It was just your standard love story: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, girl turns out to be a fish. Splash, though, was a slice of ‘80s movie magic that still endures in the hearts of millions. With Daryl Hannah (Madison) and Tom Hanks (Allen Bauer) making an adorable central couple, John Candy bringing his oafish genius to the party and Ron Howard making sure no-one drowned, its charms are almost endless. It even launched a new girl’s name – which is not something you can say about, say, Predator. As an ‘80s Month special, we asked its star to share its secrets with us.
Madison's costume was fiendish to design
With her mermaid appendage comprising intricate layers of thin latex and hand-painted skins and gills, Hannah would have to spend up to eight hours in the make-up chair having it attached. "It was a learning process on how not only to make it stay on and look seamless,” she recalls of the design process, "but to weigh it enough to get me below the surface but not so much that I'd sink to the bottom.”
… and even tougher to wear
Once Madison’s mermaid costume was on, it was on for the day. "If I had to pee, that would ruin the entire day's shoot because it took so long to put on and take off," rues Hannah. "My circulation would be gone in my extremities, so it took a while before I could walk again. It made me very sympathetic to fish! I remember when I was filming the scene in the lab tank I was very upset about a big fish that was being kept in a smaller tank."
I prefered to be left in the water during lunch breaks. Tom Hanks would come and pop a French fry in my mouth.
She had to have lunch breaks in the ocean
On the Splash DVD commentary, Tom Hanks jokes that he’d help his immobilised co-star with snack breaks. “Yeah, they'd come and pop a French fry in my mouth,” laughs Hannah. "I'd prefer to be left in the water or in the tank. When I was out of the water it was very painful for me, and I was helpless because I couldn't move. I was like a beached dolphin, laying there wherever the crane placed me on the dock or on a stretcher. I was at the mercy of everybody."
Fish were her friends
The actress spent so much time in open water that she soon found herself befriended by actual fish. “The fish in the neighbouring area looked at me as another fish, “ she remembers. “The tail was so convincing I actually had my own pilot fish.”
Kissing Tom Hanks is not as fun as you’d think
Even more challenging than kissing a giant-honked Steve Martin in Roxanne, Splash’s underwater smooch with Tom Hanks came with a high level of technical difficulty. "The underwater kiss looks good but it's harder to do, for sure,” laughs Hannah. "You've got to consider the oxygen problems and you don't want bubbles coming out of your nose when you're kissing. Underwater sex is always over-romanticised."
A shark visited the set
Exotic as it sounds, filming in the Bahamas – and at sea – presented some dangerous challenges. For one thing, it was hard to keep unwelcome visitors from the set. "I remember Ron Howard giving me the sign to go to the bottom,” says Hannah, "and thinking that there's either some big sharks around or a storm. It was a storm passing over – we were right in the Bermuda Triangle – but we did have a shark once."
John Candy helped with her interviews
"I just absolutely adored him,” enthuses Hannah of her Canadian co-star. "He was just so full of heart and soul, and so hilarious. Tears-coming-out-of-your-eyes, pee-your-pants hilarious.” The pair became firm friends on set, later planning a comedy together that was cut tragically short by Candy’s death, and even formed an unlikely Rod-Hull-and-Emu-like on-set dynamic. "I used to sit on his lap all the time and he would talk for me and I'd mime what he was saying like a ventriloquist doll. He'd answer questions for me in interviews."
I've met hundreds of little girls named Madison. It's really kind of lovely.
She still meets girls named Madison
Thanks to Hannah's Splash character, Madison is now a common girls name. "I've met hundreds of little girls named Madison and it's really kind of lovely,” says Hannah. There was, of course, a comic barb at the heart of the name, although Hannah thinks it’s faded with time. "The whole point of the character's name was a joke because Madison is the name of a street, so it’s a bit like naming yourself 'Pacific Coast Highway’,” she laughs. “But it's such a common name now that people don't even get the joke.”
She wanted to make The Little Mermaid too
Splash was not even Daryl Hannah’s first mermaid tale. She’d been developing a live-action version of The Little Mermaid before Splash came along and sent the project spinning down the Hollywood plughole. "My whole desire to be in movies was to live in a fantasy world,” Hannah recalls, "and one of the things that I dreamed of was being a mermaid, so [Splash] was definitely a dream come true.” The live-action The Little Mermaid is back in development, recently with Chloë Grace Moretz attached.