James Cameron's Cruelty Once Led to His Cast Rebelling as the Director Almost Died Himself
Cameron's notorious dictatorial methods of directing movies once made him face an on-set mutiny after he drove two actors to a breakdown and almost died himself.
There are two things James Cameron is famous for.
The first one is, of course, his incredible director's talent. Over the decades of his career, Cameron has created a plethora of phenomenally successful and beautiful movies: to this day, three out of top-four highest-grossing movies in history were written and directed by James Cameron! Both Avatar movies and Titanic proved to be the biggest box office successes of all time with only Avengers: Endgame infiltrating the top-four from the outside.
The second thing James Cameron is famous — or, in this case, notorious — for is his brutal on-set regime. Regardless of what movie we're talking about, if it was directed by Cameron, the man went full dictator mode on his cast and crew. Quite a few actors, including the Titanic star Kate Winslet, even publicly swore to never work with the director again after having gone through this experience once.
One time, James Cameron's dictatorship caused the cast to rebel against the director: it happened during the shooting of 1989's The Abyss. The director drove his lead stars Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Ed Harris to the edge, and the actors lost their cool completely, letting their fury out. This is how Ed Harris himself described it.
“We were guinea pigs, in a way. [In the drowning scene I was] screaming at [Mary] to come back and wake up, and I was slapping her across the face and I see that they’ve run out of film in the camera — there’s a light on the camera — and nobody had said anything. And Mary Elizabeth stood up and said, ‘We are not animals!’ and walked off the set. They were going to let me just keep slapping her around," Harris explained.
But while the lead actors were enraged and distressed, the director himself almost drowned in that same water. At one point, when he was deep underwater, Cameron switched his expired breathing regulator for a new one...which turned out to be faulty.
Instead of breathing in oxygen, the director sucked in a huge amount of water. With the liquid in his lungs and no air to breathe, the suffocating director had to literally fight his way to the surface.
The thing is, the safety diver tried to "calm him down" thinking that Cameron was just panicking, and it took some punches in the face from the director for him to realize that Cameron was suffocating.
So yes, it's pretty safe to say that The Abyss was rough on everyone involved, and the dictatorial director suffered at some point even more than his "guinea pig" actors. The movie still turned out great, though, turning a solid profit at the box office — but since it's James Cameron we're talking about, we would've been more surprised if it didn't.