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

We filmed it at a real mental institution 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 grow it into a cinema, 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 story of one man against the system. I had never thought about inducing, but told my father: Let me run with this.

Our firstly screenwriter, Lawrence Hauben, introduced me to the work of Milo Forman. His 1967 cinema The Firemens Ball had the kind of qualities we were looking for: it took place in one enclosed situation, with a plethora of unique characteristics he had capacities necessary to juggle. At the time, Milo was living in the Chelsea Hotel in New York. He had apparently had a breakdown and never left the building gossips were he would confide in a Czech friend while lying in bed, and then my best friend would go out and envision a analyst on his behalf. But he hovered to California to envision us. Unlike the other administrators we understood, who retained their cards close to their chest, he went through the script page by page and told us what he would do.

Distributors all moved us down Michael Douglas on the situated. Photo: Archive Photos/ Getty

My inducing spouse, Saul Zaentz the owner of Fantasy Records and a ravenous reader seemed an affinity with Kesey. After Larry and I made a first strive, 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 out. We fell out with him after that. It was our only longstanding, painful issue. We got in to a financial disagreement it was silly, but perhaps it was his route of protecting his ego.

Hal Ashby, who had been in the early move for director, showed 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 approval: it gave us the opportunities to get the ensemble right.

Danny DeVito, who was my oldest pal and my roommate back in the late 60 s, had played Martini, one of individual patients in the psychiatric hospital, in the 1971 off-Broadway production, so he was the first to be cast. I detected Will Sampson, who played Chief Bromden, through a used auto marketer 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 said we were looking for a big person to play the director 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 built was to shoot the cinema in an actual mental institution in Oregon in January, when it gets light at three in the afternoon. It was surely a risk on the part of research hospitals director, Dean Brooks, who pointed up playing Jacks supervisor in the film. He wanted to incorporate his patients into the crew. We pointed 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 operating in the art department. Dean recognized individual patients for each of the actors to shadow and some of the cast even slept on the wards at night.

Jack promoted everybody is bringing their -Agame. When you look at that baseball panorama, with him rallying all the patients to watch the game on Tv, thats only his inherent nature. But because Milo never permits his actors to envision the days filming, Jack was beginning to wonder about his concert. The cast was beginning to lose a little confidence in Milo, and[ cinematographer] Haskell Wexler, who wanted a aiming vocation, 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 cinema 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 fortitude to finance it beyond the initial estimation of$ 2m. It pointed up at only over$ 4m. His partners accused me of taking him for a journey. But we knew we had a cinema there wasnt a false-hearted moment. 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 painting, director, performer, actress and screenplay. A lot more mentally ill people started coming out of the wardrobe after that. The cinema allowed them to be seen as human beings.

Im on all the best rascal ever lists 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 housewife. But I ended up in Thieves Like Us, a Robert Altman film. When Milo watched it to assess Shelley Duvall for important roles in Cuckoos Nest, he requested who I was. It took four or five meets, over a year, to convince him to let me play-act Nurse Ratched. I learned afterwards they had offered it to other movie stars who moved 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 routine and was just going group therapy. Jack and I watched electroconvulsive shock therapy one morning at 6am that was heavy. Attaining Ratched a human being was no small-time stunt. You know nothing about her history, unlike McMurphy. I didnt wishes to construct her a monster I wanted to construct her believable as a real person in those circumstances. I gleaned on the misuse of ability, a prominent issue in those times with Nixon having been forced to resign. I understood very clearly how people can believe that theyre doing good and they know best.

I had no makeup only Vaseline on my lips and this crazy hairdo. 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 shooting, but Milo did them all at once, and it made a huge difference. Whenever Jack or another patient did something unexpected, like a blush, it was captured.

Jack asked me early on what Ratcheds first name was. I told him Mildred, which is what Id made up. A few a few weeks later, we were filming McMurphy coming back from electroconvulsive shock therapy and pretending to be a zombie. Then he looks at me and tells: Hello, Mildred. I was so scandalized that my look moved 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 cast because it wasnt good for the persona. They were having a lot of fun every night and I was jealous. I remembered: What can I get them as a goodbye present? So one lunchtime, I requested the photographer to encounter me in the ward. In one panorama, which later got cut, McMurphy comes to breakfast wearing nothing but a pair of silky black boxer shorts with a whale embellished on them. I put those on, with nothing on top, then pulled on my nurses shoes and hat and re-enacted that Betty Grable wartime poster, searching over my shoulder. I dedicated them all a publish and signed off: Mildred.

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

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