Proof of Life's Trouble-Plagued Shoot

December 8, 2000 -- Torrential rains and landslides, a volatile leader, a tragic death, and a runaway romance — the stuff of great drama, right? Right. Especially considering that it all happened behind the scenes of director Taylor Hackford's new drama, Proof of Life.

The runaway romance between co-stars Russell Crowe (who plays a hostage negotiator) and Meg Ryan (as the woman whose husband is kidnapped) has all but hijacked the drama as far as the media is concerned. But Hackford and his actors have been loath to talk about the love affair, just as they've been reluctant to comment about the accidental death in April of co-star David Morse's stand-in.

After working side by side with Ryan and Crowe in those steamy Ecuadorean jungles, Hackford and Morse (who plays Ryan's husband) said they didn't realize what was up. Not until shooting moved to London — and those tabloids first began spreading the news of the affair — did the Proof crew get the facts.

"They were incredibly professional and they were discreet," says Hackford of his leads. Co-star David Caruso agrees: "What I was aware of was two people digging into the material and allowing the chemistry to happen."

'People Literally Being Carried Off the Mountain'Filming Proof of Life "was no Cole Porter cocktail party," Hackford says. The director insisted on filming Proof on location in the rugged Andes mountains — making it the first Hollywood movie to film there. "Taylor is very interested in authenticity. We probably could have filmed in Central Park, but he wanted the location to be a rough one," says Caruso.

Morse admits that his role, that of an American businessman abducted by terrorists in fictional South American country Tecal, was rough. "Months and months … it wears you down, shooting at 14,000 feet for 14 hours a day." Morse lost 25 pounds to realistically portray a man wasting away, and was going for 40 pounds until his doctor told the 6-foot-plus actor it was too much, too fast.

"Every day, filming was a challenge, with people literally being carried off the mountain on stretchers, collapsing [due to lack of oxygen]," but there was one day that really took the cake. "[Hackford] lost it one day really badly," says Morse. "He lost it at me and he lost it at some of the girls who had never acted before, he lost it with the crew, he just lost it with everybody.

"Everything was going wrong. He was so out of control of the environment. He'd scouted this one location a month before and it had the greatest view in the world, and when we got there, it was snowing and we never saw it. It could have been Los Angeles, it could have been anywhere."

Hackford was also having trouble getting one of the actresses to slap another actor playing a terrorist, and, with precious daylight and his magnificent shot fading, the director decided to show how her how to do a movie slap.

"She just didn't understand," says Hackford, who says he gave the actress a light slap to show her what he had in mind. As for the disappearing view, it magically made it into the film — even though no one on location could see it — thanks to an optical fog filter the director of photography produced.

After "losing it," Hackford apologized to one and all, which Morse says "makes him the real commander.

"He sees himself as a commander, essentially of a huge ship … and he really chose to do this in difficult circumstances. In some ways, that came back to bite him, but it adds to the quality of the film, which is what he wanted," says Morse.

Proof of Life opens in theaters today.