Oscar-Winning Director Hal Ashby was Stoned When He Took the Coming Home Job

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Coming Home is an exciting movie about war veterans and their struggles to find themselves after coming home alive from Vietnam. It earned good feedback from reviewers for its realistic portrayal of how these soldiers feel.

American actor Bruce Dern, nominated for the Best Supporting Actor category for his performance in Coming Home, said at the TCM Classic Film Festival over the weekend that director Hal Ashby landed the project while in a Malibu hot tub. 

Midnight Cowboy director John Schlesinger was the initial helmer for the project. But a day into the project made Schlesinger conclude he wasn’t the right person for the job, leaving showrunner Jerome Hellman without a director. Hellman feared that United Artists would abandon the production before it even started if he stopped things to find another to fill in. 

“At about 2 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, the second day of shooting, [Jerry] needed to find a director for his movie,” Dern recalled prior to the film’s festival screening. 

“The way it happened was Jerome Hallman lived in Malibu Colony, Hal Ashby lived in Malibu Colony. So, he walked down to Hal’s house, [and] Hal was in his hot tub. And he said, [mimes taking a joint out of his mouth] ‘Hey, Jer’ and Jerry said, ‘Hal, I need you to do a movie for me.’” 

Presuming that he had some time, Ashby proceeded to tell Hallman to leave the script for him to read. “Jerry said, ‘No, I got to watch you read the script now.’ Hal said, ‘Oh, for chrissakes,’ and he got out of the hot tub, put a big robe on, and said, ‘What’s the movie about?’ And he said, ‘Vietnam—and I need you to shoot tomorrow.” 

Hellman managed to convince Ashby to take on the job, which later proved to be a good decision for Ashby as he got his first Oscar nomination for directing; he earned nominations before that but for Best Editing and won once for In the Heat of the Night.

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