Lawrence Kasdan Remembers William Hurt and the Huge Impact Actor Had on His Filmmaking

Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, a four-time Oscar nominee, worked with Oscar winner William Hurt, who died March 13 at age 71, on “Body Heat” (1981), “The Big Chill” (1983), “The Accidental Tourist” (1988) and “I Love You to Death” (1990).

William Hurt and I came into the movies together, and Bill had a huge impact on the way I thought about the process.

We met when I was casting “Body Heat,” the first movie I directed. On our initial meeting, we talked for hours about movies and life. We were trying to guess what it would be like to take that journey together.

I was still looking for my cast and eventually tested four couples for the two leads, but that first conversation with Bill stayed with me. Bill immediately brought a seriousness to the whole process that I carried forward from that night. We did everything with the knowledge that what we were doing commanded our greatest effort.

Bill had an obsession about rehearsing. He wanted to be meticulously prepared for the work. But once we started rolling, he was absolutely alive to the material, as if encountering it for the first time. You never knew what was going to happen during the take.

On “The Big Chill,” the cast rehearsed together for a full month — just the actors, my co-writer Barbara Benedek and me in a bare room on the Warner Bros. lot. That’s unheard of in movies today, and it was unusual then. But I wanted these strangers to learn to trust each other and have real relationships.

It was fascinating to see Bill working with people who were much looser. On “The Big Chill,” each of the actors arrived with wildly different approaches. The clash of styles was exhilarating. Bill loved that. He loved acting and was never happier than when surrounded by good actors.

Bill and I did four movies together over the course of a decade. We had real fun while bringing enormous intensity to the work.

Like me, Bill was interested in not only the details but the bigger questions: Were the details true? Did it all add up? That’s exacting work. It’s watchmaking. You can’t do it casually.

In his life, Bill was always seek- ing. He never stopped searching for what would be his truth. He had a busy life with a lot of people in it and was devoted and loyal to his friends.

Bill was always asking: Why was he here and what was he doing with the people around him?

— As told to Cynthia Littleton

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