Michael Douglas said on a recent episode of Rob Lowe’s “Literally!” podcast that he refused to work with Debra Winger in “Romancing the Stone” after a meeting between them ended with Winger allegedly biting Douglas. Winger was the studio’s top choice to star in the film as Joan Wilder, a romance novelist who falls in love with a bird hunter (Douglas) while on an adventure in the Colombian jungle. Kathleen Turner ultimately landed the role in the Robert Zemeckis’ romance film.
Zemeckis and Douglas reportedly met with Winger in Texas while she was in the middle of shooting “Terms of Endearment.”
“She comes out for us to have a dinner one night and we all have dinner together and we are talking and knocking back some tequilas and this and that,” Douglas said. “We walk out and, just as you would kind of go, ‘Oh you!’ and give someone a little punch in the arm, you know, like a joke-around, she goes, ‘Oh you!’ and she reaches over and she bites me on my arm.”
Douglas said he screamed in pain when Winger bit him, adding, “She’s like jokey and I’m looking at her, ‘I don’t know, man…’ I’m thinking ‘this could be rough’ and she seems interested and I go back and she’s broken the skin.”
When Douglas eventually had to meet with the studio, he said he “broke down in tears” and told the executives, “I can’t go to the jungle with her — she bit me in the arm!’ I can’t do it!’” The actor said the studio executives agreed not to cast Winger, thus opening the door for Turner to take the part.
Variety has reached out to Winger’s representative for comment.
Douglas told Variety in 2019 while marking the film’s 35th anniversary that “we couldn’t get a direct answer whether [Debra] was committed or not and we had concerns after being down [to Mexico] with [Zemeckis] on locations and seeing how difficult it was going to be. We were going to need somebody to be a total team player.”
Released in March 1984, “Romancing the Stone” was a box office hit with $115 million worldwide. A sequel, “The Jewel of the Nile,” was released in 1985. Both Douglas and Turner reprised their roles in the film.