From right to left : John, Myself, Production Manager Robert Brown, Associate Producer Larry Franco. The Juneau Ice Field. Location Scout April, 1981

Friday, October 28, 2011


               As emblematic as Kurt Russell's performance as MacCready in THE THING has become, his was the last role cast. Early on there were  general discussions about whether we should stay true to the idea of keeping the movie a strictly ensemble piece or lean in the direction of an established star. I think Kurt was always in the back of John's mind but, having worked twice previously together at this stage in their careers both wanted to keep their options open. These general conversations necessarily involved the studio at this point and were only exploratory, with no commitment from either party implied. My notes from the time aren't complete, but they show that availability was checked on the following actors:

Christopher Walken

Jeff Bridges
Sam Shepard
Nick Nolte

Bridges, Nolte and Walken were unavailable or passed without comment very early on. There was the usual initial trouble with the perception that a movie called THE THING could be anything other than a "B" grade sci -fi thriller and it wasn't until actors and agents  actually read the script that they warmed to the idea.We were intrigued with Sam Shepard, whom we were told liked the script but things didn't progress very far and no meeting was held. My notes don't reflect it, but I also seem to remember some early interest in Kris Kristofferson...

John Heard
Ed Harris
Brian Dennehy
Tom Berenger

Jack Thompson
Scott Glenn
Fred Ward
Peter Coyote
Tom Atkins
Tim McIntyre

          These actors met with or read for us for the role of MacCready. John would begin each session with a stern warning about the physical nature of the film and the rigors of working in the cold. Tom Atkins read and was an early favorite of John's when we were thinking solely in terms of  "the group". Others, like Scott Glenn and Ed Harris, met but passed soon thereafter. Both Peter Coyote and Tim McIntyre were openly lukewarm about appearing in a monster movie. Brian Dennehy was initially considered but became for a long while the first choice for Copper (switching like this was not unusual. Richard Masur came in originally for the role of Bennings, but expressed interest in Clark, for example).

               Australian actor Jack Thompson, then currently starring in BREAKER MORANT was a surprisingly strong late contender for MacCready. The film was shown to the studio and he was flown in to read for John in his office, but in the end what seemed to be the best fit and make the most sense was staying with Kurt, a decision no one has regretted since...
              John made the decision to cast Kurt on the day we left to film the initial ice field sequences above Juneau in early June, 1981. There he also shot the footage of Mac flying to the Norwegian Camp and the flying saucer ( the helicopter pilot filling in ), an occasion as I think he has pointed out where he filmed the costume before he filmed the actor... 




  1. I've just discovered this blog thanks to Outpost 31 and have to say it's the discovery of the year! Words fail me when I try and describe how I feel about this true cinema classic, a love which made me start a podcast series about cult cinema, the first episode dedicated to The Thing (search for 'And Why Not' on iTunes for those who may be interested). Mrr Cohen, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for bringing one of the greatest films ever made to the screen. I watch the film whenever I can and it still amazes me to this day. Reading the blog is giving me goosebumps and being such a fan of Carpenter I can't help but wonder what it would've been like like had Pleasance and Atkins had been involved. I'm sure I once read that Charles Cyphers had auditioned for a role too?

  2. This is too cool Stuart. Please keep 'em coming.

  3. Here's my opinion on suitability for the role of MacCready (not acting ability):

    Jeff Bridges-->Excellent

    Sam Shepard-->Excellent

    Nick Nolte-->Excellent

    Christopher Walken-->No.
    Great actor. But too weird and quirky to play a rugged leading man.

    John Heard-->Acceptable.
    But not really a star who could carry a picture like other candidates.

    Ed Harris-->No.
    Great actor, but not the kind of heroic leading man for a role like this.
    Also has a distinct Chicago accent, which might not have worked.

    Tom Berenger-->Acceptable.
    I don't think Berenger is as good an actor as the top candidates, though.

    Brian Dennehy-->No.
    Great actor, but all wrong for a helicopter pilot and leading man.
    Dennehy was frankly too fat to be believable in the physical aspects.
    Would have been right for Blair.

    Fed Ward-->Acceptable.
    My only problem is Fred is such a physical specimen that The Thing would never stand a chance against him.

    Jack Thompson-->Don't know much about him.

    Scott Glenn-->Acceptable.
    Fine Actor.
    Problem is Scott never really established himself as a true leading man, like other candidates.
    A good brooder, maybe not a group leader.

    Peter Coyote-->No.
    No physicality.
    If MacCready was a highly educated wimp, yeah, but not the MacCready as written.
    Would have been a good choice for Fuchs.

    Tim McIntyre-->Acceptable.
    What a terrific yet unknown actor McIntyre was.
    Could have played the grizzled, alcoholic side of MacCready well.
    The physicality, I'm not so sure.

    Tom Atkins-->No.
    Another talented yet largely unknown actor.
    Tom is a character actor, not a leading man.
    He is not handsome enough to play a hero like MacCready, nor is he physically right.

    1. Wanted to amend one suggestion:
      I opined Brian Dennehy would have been right for Blair.
      I meant Dennehy would have been a good choice for Norris.
      But heck, Dennehy could have played Blair too!!!