10 Actors Who Acted During Their Darkest Times

6. Elizabeth Hartman – The Secret of NIMH

Many films Elizabeth Hartman was attached to could be placed here, because she battled with depression for most of her life. She was a young actress who made her big break with her Oscar-nominated performance in “A Patch of Blue”, when her father passed away during the filming process. While having more starring roles, Hartman’s filmography replicates the isolation Hartman craved in her life, as she only worked on a dozen films and had some parts on shows.

After her final movie, “The Secret of NIMH”, Hartman actually stopped acting altogether, and removed herself from the industry entirely. She instead worked a quiet job at a museum. Throughout all of this, Hartman reached out for help for her fight against her depression by seeing therapists.

Her sister, Janet Hartman, ended up taking care of Elizabeth during her final years of life, and has gone on account to state that her anxiety was far too strong. It appears Hartman quit acting because she felt fearful of everyone and what they thought of her.

To backpedal a little bit, her last role was the wonderful performance as Mrs. Brisby in “The Secret of NIMH”, where she was a matriarchal figure in a family of mice that ventured forth to save her child. It is discovered that NIMH stands for the National Institute of Mental Health, and that rats and mice had been experimented on; NIMH also intended on killing more rats.

It is a bittersweet note that Hartman’s last film was her as a leader that conquered life’s tribulations, depression and mental health issues, and even death. Hartman committed suicide a few years later by jumping out of her apartment window. Her final role (and possibly her most memorable) helped many children of the millennial age, and her final work helped make an animated masterpiece.


7. Humphrey Bogart – The Harder They Fall

When it comes to being the king of film noir, many would single out Humphrey Bogart as the winner. While he could dabble in films of any nature (see: “Casablanca”, “The African Queen” and “Sabrina”), Bogart was known for being tough as nails in the darkest pictures of early Hollywood.

Look at films like “The Maltese Falcon”, “In a Lonely Place”, “The Big Sleep”, and so many other pictures, and you can see where his reputation came from. In fact, his very last film was also a noir: Mark Robson’s boxing thriller “The Harder They Fall”. This twisted tale of faulty journalism and corruption in sports was a final triumph for Bogart, who passed away from throat cancer the following January.

Bogart’s fight for his life actually spanned over a year (if not longer); he had declined to see a doctor following some strange warning signs until he was heavily persuaded by loved ones. He was a tough guy by refusing to be medically examined, and once his cancer was revealed to him, he was tough once again by actually starring in “The Harder They Fall” while he was dying. He would get tired between takes, but it sure didn’t show in the final product, as his performance was (as usual) highly praised.

Bogart would have to have parts reshot because he was visibly in pain and that his eyes were “watery”. Rumor has it that some of his lines even had to have been redubbed by a different actor. Regardless, it took someone as courageous as Bogart to play these kinds of parts, and it took someone as strong as Bogart to perform in such a powerful swansong.


8. Bette Davis – Wicked Stepmother

Poor Bette Davis had a cinematic output that resembled her actual career. The biggest example of this mirroring is the classic example of “All About Eve”, where Davis’ character was shoved out of the way for a newer face. In the 80s, this film could not have been more accurate, as Davis was in quite a slump. She was starring in films, but many of them weren’t very good (far from her best work, at least).

Director Larry Cohen had hoped to change this by featuring Davis in his (then) latest film “Wicked Stepmother”. Slightly before this film, Davis finally received some acclaim (after many years) for her work in “The Whales of August” two years prior. That was a dramatic role, and “Wicked Stepmother” was drastically different, as it was a fantasy-comedy.

In an article titled “I Killed Bette Davis” (don’t worry, he didn’t), Cohen reminisces on the hard work ethic Davis had; for instance, she refused to improvise until persuaded (she would come to enjoy it), as it wasn’t traditional to her. Davis would often give Cohen a hard time on set, and she eventually quit the production altogether. She blamed the film, the script, and other aspects for her departure.

Cohen would eventually realize that Davis was afraid to admit she was actually slowly dying, perhaps out of fear that she would not be picked up for another film again. Her teeth were breaking and falling out, and she didn’t want to face the cameras. She was frail and exhausted, and shooting was hard on her.

Davis would pass away months after the release of “Wicked Stepmother”, and her exiting the production suddenly made sense to the world. Cohen had stated that he wished he had realized at the time that Davis was as ill as she was, but Davis never wanted the world to see her as less than her craft; she needn’t worry, as her legacy has proven that we all adore her for her timelessness.


9. Liam Neeson – his action films post-2009


The film selection here sounds quite vague, but it is due to a personal testament from Liam Neeson himself. If there was ever a power couple in Hollywood, where each person stood by the other through thick and thin, it would have been Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson.

In 2009, after the first ‘Taken’ film took the world by storm, Neeson was on the set of a new movie in Toronto when his wife suffered tremendously after a skiing accident. She was on life support and was essentially brain dead. Both Neeson and Richardson had made a pact to never leave the other person on life support, and thus Richardson passed away.

Neeson looked for a coping mechanism for himself and for his family, of whom Neeson didn’t want to appear “wallowing in sadness or depression.” He found a new life in action films, especially since “Taken” had given him a new turn in his career.

As a result, Neeson has been in action films ever since, with a whole slew of movies now under his belt. He has been a part of “The Grey”, “Unknown”, “Battleship”, “Non-Stop”, “Run All Night”, and two additional ‘Taken’ films (amongst others). This large amount of activity has been healthy for Neeson, as his rigorous scheduling has kept him focused, and he feels Richardson would have been proud of this rejuvenation, by stating she would have been “chuffed” for him.


10. Keanu Reeves – Speed


Keanu Reeves could be on this list for many different events in his life, as he has not had it easy. His father left his family at a young age. His then-girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, gave birth to a stillborn child and later presumably committed suicide while driving. His sister has battled leukemia for many years. The list of Reeves’ traumas is seemingly endless, but there is one event that many remember, because it was the one event that was publicized the most.

As costars on “My Own Private Idaho”, Reeves was real-life best friends with the late River Phoenix. Phoenix was being labeled the next big star, almost like a new Marlon Brando or James Dean. Sadly, Phoenix died at the very young age of 23 due to a drug overdose.

Reeves was on the set of 1994’s “Speed” when he got the awful news and naturally, Reeves was in an emotional state as a result. Director Jan de Bont tried to cater to Reeves’ needs, including scene changes and schedule switches. Reeves ultimately decided to go in the opposite direction, by involving himself more instead of less.

Almost frightfully, Reeves wanted to do some of the crazy stunts himself. This apparent death wish of sorts made de Bont refuse this decision, but Reeves managed to sneak one stunt in by practicing on the side. It is a shame that he almost never sits well with critics, because after all he has been through, Keanu Reeves is one of the most dedicated actors out there. If his performances don’t speak for themselves, let his efforts through many trying times and his humbleness do so.

Author Bio: Andreas Babiolakis has a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema Studies, and is currently undergoing his Master’s in Film Preservation. He is stationed in Toronto, where he devotes every year to saving money to celebrate his favourite holiday: TIFF. Catch him @andreasbabs.