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Michael Douglas: how we made One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

We filmed it at a real mental hospital and some of individual patients joined the crew. We had an arsonist in the art department

Michael Douglas, producer

My father, Kirk, had acquired the rights to Ken Keseys novel in the early 1960 s and developed it into a Broadway play, with him playing the lead character, RP McMurphy. He tried for years to turn it into a movie, but it never got any momentum. Meanwhile, I was at university in Santa Barbara and was very politically active, what with the Vietnam war going on. I adored the book: it was a brilliantly conceived tale of one humankind against the system. I had never was just thinking about creating, but told my father: Let me run with this.

Our first screenwriter, Lawrence Hauben, introduced me to the work of Milo Forman. His 1967 movie The Firemens Ball had the kind of qualities we were looking for: it took place in one enclosed situation, with a multitude of unique characters he had the ability to juggle. At the time, Milo was living in the Chelsea Hotel in New York. He had clearly had a dislocation and never left the building rumors were he would confide in a Czech friend while lying in bed, and then the friend would go out and read a psychiatrist on his behalf. But he piloted to California to realise us. Unlike the other heads we ensure, who stopped their cards close to their chest, he went through the script page by page and told us what he would do.

Distributor all became us down Michael Douglas on the laid. Photo: Archive Photos/ Getty

My creating partner, Saul Zaentz the owner of Fantasy Records and a voracious reader seemed an affinity with Kesey. After Larry and I made a first endeavor, Saul requested Kesey to write a screenplay and promised him a piece of the action. But like a lot of novelists trying to adapt their own material, it didnt work up. We fell out with him after that. It was our only longstanding, painful issue. We got in to a fiscal disagreement it was silly, but perhaps it was his mode of defending his ego.

Hal Ashby, who had been in the early flowing for administrator, hinted Jack Nicholson for McMurphy. It was difficult to see at first, because hed never played anyone like that before. We were delayed for about six months because of Jacks schedule, but that turned out to be a great boon: it gave us the opportunities to get the ensemble right.

Danny DeVito, who was my oldest friend and my roommate back in the late 60 s, had played Martini, one of individual patients in the mental hospital, in the 1971 off-Broadway production, so he was the first to be casting. I find Will Sampson, who played Chief Bromden, through a put-upon automobile pusher from Oregon who Id sat next to on an aircraft. It turned out his father was a Native American agent and he sold a lot of cars to them. I supposed “were in” looking for a big guy to play the manager and, six months later, would like to call: Michael, the biggest sonofabitch Indian came in the other day!

The other insane decision Saul and I shaped was to shoot the movie in an actual mental hospital in Oregon in January, when it gets gloom at three in the afternoon. It was certainly a risk on the part of the hospitals administrator, Dean Brooks, who culminated up playing Jacks supervisor in the film. He wanted to incorporate his patients into the crew. We culminated up with a number of them working in different departments. I didnt realise until later that many of them were criminally insane. We had an arsonist working in the art department. Dean identified individual patients for each of the actors to shadow and some of the casting even slept on the wards at night.

Jack fostered everyone to bring their -Agame. When you look at that baseball panorama, with him rallying all the patients to watch the game on Tv, thats merely his inherent nature. But because Milo never lets his actors to realise the working day filming, Jack was beginning to wonder about his concert. The casting was beginning to lose a little confidence in Milo, and[ cinematographer] Haskell Wexler, who wanted a aiming career, was playing to those doubts a little bit. I said to Milo: Youve got to show Jack something. So he did and everyone realised the movie was in great shape. I had to fire Haskell shortly afterwards: it was either him or Milo.

We went over-budget and over-schedule, but Saul had the mettle to finance it beyond the initial estimation of$ 2m. It culminated up at merely over$ 4m. His partners accused me of taking him for a journey. But we knew we had a movie there wasnt a false-hearted instant. When we went to the major studios to get a distributor, they all turned down what became a nine-time Oscar-nominated film that won best picture, administrator, actor, actress and screenplay. A lot more mentally ill people started coming out of the wardrobe after that. The movie allowed them to be seen as human beings.

Im on the very best rascal ever rolls Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched. Photo: BFI

Louise Fletcher, actor

I had an 11 -year layoff from acting, having a wonderful time being a mother and homemaker. But I ended up in Thieves Like Us, a Robert Altman film. When Milo watched it to assess Shelley Duvall for a role in Cuckoos Nest, he requested who I was. It took four or five meetings, over a year, to persuasion him to let me play Nurse Ratched. I learned later they had offered it to other movie stars who became them down.

So, on 4 January 1975, I turned up in Oregon for a few weeks rehearsal, which was invaluable. We watched individual patients in their everyday procedure and was just going group therapy. Jack and I watched electroconvulsive shock therapy one morning at 6am that was heavy. Shaping Ratched a human being was no small-scale stunt. You know nothing about her record, unlike McMurphy. I didnt wishes to stir her a ogre I wanted to stir her believable as a real person in those circumstances. I described on the misuse of ability, a prominent issue in those times with Nixon having been forced to resign. I ensure very clearly how people can believe that theyre doing good and they know best.

I had no makeup merely Vaseline on my lips and this crazy hairstyle. I had to work within certain restricts, but did a lot of improvising. And things would just happen organically. The great thing was that there were three cameras for the group therapy incidents, which was an unusual set-up. Normally theyd do a shot, then a overrule shot, but Milo did them all at once, and it made a huge difference. Whenever Jack or another patient did something unexpected, like a blush, “its been” captured.

Jack asked me early on what Ratcheds first name was. I told him Mildred, which is what Id made up. A few weeks later, “were in” filming McMurphy coming back from electroconvulsive shock therapy and pretending to be a zombie. Then he looks at me and announces: Hello, Mildred. I was so shocked that my face became ruby-red. Its my favourite moment.

Towards the end, I was sick of all the constrictions to do with playing Nurse Ratched, right down to her tight clothes. I had stopped socialising with the casting because it wasnt good for the role. They were having a lot of fun each night and I was jealous. I considered: What can I get them as a goodbye present? So one lunchtime, I requested the photographer to fulfill me in the ward. In one panorama, who subsequently got cut, McMurphy comes to breakfast wearing nothing but a pair of silky black boxer shorts with a whale embellished on them. I throw those on, with good-for-nothing on top, then drew on my nannies shoes and hat and re-enacted that Betty Grable wartime poster, looking over my shoulder. I committed them all a print and signed off: Mildred.

The Oscars were wonderful. I didnt belief I was going to win, but I wrote a lecture anyway. I didnt tell anyone about signing Thank you to my mothers, who are deaf, at the end, though. It was kind of frightening for a year or two after: people would stop me at airfields and tell me how much they disliked me. Now Im on all the best villain ever rolls, alongside Anthony Hopkins for Hannibal Lecter. Hes usually No 1.

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