The star of “The Thing” was a familiar face to director John Carpenter. The role of R.J. MacReady would mark the third time in three years that Kurt Russell would star in a John Carpenter film (“Elvis” in 1979 and “Escape from New York” in 1981 were the other two, followed by a fourth in 1996, “Escape from L.A.”). Only this time, it wasn’t just Russell in the starring role. The film called for an ensemble cast.
The group included Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart, and Keith David. In a 2016 interview with L.A. Weekly, Carpenter admitted that he found the experience intimidating. The director, who had previously only worked on smaller productions, said:
“Sometimes I would encourage them to do what they wanted to do. [The scene where they discover the blood bags opened up] was also complex. I was intimidated by how many actors I had to work with. I wouldn’t be intimidated today, but I was a young man then. Well, a younger man.”
The filmmaker had plenty to be intimidated by. “The Thing” was his first true studio film, partnering with Universal Studios with a budget of around $15 million, his biggest at the time. The production involved a lot of special effects and because it was set in Antarctica and Norway, it was shot on two refrigerated sets.
“The Thing” did not perform well at the time of its release, but would eventually become one of the most revered films of its era. That ensemble cast that intimidated Carpenter gives the director all the credit for its legacy.