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James Caan Enjoying His 'Misery' : Hollywood's Reputed Bad Boy Resurfaces in the Rob Reiner-Directed Psychological Thriller


As for the rest of the rumors, they're were "gross exaggerations," Caan maintains. "I would hear this stuff about myself, I mean, this dope and this decadance, and then I would say, 'Gee, I wished I'd only done half of these things. What fun I would have had.' "

As for drugs, "I had gone through that, but--and I'm not condoning it in any way--never to the extent that you hear about. I knew actors who came to work and they were gone. But I never missed a day's work in my life."

Caan says he probably would have left Hollywood for good if he hadn't run into financial problems. He said money he had entrusted to business associates had somehow disappeared and instead of being "set for life," as he believed, he found out one day that "I was flat-ass broke."

He even almost lost his house on Stone Canyon Road. "I didn't want to work," he says. "But then when the dogs got hungry and I saw their ribs, I decided that maybe now it's a good idea."

For his first comeback film, "Gardens of Stone," Caan says he only received a quarter of his pre-hiatus salary, and then had to kick in tens of thousands more to the completion bond company because of his "Holcroft" experience. "I don't know what it is, but, boy, when you're down, they like to stomp on you," he growls. "I'm still not getting my full salary."

Of course, full salary for leading men these days can mean $10 million to $12 million and more--sums that don't just stagger Caan, they almost seduced him to finally do the kind of special-effects/action-adventure movie he has resisted making throughout his career. He came close in 1988 with "Alien Nation"--a film whose name "made me gag so badly I'd rather say gonorrhea," he jokes. "I always look to do something different. But I didn't want to do another potato-head movie."

Then, he was offered an obscene amount of money to do an Italian action-adventure picture on the order of "Die More Erect," or whatever, he recalls. "I said to myself, 'What the hell should I care for anyway? Why shouldn't I just make the money?' It was a piece of crap, but I was ready to go."

But then, within a couple of days of making a final decision, Caan was handed the "Misery" script by Reiner when it became clear that the director's first choice, Warren Beatty, would be bogged down in post-production on "Dick Tracy."

Caan's role in "Misery," that of a bedridden romance novelist held hostage and tormented by a crazed fan, is about as far removed from his explosive early work as possible, and though the effect on audiences is likely to be heightened tension, even Caan was bemused by his selection.

"I sometimes wondered if this was a sadistic joke on Rob's part," he says. "You know, 'Let's get the most hyper guy in Hollywood to stay in bed for 15 weeks.' . . . I was doing something I'd never done. For me, this being a totally reactionary character is really much tougher."

If Caan was venturing out of his realm, so was his director. Although Reiner has adapted one other Stephen King work ("Stand By Me," from a short story), "Misery" is his first full-out thriller and Caan says he overheard the director scolding himself one day on the set, blurting out "Who do you think you are, Alfred Hitchcock?"

As difficult as it was to act out his furies internally for "Misery," Caan says the experience of working on the production reminded him of a lesson he had learned long ago in his Hollywood career.

"The truth of the matter is you're the only person who closes your eyes at night. Nobody closes them for you," he says. "And if I'd have made that picture in Italy, I don't think I would have slept for two years."

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