Harry Hamlin has had a long and storied career, but his most prominent role may still be his star-making one: Perseus in Clash Of The Titans. The 1981 mythological fantasy blockbuster was a major breakthrough for the actor, but the movie almost fell apart at a crucial moment, Hamlin tells The A.V. Club.
“Perseus, a lot happened on Perseus, that people don’t really know about,” he says in a new video interview. “They came to me one day, three quarters of the way through filming the movie, and they said, ‘You can’t cut Medusa’s head off with the sword.’ Now, the whole reason I had the sword was to cut Medusa’s head off. Zeus, Laurence Olivier, had given me the sword to cut her head off.”
The mythological monster Medusa famously turns her victims to stone when she looks them in the eye, so she wasn’t an easy foe to battle. As Hamlin explains, Perseus was meant to defeat her by seeing her reflection in his shield and striking her with the sword. “Imagine they come to me and they say, ‘You can’t… cut her head off with the sword,’” Hamlin says, “because in a telex they had gotten the night before it was determined that if I cut Medusa’s head off with a sword and they get an X rating for violence, all the kids in England wouldn’t be able to see the movie.”
Instead, the producers’ idea was for Perseus to throw the shield so that it would “inadvertently, like a frisbee… bounce off the wall and cut her head off,” Hamlin recalls. “That’s great, right? Not. I said, ‘Okay, you wanna shoot the scene that way? Gonna have to find somebody else to do it.’”
What followed was a stand-off in which Hamlin locked himself in his trailer, while the production unplugged his electricity, trying to “smoke me out,” he says. “They sent in all these people every 15 minutes to try to convince me to come out and shoot the scene. And every time they came in I was able to convince them that I was right and that the producers were wrong. And finally at the end of the day, I won.”
If you’ve seen the original Clash Of The Titans, you know that Perseus does, indeed, cut Medusa’s head off, “which I think made the movie,” Hamlin says. “Without that, the movie wouldn’t have worked.”