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'To The Wonder': 10 Actors Cut Out Of Terrence Malick Films & How They Reacted

by Jessica Kiang
April 10, 2013 3:39 PM
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The New World Christopher Plummer
Actor: Christopher Plummer
Film: "The New World"
How Badly Was His Role Affected: Reduced
Bitterness Level: 7/10 lemons
What Happened & How He Reacted: Christopher Plummer waited a good few years before letting rip, in amusing and quite public fashion, on Malick. Believing his role as Captain Newport to have been decimated by Malick's editing process, he said to New York Magazine in 2011: "[Malick is] fascinated by nature, and just cuts to birds." He also claims he wasn't alone in being disgruntled on that set: "Colin Farrell kept saying, 'My character, he's a fuckin' osprey. That's how he sees me.' You’d be playing a passionate scene, and he’d say in that strange southern voice of his, mixed with Harvard and Oxford, ‘Ah, jes’ stop a minute, Chris. I think there’s an osprey flying over there. Do you mind if I just take a few shots?’ I wrote him an infuriated letter because I saw the film and I was hardly in it—he cut my part to shit." 

Plummer even compared himself with Adrien Brody, then-poster boy for the Let Down By Malick brigade: " recalled the story of Adrien Brody, the lead in 'The Thin Red Line.' He went to the premiere, and he wasn’t in it!... I was awful to [Malick], but I did say I admired him. He’s an individual—also mad as a hatter." As much as he seem to soften a touch at the end, in 2012 at a Newsweek awards season roundtable, Plummer went even further, ranting (much to 'Thin Red Line' actor George Clooney's amusement, it seems): "I love some of his movies very much, but the problem with Terry is he needs a writer, desperately. He insists on overwriting until it sounds terribly pretentious… and he edits his films in such a way that he cuts everyone out of them... I was put in all sorts of different spots and suddenly my character was not in the scene that I thought I was in, in the editing room. It was very strange. It completely unbalances everything. And a very emotional scene that I had suddenly became background noise." Again he brings up the letter. “I gave him shit. I’ll never work with him again.” You can read more about the shooting of "The New World" in our comprehensive breakdown of the movie.

Sean Penn, Tree of Life
Actor: Sean Penn
Film: "The Tree of Life"
How Badly Was His Role Affected: Role reduced, and substantially changed from script stage.
Bitterness Level: 5/10 lemons
What Happened & How He Reacted: Sean Penn, one of the actors who survived the Great 'Thin Red Line' Cull, obviously had developed some sort of relationship with Malick on the set of that film. "It took me a little bit of time to adjust to it, it took me a couple of weeks and some heart to heart conversations with Terry about what contribution I could make because I had never been involved in something [so big]," he said about it, in the 2002 documentary “Rosy-Fingered Dawn." So his disappointment and befuddlement at his role's alterations in "The Tree of Life" may have been all the greater. As he said to Le Figaro: "I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly." 

That last bit especially seems damning, but in fact his next sentence in that Figaro interview, less frequently quoted, roughly translates as: "But this is a film that I would recommend, if you can go in without preconceived ideas. Everyone can find there a personal, emotional or spiritual connection. Those who do generally emerge very moved." So it seems he himself may be admitting that it's his preconceived ideas of what the film might have been that find him less than in love with the finished product.

Rachel Weisz
Actor: Rachel Weisz
Film: "To the Wonder"
How Badly Was Her Role Affected: Excised completely
Bitterness Level: 2/10 lemons
What Happened & How She Reacted: Well if A-list Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz can be cut out of a Malick movie, no one's safe. But Weisz, who was to have played Dinah, a close friend of Ben Affleck's character Neil, seemed to go into the film with her eyes open, and so to be quite stoic in her reaction to being cut. "I did it for the experience of working with him, but one never knows with Terrence Malick. You can shoot for three months and end up not being in the movie," she told SFGate. And since she was only on set for a few days, she probably felt closer to to the guillotine than others. In interview with Italian magazine La Stampa she says much the same thing but a little note of disappointment creeps in -- possibly in translation? "It seems that my part has been cut, so I had the experience of working with him but I will not have the pleasure of seeing my work." So what was her storyline exactly? Well the bare bones in the early plot description were that Dinah advises Neil's new flame Jane (Rachel McAdams) to leave when his wife Marina (Olga Kurylenko) comes back on the scene...and is surprised to learn that her brother has now fallen in love with Marina. So, yeah we can see how she might not exactly be crucial.

Michael Sheen
Actor: Michael Sheen
Film: "To the Wonder"
How Badly Was His Role Affected: Excised completely
Bitterness Level: 1/10 lemons
What Happened & How He Reacted: Having let slip that he was excited to be working with Malick while on the press tour for Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" few further details emerged about Michael Sheen's role until after it was cut. But Sheen's involvement seemed casual enough from the beginning, "I played Ben [Affleck]'s boss, but that side of the film got cut down so much," he said in interview. "I just went to visit my girlfriend Rachel [McAdams] on the set, and then Terry asked if I would do a day's filming on it, so I was like, 'Yeah, sure.' It was just that I was around, and at the end of the day, you know, it was only two scenes." And, showing similar equanimity to fellow Brit Rachel Weisz, he said of hearing the news he was cut: "The producer sent me a nice email just saying, 'This is what's happening...' But it wasn''t like I had gone through the whole thing of auditioning for a Terry Malick film and then saying, 'Oh, I've got the part!' That's happened to me before -- I've done films where a lot of it gets cut and then it's kind of really disappointing."

Amanda Peet
Actor: Amanda Peet
Film: "To the Wonder"
How Badly Was Her Role Affected: Excised completely
Bitterness Level: 1/10 lemons
What Happened & How She Reacted: Well the lemon rating is a guess, because we don't have any news of Amanda Peet's reaction to her role being cut, and indeed we sort of suggested this might be the way things go in an eerily prescient post from 2011. However she also seemed to have subscribed up front to the Weisz school of "wanting to work with Malick, not necessarily expecting the earth." "I wasn’t there for very long, and we worked really long hours, so I didn’t really get a huge taste of it," Peet explained to LA Story "but it was really beautiful. [Malick] couldn’t have been lovelier." In fact she likened his shooting practice to jazz: "He has a very, very particular way of shooting. He calls things out to you while you’re shooting, and it’s very, very different than other work that I’ve done… He’s like a jazz musician. There’s a lot of variety, and he doesn’t do the same thing twice. He improvises and he lets you riff, and then he’ll shout something out to you that he wants you to say in the middle of the scene. It’s a very mysterious and wonderful, magical process." Well they do say jazz is as much about the notes you leave out as those you leave in...

Barry Pepper Joins ‘Broken City’ with Mark Wahlberg & ‘Snitch’ With Dwayne Johnson
Actor: Barry Pepper
Film: "To the Wonder"
How Badly Was His Role Affected: Excised completely
Bitterness Level: ?/10 lemons
What Happened & How He Reacted: We really have no clue at all how Barry Pepper took the news of being dropped from the film, but in interview with Collider from 2010, he certainly claimed to have loved the experience of shooting as Father Barry, a priest seen in a few set photos walking alongside Javier Bardem's Father Quintana, even if he never got a script. "I’m being absolutely honest with you in saying that I don’t know what the story is about. All I know is my involvement, which is a small chapter within the film, which to me was absolute joy to work with him on that level because it was so free and so unlike anything I’d ever experienced," he explained. "Never been involved in a project where you’re not handed a concrete screenplay, but to me it was just like floating down a river. You know, you really just had to go with it, or else…You just really had to float because it was such a free process that if you fought it, you’d just start drowning."

Jessica Chastain, Tree of Life
Actor: Jessica Chastain
Film: "To the Wonder"
How Badly Was Her Role Affected: Excised completely
Bitterness Level: 0/10 lemons
What Happened & How She Reacted: It would be pretty churlish of Jessica Chastain to complain too loudly about Malick's treatment of her, since it was "The Tree of Life" that proved her career breakthrough. And Chastain is anything but churlish, so we've not heard a peep from her about her "To the Wonder" role's disappearance after the fact. In any case, rather like Michael Sheen's experience, her involvement was very casual from the beginning, "What happened was I was working on 'The Help' with Sissy Spacek," Chastain said, when we spoke to her in December 2011 "and her husband is Jack Fisk who does all of [Malick's] production design. And so they were over there in Oklahoma and we were in Mississippi, and I called him one time I was in my trailer... he just said 'Hey, why don't you come visit?', because I love that whole crew, they're like family to me. So I said okay, we planned this trip, I was going to come visit, and then, right before, I started getting calls from the producers that they were organising my airfare, and I was like 'Well, why are you guys paying?' And then two days before I got there, I got another call from a producer who was like 'Would you mind playing a part in the film?' and of course I would do anything on any of [Malick]'s films, I would work on the crew of his films, I love working with him." But already then she had her doubts as to whether she's made the final cut. "Because it happened like that I don't think I'm going to end up in the movie. I really just think I was there, three days, acting with Ben Affleck, and I don't know what the movie is about, I don't know what my part is and you know, my guess is I'm probably not in the film."

In fact, even those who remain the leads in the film have their niggles. Olga Kurylenko, while breathless and effusive in her admiration for Malick, lamented recently "My favorite scene is cut! And it's not one, there were like 10 of them. I did a lot of confession scenes with Javier [Bardem]. That was dialogue! Terry didn't mind me speaking then! I loved those scenes. And there were more fights with Ben, horrible, terrifying fight scenes." And the changes have apparently altered her character's portrayal significantly. "From what we shot, it was clear to me that Marina was meant to be quite hysterical; if he'd kept [all those shots] in, it would have been a very different view on this woman."

And her co-star Ben Affleck, while undoubtedly remaining central to the film remarked: "The experience of it seemed half-crazy in that we didn't really have dialogue, so I didn't really know what was happening. Then I realized that he was accumulating colors that he would use to paint with later in the editing room... It was kind of a wash for me in terms of learning something as an actor, because Terry uses actors in a different way -- he'll [have the camera] on you and then tilt up and go up to a tree, so you think, 'Who's more important in this -- me or the tree?' But you don't ask him, because you don't want to know the answer."

Malick is of course already in production on two future films, and next up after "To the Wonder" will be "Knight of Cups." With Malick himself reportedly saying to Affleck that "Just more and more I'm more interested in silences," will we be back here, furiously updating this post prior to that film's release? Nah, we're sure the svelte, low-rent, minimal cast, which includes Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Teresa Palmer, Joel Kinnaman, Imogen Poots, Antonio Banderas, Isabel Lucas, Wes Bentley, Joe Manganiello, Nick Offerman, Freida Pinto, Nicky Whelan, Shea Whigham, Michael Wincott, Thomas Lennon, Ryan O'Neal and Katia Winter have nothing to worry about.

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  • jawsnnn | November 30, 2013 10:55 PMReply

    I don't find Malick's films particularly engaging, and I don't think they are masterpieces. However, they are not trash either. It is a unique vision from a unique person, and while I do not admire it, I understand it. Since he has been in the industry for many many decades now, and has a reputation for cutting roles and irking his crew... anyone grumbling about his ways is being a little petulant.

  • Douglas Urbanski | July 4, 2013 10:34 AMReply

    If there is a nastier person in the film industry, I have yet to meet him or her. Saving it all for my book!

  • Edward Copeland | April 20, 2013 7:34 PMReply

    We really need a way to communicate with the many trees, plants and wildlife not deemed worthy enough to make it into a final Malick cut. How do they feel? Are their leaves not good enough? Though I think it's particularly funny that anyone thinks his or her part got cut for narrative reasons. That would presuppose a Malick film having a narrative in the first place. Why all these actors think it's so prestigious to work with this man who Haskell Wexler describes as "weird" boggles my mind. Outside his cult, with each new film Malick looks more and more like he's cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. He needs to make nature documentaries and leave features to storytellers.

  • Dan | April 17, 2013 4:13 PMReply

    Im just puzzled by the amount of actors that queue up to work with him, Bale, Portman, Gosling, Mara, etc. Just wasting their time making a Malick movie, time that could be better spent making better films with better filmmakers. I hope my favorites Joaquin Phoenix, Hoffman and Amy Adams never do a Malick film.

  • d | April 17, 2013 4:21 PM

    It's because they don't consider it wasting their time. And they very likely agree with some of us that he's a great filmmaker. Are you still puzzled?

  • Kevin | April 16, 2013 5:01 PMReply

    Regardless of Malick's talent or lack thereof as a filmmaker, regardless of whether actors know going in their roles could be cut, out of professional courtesy if nothing else he should let them know. If the producer could email one of the actors to let them know, I don't see why Malick gets a pass on doing the same thing.

    That said, all actors considering working with him should take note of Affleck's 'me or the tree' comment as that seems to truly sum up Malick's attitude towards his cast.

  • Beck | April 12, 2013 1:51 PMReply

    I wish someone would re-cut The Thin Red Line. I liked it, but an Adrian Brody/Mickey Rouke version with Bill Pullman and Lukas Haas sounds even better.

  • Bob | April 11, 2013 4:52 PMReply

    This seems like a large waste of money.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | April 11, 2013 11:51 AMReply

    Nick Offerman is in Knight of Cups? Ron Swanson is in a Terrence Malick film? That's made my year.

    Also, great piece, Jess.

  • Jack | April 11, 2013 9:53 AMReply

    Janit Baldwin is most likely the first actor to get cut completely from a Malick film. She played Sissy Spacek's best friend in 'Badlands' but is nowhere to be seen in the finished film.

  • The Stand-Up Guy | April 11, 2013 12:01 AMReply

    Malick is a hack and he's obviously not a very upfront or honest person. Just because he's an artist doesn't mean he can just drag people along for 6 months and put them through hell and just cut them. There's something called being a stand-up person. People like Pt Anderson and Richard Linklater are very upfront and honest with their actors from most accounts. It seems that Malick didn't even tell many of these actors that they could be cut and not just cut but cut completely. Doing that to Adrian Brody is just a crappy thing to do.

    Seriously, Tree of Life was sooo ridiculous. Such pretentious bull it's unbelievable. The exalting the beauty of nature has been done soooooo many times. It's not original! Look at every bad poem out there. "The sun, the moon, the beautiful waves blah blah" we get it. I look out at nature every day here in VT. The guy isn't interested in people. He treats actors like Hitchcock treated actors, like cattle and that's BS.

  • meep | April 12, 2013 3:24 PM


  • The Stand-Up Guy | April 11, 2013 4:56 PM

    For the record, I'm not an actor.

    Oh yeah and Malick. is. still. way. Overrated.

  • LORD ACTOR MCACTORSON | April 11, 2013 5:01 AM


  • hank | April 11, 2013 12:45 AM

    all the actors were paid for their time and I'm sure signed a contract that allowed for these things to happen. get. the. fuck. over. it.

  • d | April 11, 2013 12:19 AM

    Holy shit. Worst comment of the month.

  • Jon | April 10, 2013 9:41 PMReply

    Great article. But you forgot a big one: Richard Gere in Days of Heaven. "We shot a much more richly verbal movie, with much more high emotions, much more dramatic. And when I came to loop the movie and I saw that it wasn't that, I clearly was not too happy about that because all of us could have saved a lot of brain cells in the process."

  • yer | April 10, 2013 6:07 PMReply

    Glad to see a filmmaker who sticks to his guns. He creates his vision and no one elses and that's why he still remains one of the most unique directors around.

  • egghead | April 10, 2013 4:21 PMReply

    Lukas Haas was in the final cut, though his part was trimmed immensely. He has no lines, only reaction shots mostly and a short scene of him dying in someones arms.

  • Kyle | April 10, 2013 6:49 PM

    isn't that Nick Stahl?

  • Frank | April 10, 2013 4:20 PMReply

    Cue Paul Mahler Jr. to come and add his pretentious farts to this article in 3.. 2...1...

  • Hooter | April 11, 2013 11:33 AM

    Well, I'm sure that the author of this article wouldn't have gotten all the facts he used for it if some of them were not provided by Maher (get his name right, at least) in one way or another. He's done more for the internet community on the study and history of Malick than anyone else.

  • Webster Skyhorse | April 10, 2013 4:09 PMReply

    But Rourke being cut WAS politics -- there's a Nolte documentary out there which includes an anecdote. . . Nolte and Medavoy are lunching with Malick pre-TRL and Rourke walks past. Malick says he wants Rourke in the cast, that he loves Rourke. Medavoy says no way, it won't fly. Compromise: Malick gets Rourke, but then gets bored with the actor's past beefs with execs becoming a factor in the cutting and deciding which elder actors and which newcomers get ultimate focus.

  • DG | April 10, 2013 4:05 PMReply

    I like this writers style. I feel like Penn and Plumer's assessment of Malick's process/style is spot on. I've never read the Tree of Life script but I'd imagine if there was more narrative (as Penn says there was) it couldn't have done anything but help the movie. I mean I love Badlands as much as the next guy but it's kind of crazy that he keeps cutting actors and making really polarizing films (most people seem to either adore his work or find it pretentious to the point of silliness) yet people still line up to work with him. I wonder if that will still be the case in five years if all of his movies keep following in the footsteps of TOL/To the Wonder?

  • Ted | April 10, 2013 3:55 PMReply

    I have zero sympathy for anyone post-The Thin Red Line. It's obvious by now that Malick creates his films in the editing room, that's his style. If you sign up for one of his projects, you should know there is a non-trivial chance you'll be cut or reduced and complaining about it after the fact is just moronic. If you want a film that stays closer to the script, then don't sign up for a Malick project.

  • Peppermint | June 23, 2013 2:50 PM

    Don't worry. He'll never do this. He's so much up his own ass he just can't kneel down.

  • Guy | April 14, 2013 1:57 AM

    Acting is not the same as being on the screen. There's a difference between the Kardashians and people who use their bodies as instruments to create art - and the difference is not determined by which gets more airtime.

  • josh | April 10, 2013 5:15 PM

    Good point ,i'm and aspiring actor myself and just from watching terrence malicks movie "tree of life" .I can see that he uses his actors more as props than anything .One thing i noticed about alot of actors in the film biz.Is there are always raving about working with this director or that one.Alot of it seems to have to do with the fact that the directors are big names and popular .They dont look past that directors actual talents ,just looking at malick s style in film making.I would never work with him ,even if he showed up at my door step dropped to his knees and begged me to .

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