‘Slash Film: Jack Lemmon Went ‘Out On A Limb’ By Starring In China Syndrome’

Slash Film

“The China Syndrome” is a movie in the conspiracy thriller subgenre, concerning a nuclear power plant in southern California that, thanks to shoddy business practices by its owners, is veering dangerously close to meltdown. Upon discovering the plant’s flaws, Jack Lemmon’s Jack Godell agrees to blow the whistle via TV news journalist Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda), at which point he’s intimidated by his superiors as well as followed and menaced by mysterious people.

Other conspiracy thrillers made prior to “The China Syndrome” featured young male leads, with the most prominent example being Robert Redford, star of “Three Days of the Condor” and “All the President’s Men.” The creative team was looking for a similar type to play Godell, but when Lemmon came across the script for the film, the actor concocted a pitch for his playing the part instead. As Lemmon recounted to Chet Cooper in 2010:

“I finally had to make the decision, ‘Do I want to play this part or not?’ And, there were times I would take a chance and go out on a limb, and it’s worked out. ‘China Syndrome’ is a good example of that. The part originally was written for a hotshot engineer in his 30s. I guess I was 50 or 60-something then. Michael Douglas was the producer … So, we went to Michael and said ‘Listen, (suppose) the guy was a little older and had spent his whole life completely wrapped up in nuclear energy, and then he has to cut the umbilical cord. It’s not very easy, you know …The older he is, the more sympathetic the character becomes and the more we understand his problems and his horror about the whole thing.’ And, Michael bought it and said, ‘OK, you’ve got it.'”

/Film – ‘Slash Film: Jack Lemmon Went ‘Out On A Limb’ By Starring In China Syndrome’
Author: Bill Bria
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January 21, 2023

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