After refusing to speak about his motivations for writing "Misery" for two decades, Stephen King finally came out and stated that it is indeed about his battle with substance abuse. Kathy Bates' character is a representation of his dependency on drugs, and what it did to his body, making him feel alone and separated from everything, while hobbling any attempts he made at escape. In his statement, he said he did not come out with it at the time, because he was not ready, and because he was afraid it would detract from the story.
Stephen King was quite impressed with Kathy Bates' performance in this film. So much so, that he later wrote two more roles for her. The title role in his novel, "Dolores Claiborne" was written with Bates in mind. King also wrote the script for The Stand (1994). His original novel featured a (male) character named Ray Flowers. Upon hearing that Bates wanted to be involved in the miniseries, King re-wrote the part as a woman (Rae Flowers), just so Bates could play the part.
James Caan once showed up to the set hungover, and all of the scenes he shot that day were unuseable. Rob Reiner told Caan he had to do the scenes again because there was "a problem at the lab". When Caan learned it had nothing to do with labs, he offered to cover the money he lost the studio.
Rob Reiner studied Alfred Hitchcock movies to figure out how to shoot a thriller, watching every Hitchcock film. Reiner had Hitchcock on the brain so much, that James Caan overheard Reiner chastising himself one day on-set, asking himself, "Who do you think you are, Alfred Hitchcock?"
In the original idea for the novel, Annie planned to kill Paul Sheldon by feeding him to Misery the pig, and take his skin to bind the book he had written. The title would have been "The Annie Wilkes 1st Edition".
Stephen King had originally planned to release the novel under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. While writing it, however, it was discovered that King was Bachman. King subsequently published the novel under his real name, and announced that Bachman had died from "cancer of the pseudonym".
Stephen King was initially reluctant to sell the film rights to "Misery", because he was skeptical that a Hollywood studio would make a movie faithful to his vision. However, King was impressed with one adaptation of his works, Stand by Me (1986), and agreed to sell "Misery" under the proviso that Rob Reiner would either produce or direct the film.
James Caan and Kathy Bates clashed over their acting methods. Caan believed in as little rehearsal as possible. Bates, with her theater background, was used to practicing a lot. When she commented to Rob Reiner that Caan was not attempting to relate or listen to her, Reiner told her to use that frustration toward her character.
According to Director Rob Reiner, Annie Wilkes' (Kathy Bates') killing spree is loosely based on that of Genene Jones, a nurse who is believed to have killed as many as fifty children, who were in her care over a two-year period.
Kathy Bates ended up getting upset over the violence. James Caan recalled that his co-star was crying when it came time to shoot that infamous scene. Bates also cried before shooting the fight sequence at the end.
In a recent interview with Melvyn Bragg, William Goldman revealed that few actors wanted the role of Paul Sheldon, because Annie Wilkes overshadowed him so much as a character. Warren Beatty commented before declining, that the hobbling scene made Paul Sheldon "a loser for the rest of the film". Goldman was determined to keep that scene in the film, as it was his favorite from the novel.
James Caan had to stay in bed for fifteen weeks of shooting. Caan said he thought that Rob Reiner was playing a "sadistic" joke on him, knowing the actor would not enjoy not moving around for so long. Caan was not used to playing a reactionary character, and found it much tougher to play.
James Caan accepted the lead role after Jack Nicholson turned it down. Caan had previously turned down Nicholson's Oscar Winning role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), in which he also is the victim of a psychotic nurse, Louise Fletcher, who also won an Oscar for her role.
After seeing The Shining (1980), Rob Reiner was immediately inspired to make a movie based on a Stephen King novel. He ended up directing two Stephen King adaptations, Stand By Me (1986), based on King's short story The Body, and this film, based on Stephen King's novel of the same name.
In the movie, Annie forces Paul to burn his manuscript which is "untitled" (as seen in the close-up). In the novel, Paul titles it "Fast Cars", and is a story reminiscent of 1950s detective dramas, and one hundred eighty degrees away from the Victorian Era set "Misery" novels that made him famous.
When Paul's car is found, he is assumed to be dead, in a subplot original to the film. Coincidentally, on June 19, 1999, author Stephen King was hit by a car with some initial reports saying he had died. King eventually incorporated the accident into his book "The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower," which also briefly mentioned Annie Wilkes.
William Goldman adapted his script for the stage for a limited run on Broadway during the 2015-2016 season. The play starred Bruce Willis as Paul Sheldon and Laurie Metcalf as Annie Wilkes. It marked as Willis' debut on Broadway. Sixteen years before, in 1999, Ramón Langa, famous for being the official dubber of Willis in Spain, starred on a theater adaptation alongside Beatriz Carvajal.
Reiner thinks the film was one of the earliest examples of the audience thinking the villain is dead only to have the killer pop back into frame. A few decades' worth of a slasher movies would disagree with him, but it was probably among the earliest for big studio movies.
Used to giving her characters rich backgrounds to help her find her voice, Kathy Bates and Rob Reiner agreed that Annie was molested by her father as a child. It helped explain for Bates why Annie had a history, as explained in the book and in the movie, of killing infants and old people in her nursing care.
The day after Kathy Bates won the Oscar for her role in Misery (1990), she filmed a scene with Alec Baldwin where fans asked for their autographs. Kathy Bates later walked her dog and forgot to bring a clean-up bag and wound up using a fan's discarded autograph she found on the ground instead.
Cast and crew were excited for the scene where Paul picks the bedroom door lock and rolls himself out into the house to explore for possible escape options. "We had literally only moved, like, four feet, but it was exciting to be shooting something other than that bedroom."
King has Paul pretend to burn Misery's Return at the end and then go on to see it published, but the film has him actually destroy the only copy. Reiner suspects that King, even subliminally, fears what might happen if he doesn't supply his constant readers with the kinds of books they expect from him. The director wanted to affirm Paul's desire to move on to other things.
Warren Beatty was involved briefly while they were developing the script and helped them close some possible plot holes in regard to Paul's efforts to escape. "He said, 'Pretend that it's me, Warren Beatty, an intelligent person trapped in the bed, I would think of every possible way to get out of this house.'" From there they worked through various possibilities and then made sure to block off that option from Paul.
The empty phone is the closest element to a "cheat" in the film as there's no real reason why Annie would have it sitting there unless she expected Paul to escape from his room. They rationalized it by saying simply that she's crazy.
Stephen King's novels are typically optioned while still in galley mode (ie before publication), but Reiner was surprised to discover that even after its release the book was still available. King was apparently reluctant to have it adapted as it was a very personal story for him, but he let Reiner option it with the agreement that the Stand By Me director would either direct or produce the film.
Bates was stage-trained and preferred excessive rehearsals while Caan is more "instinctive and naturalistic," so they had to balance the rehearsal time to make it less than she wanted and more than he wanted.
Rob Reiner was questioned before heading into production if this was really the right project for him as his background was mostly comedy up to this point, but he stated, "it's important for me to find my way into the film... and as you will see the movies really about a man who is trapped by his own success and is desperately trying to break out and establish himself in a different way. I felt very much those feelings when I finished All in the Family."
According to writer William Goldman, Richard Dreyfuss almost accepted the Paul Sheldon part because he regretted turning down the lead role in When Harry Met Sally... (1989) and he wouldn't like to disappoint the director Rob Reiner again - they previously collaborated in another Stephen King's adaptation in Stand by Me (1986). Reiner asked Dreyfuss to read the script but he didn't like it.
Paul preferred to write on white, long-grained mimeo paper. Paper cut long-grained resists curling, especially after having been hammered on by manual typewriters, or the heavy ink of pens, or changing weather conditions. Likewise, the dust jackets on hardback books, and the covers of larger paperbacks, are often shortcut. Thus they tend to curl away from, instead of hugging the book.
Kathy Bates is a little too young to deliver the line about the Cliffhangers. Cliffhangers premiering before movies; and as part of an overall movie theater presentation; were big in the 20s and 30s; by the time Kathy Bates was a kid (the 1950s) cliffhangers had been phased out and replaced by full length features and cartoon shorts before the movies. It's unlikely a character played by someone Kathy Bates's age (she was born in 1948) would have watched the Cliffhangers as a kid growing up.
For the scene where James Caan had to crawl out of bed, Director of Photography Barry Sonnenfeld spit on the hardwood floor to indicate to where Caan should crawl. Caan claimed to Rob Reiner and Sonnenfeld that it was the only movie, on my which he ever worked, where someone was hocking his marks.
James Caan was not his first choice for the film, and he instead was turned down by Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, William Hurt (twice), Richard Dreyfuss, and others. "But at the end of the day you can't imagine anybody else playing the part."
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Kathy Bates was reportedly disappointed that a scene was cut in which she kills a young police officer by rolling over him repeatedly with a lawnmower. Director Rob Reiner was afraid that the audience would laugh at it.
Annie (Kathy Bates) places a wooden block between Paul's (James Caan) ankles and uses a sledgehammer to "hobble" him. In the book, Annie cuts his left foot off with an ax. The scene was changed, so that there would not be too much gore.
In the novel, Annie cuts off Paul's foot to prevent him from escaping. Screenwriter William Goldman had stated that the reason he decided to adapt the book to film was because of this gruesome scene, and the effect it would have on the audience. However, Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman's script revision changed the method of torture to Paul getting his ankles broken with a sledgehammer. Goldman was opposed to the change until viewing the film.
When Annie demands that Paul burn his manuscript, she lights the paper and we see a close-up of the words on the paper. It's an article about Cameron Crowe, and how he is an amazing scriptwriter. It talks about his movies, but mostly offers praise for Say Anything... (1989).
James Caan's fake legs were molded out of gelatin. Armatures with wire were inserted into the prosthetic ankles so that after Annie hit them with the sledgehammer, they would bend at the desired, gruesome angles. There were holes so that Caan could slip his real legs up to the knee.
Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) is also a Liberace fan. The soundtrack features Liberace performing Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto during the typing montage, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata during the hobbling scene and "I'll Be Seeing You" over the closing credits after the zinger.
The novel has Annie chop off Paul's feet and cauterize the stumps, but they opted to simply hobble him instead by having her break his feet with a sledgehammer. Their thinking was that they wanted him to be victorious in the end, and losing his feet would be too high of a price. "It was pretty darn painful to look at, so I don't think we compromised it too much."