"Forrest Gump" is one the most rewatchable movies to me because of its compelling cast of supporting characters. Yes, Tom Hanks earned his flowers for his portrayal of the slow-witted titular character who unknowingly influences historical U.S. events during the 20th century, but some nights I pop on the 1994 classic and find myself gravitating toward Forrest's elusive love interest, Jenny (played by Hanna R. Hall in childhood and by Robin Wright in adulthood). Other nights I find myself drawn to Forrest's Vietnam War platoon leader, Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise). But at the end of the day, I always circle back around to my favorite supporting character: Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue.
Played by Mykelti Williamson, Bubba is Forrest's war comrade and "best good friend." He's also a shrimp wizard who can whip up what seems like a million unique shrimp-centered dishes. He and Forrest plan to become shrimp boat captains together, but Bubba is tragically killed in the war. Bubba's death is one of those character demises that are so heartbreaking that they make you want to track down the screenwriters and scream "Whyyyyyyy!" Everyone loves Bubba. Even Al Pacino loves the pure and innocent shrimp enthusiast — so much so that he got Williamson cast as Sergeant Bobby Drucker alongside him in the 1995 crime drama film "Heat." There's no creature alive on this earth that doesn't love "Bubba," and that's including snakes.
Snakes On A Bubba
The "Forrest Gump" cast spent a week in rural South Carolina shooting the Vietnam War scenes, more than enough time for Mykelti Williamson to make some new slithery friends. The actor told Entertainment Weekly in '94 that one day while walking onset with costars Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise, his path became blocked by a poisonous water moccasin. "I saw this six-foot-long black thing stand up in front of me with its mouth so wide open you couldn't see its face," he said. "I started hauling a**, and the thing chased me for 30 yards." Wow, the snake raced 30 yards? I'm not a huge football fan, but I do know a 30-yard gain in the NFL is something to brag about. Perhaps, my hometown Detroit Lions could use a snake like that.
But that wasn't the end of Williamson's meet-and-greet. Some days later, he actually stepped on a rattlesnake. Don't worry; the snake survived. In fact, it wrapped itself around Williamson's leg. "After that, no one wanted to walk with me," he said. I wonder if he was a whale magnet while on the set of "Free Willy." I'm sure he would have been a joy for his castmates to be around then. But a snake magnet is no fun, especially a poisonous snake magnet. I can't decide which is scarier between having a venomous snake wrapped around my leg or being attacked by a wolf; Arnold Schwarzenegger told Entertainment Tonight he experienced the latter while filming "Conan the Barbarian."
Snakes Weren't Mykelti Williamson's Only Problem
Even though "Forrest Gump" provided Mykelti Williamson with one of his most memorable roles, he explained to the LA Times in '94 that despite his enjoyment working with Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis, getting through production was tough at times. First, before the snakes in rural South Carolina, he and the cast went through preparation that he found less than pleasant. "We had two weeks of basic training," he said. "We were locked up in a room with this guy who's, like, happy to be a soldier, and we're civilians." I can imagine right now an intense Sergeant Slaughter-type soldier in full military getup taking a basic training program filled with actors way too seriously, screaming at the top of lungs at everyone, spit flying everywhere.
Those two weeks of basic training, however, didn't prepare Williamson for what was to come when he arrived in the Deep South. "The first day out there I suffered heat exhaustion; then I ended up getting poison ivy on my face," he told the LA Times. Snakes aside, he really went through the wringer out there. Williamson's experience serves as a reminder that being an actor isn't as smooth sailing as it sometimes appears. Actors often work in real environments in addition to Hollywood-built sets. And a jungle-like setting in rural South Carolina exposes them to the same dangers as it does anyone else.
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