Helen Hunt Reminisces about Twister's Thrilling and Stormy Production

Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.
Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.
Image: Amblin

Well, mostly it involved a lot of things getting thrown at her. Which I suppose makes sense, considering.

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Twister is a stunning, wild disaster movie, a chronicle of tornado chasers, life-threatening storms, and love. Starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, it made bank at the time and is remembered now as a cheesy but really impressive classic in the history of disaster movies. And Helen Hunt talking about it is an absolute delight.

For Vulture’s ongoing film club retrospectives, the website talked to Hunt about Twister and its production, which was, uhh, more realistic than the actors probably wanted.

“The shoot went on forever, and it was really brutal, physically,” Hunt said. “I think the reason it holds is that it wasn’t a lot of visual effects; they were actually just throwing shit at us constantly. And so we all took refuge in my dressing room, playing cards until 5 in the morning, when they’d finally let us go home.”

To capture a realistic sense of being in a tornado, the production used live props and lots of motion. Hunt explained, “You’d get through five days of the hail machine, throwing actual bits of hail at you, and you’d go, “Woof, that’s done. Tomorrow must be easier.” And then the shards of candy glass, fake glass, would be thrown at you on the floor of some garage. And then there’d be a jet engine...”

Yikes. Oh, and there was the one time she was blinded for a day, apparently?

As Hunt tells it:

I think Jan, unfortunately, got saddled with the sunniest, most blue-sky tornado season in Oklahoma history. I feel for him as a filmmaker because you fly all the way there with all of this equipment to capture the stormy skies and it’s, like, sunny and blue skies almost every day. So he had all of these units out shooting stormy skies in other parts of the country, but in order to darken the sky behind us, he had to shine a ton of light on the actors. Does that make sense? So that when he brought the image down, you could still see Bill and I on the truck. So I remember these four 16k bulbs — 16,0000 watts of light — strapped to the back of the camera truck, shooting us. And I have very squinty, sensitive eyes anyway. And I remember going, “I can barely keep my eyes open!”

We were there all day shooting the scene, and the next day, Bill came into the makeup trailer and said, “Can you see?” And I said, “Not really.” It was super-weird. But it was not a big deal, ultimately. We put on some dark glasses and we walked around like the mice in Cinderella for a while. But I was very relieved that Bill was the one who came forward and said, “I might be going crazy, but I don’t think I can see.” But it went away. I guess they fry your corneas off and then they grow back.

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Dear Lord, that sounds like a nightmare of a movie. Despite that, Hunt still seems fond of the film and built really lovely, lasting relationships with many of the people involved with it. Defintely check out the whole Vulture interview, it’s fascinating.


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io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.

DISCUSSION

ertorre
E. R. Torre

When the movie was originally released, the wife and I were debating whether to see that or The Phantom.

We flipped a coin and Twister won.

We both lost.

No, I didn’t like the damn movie, even though I’m well aware there are many, many out there who do/did. For me and my wife, the moment they trotted out Dorothy #5 (or whatever) at the start of the film we looked at each other and said: We’re going to go through five (or whatever) twisters and then the last one will get the data, amiright?!

Sure enough.

The movie was so damn dumb -and I suppose that’s why some people really like it, for that cheesiness factor- but for me it was just too dumb to enjoy.

I don’t know what was the very worst thing about the movie, the “evil” Tornado hunters (Cary Elwes, deserving much better) or the ridiculous climax where (SPOILERS!) they’re riding out a tornado as it passes over them.

P.S.: Later on I got to see The Phantom. I sooooo wanted to love the film: Great cast, wonderful visuals, Patrick freaking McGoohan... but... nah. Didn’t like that one all that much either, and I so wish I did!