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5 Things You Might Not Know About John Carpenter's 'The Thing'

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
June 25, 2012 1:58 PM
5 Comments
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2. Australian actor Jack Thompson was nearly cast in the lead role, while Ernie Hudson, Donald Pleasance, Brian Dennehy and Lee Van Cleef all came close to parts too.
Kurt Russell had starred in two of Carpenter's last three pictures: 1979's TV movie "Elvis" and 1981's "Escape From New York," but the director was wary of working with him too many times, and initially looked elsewhere for an actor to play MacReady. Overtures were made to Jeff Bridges, Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte, Kris Kristofferson and Sam Shepard, but all were unavailable, or turned the project down. More serious meetings were held with John Heard, Tom Berenger, Fred Ward, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Peter Coyote and Tim McIntyre (the latter four all passing on the project), while Carpenter favorite Tom Atkins ("The Fog," "Escape From New York") was an early front-runner. Surprisingly, it was Australian actor Jack Thompson who'd won Best Supporting Actor at Cannes for "Breaker Morant" (and has gone on more recently to parts in films including "December Boys," "Australia" and the upcoming "Great Gatsby") who came closest, being flown in to read for Carpenter personally. But ultimately, the director decided the project would be best served with a reunion with Russell. Other Carpenter vets were in the running for parts too -- "Halloween" star Donald Pleasance was considered for Blair, but it was decided to go for a less familiar face, and Wilford Brimley got the gig instead. Meanwhile, Lee Van Cleef was up for Garry, along with Jerry Orbach, Kevin Conway, Richard Mulligan and Powers Boothe, while Russell's "Escape From New York" co-star Isaac Hayes was in consideration to play Childs, as were Geoffrey Holder, Carl Weathers and Bernie Casey, while Ernie Hudson came very close. In the end, Donald Moffat and Keith David took the roles. Finally, Brian Dennehy, who'd also been up to play MacReady, was very nearly Dr. Copper (William Daniels also read), before Carpenter decided on Richard Dysart.  

3. Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for cameos from John Carpenter and his then-wife Adrienne Barbeau.
Thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, directors are more keen to make some kind of brief cameo in their own work (or worse, want to cast themselves in a lead role they're entirely ill-suited for -- M. Night Shyamalan, we're looking at you...) And true to form, Carpenter. who made physical or vocal cameos in most of his films from "Dark Star" to "Memoirs Of An Invisible Man," does crop up in "The Thing," as one of the Norwegians in the video footage. Meanwhile, the director's then-wife Adrienne Barbeau, who'd starred in "The Fog" and "Escape From New York," lends her voice to the chess computer. Probably less recognizable is the rifle-carrying Norwegian in the opening; the part was played by Larry J. Franco, who was an associate producer, the 2nd unit director, and at the time, was married to Russell's sister Jill (he's gone on produce "Batman Begins" and "2012" among many others). Carpenter claims on the DVD commentary that Franco was making up his Norwegian lines, speaking nonsense, but in fact, it does make sense, albeit in a broken way. It does give the game away to any Norwegian viewers, however; the lines translate as ""Get the hell outta there. That's not a dog, it's some sort of thing! It's imitating a dog, it isn't real! Get away you idiots!"

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5 Comments

  • Maxwell | May 15, 2014 9:07 PMReply

    HEY SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE ALTERNATE ENDINGS DO NOT READ PSAT NUMBER 4 THANKS FOR RUINING IT FOR ME ASSHOLES

  • Alan | June 26, 2012 2:54 AMReply

    "But ultimately, the director decided the project would be best served with a reunion with Russell." That's not what Jack Thompson told Empire Magazine: the Australian actor said that he had already promised to appear in an Australian film, and so had to turn down Carpenter's film.

  • Terry | June 25, 2012 6:43 PMReply

    I really kinda wish that either actors or films were in bold and not both~~~

  • Rocket | June 25, 2012 2:28 PMReply

    Thanks for the cool article...Another neat sci-fi film you might want to include from the summer of 1982: Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan.

  • Arch | June 25, 2012 2:08 PMReply

    Also IIRC Carpenter is piloting the helicopter in the opening scene (or was it in Escape from N.Y. ?).

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