Milo Ventimiglia, Kyle MacLachlan and 10 Top Drama Actors Reveal Most Stressful Moments on Set

8:30 AM 6/6/2018

by Craig Tomashoff

Antonio Banderas, Taylor Kitsch, Dan Stevens, Peter Krause and Damian Lewis also are among those who open up about the moments that kept them up at night while filming their shows.

Courtesy of Ron Batzdorff/NBC; Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

  • Antonio Banderas

    Pablo Picasso - 'Genius: Picasso' (Nat Geo)

    Courtesy of the Tribeca FIlm Festival

    Season two of this limited series focused on Picasso’s long life, splitting time between his days as a young, passionate painter (played by Alex Rich) and his later years as an established artist (Banderas) in Nazi-occupied Paris.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “That would be the first scene I filmed for the series. It was a scene on the beach with actress Samantha Colley. It was not particularly difficult, but I was in Malaga, Spain, playing Picasso, and I am also from Malaga. There was the sense of responsibility, of knowing that there was no way back, that I crossed the point of no return, which didn’t allow me to sleep the night before. My first acting performance was actually with a group of theater aficionados in Malaga back in the mid-1970s. I was in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. I remember feeling like I was in a dream, like I just visited another universe, a place that definitely was better than my reality at the time. I didn’t know if I was good or bad, I just somehow felt that I belonged there and I didn’t want to leave.”

  • Daniel Bruhl

    Laszlo Kreizler - 'The Alienist' (TNT)

    Courtesy of Turner Entertainment Networks

    Set in 1896 New York, this limited series starring German-Spanish actor Bruhl follows psychologist Kreizler’s search for a serial killer with the help of a newspaper artist (Luke Evans) and a police secretary (Dakota Fanning).

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “I’m usually most stressed when a project starts. That first day is always causing sleepless nights. I have this repeated nightmare of me performing my first scene and seeing the horrified faces of the producers as they say, ‘Oh, what a mistake!’ I also have nightmares that I’ve learned the wrong scene. That actually happened to me toward the end of production. Things had gotten a bit chaotic as they realized what we’d missed shooting because we were sometimes jumping in between episodes. I arrived on set and was given new pages. It sent me into a sheer panic. It was a long, long scene that was only on me explaining to the team all the conclusions from the whole show. I knew it wouldn’t work, and I stumbled from line to line. Then they shot close-ups, so things got worse and worse. It ended up not in the show, but I’d love to see that scene and see the horror in my face.”

  • Dominic Cooper

    Jesse Custer - 'Preacher' (AMC)

    Courtesy of Matthias Clamer/AMC

    After the season-one finale wiped out nearly every character with an explosion in Custer’s Texas hometown, season two picks up with the preacher hitting the road to search for God’s current hiding place.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “It was probably the second-season finale. I realized how moving and how rooted in reality these characters are. Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) tells Jesse he slept with Tulip (Ruth Negga), creating this conflict between best friends. Meanwhile, Jesse is standing by his belief that he can save Tulip’s life even though he knows that her death (after being shot by the Grail organization) is completely and utterly his fault. Now Jesse can’t bear to accept that the only possible way to fix what has happened is to allow his (vampire) friend to do something he doesn’t believe in because of his faith. So in that moment, Jesse’s faith is letting him down monumentally. We sat around talking a lot about the scene beforehand, which helped me get through it. That constant searching is what makes everything better. The moment you don’t start getting a bit panicky or your mind doesn’t race the night before you shoot something like that, you’re in trouble.”

  • Joel Kinnaman

    Takeshi Kovacs - 'Altered Carbon' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Season one was set 250 years in the future, where death is a thing of the past and former soldier Kovacs has been given a healthy new body by a wealthy businessman in order to solve a murder.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “In episode eight, I’m framing a person for murder and laying out the scenario of how it happened. That scene took a lot of preparation. I had to drive this whole narrative, building a case like a prosecutor. I’m building a lie and ruining a person’s life. I worked on it a couple of weeks in advance because you really have to have total control over the material. You want to control the tempo without having to think, ‘What’s my next line?’ You have to make all these micro-decisions in the moment, so you really want to already know what you’re saying. I tried thinking of myself as a lawyer, presenting a case in the most convincing way. Once I had the lines down, I tried to find where to pause, where to speed up, how to move around the room, how to use my body language to do something like come up behind someone to make them uncomfortable. That is acting to me, caring enough to have control of your material but also lose control of your emotions atthe same time.”

  • Taylor Kitsch

    David Koresh - 'Waco' (Paramount Network)

    Courtesy of Paramount Network

    This limited series chronicles the real rise of rock musician turned cult leader Koresh and his fall during the deadly raid by federal officials on his Waco, Texas, compound.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “What stands out most for me was that first day on set, when I had a nine-page monologue in the chapel about being a Davidian. I’d been prepping for that scene for four and a half months and was just excited to get it out. I wanted to see what was going to happen. That day, you have 90 people sitting in this little chapel ready to see me as Koresh for the first time, so the stakes were high. I’d been waiting behind the church doors for the director to call action, hearing everyone settle into their seats. As soon as I heard the word, I blew through the doors and jumped in to start the sermon. And the minute we finished that first take, John [Erick Dowdle, executive producer] came running in so pumped, saying, ‘Oh my God! This is that man! I didn’t know it was going to be this good!’ When you hear something like that, and you see other actors you admire really listening to what you’re saying, it’s very empowering. There’s no better feeling. Of course, you spend a minute taking it in and then you’re off to the next 10-page dialogue scene.”

  • Peter Krause

    Bobby Nash - '911' (Fox)

    Courtesy of FOX

    During the debut season, firefighter Nash spends his time at work trying to help others handle personal emergencies, but at home, he’s coping with alcoholism and the death of his family.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “It was actually a series of scenes that had one thing in common: how I modulated Bobby’s release of emotion. As a first responder, he had to be on top of those emotions, but away from work, like in a flashback scene with his wife, it was a matter of how much I put out there and how much I hold in. Separately, there was a scene where I had to see a motorcyclist who had been bifurcated in an accident. I didn’t want to do something the audience might find typical, so I stayed loose and just allowed something to happen. I became very animal-like. I was that animal backing away from a dead body. It was a moment that ended up being very true and unpredictable.”

  • Damian Lewis

    Bobby “Axe” Axelrod - 'Billions' (Showtime)

    Courtesy of SHOWTIME

    Trying to rebound from his arrest at the end of season two, Bobby is living apart from wife Lara (Malin Akerman) and searching for a way to avoid a potential 15- to 20-year prison sentence.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “There’s a scene where Axe is at a penthouse club party full of beautiful people dancing around, and he’s slightly anxious about it all because he ends up naked in a hot tub with three women. I spent the night before thinking about how exactly I was going to get into a hot tub naked while on a rooftop in downtown Manhattan with dozens of windows allowing people to look at my bare tush. They did have me wear what is poetically named a ‘sex barrier,’ so I was covered up in, shall we say, a limited way.”

  • Kyle MacLachlan

    Dale Cooper - 'Twin Peaks: The Return' (Showtime)

    Courtesy of Showtime

    Twenty-six years after the original Twin Peaks ended, special agent Dale Cooper returns to the exact place where he was left: trapped inside the sinister Black Lodge and trying to find a way out while his evil doppelganger roams the earth.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “It was the night before my first appearance on set as ‘Mr. C,’ or Evil Cooper — I didn’t sleep well. I was nervous. That character is such an extreme departure from any other role I’ve played, and I was very aware of the faith David Lynch had in me to make this character live. I didn’t want to let him down.”

  • Jason Mitchell

    Brandon Johnson - 'The Chi' (Showtime)

    Courtesy of Showtime

    In the first season, Johnson begins as a talented chef hoping to one day open his own restaurant. Then, the death of his brother forces him to make difficult choices that send his life into very dark places.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “There were a bunch of them, but the block-party scene [in episode five] was particularly intense. My job was to make it look like Brandon was having the most fun in his life, when his ex shows up with another guy, after he’s seen the guy who shot his brother. This was not a happy moment. To prepare for times like that, I’ll tune out and turn on some music. I like to listen to Nico & Vinz’s ‘Am I Wrong.’ It came out around the time I was doing Straight Outta Compton, so hearing it always helps me tune in to what I’m doing. I listen in my trailer, taking two minutes to myself rather than do it on set, because I have to be thoughtful about everyone else’s process. What was so rewarding when we did finish the scene was immediately feeling like you’ve gotten it. It’s like a breath of fresh air. I gained a lot of confidence in that moment.”

  • Jack O'Connell

    Roy Goode - 'Godless' (Netflix)

    Ursula Coyote/Netflix

    The limited series begins with outlaw Goode on the run from malicious gang leader Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), eventually winding up in La Belle, New Mexico, a town run entirely by women after a mining accident killed the men.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “For the majority of the season, I was just playing a cowboy riding horses who was very unemotional most of the time. But there was one particular scene in the last third of the series, where Alice (Michelle Dockery) has figured Roy out and thinks he’s about to leave. That was a heavy scene that needed emotion in it. I’m not the kind of guy who can cry on command, so I had to put myself through the mill a bit with no guarantee I could get to that place. To get myself into that headspace and find my own tears and grief, I listened to some music that would remind me of people I might have lost. I knew the scene was coming at the end of that week, but I tried to start the waterworks just prior to doing it out of fear the tears might run out. I feel confident enough to say I was happy with how it turned out. There’s a sort of serotonin release you get after something like that, an endorphin rush when you get it right.”

  • Dan Stevens

    David Haller - 'Legion' (FX)

    Courtesy of Michelle Faye/FX

    The good news? As season two began, Haller had (literally) purged his inner demon. The bad news? He’s been spirited away by a mysterious orb and has no idea where or how long he’s been away.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “I’d say it had to be the multiverse episode. It was one of the earliest scripts that [showrunner] Noah Hawley had written for the season because he wanted to get it in my hands early on. It was thrilling and challenging to be handed a script with all these different characters and realities he expected me to play. I was working with the makeup designer and prosthetics people for the different looks, and each night at home I was trying to root each of these realities in some kind of emotional truth for the main David and all other possible Davids. That doesn’t come without its share of sleepless nights, but then again, David is a character who is constantly cooking in my mind. We ended up shooting a lot of this episode in downtown Los Angeles, so that also gave it a very different feel. I have to say, I particularly enjoyed getting to take this weird world of ours out into the real world.”

  • Milo Ventimiglia

    Jack Pearson - 'This Is Us' (NBC)

    Courtesy of Ron Batzdorff/NBC

    Returning after a season one cliffhanger that left Jack, who has struggled with alcoholism, and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) apart, season two began with the big reveal that Jack died in a fire at the Pearson family home.

    Most Stressful Moment of the Season

    “For me it was episode two, at the very end, where Jack admits he has a drinking problem to teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile). When I read the scene for the first time, the idea of Jack trying to hang on to his dignity in probably the worst moment of his life got me very emotional. Because this was so early on in the season, I was still shaking out the cobwebs and just settling back in on set. Still, I had the weight of what this man is experiencing on me. This moment in particular was like shattering this hero quality that his daughter may see in him. It was also one of those scenes where I wanted to be respectful to the men and women I’ve talked to about addiction. So with all that going on, before we shot it, I got quiet — very, very still. I felt almost like an athlete before a game, trying to contain my breath and hold on to everything. I wanted to make sure there was honesty and vulnerability. Thank God for Hannah. Her quiet focus and attention was what helped me get through this painful moment.”

    This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.