Peter Bowman in Proof of Life

David Morse - Proof of Life

The Richmond Times Dispatch December 8, 2000, Friday, Copyright 2000

The Richmond Times Dispatch

December 8, 2000, Friday, CITY EDITION

LENGTH: 891 words

Shooting 'Proof of Life' In Ecuador's Andes Mountains Becomes A Test Of The Mettle Of The Film's Cast And Crew

BYLINE: Daniel Neman; Times-Dispatch Staff Writer; Contact Daniel Neman at (804) 649-6408 or

Filmmakers always complain about the difficult conditions they face when they shoot their movies, perhaps as a way of justifying their often astronomical salaries. But when the cast and crew of Proof of Life complain about how much they suffered over the course of the movie, they really mean it.

The film, a thriller about the efforts to free a kidnapped American hostage in a South American country, and the effect his ordeal has on his wife, was shot high in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. The location, as it turned out, was problematic. "I suffered horribly," said actor David Morse, who plays the hostage. "It is a movie and it's not real suffering, but the work was probably about as hard as anything any of us had done, crew or actors, in conditions that were probably as difficult as any we had ever been in."

For example?

"Working up there at 14,000 feet for 14 hours a day after driving on these brutal roads for an hour, and having people literally carried off the mountain on stretchers [because of altitude sickness] - big, healthy people collapsing and having to be taken out - having the director of photography doing his hand-held camera stuff next to you with an oxygen mask over his face so he can get through the scenes, that's kind of a challenging environment."

And that was just part of it. David Caruso, who plays one of the hostage negotiators, said, "Every day it rained. Every day things would become more and more unstable in every respect . . . You did have to be aware of what you were doing."

The rains brought mudslides, and sometimes a hill that had been there one day was gone the next, Caruso said. Director Taylor Hackford would just have to film around the missing scenery. And that's not even including problems with a nearby active volcano and a military coup.

What did not distract the filmmakers, however, was the reported relationship between stars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, which is generally believed to have broken up Ryan's longtime marriage (in Hollywood years) to Dennis Quaid. At the last minute, Ryan declined to attend a recent press tour publicizing the movie, which opens today, and Crowe deigned to talk only to television and radio reporters.

According to Morse, no one on the set knew anything of the alleged romance between the two stars until the last few days of filming, when it was reported in the English tabloids - the film had moved to London by then. The effect of the news on the movie was therefore negligible, Morse said. But he added that he knows how on-set relationships can begin.

"You're vulnerable anyway, being away from home, and everybody's relationships go through up and down times. You have to have a kind of intimacy, you want to be able to fall in love as an actor, just as I want to approach this pain and suffering as a hostage with a kind of reality. You want to do the same thing if your [character is] in love with someone in the film, so it does get tricky," he said.

Caruso admitted to a similar situation earlier in his career, when he was playing a love scene opposite an unspecified actress. "It's not real. It seems real. You may be in pain, you may feel angst, you may miss the person. But you talk through it because it's not real," Caruso said.

For Morse, the intense feelings he developed during the filming were all about the director, Hackford. "He's almost like two different men. There's the man you would meet here [in Los Angeles], who's very worldwise and interesting and funny and a good guy. And then there's the guy who comes when he's directing. He sees himself as a commander of this huge ship or vehicle or universe, or whatever it is that he's got to prove. He's really chosen to do this in difficult circumstances, which in some ways came back to bite him, but in some ways added to the quality of the film," he said.

But the circumstances also led to some now-legendary losses of Hackford's already legendary temper. And the very worst outburst, a tantrum the size of the mountain they were on and as destructive as the nearby volcano, was directed squarely at Morse and a couple of the women who had never acted before.

"He apologized [later]. To me, that was the real leader, somebody who could say, 'I made a mistake.' There are a lot of directors who wouldn't have done that."

Morse even understands the frustrations that led to this eruption and other, lesser outbursts. They were in Ecuador, and everything was going wrong. Morse's double was tragically killed in a truck accident that badly injured a few others. The constant rain was a persistent impediment, and the altitude sickness was taking its toll. And the whole reason they came to Ecuador in the first place, the spectacular scenery, was obscured the entire time by clouds.

"Taylor is very interested in authenticity. We probably could have filmed in Central Park, but he wanted a rough area, he wanted that authenticity," said Caruso, who is best remembered for walking out of a successful role on "NYPD Blue" for an unsuccessful movie career.

"Taylor is all about courage," Caruso said. "Let's face it, there aren't a lot of big directors who are willing to cast David Caruso in a movie. But he pushed for me, he pushed for Ecuador, and no one had ever filmed there before. That took courage."


LOAD-DATE: December 10, 2000



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