It’s been 25 years since “Titanic,” and those who worked on the film still remember the night they got drugged on set.
On Aug. 9, 1996 on the set of “Titanic” in Halifax, Nova Scotia, craft services provided the cast and crew with clam chowder — that was spiked with PCP.
The meal was so good, some people even ate three to four bowls, not knowing what would come next.
“We had a room for the grips and electricians, and one of the guys started talking really hyper,” crew member Jake Clarke told Vulture. “He’s a big guy, like six-four, and he says, ‘Do you guys feel okay? Because I don’t. I feel like I’m on something, and believe me, I would know.’ He was just chattering on like that.”
“And just as he was saying this, we saw James Cameron run by the door and this extra running behind him. He said, ‘There’s something in me! Get it out!’” Clarke remembered.
Cameron initially thought it was a “red tide,” a naturally occurring toxin that can make shellfish dangerous to consume.
The 68-year-old director previously told Vanity Fair that he had to step away from the set to vomit after eating it.
“I’m standing at the monitors, near the camera, and the room is empty. It was like the twilight zone,” Cameron said in 2009.
An assistant director on set noticed the chaos and divided everyone on set into two groups: “bad crew” and “good crew” — meaning who was apparently high off PCP and who wasn’t — with the “bad crew” group getting significantly bigger as time went on.
The clam chowder incident happened on the film’s Haifax set — where Cameron filmed framing device scenes with Bill Paxton who plays the researcher that discovers the elderly Rose’s necklace. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were not affected but Paxton did eat the PCP soup.
“Bill Paxton was a real sweetie. He was sitting next to me in the hallway of the hospital, and he was kind of enjoying the buzz. Meanwhile, grips were going down the hallway doing wheelies in wheelchairs,” set decorator Claude Roussel said.
“Some people were laughing, some people were crying, some people were throwing up,” Paxton told Entertainment Weekly back in 1996. “One minute I felt O.K., the next minute I felt so goddamn anxious I wanted to breathe in a paper bag. Cameron was feeling the same way.”
Clarke didn’t eat the chowder himself thanks to his shellfish allergy, but stayed up until 4 a.m. on set — and was awake to see Cameron and Paxton as the PCP fiasco was slowing down.
“Their eyes were beet-red, like unbelievably. Jim had a bottle of Scotch, and Bill Paxton had a bag of joints because he was a real stoner,” he recalled. “I’m kind of laughing about it because I didn’t eat the chowder, and then I’m there in the trailer smoking a joint.”
The drugged crew members, as well as Cameron and Paxton, were sent to Dartmouth General Hospital.
A criminal investigation was handed over to the Halifax Regional Police Service and heightened while some of the cast and crew were filming in Mexico.
While most of the crew that was in Nova Scotia didn’t travel to Mexico, at least one craft service operator did — and he was rumored to have been “taken away at gunpoint by the Mexican police because somebody else on the crew said, ‘Oh, I think it was him,’ fingering the wrong person,” Clarke said.
“That’s the word I got back,” he clarified.
Authorities were never able to find out who spiked the calm chowder with PCP, but at the very least, the incident ended in lifelong memories and everyone was able to laugh at it.
“One of the art-department guys made T-shirts, and he recreated that chowder on the corner of the T-shirt,” Clarke shared. “He gave that out to a bunch of the local crew. It said underneath it, ‘Good crew, bad crew.’”
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