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“I was slapping her across the face”: James Cameron Used ‘The Abyss’ Cast Like Guinea Pigs, Let Ed Harris Slap Female Lead Amidst Nearly Killing Himself on Set

james cameron ed harris the abyss

If there’s one thing that James Cameron is renowned for, besides making blockbuster films, is subjecting the actors on set to the most bewildering things that would probably give them nightmares long after they’ve shot the scenes.

James Cameron
James Cameron

In many of his movies like Avatar and Titanic, a great deal of scenes were shot underwater, which meant that the actors had to be prepared for such aspects by means of vigorous training for the same. And The Abyss was no different. In fact, it was probably much worse for the star cast of the 1989 sci-fi/adventure film who had to go through a horrifying time on set in order to shoot certain specific scenes.

See also: The Abyss: Why It Remains James Cameron’s Greatest Sci-Fi Matserpiece

How James Cameron Went Overboard With the Cast of The Abyss

Authenticity and visual perfection are the hallmarks of James Cameron‘s films, and he is known for going out of his way to achieve just the best results with regard to his projects. But there have been plenty of times when the Aliens director has ended up going a bit out of the line to get the desired results. And that is exactly what happened during the filming of The Abyss. 

While the science fiction film bagged an Oscar for the Best Visual Effects and found itself in the middle of immense critical acclamation, only the actors know the things they had to endure in order for the movie to reach that level of fame and popularity.

Ed Harris, the actor who played the lead role of Virgil Bud Brigman in The Abyss, once admitted to EW that Cameron treated the cast as “guinea pigs” during the entirety of the project with them having to do takes for as long as 70 hours every week for six whole months. And as if that wasn’t torture enough, they had to film various scenes underwater which rendered them completely exasperated and exhausted.

See also: “Then say the f*****g line”: Avatar’s Director James Cameron Yelled at Arnold Schwarzenegger After the 7 Time Mr. Olympia Argued With Him About Movie Script

The Abyss Set
The Abyss

In one particular scene, Harris was literally required to constantly slap his co-star, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, which ultimately became the latter’s breaking point as she furiously “walked off the set.”

“We were guinea pigs, in a way, Jim wasn’t quite sure how this was all gonna go down… [in the drowning scene I was] screaming at her to come back and wake up, and I was slapping her across the face and I see that they’ve run out of film in the camera — there’s a light on the camera — and nobody had said anything. And Mary Elizabeth stood up and said, ‘We are not animals!” and walked off the set. They were going to let me just keep slapping her around!”

Things escalated to such an extent that Cameron himself was on the verge of drowning and almost came face-to-face with death.

James Cameron Almost Died While Filming The Abyss

There came a terrifying point during production of The Abyss when the filmmaker nearly killed himself.

When Cameron was in the gigantic underwater set, the person in charge of keeping a track of his oxygen levels was suddenly a no-show, and the Avatar 2 director was in dire need of air. So, in an attempt to swim to the surface, he relinquished all his diving gear thinking that would be of at least some help.

See also: “I’ll probably never be able to do it again”: Kate Winslet Risks Her Life For Avatar: The Way of Water, Beats Tom Cruise’s Underwater Record From Mission: Impossible

The set of The Abyss
The set of The Abyss

Then, a safety driver tried to offer him some assistance, but only in vain as the faulty equipment in turn exacerbated the situation. So instead of getting some air from the spare breathing regulator, Cameron accidentally gulped a lot of water. What’s worse, when he tried to break free, the safety driver mistook it as a sign of mere panic, which is why he continued to maintain his grip on The Terminator director. And so, an already agitated Cameron had to punch the poor guy to get released.

Fortunately, he was saved and didn’t suffer any serious damage or injuries. But that doesn’t make it any less of a horror story.

The Abyss can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.

Source: SyFy

Written by Khushi Shah

An author at FandomWire, an abnormal psychology student, and an avid reader of dark fiction, I love to read and write and have been indulging in the same for years.