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Sam Neill Recalls Slapping Isabelle Adjani for ‘Possession’ Scene: ‘The Most Distressing Thing’ I’ve Ever Done’

"Isabelle famously had a breakdown at the end of it," Neill said after the "surreal" production for the 1981 horror film.




Sam Neill is reflecting on the shock of working with “crazed” director Andrzej Żuławski for 1981 divorce thriller “Possession.”

The cult classic film stars Neill as a husband whose wife (Isabelle Adjani) decides to leave him amid her infidelity, but a surreal and sinister reason is behind her multiple affairs. Adjani won the Best Actress award at Cannes upon release but allegedly had a suicide attempt soon after.

“It was a crazy motherfucking surreal time, we were in Berlin in the height of the Cold War. It was bizarre,” Neill told The Independent of the production, calling director Żuławski, who died in 2016, a “genius, but crazed.”

Neill added, “He asked so much more of you than you could possibly give. He asked much more than a director should.”

Among those requests included Żuławski requiring Neill to actually slap co-star Adjani across the face in a scene.

“I said: ‘Look, Andrzej, I have to say no. I can’t do that. You can’t ask me to do that. I have never raised a hand to another human being and I have to say no. Please don’t ask me to. I’m not going to do it,'” Neill said. “Then Adjani came up to me. She said, ‘Sam, you have to do this. You must.’ I said, ‘Please, Isabelle, do not ask me.’ She said, ‘You must do it.’ So I had to do it. I have to say it was the most distressing thing I’ve ever had to do on film.”

The “The Mouth of Madness” actor continued, “And there were casualties. Isabelle famously had a breakdown at the end of it.”

Adjani reportedly suffered from post-traumatic stress after her “Possession” performance, with director Żuławski opening up about Adjani’s suicide attempt in the DVD commentary.

“When she saw the film, after, she committed suicide because she never wanted to see the dailies, so she really didn’t know how do we look at her, and she committed suicide,” Żuławski said (via Sight and Sound Magazine). “But being Isabelle Adjani…and you must understand, in Europe, Isabelle Adjani is a diva, she’s a big thing. She went to the bathroom and she cut her wrists with a G2 machine [razor] which cuts you half a millimeter of skin and not much deeper.”

Adjani previously called the once-banned film “psychological pornography,” telling a French outlet (via I-D) that “‘Possession’ is only the type of film you can do when you are young. [Żuławski ] is a director that makes you sink into his world of darkness and his demons. It is okay when you are young, because you are excited to go there.”

She added, “His movies are very special, but they totally focus on women, as if they are lilies. It was quite an amazing film to do, but I got bruised, inside out. It was exciting to do. It was no bones broken, but it was like, ‘How or why did I do that?’ I don’t think any other actress ever did two films with him.”

Neill agreed in 2021, telling BBC “Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review” radio show, “I call it the most extreme film I’ve ever made, in every possible respect, and he asked of us things I wouldn’t and couldn’t go to now. And I think I only just escaped that film with my sanity barely intact.”

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