Coming Home is a 1987 film about war veterans and their struggle to fit back into society after coming home alive. The movie has been critically acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of these men’s difficulties when they returned.
Actor Bruce Dern, nominated for the Best Supporting Actor category for his performance in Coming Home, revealed at the TCM Classic Film Festival during the weekend that director Hal Ashby landed the project when he was in a Malibu hot tub.
Initially, John Schlesinger handled this project, but he soon discovered one day into production that he wasn’t the man for the job and left showrunner Jerome Hellman stranded 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.” Ashby accepted Hellman’s offer and later secured 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.