11 Phenomenal Acting Performances That Weren’t Really An Act At All

1. Matthew McConaughey’s humming in “The Wolf of Wall Street”

One of the more memorable scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street is when McConaughey is schooling Leonardo DiCaprio’s character on the ways of Wall Street and begins thumping on his chest and rhythmically humming.

It’s some kind of bizarre mantra, and it turns out that it’s actually a pre-acting ritual that McConaughey really does on set to warm up. DiCaprio asked him about it and suggested using it in the scene.

2. The chest punch in “Rocky IV”

You might be surprised to learn that there was quite a bit of legitimate fighting done on the set of Rocky IV, clearly the finest of the Rockies because it includes Dolph Lundgren.

MGM/UA Entertainment Company

Supposedly Sylvester Stallone told Lundgren: “Just go at it for the first 15 seconds. I want you to try to knock me out. Just bomb away.” The result was a punch so hard to the chest that Stallone spent nine days in the hospital to get his heart working properly again.

3. The Chestburster From “Alien”

This one was really a stroke of genius. When the little monster (okay, Aliens nerds, the “Xenomorph XX121”) bursts through John Hurt’s chest, the cast was originally more shocked than the audience. That’s because they had no idea what was going to happen in that scene.

The only hint they were given was “The thing emerges.” So when a spring-loaded alien appeared, spraying a pig’s organs and blood in their faces, their horror and confusion were completely real.

Presumably, the actors were aware that they were cast in a movie called Alien, though; they didn’t think that it was a really long film about a dinner party in space.

4. Edward’s Norton ear punch in “Fight Club”

In the iconic first fight between Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, the script originally called for a flimsy hit to the shoulder. Director David Fincher took Norton aside before the take and told him to give Pitt a hard punch in the ear instead.

Pitt’s surprised reaction to the punch is real and made it into the final cut of the film.

5. The pea soup surprise in “The Exorcist”

When an actor is surprised in a horror movie, they’re usually not actually surprised. It’s called acting. But that’s not always the case. Check out the video below to see how this famous scene caught an Academy Award nominee off guard.

6. Ellen Burstyn’s hard fall in “The Exorcist”

While we’re on the subject of The Exorcist, let’s have a look at another of Friedkin’s playful little pranks. During the infamous crucifix scene in The Exorcist, possessed Regan slaps her mother (Ellen Burstyn) in the face, at which point she is flung violently back on her rear end.

The actress was told that she would be given a very gentle tug, but the direction that Friedkin secretly gave the stuntman was to give her a sharp yank. This resulted in the actress actually breaking her coccyx. The scene was kept in the film.

7. Pretty much everything in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”

Well, everything involving children, anyway—which is most of the movie. Director Mel Stuart wanted to capture a sense of childlike wonder from his young actors, and star Gene Wilder was more than happy to oblige.

When Willy Wonka steps in front of the children for the first time, it’s a completely genuine moment; none of the kids had met Wilder at that point. Wilder even adopted a limp and used a cane to make the children feel more at ease (the gag made it into the film).

Paramount Pictures

“When I make my first entrance, I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp,” Wilder wrote in a letter to the producers. “After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet.

“As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.

8. The baboon scene from “The Omen”

In the scene, Damien and his mother make their way through an animal park. Baboons realize that Damien is the anti-Christ (hey, they’re perceptive like that), and start attacking the vehicle, which quickly stalls. After all, it’s a horror movie—the car had to stall, right?

Well, no. Actress Lee Remick accidentally seized the engine on her automatic car in the famous baboon scene. The animals violently surrounded her, and Remick reacted with horror (as is to be expected when you’re in a vehicle covered by screaming apes).

9. Most of “The Blair Witch Project”

How do you get a bunch of young actors to show that they’re cold, tired, and afraid? You strand them in the woods, starve them, and stalk them, of course.

The Blair Witch Project didn’t really have much of a script, and its actors ad-libbed most scenes. The film’s directors only made contact with them once a day to give them basic shooting instructions.

Easy, right? Well, the directors also covertly followed the cast in an effort to unnerve them. Their reactions to strange sounds in the woods are real; they weren’t expecting the cues.

While the filmmakers dropped off food for the cast, they gradually reduced the portions to make them gradually more frustrated (plus, it probably saved them a couple bucks on their Kraft Foodservice budget).

10. The flatulence story in “Good Will Hunting”

During this classic film, Sean Maguire (played by the late Robin Williams) tells Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) a lengthy story about his deceased wife farting in her sleep.

Amazingly, this scene was never a part of the original script and Williams improvised the entire story! This further proves why Williams will always be considered one of the greatest ad-libbers of all time.

11. Tears for the Marseillaise in “Casablanca”

As the Nazis realize they’ve been out-crooned, they take off, whining. Many of the French patrons left in the place are clearly shaken, quite a few in tears. That’s because the extras in the scene were honest-to-goodness European refugees, chased out by Nazi aggression.

Casablanca was filmed in 1941, before the United States had even entered the war. For the extras singing in that scene, chasing out Nazis with the national anthem of France had much more than artistic significance.

That’s right: They made a World War II movie right in the middle of World War II, featuring real refugees from said war. That’s about as far from acting as you can get.

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