One Weekend At Bernie's Scene Had Terry Kiser Gasping For Air

Ted Kotcheff's 1989 comedy "Weekend at Bernie's" was considered outrageous at the time. Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman play a pair of low-level insurance wonks who, in the course of their daily work, find a mysterious "mistake" on the books. It seems that someone has been committing fraud. When they take it to their boss Bernie (Terry Kiser), he invites them to his beach house as thanks for figuring it out. Bernie is, of course, the perpetrator and intends to murder them. Before he can, however, Bernie is killed by a vengeful mob boss (Bernie was sleeping with the mob boss' sister). When the McCarthy and Silverman characters arrive, they find Bernie dead, surmise that foul play is afoot, and figure they have to protect themselves from any further mob violence ... by pretending Bernie is still alive. 

The bulk of the movie involves McCarthy and Silverman hoisting around a dead body, using wires and other means to keep it upright. Very occasionally, Bernie's body will be mutilated. All credit to Kiser for managing to play a dead body as well as he did. It's a strange, physical performance that required a lot of patience and "floppy" movement from the actor. Kiser, it should be noted, was part of the Actor's studio, and has appeared in over 140 films and TV shows. 

In 2019, the website RediscoverThe80s interviewed Kiser's "Weekend at Bernie's" co-star, Catherine Mary Stewart, who pointed out that Kiser's performance was quite difficult, and that, in one instance, director Kotcheff decided to test his star's professionalism. 

Hold perfectly still

According to Stewart, Kiser wanted to remain completely still while playing Bernie in scenes where the camera was close on him. When Bernie's dead body is first discovered, it's propped up at a desk, seemingly sitting normally. For authenticity's sake, Kiser held his breath. Rather than yelling cut, the director pulled a prank. As Stewart relates it: 

"Terry Kiser was a real trooper playing Bernie. When they were shooting the scene where the boys discover him at his desk and realize he's dead, it was really Terry sitting there and he had to hold his breath while they shot the scene. Ted let the camera role after the scene had ended as a joke to see how long Terry could last. He slowly turned red and eventually gasped for breath. Everyone had a good laugh at his expense."

Stewart doesn't recall Kiser's reaction to this "prank," but one can admire his commitment to the role. 

There came a scene later in the movie when Bernie's corpse had to be taken on a speedboat, having been tethered into place. The scene's dark humor is derived from seeing the body bounce about uncontrollably. Kiser stayed limp during this scene. The jostling, however, did a number on his spine. Stewart remembers well, saying: 

"Terry also suffered a back injury in the scene where he's in the back of the boat bouncing up and down just before he went flying out. He bounced badly once and ouch!"

"Weekend at Bernie's" was followed up by a sequel (!) wherein Kiser returned as a corpse, this time infested with a magical spell that caused Bernie to dance whenever music played. Like the first, Kiser gives it his all. The films may be described as tasteless, but no one can describe Kiser as unprofessional.