PART FIVE: REMEMBERING BRANDON LEE AND “THE CROW”
By Ryan J. Downey
James O’Barr originally conceived The Crow to channel, process and release his anguish and heartbreak over the death of his girlfriend, who was killed by a drunk driver. Brandon Lee, whose famous father had passed away at the all too young age of 32, was cast to play the lead in the film version of the comic.
Many strange and awful circumstances surrounded what would nevertheless eventually emerge as a triumphant and transcendent film. As Time Magazine reported in 1993, sets were ravaged by a storm, a carpenter was almost electrocuted. As the cast and crew have recounted, illness, accidents and even death touched many of them in their personal lives as well. And of course, as is now widely known, Brandon Lee was killed during a tragic onset accident with just days left of filming to complete.
Now, 15 years on, director Alex Proyas’ film is legendary, iconic, a standard to which dark, romantic, action fueled flicks should forever be held. Splash Page is looking back not to dredge up the tragedy but to celebrate Brandon’s masterful performance, to cherish his memory, and to remind anyone and everyone who has seen this film just how powerful it truly was. Here, some of the cast and crew reflect on Brandon’s personality and work.
Jeff Most (Producer): Brandon had a tremendous impact on the script. He did a phenomenal job interjecting his thoughts about how to best tell the story in an organic way.
Brandon was a really funny guy. He liked to play practical jokes.
The Halloween in ’92, we were all going over the script at [director] Alex Proyas house. He went into the bathroom and he opens the door and he’s doubled over. He looks like he’s in terrible pain. We all jump up. ’Are you alright?’ And then he spits shaving cream at all of us! [Laughs]
Angel David (“Skank”): He was just such a nice person, so good, so talented and so great in this role. He was probably one of the nicest people that I’ve ever worked with. He was always smiling. I’m not a new age-y kind of guy, but literally this man walked around with kind of a light around him.
Obviously as an actor and watching his father in every single movie like a hundred times, to be sitting there with Bruce Lee’s son was already off the charts.
But then you meet him and he has this grace and light and wonder about him. He’s working in frigid temperatures, wet, no shirt, and not one complaint, ever. It was incredible to watch.
Michael Berryman (“Skull Cowboy”): Brandon had a very challenging, physical role. It was really cold, plus the rain machine; what a trooper. He’s in the mud, in his bare feet. I was watching his foot where he would launch and jump over the gravestone. He had such athletic ability and grace. He would cover the headstone the same distance and land in the same spot every time.
He didn’t have any ego, it seemed like. He was really quite charming. He knew who he was, he was very self-assured. He had a wonderful, wonderful presence.
He invited me into his trailer and we would just talk about philosophy, his dad, my family and growing up, he put on some music that he had written. He was a good friend for a short period of time. He was very positive, very centered, a good sense of humor.
Brandon was really just keen on what it all meant and why the story of ’The Crow’ had to be told.
Angel David: Skank was kind of this big puppy dog, even though he was a homicidal puppy dog [laughs]. I kind of became the comic relief. We were doing that last bit with Skank—”I’m not Skank, Skank’s dead!” Alex came over and put his arm around me and he went, “Angel, if you do it like that, it’s a little bit of a problem, because we’re going to hate Brandon’s character when he kills you.”
We started rehearsing again and I did it the way we did it on screen, with a little more bite, a little more poison. And Brandon came over to me. He had been watching me work on my character and tweak it. He was like, “You’re really good.” I was like, “Wow, thanks.” He was like, “We should work together again.” So, half-kidding, I said, “Yeah, we’ll do ’The Crow Part 2. You’ll bring me back from the dead and I’ll be your sidekick.” And he thought about it for a second and he said, “No. No, man. We’ll work on a movie. But the next movie we do, there will be no guns and no fighting, just characters talking.”
Jon Polito (“Gideon”): You can’t avoid speaking about the tragedy that took place during a film about a tragedy. With all the sequels, the TV series, you lose the fact that the film itself was historic for many reasons. People at first put the success to the morose element of the real death but I think it’s because Alex’s work as a director was incredible. It’s one of the darkest and most interesting films.
What happened to Brandon changed how guns are treated on set, that’s for sure. People had really underestimated the power of blanks and dummy bullets in guns.
I believe that Brandon was, much like on script, fated to have a wonderful life. He was killed on Thursday and was going to be married on Saturday, to this wonderful woman. He was finishing his dream project. As in the movie, he was living the life with this woman that he was in love with and he was cut down. You have to say… Where does the reality end and the fantasy begin? The movie and real life came together in a way that was horrific but historic.
It did seem that it was fated, that he would take that role and then would actually live that role in real life. The only difference is he wasn’t able to come back and avenge his death. What happened is he sort of lived on because of the film. His life everlasting is on celluloid.
Angel David: It’s so sad, so eerie, because Brandon was engaged and he was in this great place and the character is the same way. The characters have their whole lives ahead of them and these bunch of knuckleheads come in and just change that horrifically. And we’ve got to give tribute to where the original art and story came from, James O’Barr. He told me his whole backstory. He wrote this from his heart, man. This is his heart and soul here. He went through his tragedy and he put it all down. When people watch ’The Crow’ they can’t help but identify with it and absorb it.
And who the hell doesn’t want to take vengeance in all of the cool and creative ways Eric Draven does? Who doesn’t want to be that guy? He’s so cool!
This concludes our week-long look at “The Crow,” its origins and legacy. Just in case you missed a day along the way (or if you just want to read through them again), here’s what we’ve covered: