‘The Shawshank Redemption’ Cast and Crew Experienced ‘Extreme Tension’ While Filming, According to Morgan Freeman

The Shawshank Redemption might have opened to a lackluster box office, but the movie has aged well today. The film is the highest-rated flick of all time on IMDb, which isn’t surprising as it is a true gem in cinematic history.

Although the cast and crew are celebrated for bringing the story to life, some behind-the-scenes drama almost cost the movie its life. Actor Morgan Freeman dished on some drama that happened when the cameras weren’t rolling, revealing that there was “extreme tension” while filming.

Why the ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ almost looked different

Morgan Freeman in a scene from 'The Shawshank Redemption' sitting in his prison uniform and hat on top of a picnic table outside in the yard.
Morgan Freeman in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ | Getty Images

The Shawshank Redemption narrates the story of a banker called Andy Dufresne, whose life changes when he is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders of his wife and her lover despite his constant claims of innocence. 

Over his two decades at the Shawshank State Penitentiary, Andy becomes good friends with a fellow prisoner Ellis Redding, a contraband smuggler. He also becomes instrumental in a money-laundering scheme run by Samuel Norton, the prison warden.

The Shawshank Redemption attracted several A-listers, including Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, and Thomas Newman. At first, Frank Darabont was to write and direct the movie, but other industry heavyweights wanted to get a piece of it as word got around.

One of the people who expressed interest in directing was Rob Reiner, who even offered Darabont $2.5 million to walk away from the project. The offer was so good that Darabont contemplated taking Reiner up on it and having Cruise star in it.

Darabont said in an interview with Vanity Fair, “in my struggling writer days, I could barely meet the rent.” Had he taken the money, Darabont would have been able to make quick cash and grow his name in an industry he was trying so hard to get into. The director admits that the dilemma he found himself in “completely tormented” him.

He ultimately decided to turn down Reiner’s offer and direct the movie himself, even taking a significant pay cut. Darabont wrote the screenplay in eight weeks as a way of lifting himself from the rut of writing horror sequels such as The Fly and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

There was ‘extreme tension’ on set

Freeman played Red in The Shawshank Redemption and even narrated the story. In 2001, the actor reflected on his career with Entertainment Weekly and his time on The Shawshank Redemption came up. Freeman revealed that the set of the classic movie was fraught with “extreme tension.”

He said, “That was a strange production. There were moments of extreme tension on the set. Between the producers and actors, between the director and actors, between everybody. Just this personality stuff between different groups. Very strange. Let’s stop talking about that one,” refusing to talk about it further.

Although Freeman knew his role in the film was “the role,” he recalls some “testy moments” such as disagreeing with the director over the finale where his character and Tim Robbins’ character Andy reunite in Mexico. Freeman revealed that Darabont wanted his character to “be blowing that harmonica that Andy gave me,” an idea which Freeman refused, terming it “sort if cliched-and overkill.”

Darabont was very particular about the film

Darabont drew inspiration for some aspects of the film from watching Goodfellas every Sunday during filming. Some of the inspiration plots he sourced were using voice-over narration (done by Freeman) and showing the passage of time. He also excluded deleted scenes from the DVD version of the film as he didn’t want the public to see them.

Darabont also took up some roles in the movie, which he thought he could do better. For instance, during the opening scenes, he used his own hands in closeups of Andy’s hands loading the revolver and in the scene involving Andy carving his name into the cell wall seen twice in the movie.

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