- Heath Ledger and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus:
When Heath Ledger, 28, died of an accidental overdose on Jan. 22, 2008, in the middle of filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, director Terry Gilliam thought the production was certain to be shut down.
Soon, though, Gilliam came up with a clever idea. What if — since the movie involved Ledger’s character taking people through a magical mirror into a dream world — Ledger’s character changed his appearance every time he entered the dream world? Gilliam reached out to Ledger’s friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, and they all agreed to play the dream world versions of Ledger’s character.
The addition of these stars made finishing the film — and keeping the financing — possible. Gilliam told Entertainment Weekly, “We’ll never know what the movie would’ve been like with Heath playing all of it, but what we have is magical.”
- Chris Farley and Shrek:
We all know Mike Myers as the voice of Shrek, but originally Universal hired a different Saturday Night Live funny man, Chris Farley. Farley worked on the film for over a year and had completed 80-90% of Shrek’s lines when he died of a drug overdose at age 33 on Dec. 18, 1997.
Co-screenwriter Terry Rossio was a fan of Farley’s performance as Shrek, writing, “What struck me most seeing him work was his willingness to reveal himself, lay himself out bare, over and again, for the sake of his performance.”
Nevertheless, rather than attempt to complete the film with Farley’s audio (and, perhaps, an impersonator completing the missing lines), Universal recast the role. In came Myers, who had the script reworked to fit his comedy persona.
Farley’s brother, Kevin, said, “The studio needed to do what they needed to do. It was a bad time, bad timing…a tragedy. Mike did a great job with Shrek. He knocked it out of the park.”
- Paul Walker and Furious 7:
When Paul Walker, 40, died in a car accident on Nov. 30, 2013, it left The Fast and the Furious franchise without a key star in the middle of production on a sequel expected to make hundreds of millions of dollars.
Despite the huge stakes, the studio suspended production and, while mourning Walker, left the film’s future up in the air. Director James Wan told BuzzFeed, “I actually want to give credit to the studio for not jumping at that. Because they were just as shocked. They truly loved Paul. It hit everyone really hard. We truly did not talk about finishing the movie until Paul was buried and we had a memorial for him. It was in the following weeks that we started thinking if this was something that we could actually finish without him.”
The challenge of finishing a film of this size without its star was incredibly daunting, but the ingenuity of Wan and his team made it possible. First, they poured over every bit of footage (including outtakes) that they had of Walker from all of the films. They then used the footage to create a bible of Walker’s facial expressions in different situations that the visual effects artists could reference when creating CGI of Walker.
They also hired Walker’s two brothers as stand-ins to many scenes (with Walker’s face often digitally superimposed over theirs) and to do some line readings. In some instances, a line would be half said by Walker, and half said by one of his brothers. The screenwriters also rewrote the ending to complete Walker’s story arc so the franchise could continue without him.
All in all, the film was delayed a year and the budget ballooned by tens of millions of dollars, but it was worth it, as Furious 7 acted as a fine tribute to Walker and became the most successful film in the franchise, grossing upwards of $1.5 billion.
- Don Rickles and Toy Story 4:
Legendary comedian Don Rickles had signed on to reprise his role as Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story 4, but had yet to record any dialogue when he died at 90 of kidney failure in April 2017. However, when Rickles’ family asked if there was any way he could still be included in the sequel, the filmmakers got creative.
Director Josh Cooley told Entertainment Weekly, “We went through, jeez, 25 years of everything we didn’t use for Toy Story 1, 2, 3, the theme parks, the ice capades, the video games — everything that he’s recorded for Mr. Potato Head. And we were able to do it. And so I’m very honored that they asked us to do that, and I’m very honored that he’s in the film. Nobody can replace him.”