Midsommar‘s Jack Reynor said, “There was a psychological toll making this film for sure” of his role as Christian in the folk horror film — especially the nudity and sexual scene near the end of the film, which he said he couldn’t process until after. “It was a tough week after it was finished, you know?” he said, emphasizing that he had to really focus on his mental health throughout the shoot in order to feel okay filming the scenes. “It really sat on me.” He immediately got on a plane after and decided to get hammered because of the experience.
He also said it was difficult filming the scene in the bear suit just before his character’s death. “It’s dark and it’s unsettling to watch all these people around you basically making it look like they’re going to kill you in a horrific way. There’s nothing you can do and you’re paralyzed, you know? It was heavy,” he said.
In addition, it was difficult to watch Florence Pugh (whom he grew close with during filming) “living in the pain and trauma of this character for such a long time,” Reynor said, then agreed with the interviewer that actors can experience “emotional and physical damage” on set. “People don’t even think about it. I think a lot of people just think, Oh, it’s just a movie. You’re just going to do it. It’s not real. … It’s fucking real when you’re there.”
Will Poulter, who also appeared in the film, had nightmares after seeing it. “I had the worst night’s sleep of my life the night after,” he said. “Terrible, terrible, full-on nightmares. … [The film] is utterly disturbing. And it’s that kind of disturbing feeling that I think lingers longer than a fright. A fright has a very limited lifespan. This idea that humans are capable of what you see in Midsommar is kind of what’s most disturbing about it … Despite reading the script and despite being in it and shooting it, and presumably knowing what to expect, I was still caught massively off guard.”
Possession star Isabelle Adjani suffered a mental breakdown after seeing a finished cut of the body horror–heavy film about a married couple’s breakup that turns bloody, according to the film’s director Andrzej Żuławski. It’s been reported that Żuławski “hypnotized his performers and put them into a fugue state before shooting certain scenes,” according to Rolling Stone, and Adjani herself had taken on the role “with a level of dedication bordering on religious devotion.” Adjani apparently said it took her years of therapy to recover from the role, which included a graphic miscarriage scene.
Hereditary star Alex Wolff told Vice that starring in the film gave him PTSD. “When I started talking about it, all these flashes with all this disturbing shit I went through sort of came back in a flood. It kept me up at night, to where I got into a habit of emotional masochism to the point of just trying to take in every negative feeling I could draw from. I forced it upon myself rather than the opposite of what you’d usually do in life, which is sit on the heater until it starts to burn, and you jump up immediately,” he said.
“I had to do the exact opposite of that and absorb the pain and let it burn,” Wolff continued. “It’s a reverse emotional thing. It’s hard to describe eloquently; it’s just a feeling. I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have some sort of PTSD afterward.”
Psycho‘s Janet Leigh remained forever scarred by the famous shower scene in which her character, Marion Crane, is stabbed to death by Norman Bates. In fact, she stopped taking showers entirely, opting for baths instead.
And if that wasn’t possible, “I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked. I also leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I’m always facing the door, watching, no matter where the showerhead is,” Leigh said.
The Birds‘ Tippi Hedren said that in the scene where her character is viciously attacked by birds, she was told the mechanical birds were not working, so the director, Alfred Hitchcock, used live birds instead. For five days, Hedren said, live birds (that were trained to peck her) were thrown at her and even tied to her. When one almost pecked her eye, she broke down and had to spend a week in bed due to exhaustion.
“It was brutal and ugly and relentless,” Hedron said. “I was never frightened, I was just overwhelmed and in some form of shock, and I just kept saying to myself over and over again, ‘I won’t let him break me.'” When Hitchcock called “cut” on the last take, Hedron said, “I just sat there on the floor, unable to move, and began sobbing from sheer exhaustion. Minutes passed before I looked up to discover that everyone had just left me there in the middle of that vast, silent soundstage, completely spent, empty, and alone.”
The Shining‘s Shelley Duvall described her experience filming the classic horror film, which takes place in an empty, remote hotel, as “almost unbearable.” While filming, she says, she “was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great. Stanley [Kubrick] pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play.”
The stress was so bad, her hair began falling out in clumps. You can actually see this in Vivian Kubrick’s documentary Making the Shining. When Duvall shows it to Stanley Kubrick, the film’s director, he walks away and tells crew members, “Don’t sympathize with Shelley.” In a tribute to Kubrick, costar Jack Nicholson admitted that Kubrick was an entirely different director with Duvall, with the tribute then showing a clip of Kubrick getting angry with Duvall on set, and Duvall saying, “He can do some pretty cruel things when you’re filming.”
It‘s Bill Skarsgård compared playing iconic horror villain Pennywise to being in a destructive relationship. He was happy to let go of the clown after filming, but also described being home afterward and having “strange and vivid Pennywise dreams” every night.
And costar James McAvoy said he, too, had frequent nightmares of the clown post-shoot: “The only one I can really remember is, I’m lying on my side in the bed and he was in bed with me. And he’s stroking my back gently and saying, ‘Wake up, James, wake up.’ And I was just terrified, pretending to be asleep. I just thought, I’ve got to pretend to be asleep, I’ve got to pretend to be asleep. I had lots of nightmares about Pennywise, but that’s the one specific one I can remember.”
Halloween‘s Kyle Richards was only 8 when she appeared as Lindsey in the film, which introduced horror icon Michael Myers to the world. For Richards, it wasn’t filming the movie but, rather, seeing herself in it that had an adverse effect: “I had no idea what I was in for. Seeing it for the first time all pieced together was a very, very different movie. It was just really scary, and I really did sleep with my mom until I was 15 years old after that. I was terrified,” she said.
“I think that’s what sealed the deal for me to get out of horror films. After seeing myself in that, I was always thinking there was someone hiding behind the drapes or outside my windows or under my bed, so I would just sleep holding my mom’s arm the entire night,” Richards said.
Suspiria‘s Dakota Johnson said that starring as Susie, a dancer at a mysterious German dance school that turns out to be run by witches, “fucked me up so much that I had to go to therapy.” She described harsh shooting conditions in a mountaintop abandoned hotel.
She later said, “I find sometimes when I work on a project and — I don’t have any shame in this — I’m a very porous person and I absorb a lot of people’s feelings. When you’re working sometimes with dark subject matter, it can stay with you, and then to talk to somebody really nice about it afterwards is a really nice way to move on from the project.”
Black Swan’s Natalie Portman said she was physically and emotionally drained after shooting wrapped on the psychological horror film: “It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down.”
She also said, of her weight loss and preparation for the role, “There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die.” Later, she’d admit that she “probably should have gone into rehab” after filming because when she began filming Thor, she was “spent.”
Last House on the Left‘s Sandra Peabody (who went by the name Sandra Cassel at the time) was horribly mistreated by her male costars in the rape- and torture-heavy film about a kidnapped teenager, according to the documentary Celluloid Crime of the Century and the book Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. Marc Sheffler admitted to threatening to throw her off a cliff to try to rile her up for a scene (though in 2018, he stated she was not in real danger), and David Hess allegedly threatened to actually assault her in a rape scene.
Numerous actors and crew members, including Hess himself, spoke about how they believed that she was scared he might actually hurt her, and how all her reactions were real. It doesn’t look as if Peabody has ever addressed any of this, but she stopped making films two years later and moved to behind-the-scenes work as a producer, agent, and acting coach.
And finally, let’s end on a TV example: American Horror Story‘s Evan Peters has played numerous villains and frightening characters in his time on the show, and has called it “really difficult to do,” saying it’s “hurting my soul and Evan as a person. There’s this massive amount of rage that’s been called upon from me.”
“It’s just exhausting. It’s really mentally draining, and you don’t want to go to those places ever in your life,” Peters said of filming frightening and disturbing content. “And so you have to go there for the scenes, and it ends up integrating it somehow into your life. You’re in traffic and you find yourself screaming and you’re like, What the hell? This isn’t who I am. I fight really hard to combat that.”
What other actors were creeped out by playing creepy roles? Let us know in the comments!