the second time Baldwin had lost a role to Harrison Ford, who also replaced him as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October sequel Patriot Games.)
3. IT SEEMS LIKE NOBODY INVOLVED HAD EVER WATCHED THE SHOW.
Except for producer Kopelson, anyway. Harrison Ford said he'd never seen it. Andrew Davis, the director, said, "You know, it was the '60s, and I was into other things besides watching television." Tommy Lee Jones made similar comments. Maybe that's a lesson for successfully turning a TV series into a movie: Don't be too attached to the source material.
4. THAT'S A REAL TRAIN HITTING A REAL BUS.
No miniatures. Twenty-seven cameras (according to Davis). One take. (Ford jumping free from it was a superimposed image, of course.) It was filmed in Sylva and Dillsboro, North Carolina, where the wreckage is now a tourist attraction.
5. SO FAR, IT'S THE ONLY ADAPTATION OF A TV SERIES TO BE NOMINATED FOR BEST PICTURE.
Dozens of TV shows have been turned into movies, but The Fugitive is the only one so far to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. (No, Marty doesn't count. That was based on a TV movie. And not Traffic, either, which was an adaptation of a miniseries. Look, we said The Fugitive was the only one. Don't question us.)
6. THE CHASE THROUGH THE ST. PATRICK'S DAY PARADE WAS REAL.
Rather than try to stage a fake one, Davis used Chicago's actual St. Patrick's Day parade as the setting for part of Kimble and Gerard's cat-and-mouse game. Without rehearsal, Ford and Jones just went out into the crowd and did their thing, with camera operators running around trying to keep up. Ford observed that since his character was keeping a low profile, it meant he himself didn't stand out much and lasted several minutes in the crowd before being recognized.
7. IT WAS FILMED IN A HOSPITAL, AND IN A SCHOOL POSING AS A HOSPITAL.
They were able to shoot some of the hospital scenes in a real hospital in Sylva, North Carolina, while others were filmed in a nearby elementary school whose hallways were dressed to look like a hospital. Apparently old schools and old hospitals look a lot alike.
8. TOMMY LEE JONES MADE UP A LOT OF HIS OWN DIALOGUE.
The film began shooting before the script was complete, with writer Jeb Stuart on the set to come up with new material as needed. That left the door open for the actors to suggest their own ideas, which Jones was happy to do. "Think me up a cup of coffee and a chocolate donut with some of those little sprinkles on top" was his contribution, as was the (above) exchange involving the word "hinky."
9. HARRISON FORD WASN'T FAKING HIS BEFUDDLEMENT IN THE INTERROGATION SCENE.
To lend more realism to the scene where Dr. Kimble is first questioned by police, Davis had Ford and the other actors do it with only half a script—the cops' half. Ford, not knowing in advance what the questions would be, had to ad lib responses in character. Naturally, this came across as being defensive and flustered, which was exactly what the situation called for. Acting!
10. IT ENDED UP BEING A RUSH JOB.
Kopelson spent all those years trying to get the project going—and then once it got going, it had to be done fast. Shooting began in February 1993, six months before the scheduled release date. (Warner Bros. really wanted the film by the end of the summer.) The shoot itself was sufficient; it was the pre- and post-production schedules that were shortened. Consequently, instead of having one or two editors and a few assistants, Kopelson had "like, seven editors and 21 assistants working almost around the clock ... It was a rather harrowing experience."
11. A LOT OF EDITORS GOT CREDITED—AND THE ACADEMY WAS OK WITH IT.
Six men ended up being officially credited as the film's editors: Dennis Virkler, David Finfer, Dean Goodhill, Don Brochu, Richard Nord, and Dov Hoenig. When it received an Oscar nomination for Best Editing, that was the most names that category had ever included. (It’s almost unheard of for any film to have more than three editors, let alone a film that isn’t a disaster.)
12. SCENES HAD TO BE RE-SHOT WHEN AN ACTOR GOT SICK.
Dr. Nichols, the colleague who helps Kimble, was originally played by Richard Jordan. Sadly, Jordan fell ill during the shoot, and had to drop out. (He died a few weeks after the film was released.) When he was replaced by Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé, a few scenes had to be redone, including one near the beginning, when Kimble still has his beard. Ford had to regrow it, which is why it looks slightly different in Krabbé's first scene from the way it looks elsewhere.
13. THE DAM SCENE COST $2 MILLION, INCLUDING ABOUT $60,000 FOR DUMMIES.
The maze of tunnels leading to the dam were fake, and built in a Chicago warehouse. The last section of the tunnel—the part that opens over the dam, where Kimble and Gerard have their dramatic confrontation—was actually transported from Chicago to the Cheoah Dam in North Carolina, where it was rigged to look like it belonged there. For the big jump, there were no stuntmen involved. Ford himself (secured by a wire) did the shot where Kimble looks over the edge and considers jumping, and dummies were used for the plunge itself. Six Harrison Ford lookalike dummies were commissioned, each costing somewhere between $7000 and $12,000. They did not survive intact, much to the dismay of their manufacturer, who'd been hoping to re-rent them.
Director's DVD commentary