”As an actor, Brandon wanted to be Mel Gibson.” -Edward R. Pressman, coproducer of The Crow
The night Brandon Lee was rushed hemorrhaging to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., The Crow’s stunned cast and crew gathered at the hospital to wait. They waited for Brandon’s fiancee, Eliza Hutton, and his mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, who were flying in from Los Angeles. They waited for news about Brandon. They waited to hear what to do next.
The Crow had been shooting mainly at Carolco Studios in North Carolina for three months, usually at night, and frequently in a downpour jetted by rain machines. The surreal thriller, based on James O’Barr’s comic book about a rock musician who comes back from the dead to avenge his and his fiancee’s murders, offered Lee the starring role he had dreamed of-a part that would finally make him a leading man and distinguish him from his late father, martial-arts legend Bruce Lee.
In the early afternoon of March 31, 1993, about 12 hours after being hit by a bullet from an improperly loaded stunt gun, Lee died. The producers, who had scheduled three more days of filming with him, temporarily halted production and within hours began to face an agonizing choice: Should they finish the film or shelve it?
While they were coming to a decision, a traumatized Sofia Shinas, who played Brandon’s fiancee, Shelly, fled to her L.A. home. ”I was on the soundstage when it happened, and my agent wanted me out,” she says. ”I was an emotional wreck.” The rest of the cast and crew-with the exception of costar Ernie Hudson, who had returned to California days earlier when his brother-in- law died unexpectedly-stayed in Wilmington, dodging journalists and replaying Lee’s death in their minds. Two days later, coproducer Ed Pressman called them together on an empty soundstage at Carolco.
Pressman told the group that the filmmakers intended to continue the movie- a decision that would add $8 million to the $15 million budget. ”It was never technically (questioned) if we could complete it-it was always evident that Brandon’s role was basically done,” he says. ”The issue was psychological.” Recalls coproducer Jeff Most, ”It was only through Eliza’s great dedication to Brandon that we pushed on…. She knew how important this was to him, and that it would have been his wish to complete it.” (”All she did was agree to have them complete the film,” says a source close to Hutton, who has declined to speak to the press. ”Instinctively, she would have preferred not to deal with it at all.”)
Alex Proyas, 33, an Australian music-video director making his U.S. feature debut with The Crow, was perhaps the hardest to persuade. ”He was extremely close to Brandon,” Most says, ”and the nightmare was weighing on him. (He wanted) a psychological rest of however long he needed.” Within a day, Proyas agreed to Pressman’s proposal of an indefinite period of bereavement. And despite the crew’s mixed feelings, ”they said, ‘You tell us a date and a time, and we’ll be here,”’ Most recalls.