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During the production of The Abyss (1989), actor Ed Harris found himself shooting a scene in which his character, Virgil Bud Brigman, plummets down through 200 feet of ocean. Though turning the cameras 90 degrees and dragging Harris sideways made the scene easier to shoot, it was still very difficult.

"About 40 feet into this thing," Harris later recalled, "I realized this is isn't happening, because I can't hold my breath any longer. I'm so excited anyway. There's water rushing up and my nostrils. I did this sign—out of air, unhook myself, get over to the wall. Got no air, I'm waiting for air, and this guy's hung up somewhere. I got nobody to give me air. Then I was hanging there, out of breath, no air. And I'm going, 'Oh, this is great.'

"Then one of the guys swims over and he gives me his regulator. I'm just about to burst, to take in a lung full of water, and he gives me his regulator. But he gives it to me upside down, so I get like half air and half water. I went like that [inhaled] and I got a lot of water in my lungs. I said, 'This is something wrong here,' and then I kind of felt maybe I didn't purge the regulator. I blew out what air I'd gotten in, took another big breath, got water back in my lungs.

"And for a split second, I really thought I was a goner. And then Al came swimming over—the cameraman—ripped the f*cking thing out… and put his regulator in the right way. I took a big breath in and went, 'Yeah, okay, let's go up for a second.

"But I remember driving home that night and I just broke down. I just weeping because there was a part of me that was really disappointed in myself for not being able to do this thing. And there was also a part of me… I really thought I was gonna die for a second that night, and it also pissed me off that I was afraid of that."

[* On another occasion, Harris reportedly punched James Cameron in the face after he kept filming while he was nearly drowning.


Ed Harris at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. Wikipedia photo by Lcsulla (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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