Making 'Misery': Kathy Bates, Rob Reiner reveal the on-set tension was real

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Rob Reiner’s 1990 film version of the Stephen King novel Misery is a masterclass in sustained tension, unfolding almost entirely in a remote Colorado cabin where Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) alternately cares for and terrorizes her favorite author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan). According to both the director and his leading lady, the mood on set was often tense as well. In separate interviews with Yahoo Entertainment, Reiner and Bates recalled experiencing friction with Caan while making the film. “Jimmy Caan is very instinctive and he doesn’t like rehearsal,” Reiner explains. “[Kathy] is a stage-trained actress who likes lots of rehearsal. We tried to strike a balance ... but it was not simpatico a lot of the time.” (Watch our video interview above.)

Bates, who won an Oscar for her breakthrough big-screen performance, backs up that account. “It really frustrated me,” she admits about their contrasting attitude toward rehearsal. “I think we were butting heads from the very beginning.” There was one moment in particular where where Caan’s way of working interrupted her own process. “I remember being on set and I was doing a big speech. I kept hearing this voice and Jimmy was on the telephone ... making all this noise. I got so frustrated working with him.” To his credit, Reiner found a way to use that natural tension between his stars to the film’s advantage. “Rob gave us this wonderful direction,” Bates says. “You guys as characters are coming to this with opposite motives and opposite perceptions, so it’s OK if you’re not clicking.”

Fortunately, Reiner and Bates clicked right away. The director had already seen Bates perform on stage several times, and knew mere moments into their first meeting that he had found his Annie. “She came in to read for me ... and she had a whole scene prepared. After the first line, I was like ‘You don’t have to read; I know you’re great — you have the part.’ And she said, ‘Really? Can I tell my mother?’” Once again, their stories line up. “He gave me the part on the spot, and I said to him, ‘Can I call my mother?’” Bates recalls, laughing. “It was a big deal for me!”

Misery is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes and Vudu

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