Yesterday Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson reported (along with many others) on William Hurt‘s decision to quit his role as Gregg Allman in Randall Miller‘s as-yet unfinished Midnight Rider. Hurt apparently did so as a way of expressing revulsion at the bogus security arrangements that led to the 2.29.14 death of crew member Sarah Jones during the filming of a sequence on a train trestle. Hurt’s decision will almost certainly doom Miller’s film, which no one else seems to want to work on either.
And yet a portion of an email attributed to Hurt (re-printed in the L.A. Times and then by Robinson) has my attention. Here is Hurt’s version of what happened right before the tragedy:
“I said, ‘Sixty seconds is not enough time to get us off this bridge.’ There was a communal pause. No one backed me up. Then, we…just went ahead. I took off my shoes, got on the heavy metal hospital bed and began preparing. We didn’t have sixty seconds. We had less than thirty.”
So basically Hurt, who’s a centered, fair-minded guy (I talked to him at Sundance once), saw it was an obviously dicey situation and said so, and then put away his concerns when nobody backed him up. He stood up and spoke up, yes, but just as quickly folded his tent.
Imagine what could have happened if Hurt, the irreplacable star of the film, had said the following when nobody supported his view:
“Are you guys hearing me? A 60-second warning is fucking ridiculous. Somebody could get hurt. Somebody could fucking die, man! Randall…? Randall, why aren’t there guys with cell phones or walkie-talkies stationed two or three miles down the tracks to give us a warning? Are you trying to save money or what? Because I don’t want to be fucking dead. What if a freight train suddenly approaches going 60 mph? We’ll be fucked. Has anyone made any attempt to contact local railroad authorities and find when trains might be coming by? Has anyone made any attempt to protect the crew to any degree? At the every least you could tell two guys with cell phones right now to drive two or three miles in either direction and tell the 1st A.D. if a train is coming. We also need someone to see how deep the water is under the bridge. Because if a train suddenly comes along some of us might want to do a Butch-and-Sundance and jump over the side.”
Having the good sense to recognize and identify a dangerous situation doesn’t mean jack if you don’t have the cojones to be strong and stand your ground when you’re trying to warn your colleagues or your bosses or both. Especially if you’re a vital part of the team, as Hurt was.