After weeks of filming Vietnam War scenes in rural South Carolina, the cast and crew of Forrest Gump had learned one thing: It was dangerous standing close to Mykelti Williamson. One day, marching with costars Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise, Williamson suddenly found himself confronted by a poisonous water moccasin. ”I saw this six-foot-long black thing stand up in front of me with its mouth so wide open you couldn’t see its face,” reports Williamson, 35, who affectingly portrays Bubba, Gump’s best friend. ”I started hauling ass, and the thing chased me for 30 yards. A few days later, I stepped on a rattlesnake, which wrapped itself around my leg. After that, no one wanted to walk with me.”
A TV veteran (Hill Street Blues) who played a kindly social worker in 1993’s Free Willy, Williamson used to misspell his Blackfoot Indian name (meaning ”Silent Friend”) ”Mykel T.” so people would pronounce it correctly. Thanks to Gump, the actor, divorced and living in L.A., probably won’t have to do that again: Later this month, he heads to Portland, Ore., to film Free Willy 2. And, he says, at least one network is interested in a ”hip Twilight Zone” series he’s created called Legends of Big Mama.
Should his career ever slump, he could always take up shrimping, an industry he researched for Gump. In one scene-stealer, Bubba rattles off an endless list of shrimp dishes; screenwriter Eric Roth provided eight variations, but Williamson ad-libbed about 20 others. ”The director never said cut, and I just kept going,” he says, adding that the previous night’s dinner was pasta with shrimp. ”I figure you might as well learn as much as you can.”