Starvation and simulated torture: Filming Martin Scorsese's 'Silence' sounds pretty hellish

Liam Neeson in “Silence.” MUST CREDIT: Kerry Brown, Paramount Pictures

For an Oscar contender, "Silence" is still remarkably mysterious. Is Martin Scorsese's decades-in-the-making passion project any good? We don't know, because it's only now screening for critics, and even then only in Los Angeles and New York.

In the meantime, we'll have to be content with stories about the making of "Silence." The good news is those tales don't disappoint. In fact, the drama is shaping up to be this year's "The Revenant" – another movie that put its stars through the wringer, nearly overshadowing the content of the film with outlandish fables about what went on behind the scenes.

"Silence" stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as 17th-century Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor, played by Liam Neeson. It's based on a novel by Shûsaku Endô, and Scorsese has been trying to get it made since he read the book in 1989. Here's a look at what the stars endured in their search for cinematic glory.


Driver lost a striking amount of weight, putting his artistic cred right up there with Christian Bale, who became emaciated for "The Machinist" in 2004. The "Girls" star explained during an Interview magazine chat with Noah Baumbach that it was necessary because his character is supposed to be traveling from Portugal to Macau over the course of two years, during which disease and food shortages would have left his weight dwindling. He lost 51 pounds for the role – and he wasn't a particularly big guy to begin with.

By his final scene, when he's at his thinnest, Driver was hallucinating.

"I don't think I've ever taken it to the extreme before," he told Baumbach. "You're so hungry and so tired at some points that there's nothing you can do – you're not adding anything on top of what you're doing. You only have enough energy to convey what you're doing, so it's great. There are other times where a scene's not working and you don't have the energy to figure out why it's not working."

Religious trials

Garfield spent a year studying with Jesuit priest James Martin, who helped the actor through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

"I've spoken to people who've attempted these exercises and only lasted for three days," Scorsese said during an interview with Vogue. The exercises included meditation and a week-long retreat where Garfield wasn't permitted to speak. If that doesn't sound quite as challenging as what Driver endured, then try not talking (or checking your phone) for an hour.

"Andrew got to the point where he could out-Jesuit a Jesuit," Martin told the New York Times. "There were places in the script where he would stop and say, 'A Jesuit wouldn't say that,' and we would come up with something else."

Really bizarre simulated torture

The trailers for "Silence" show clips of some pretty awful scenes. The movie takes place during a period when Christians were persecuted in Japan, and punishments included crucifixion and death by fire. At one point, 82-year-old actor Yoshi Oida had to be strung up on a cross with waves of water crashing over him.

Weirder still is what Neeson had to endure. He was "suspended upside down by ropes over a pit of excreta," according to the New York Times. Even Leonardo DiCaprio never had to do that.


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