UPDATED: Well, fair is fair and we’re going to give Seagal his credit here. As much as the theory below might make sense, it is not true. As Krom sends the following in, Seagal’s role was always written as a small part;
I have the proof here on the first 1991 early draft script that his death was intended at that very moment to the same circumstances. He really was there as a favor to WB and also as a surprise element throughout his death. Read it here.
Apologies, Sensei! Actually, this won’t be the first vindication of Seagal that we will post here soon, another big story about Seagal’s alleged behaviour has been definitively debunked recently, article on that soon.
PREVIOUSLY: Students of the Sensei, it is time to convene. And discuss a most traumatic affair that many of us have yet to get over. The premature killing of Master Steven Seagal, in the 1996 movie Executive Decision. They killed him, folks. Before 1/3rd on the movie had even passed.
You could say that this is just how the movie was always supposed to be. But there is something wrong with that line of thought. First, I seriously doubt that Steven Seagal would’ve signed on for the movie in the first place, if that was the case. Note: This was a Warner Bros movie and the Sensei was contracted with them up until Exit Wounds. So they might simply have forced him to do it.
But initially Steven Seagal was given second billing in the movie, alongside Kurt Russell. In multiple regions the original VHS cover was still used, where Steven Seagal’s face appeared on the right side and Kurt Russell appearing on the left. This leads me to speculate that Seagal originally had a bigger role. And recently I watched the movie again and it became clearer, to me anyway, what that role was.
I think that John Leguizamo’s role was actually what was written originally for Seagal. In fact to me it appeared very obvious when I watched again last week for the first time in years. It was quite a big step up for Leguizamo to share the screen with Kurt Russell, often giving Russell orders and such. It was as if a much bigger actor could have been playing that part.
If you recall in the movie, there are signs that something big was supposed to develop between Russell and Seagal. The film suggested they had a history and it seemed that this love/hate relationship was due to develop and fester under pressure beneath the floorboards of that hijacked airliner. Then, after Seagal is killed, this type of back and forth happens instead between Leguizamo and Russell, only much less intense and effective. In the end, Leguizamo saves Russell’s life, something that Seagal’s character was probably meant to do, to mend things between the two.
So what happened and why did they demote the Sensei to being blown into orbit?
Take a wild guess. Steven Seagal has an ego, but it was even bigger in the mid 1990s, probably as big as it ever was. The man is notoriously difficult to work with on set. So my theory is that Seagal showed up, was doing what Seagal does and invoked his own demise. Possibly he did not agree with sharing so much screentime with Russell and wanted to be front and centre more often. I speclate that director Stuart Baird and Warners decided to teach Seagal, under contract, a lesson.
By 1996 they probably had more than their fill of Seagull-ism and basically showed him who was boss and gave the show to the up and coming John Leguizamo. Initially, the idea was even to kill Seagal in that airhatch by having his head explode via depressurization – a nod to his ego perhaps? When Seagal learned of this, he locked himself in his trailer and refused to leave, even under threat of lawsuit, until the death was changed to being blown out into the sky.
That wasn’t the only incident on set, Seagal felt the need to re-assert himself when he returned to the set, possibly through feeling the slap of being humbled. That included an altercation where he started telling folks that, quite literally, he was still boss. When the newly promoted John Leguizamo laughed out loud, Seagal ‘tai-chi’ed his ass’, according to Leguizamo. Did Seagal snap after the relative unknown who won the lottery and was given his place, laughed in his face? Was it the final insult?
This theory might not be truly accurate. But either way, it was entirely unprofessional conduct on the part of Seagal. Executive Decision was his second last big gig. Exit Wounds was his last. And in that movie, he once again locked himself in his trailer. Coincidence?