What happens when an actor dies mid-production on a TV show or movie?

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Chance Perdomo died at the age of 27.
Chance Perdomo died at the age of 27. Credit: Amazon Prime

A little over a month ago, Amazon Prime series Gen V was gearing up for production on its second season in Toronto.

But instead of sitting down for the first table read of The Boys spin-off series, the cast and crew were reeling from the news one of their own, actor Chance Perdomo, 27, had died in a motorcycle crash. It’s believed the accident happened while he was travelling through New York state, on his way to Gen V’s Toronto set.

The second season was delayed indefinitely until the producers knew what they were going to do. Today, they released a statement on social media saying they are determined to find the best way to honour Perdomo’s memory, and they “won’t be recasting the role, because no one can replace Chace”.

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The death of an actor during the production of a TV series or movie is horrible on a personal level for their co-workers, a tragedy for their family and wrenching for their biggest fans. But it also comes with an enormous practical conundrum for writers, directors and producers who had crafted stories for the character they played and spent millions on footage that may now be unusable.

Gen V’s decision to not recast Perdomo may be informed by several factors, including the ensemble cast nature of the show and that it hadn’t started filming season two yet, which minimises the disruption.

Chance Perdomo's character will not be recast in Gen V after the actor's unexpected death.
Chance Perdomo's character will not be recast in Gen V after the actor's unexpected death. Credit: Brooke Palmer/Brooke Palmer/Prime Video

With the ongoing format of TV shows, the producers often write out a character, usually killing them off, when actors have died. Corey Monteith died between seasons four and five of Glee, and Ryan Murphy gave the character an onscreen send-off. The Gilmore Girls opted to kill off its patriarch Richard for the revival series after the actor, Edward Herrmann, died in the intervening years.

When John Ritter died from an aortic dissection after falling ill on set of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, the character also died on the show. John Spencer’s death during the final season of The West Wing was similarly mirrored in the series.

On a TV series, the association of a specific performer to an actor is often too strong to replace, except on soaps where actors are frequently rotated out. Even in iconic voice roles – such as Phil Hartman and Marcia Wallace on The Simpsons, whose characters including Troy McClure and Edna Krabappel were retired – replacing them with someone else carries too much risk in alienating the grieving fan base.

Movies are different. Often one and done, without any footage yet to be seen, producers can work quickly to work around a death. Chris Farley had almost finished recording all his dialogue as Shrek when he died, he was replaced with Mike Myers. Aaliyah had filmed her scenes for Matrix Reloaded when she died in a plane crash, she was recast with Nona Gaye.

Heath Ledger was in the middle of making Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when he died. Credit: Unknown/Supplied by Subject

But there have been more complex solutions too. Heath Ledger was in production on The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when he died at the age of 27. Director Terry Gilliam rewrote the script so that the character could change appearances and Colin Farrell, Jude Law and Johnny Depp were cast to play the other versions.

Famously, Paul Walker’s death during Furious 7 necessitated hiring Walker’s brothers as stand-ins with the actor’s face digitally imposed on top. The character was then given an emotional send-off but not a death sentence.

One of the rare instances in which a character was recast was when Irish actor Richard Harris died in 2002 at the age of 72 after originating the role of Professor Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies. The character was crucial to the rest of the story and the ongoing film franchise, so he was replaced with Michael Gambon.

Rarer still is the film or TV series that had to be scrapped altogether. The most notorious is Something’s Got to Give, an unfinished George Cukor comedy that died along with its too-famous star, Marilyn Monroe.


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