20 Furry And Ferocious Facts About Gorillas In The Mist

There are many amazing films that can somehow pass you by, and for many, the five-time Oscar-nominated Gorillas in the Mist is one of those.

Released in 1988 and starring Sigourney Weaver, Gorillas in the Mist tells the real-life story of the naturalist Dian Fossey, and below are 20 fascinating facts about it.

20. Jessica Lange was originally supposed to play the lead role

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Noted critic Roger Ebert stated that it was “impossible to imagine anyone more suited to the role” of Dian Fossey than Sigourney Weaver.

But despite the fact that she eventually gave an award-winning performance, the first choice for the lead in Gorillas in the Mist was not Weaver.

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The first person in line to play Fossey in the 1988 film was Jessica Lange, a 1983 Oscar-winner for Tootsie.

However, Lange had to turn the role down as the shoot coincided with her own pregnancy.

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It wouldn’t have been Lange’s first time around large primates, either, as she had previously appeared in the 1976 remake of King Kong.

19. Sigourney Weaver was attacked by a silverback gorilla for real during filming

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During the filming of Gorillas in the Mist, Sigourney Weaver was actually attacked by a silverback gorilla for real.

“There was one silverback named Pablo,” Weaver recalls, “who was known for dragging women down the mountain by their hair.”

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Weaver continued by revealing that: “one day I think he was not in a good mood, and in the middle of shooting, he rose up, beat his chest, roared going up the mountain, and knocked me down.”

Thankfully, Weaver had been warned what to do in the event of such an attack, so kept her head low and stayed completely still.

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“After what seemed like an eternity,” Weaver remembers, “he finally moved further up the hill and started to terrorise a female up there.”

18. Starring in the film inspired Weaver to have a child

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Sigourney Weaver once revealed that starring in Gorillas In The Mist inspired her to have a child

The actress told the Telegraph Online in 2017: “they’re great parents gorillas… and it’s an amazing thing to be in the presence of a gorilla family and watch their parenting.”

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Weaver continued: “I remember when I was with them thinking, ‘Oh, this must be what it’s like to have a child.’ And it’s one of the reasons I had a child shortly after that.”

Weaver gave birth to her first and only child, Charlotte Simpson, in April 1990.

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The actress has been married to Charlotte’s father Jim Simpson since 1984.

17. Much of the film was shot in extremely treacherous Rwandan locations

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In order to make the film as realistic as possible, most of Gorillas in the Mist was filmed in the treacherous mountain jungles of Rwanda.

This was the location of much of Dian Fossey’s real-life research, and is still home to a massive gorilla population today.

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According to the WWF, half the world’s mountain gorilla population live in the Virunga Mountains on the border of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At present, more than 1,000 are thought to live in the wild.

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Sadly, this means that despite the best efforts of Fossey in the 80s and those that have followed in her footsteps, the species remains endangered.

16. Most of the real gorilla scenes were shot with just Weaver and a crew of five 

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Karisoke Research Center, where the real Fossey interacted with the gorillas, is in the Rwandan rain forest on a 12,175-foot mountain.

The Rwandan government placed strict restrictions on how many people are allowed in the vicinity of the gorillas at any given time.

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Because of this, the scenes in which Weaver interacts with real gorillas could be shot with no more than five crew members.

Not only that, but the actress and the crew had to climb several thousand feet from their base camp to reach the location every day they were shooting, whilst lugging equipment.

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A far cry from the vast crews and cosy trailers that Hollywood superstars tend to expect!

15. Director Michael Apted’s documentary experience convinced the studio he could shoot with real gorillas  

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When British filmmaker Michael Apted boarded Gorillas in the Mist, he insisted on shooting it on location as authentically as possible.

Apted was able to inspire faith in studios Universal and Warner Bros (who co-produced and distributed the movie) thanks to his history as a documentary filmmaker.

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The director explains, “I convinced (executives) that if I wanted to do Gorillas in the Mist with real gorillas, then I could make that (work) because I was a realistic documentary storyteller.”

Though a successful feature filmmaker, Apted is perhaps best known for the Up documentary series, which began in 1964 as 7 Up, charting the lives of 14 British children aged seven, and reuniting with them every seven years.

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Paul Almond directed 7 Up, but Apted (now in his late 70s) has directed each subsequent documentary, most recently 63 Up in June 2019.

14. Weaver was instructed through an earpiece by off-camera primatologists

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Working so closely with real gorillas obviously required a great deal of training for Weaver.

Even so, being instructed beforehand could only serve the actress so far in dealing with wild animals, whose behaviour can be unpredictable.

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Because of this, the actress was given a hidden earpiece through which she would take direction from off-camera primatologists.

The experts were observing the whole time and could advise Weaver as to the best way to react in any given situation, and these spontaneous interactions made it into the final film.

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The actress said at the time, “I knew it would be difficult… I just had to remember that Dian did everything 100 percent (real).”

13. Some scenes feature actors dressed in gorilla suits

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The gorillas seen in Gorillas in the Mist look consistently realistic throughout, to our eyes at least.

However, there are a number of shots in the film that in fact feature people dressed in gorilla suits.

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The suits were created by Rick Baker (above, with Weaver), the ground-breaking FX artist who won the very first Oscar for achievement in make-up on 1981’s An American Werewolf in London.

Baker had to make modifications to the faces of his gorilla suits, so that the actors’ eyes were not quite so visible.

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Before his recent retirement, Baker also won Oscars for his work on Harry and the Hendersons, Ed Wood, Men in Black, The Nutty Professor, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Wolfman.

12. Terrified crew members once mistook an actor in costume for a real gorilla

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So convincing was Rick Baker’s make-up, it resulted in some hair-raising moments on set.

One scene required a stuntman in gorilla costume to charge on all fours, with stilt-like arm extenders built into the suit.

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However, when the stuntman was suited up and started rehearsing the move in costume whilst the crew were setting up for the shot, there was a moment of panic.

The frightened crew members, who hadn’t noticed the stuntman beforehand, did not realise it was a man in costume, and briefly thought they were under attack by a real gorilla.

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Once everyone had calmed down, they reportedly saw the funny side of the situation.

11. Bryan Brown took some artistic licence playing Bob Campbell

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Bryan Brown co-stars in Gorillas in the Mist as Bob Campbell, another character modelled on a real person.

In the movie as in life, Campbell was a photojournalist who worked closely with Fossey and became her lover.

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Brown noted at the time, “there’s a certain licence that’s being taken in the movie… Bob Campbell is an Englishman, raised in Kenya. I am an Australian, and I’m playing him as an Australian.”

Even though the real Campbell was present on set, Brown “never felt I had to know what made him tick because it wouldn’t help the movie.”

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Brown explains, “the film is about Dian Fossey,” and classes Campbell as “an incident in her life.”

10. The movie deliberately downplays Fossey’s darker side

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While her love for the gorillas was intense, Fossey’s hatred of poachers was equally strong, and her reactions against them could be quite extreme.

The creatives behind Gorillas in the Mist made a conscious decision to underplay this darker side of their subject matter for the most part.

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Weaver admits, “(Fossey) was a complex subject who hated many people and burned down huts. But I didn’t want to tell the story of a woman’s descent into madness and isolation.”

The actress explains, “I wanted to tell the story of who this woman was, what she loved, what she devoted her life to.”

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Bryan Brown says, “everyone has their own bias” regarding Fossey, but muses, “she trod on a lot of toes, but I guess to do what she did, she had to.”

9. The baby gorillas are actually chimpanzees wearing black face paint

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The baby gorillas that interact with people in the movie are actually chimpanzees.

This was because using real baby gorillas would have put the cast and crew at risk from the adult gorillas.

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Gorilla parents are known to be fiercely defensive of their offspring.

In order to make the chimps resemble baby gorillas, special make-up was used.

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Black face paint was applied to the chimps, as well as peaked fur hats.

8. Fossey was in discussions about making the movie prior to her murder

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Fossey’s memoir Gorillas in the Mist was published in 1983, and not long afterwards there was interest from the film industry.

The naturalist – who had previously joked about having either Elizabeth Taylor or Brooke Shields play her in a biopic – was open to the idea.

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Fossey sold the rights to her life story in late 1985, and made arrangements to meet with producer Arne Glimcher.

However, when Glimcher (below) was en route to Rwanda to meet with Fossey, he received word that she had been killed.

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The shocked producer resolved to press on with the project in her honour.

7. Weaver felt that “Dian was with us” on set

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Weaver has confessed she was initially taken aback when she was asked to play Dian Fossey, as she had spent most of her life in the city and hadn’t interacted much with animals.

However, once she got a taste of Dian Fossey’s experience Weaver was enchanted, and felt “from the moment I got (to Rwanda) that Dian was with us.”

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Weaver recalls that, within minutes of meeting real gorillas, “a little female named Josie came over and sat down next to me and leaned against me.”

“It was a feeling I can’t even begin to describe. It was such joy and excitement and I knew from that moment that this was such a gift.”

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The actress explains, “You couldn’t help but love (the gorillas), so I didn’t need to try and understand Dian’s love for them. They were her family.”

6. The reviews praised Weaver, but had some issues with the film

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While the critical response to Gorillas in the Mist was largely positive, some found the film somewhat lacking.

Most agreed that it was the best work Sigourney Weaver had yet done, The Washington Post happily declaring “at last, (Weaver) may have found a role cut to her scale.”

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Even so, concerns were expressed about the script and direction, which some felt failed to adequately humanise Fossey or explore her motivations.

Beyond this, all were impressed by the film’s representations of gorillas, and how it blended genuine footage of the animals with people in costume.

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Roger Ebert said, “Everything looked equally real to me, and the delicacy with which director Michael Apted developed the relationships between woman and beast was deeply absorbing.”

5. It won two Golden Globe awards but got snubbed at the Oscars

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Despite mixed reviews, Gorillas in the Mist garnered a lot of attention in the 1988-1989 awards season.

It picked up five nominations at the most prestigious awards show of them all, the Oscars.

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Weaver was nominated for Best Actress, whilst the screenplay, score, sound and editing were also listed.

Unfortunately, Gorillas in the Mist lost out on all the Academy Awards it was nominated for, but it did pick up two awards at the Golden Globes.

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Gorillas in the Mist won Best Original Score and Sigourney Weaver was awarded Best Actress at the Golden Globes, but it missed out on the Best Film award to the brilliant Rain Man.

4. If it wasn’t for Dian Fossey, gorillas may have become extinct

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Gorillas in the Mist celebrates the achievements of the real person that Sigourney Weaver portrays in the film, Dian Fossey.

Fossey was one of the foremost primatologists in the world, and a member of a group of female scientists known as the ‘Trimates.’

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If it wasn’t for the amazing conservation efforts of Fossey and her colleagues, gorillas may well have become extinct by now.

Before Fossey’s research, people believed that gorillas were bloodthirsty animals who would attack humans whenever they got the chance.

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We now know that, despite looking extremely intimidating, the gorilla is actually one of the least violent members of the great ape family.

3. It has been theorised that Fossey was murdered by a poacher

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As Gorillas in the Mist details, Dian Fossey was tragically murdered in her cabin at a remote camp in Rwanda in December 1985.

A Rwandan police investigation charged Fossey’s assistant Wayne McGuire with the crime, although this conclusion has been widely questioned.

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However, McGuire was convicted of the crime in absentia having fled back to the US; he never served his sentence as there is no extradition treaty between the US and Rwanda.

The precise circumstances of Fossey’s death remain a mystery to this day, although it has been theorised that it was linked to her conservation efforts, and that the assailant could have been a poacher.

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Reportedly Fossey’s last journal entry read, “When you realise the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.”

2. Sigourney Weaver is still chairwoman of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

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Sigourney Weaver once described starring in Gorillas in the Mist as “an awakening”, and said that it completely changed the way she looked at the world.

Not only that, but since 1988 Weaver has been honorary chairwoman of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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As the name might suggest, this is a charitable organisation which fights for the protection of gorillas.

Founded by Fossey herself in 1978, the organisation was originally named The Digit Fund, in honour of a gorilla slain by poachers.

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The organisation was renamed in honour of its late founder in 1992.

1. Weaver featured in another film about Fossey in 2017

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29 years after playing Fossey on film, Weaver participated in a documentary series about the naturalist and her accomplishments.

TV series Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist first premiered on National Geographic in December 2017.

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The show gained new insight into the famed primatologist as the filmmakers were granted access to Fossey’s private journals and letters which had remained unseen beforehand.

Weaver narrated the series, which featured contributions from such other prominent naturalists as Sir David Attenborough.

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The actress said working on the series gave her a new insight into a woman who she considers “in my imagination a great friend.”