John Candy’s ‘Cool Runnings’ role nearly went to another actor. Why?


Time must be flying as quickly as a bobsleigh down a track, because it has been 30 years since “Cool Runnings” opened.

On Oct. 1, 1993, the Disney film inspired by Jamaica’s first bobsleigh team introduced a team of four misfits led by a disgraced coach with their eye on Olympic gold. There was Derice Bannock (Leon) to whom the words “give up” meant “not a thing”; the cold-averse pushcart champion Sanka Coffie (Doug E. Doug); Yul “Don’t Touch Me” Brenner (Malik Yoba); and well-to-do Junior Bevil (Rawle D. Lewis), who needed to recognize his own power. John Candy portrayed their reluctant coach Irving “Irv” Blitzer, who had been stripped of his bobsledding medals for cheating.

The uplifting movie strayed greatly from the real-life story of the bobsleigh team that crashed at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, but it showed how a team of underdogs could “Rise Above It.”

“What was most important about the true story was not the facts of the story but the way the true story motivated us and made us feel,” says director Jon Turteltaub. “Good guys can win, and the things that matter in life are not the gold medals but the effort you put into it and the goodness behind it.”

Maybe you don’t have a gold medal, but we can gift you the knowledge of facts you might not know about the movie, like the detail that Yoba wrote the fundraising song that Sanka is paid a dollar to stop singing. So, kiss the lucky egg because we’re rolling.

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The director of ‘Cool Runnings’ envisioned Kurt Russell as the ‘perfect’ choice for Irv

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Candy as Irv in “Cool Runnings,” but Turteltaub had believed “Kurt Russell would be the perfect guy.” The director initially had opposed Candy because he thought “John Candy doesn’t look like a gold medalist.” But Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of Walt Disney Studios at the time, told him matter-of-factly: “ ‘It’s going to be John Candy. You have no say in the matter.’ To which I said, ‘Great! I love John Candy.’

“The fact is, I did love John Candy,” Turteltaub says. “He was like my idol, my guide in life. But I didn’t know that he was going to be right for a serious coach. Turned out he was heaven.”

Turteltaub says he knew Candy was the right choice the moment they met. He says they remained friends “for a short time.” Candy suffered a fatal heart attack in 1994 while filming “Wagons East.” He was 43.

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In real life, John Candy ‘needed to be more of a jerk’

Turteltaub remembers “giggling at everything (Candy) said” during their first meeting. He describes his friend as “delightful and funny and kind” but says the thoughts of others deeply affected the star.

“John suffered from the fear and guilt of not being kind enough, and he hated disappointing people,” Turteltaub says. “He just couldn’t stand when people thought he was a bad person. So he would go out of his way to be a good person, and it was not the best choice for his health, certainly. He needed to be more of a jerk and get some more alone time and not feel he needed to please everyone all the time.”

How Rawle D. Lewis went from casting assistant to Junior

Rawle D. Lewis initially worked on the film as an assistant to the casting director. For hundreds of auditions, Lewis would read lines off-camera with other actors up for parts.

“Every time he read Junior, he was better than anyone who auditioned for Junior,” Turteltaub says. “So, we said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ It was that crazy Hollywood miracle.”

‘Cool Runnings’ relied on actual footage of the crash at the 1988 Olympics

The crash sequence uses existing footage, Turteltaub says, “just tapes from a TV set.”

To preserve the quality of the image, filmmakers shot people watching it unfold on TV as much as they could.

“A couple close-ups in there we shot because you could sort of see faces,” Turteltaub says. “If you really look at it, nothing really matches perfectly. But, somehow, we pulled it off.”

A tight budget called for ‘completely fake’ snow

Disney wanted to get the movie made for as little as possible, Turteltaub says, citing the hiring of a “totally inexperienced” director as evidence of penny-pinching. Disney budgeted a reported $14 million for the film, which made for some interesting shoots, he recalls. The soundstage in Jamaica lacked walls and a roof, and they’d have to shoo noisy birds during filming.

“Half the time they’re walking around in Calgary, the snow is completely fake because it would snow one day and then melt the next day, and we didn’t have any visual effects,” he says. “So we’re rolling out spools of cotton and fabric to make it look like snow.”


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