Did you know that the first examples of cinema weren’t actually ‘movies’ as we know them today? The pioneers of cinema simply recorded everyday life – capturing candid moments and emotions that never really went too far.

By the time cinema began to evolve, several filmmakers found themselves wanting to capture true expression and emotion on their actors’ faces – whether it’s joy, sadness, and most commonly, fear. All of this comes together to make truly immersive cinema – even if it’s at a cost, sometimes. Whether intentional or not, there’s a few filmmaking moments that captured an actor when their ‘masks’ were off.

Here’s six of the most fascinating examples of when actors true reactions were captured on film, instead of plain old acting:


1. Isla Fisher (Now You See Me)

This one is pretty scary – and could have led to a horrific on-camera death if not handled properly.

In Louis Leeterrier’s Now You See Me, Fisher plays a magician well-trained in escape situations. Her character was clad in chains, dropped into a sealed tank of water, and challenged to escape. Clear enough – until mid-take, when Fisher realized that her chains were stuck and she began to struggle. Those taps on the glass and terrified expressions – they’re all too real.

“I was actually drowning,” Isla told Chelsea Handler on an episode of talk show Chelsea Lately. “Everyone thought I was acting fabulously… no one realised I was actually struggling. I had to really swim to the bottom; I couldn’t get up.”

Luckily, a nearby stuntman sensed danger, and quickly saved her life by activating a quick-release switch.

2. Brad Pitt (Fight Club)

Naturally, a movie called Fight Club would feature a bunch of fighting scenes – although one got a little too real, at least for actor Brad Pitt. Speaking to Jimmy Fallon back in 2019, Edward Norton revealed that the first ‘punch’ in the film saw Pitt take a real knocker right to the ear.

“David Fincher came up to me and said, ‘Hit him, connect with him somewhere.’ I didn’t know what to do and I hit him in the ear,” admitted Norton on the talk show.

This means that Pitt’s reaction – where he swears, winces, and calls out Norton for smacking him in the ear – that’s all real.

3. Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin)

There’s an iconic scene from this 2005 flick that involves Carell’s Andy Stitzer somehow ending up at a chest waxing appointment. While there wasn’t any need to go all the way for this one, Carell decided to actually get waxed – something he seems to regret today.

“It honestly hurt more than I thought it would,” he shared in an interview with People. “I entered into it thinking, ‘This will be funny.’ But then when they started spreading the wax on with the little stick, I started having serious second thoughts. And I then I thought, ‘If it is funny, then it is worth it?'”

“When I got home that night my wife was justifiably horrified by what I looked like – and proceeded to look like for the next two months. She had a happy face staring at her every night!”

4. Alan Rickman (Die Hard)

Before he was Snape (and several other iconic characters), Rickman was famous for playing Die Hard villain Hans Gruber. At the end of the film, his character gets shot by Bruce Willis’ John McClane – leaving Rickman dangling out of a skyscraper window.

To film this, the crew set up a fairly elaborate stunt routine – Rickman was secured by rope, and was told that at the count of three, he would be released and fall from 40 feet in the air, landing onto a crash pad.

According to the film’s stunt coordinator, Charlie Picerni, the actor had actually been dropped on the count of one – giving us a hilariously stunned, terrified expression on Rickman’s face that’s 100% genuine.

5. Nostromo Crew Cast (Alien)

Perhaps the greatest science-fiction-horror film of all time, Alien gave us several iconic moments to reminisce about. One of the most incredible one is the infamous ‘chestbuster’ scene, where a small alien creature bursts out of actor John Hurt’s chest, terrifying everyone else on the ship.

“[They] were going to be the most difficult thing. If an actor is just acting terrified, you can’t get the genuine look of raw, animal fear,” mused director Ridley Scott. In a bid to create genuine reactions, he kept the events of the scene secret from the cast.

They reacted perfectly – actor Veronica Cartwright, who plays a blood-splattered Lambert, famously passed out once the cameras stopped rolling.

6. Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting)

Not every off-script reaction has to be terror or disgust – some can be a bit wholesome too. Good Will Hunting follows the relationship between young genius Will (Matt Damon) and his therapist (Robin Williams).

While trying to break down the former’s emotional barriers, Williams’ character takes a moment to tell a story about his late wife, farting in the middle of the night.

While endearing, the whole scene is completely unscripted – just a moment of Robin Williams’ magic that left both actors sharing a genuine laugh.

(Image Sources: 20th Century Fox, Miramax Films)