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Twenty years after its release in theaters, The Shawshank Redemption is still a crowd-pleaser.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences celebrated the movie’s 20th anniversary with a screening and cast reunion at its Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on Tuesday night. Writer-director Frank Darabont and stars Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins took to the stage to regale an enthusiastic audience — which also included many of their co-stars and crewmembers — with stories from the production of the Oscar-winning movie.
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For his part, Darabont actually wanted to adapt a different Stephen King novella when he first embarked on his feature directorial debut.
“I wanted to do The Mist,” he revealed, noting that he intentionally decided to go with a non-horror film. Darabont was afraid that if he found success as a horror director first, he would get “typecast, and I never wanted to be compared with George Romero and David Cronenberg. I thought I’d try something off of that track, and if it worked out, I’d do The Mist later and not just be ‘the horror guy.'”
Freeman and Robbins both said they were drawn to the movie because of the screenplay. Freeman, in fact, read the script without even knowing which part he was being offered.
“When I read it, I called my agent and said, ‘Whatever.’ It didn’t really matter [which role],” he said. “When I did know [which character], I was like, ‘OK, I own this.'”
“Funny, that’s what I thought too,” Robbins joked, adding on a more serious note: “I suggest to anyone learning to write a screenplay to read this.”
Darabont revealed that a few changes were made during the filmmaking process. First, the script originally left it ambiguous as to whether Red (Freeman) actually met up with Andy (Robbins) in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
“The original script ended with Red on the bus, uncertain but hopeful about the future; that’s the way the [King] story ended,” said Darabont. “But [studio executives told me], ‘After two-plus hours of hell, you might owe them that reunion.'”
Darabont added that the original film also featured more of Red after he re-entered society but before he went in search of what Andy left him under the tree in the field. The five-minute segment consisted of Red having a nervous breakdown while working at the grocery store. But during a test screening, “we had the sense that the audience was getting impatient,” he said. “They already believed he wasn’t going to make it, because he’d said it.”
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When moderator Max Brooks (whose dad, Mel Brooks, was also in the audience) later pointed out that the movie has been described as “a nonsexual story between two men,” Darabont joked: “That was another scene I cut out.”
Asked how the actors prepared for their roles, Robbins revealed he visited a zoo to observe the caged animals, spent an afternoon in solitary confinement and took time to talk with prisoners and guards. “Whatever you can imagine, it’s 300 times worse,” he said. “[Think about] what that does to your spirit and what you still have to hold on to.”
As for Freeman’s prep: “I just read the script,” joked the actor, who earned an Oscar nom for his role.
Robbins also said the scene in which Andy escapes from the prison through a tunnel only to land in sewage was, in fact, very close to what the actor went through while filming that scene.
“It was cow country, enough said,” he said of the Ohio shoot. “It wasn’t actually human shit; it was cow shit. It was pretty toxic.”
The actors also said that the title of the movie — which wasn’t a hit upon its release, but ultimately found success through word-of-mouth, home entertainment platforms and via repeated cable TV airings — gave moviegoers a hard time at first.
“I wondered, why are they calling it The Shawshank Redemption?” said Freeman. “Nobody can say that.”
The trio then revealed the various — and erroneous — takes on the title they’ve heard over the years from fans: Scrimshaw Redemption. Hudsucker Redemption. Shimshank Redemption. Shimshawk Redemption.
“Sometimes they don’t get anything right: It’s just a garble of syllables,” said Robbins. Nevertheless, the movie recently landed at No. 4 on The Hollywood Reporter’s list of Hollywood’s 100 favorite films.
Asked by Brooks whether they’d found themselves typecast after the movie came out, Freeman joked: “I wouldn’t say that, but I did start getting quite a few narrative roles.” (Freeman, of course, is known for his narration in a multitude of films and TV series.)
Joked Robbins: “I didn’t get any more prisoner roles.” However, the actor has since gone on to teach acting in prisons through The Actors’ Gang Prison Project, which he co-founded (he is set to be honored for his work at the 77th Annual Conference for Community Arts Education). Robbins noted that the prisoners he encounters “love that movie.” Freeman chimed in: “Guards, not so much!”
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