• Golden Globe Awards

“The River Wild”: Summer Action-Adventure Thriller

In the summer of 1994, HFPA journalists conducted interviews about The River Wild, an action-adventure thriller directed by Curtis Hanson. In the film, Gail Hartman, a history teacher and former river guide played by Meryl Streep, takes her son Roarke (played by 10-year-old Joseph Mazzello) on a river rafting vacation in Idaho. Her busy architect husband Tom (David Strathairn) joins them at the last minute, but the family is threatened by two murderous criminals (Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly) as they raft down the treacherous rapids of the Salmon River. Shooting took place on the Middle Fork section of the Flathead River in Glacier National Park, Montana, and in several other river locations.

Meryl Streep described a scary incident during the filming, when she fell off the boat into the river rapids: “I was apprehensive going into that whole run, because I had the little boy in the boat, and I felt responsible for him: I wouldn’t let anything happen to him and that gave me a lot of strength and nerve. But he was down deep in the gunnel holding on to the ropes, while I was sitting up high on that bench, so, when the boat flipped, I fell overboard. There was a feeling in my mind that I knew this was going to happen, in fact I had expressed my reluctance to the director, told him that I was very tired and I couldn’t do it. But I wasn’t afraid, I just gave up, and it was the best thing to do in the water, because you have to surrender to it. I went under and I was held there for a while, I don’t remember how long, but it was long enough that they were all fairly frightened on the shore, because they couldn’t see me, until they saw my head come up further down river. I didn’t feel my life flash before my eyes or anything, I was very calm, but I was furious when I hit the land and I got picked up by a kayak; my legs were all rubbery, but my temper was hot. I could then make my point about being heard, that when I said I was tired, they should listen to me next time.”
This is what the actress learnt from that experience: “In getting to know the people who worked on the river unit and do this all their lives all over the world, they’re very afraid too; and that was good to see, so I didn’t feel like that was going to keep me from doing my job. It is part of the job to face the fear and use it, let it make you stronger.”

Kevin Bacon talked about a pivotal scene he had with Meryl Streep, that the seasoned actress would later reveal she had written herself the day before the shooting: she gave credit to the director for letting her do it, which was unusual. “It is a confrontation with a very specific resolution and closure, but It’s not what you would call a traditional look at that idea.  What happens that night is that I have just tried to kill Tom, her husband: she’s sitting there, and I say to her, ‘I could do anything I want to you right now.’ And, basically, she takes a gamble at that point and thinks, ‘What could I say to this guy to completely emasculate him, what button could I push for him?’ So she says, ‘Yeah, go ahead, take me, let me see you do it.’ And he is unable to do that. It’s a really great moment because, instead of kicking him in the nuts or having another character run in and save the day, she is actually able, through her own ingenuity as opposed to her own force, to just take this guy out. And that’s a really interesting thing that you don’t see that often in movies. I mean, what it really comes down to is that he doesn’t want her that way, he wants to date her…”
The actor had nothing but praise for his co-star and considered her a role model: “Being impressed with her doesn’t really wear off, but you have to let some of that go in order to get the day’s work done, and I was thrilled to be working with her in the movie.  From when I started out as an actor, I had always so admired her work and her persona. Honestly, she is the actor in my life that I most hoped to model a career after, more so than any male actors. She’s a national treasure, and so to get a chance to actually be there playing scenes with her was a tremendous honor and not a disappointment in any way, shape or form. She’s a great person and really fun to work with. She has that great ease that comes with a tremendous amount of confidence and a sense of her own power that makes you feel good and right and ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work.”