“Go home and forget about the paper, because you are not going to get it.” Milos Forman did not understand niceties or political corrections. The virtuous filmmaker, newcomer to the glamorous hills of Los Angeles from the oppressive communist regime of Czechoslovakia, dismissed each of Louise Fletcher’s auditions with this phrase. He delivered it up to five times over a year, 1974, testing the interpreter’s capacity for patience and self-esteem. Considering that up to 15 officers had refused to represent her because they were in their 40s and retired for a decade, she was more than used to slights. “I did it, I forgot the character completely, but every two or three months they called me again to see me again,” confesses an actress who at that time could not even dream of giving life to one of the great villains in the history of the movie theater. Nurse Ratched, the terrible staff chief at the mental hospital in Some one flies over the cuco’s nidus, will come back to life in the coming months in the form of a television series to confirm its status as a pop icon of the last half century. A myth the result of chance and the rejection of half Hollywood.
Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft, Angela Lansbury, Geraldine Page, Glenda Jackson, Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Colleen Dewhurst … The fact that up to nine of the biggest stars in the industry at that time declined to give life to Nurse Mildred Ratched shows how torture the casting process was. In order to Michael Douglas, producer of the film – and of the imminent series – after his father gave him the rights to the novel, the reason was none other than the reluctance of the great stars “to give life to the antagonists of the films.” A phenomenon that continues to be repeated today, with action heroes demanding in their contracts a clause that specifies that their characters will never lose a fight on screen. Fletcher wasn’t afraid to darken his public image because he didn’t even have one. “All I can say is that I have loved being hated by you”, declared at the top of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when collecting the Oscar for best actress, concluding her speech in sign language in tribute to her parents, both deaf.
Fletcher had been retired from the movie mecca for more than a decade when he landed the role. After a nondescript television acting career in the 1950s, she decided to withdraw from the industry to have children and care for her family. Before running to play Ratched, Fletcher had only done a small supporting role in Thieves like us Robert Altman, at the express request of the director and after refusing to accept so as not to raise accusations of nepotism as her husband, Jerry Bick, was the producer of the film. As fortune would have it, Forman, who saw the film to follow the work of a Shelley Duval whom he valued for a role in Some one flies over the cuco’s nidus, you will end up dazzled by Fletcher’s work.
For several years, the project seemed doomed to gather dust in the drawers of Hollywood executives. All the big studios declined to produce the film and only United Artists, on a meager budget and mostly dedicated to paying the salary of a Nicholson on the crest of the wave, dared to take it to the big screen. Although Fletcher’s salary would not reach $ 10,000 for almost three months of work, Some one flies over the cuco’s nidus It was quite a blockbuster – the second highest grossing film in 1975 behind Shark– and won the five most prestigious Oscars. Even Ellen Burstyn herself would publicly regret having said ‘no’ to the role: “It was a mistake, but at that time I was spending a lot of time in mental institutions with my sick husband (Neil Nephew, diagnosed with schizophrenia) and I didn’t want to have to work in one”.
For Fletcher, however, in addition to the unknown in the industry that exotic Milos Forman was, what kept these actresses from the project was the scarcity of data and context about the character. “You don’t know anything about Ratched. You do not know how it ended up that way, it has no life except the one you can give it. That is a problem for certain interpreters at the time of making the characters authentic, credible and admissible ”, the American confessed in Film Talk. For having no name, Mildred being an improvisation of Nicholson himself during filming. Fletcher ended up taking the role by convincing Forman that his refined and angelic treatment was even more terrifying than the “personification of evil” profile originally sought. “I realized that I was so much more powerful if she didn’t know she was evil. In fact, she believes that she is helping people ”, confirmed Fletcher in The Independent, also establishing parallels with the historical oppression of the black community in the United States.
It is precisely that immense gap in the background of the one considered by the American Film Institute as one of the five best villains in the history of cinema (only behind icons such as Darth Vader or Hannibal Lecter), which Ryan Murphy has wanted to take advantage of to his new series. On Ratched, his muse Sarah Paulson takes on the role of the nurse in his early days in a psychiatric hospital in northern California in 1947 and invites the viewer of Netflix (premiere September 18) “to meet the woman before the monster.” The prequel consists of eight episodes and the cast is completed by Sharon Stone, Cynthia Nixon and Finn Wittrock.
We do not know if Murphy contacted Fletcher to write the script, but, as he confessed in Vanity Fair, the actress did imagine the origins of the nurse. “She had sacrificed her life for the people. She had not married, had not done many things, and was self-sufficient because she had dedicated her whole life to the people who needed her, “she confirms, adding that the character was still a virgin at 40 and that she felt a certain sexual attraction for McMurphy , the charismatic and insubordinate patient played by Jack Nicholson. The actress was so immersed in the role that she decided to isolate herself during the filming and move from the hotel where the team stayed the night so as not to empathize with her companions. For years he refused to see the movie because he considered it “too painful.”
The film’s success also doomed Fletcher’s later career who, either did not know or was unable, to land a spot on that list of great female stars who had turned down the role of his life. Typecast, for the remains, as ‘the bad guy in the movie’. “They offered me many villains after Nurse Ratched and I played many of them, because in the end you have to work,” says the actress whose latest roles have taken place in series such as Shameless O Girlboss. Several decades later, works such as that of Professor Philip Darbyshire have academically vindicated Ratched’s role as a feminist symbol, ensuring that Kersey’s novel is not an allegory of individual freedom but rather a “misogynistic reaction that rejects that women are any other something than a sexual trophy ”. “She is important because she exemplifies everything that traditional masculinity abhors in women, and particularly in strong women in positions of power and influence.” Will the next rereading of the character succeed in transforming our historical hatred for her into empathy and sisterhood?