Released on October 10, 1997, Boogie Nights starred Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a group of 1970s Los Angeles Valley-based adult film actors. The 155-minute feature was writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s sophomore feature, and also his breakout film. It received three Oscar nominations, including one for Reynolds (his first), and was a modest hit at the box office. The movie was loosely based on the life of legendary porn star John Holmes, and a short film Anderson made when he was still a teenager, 1988's The Dirk Diggler Story, about a well-endowed porn star. Here are some protruding facts about the epic dramedy, to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
1. WAHLBERG INITIALLY DIDN’T WANT TO BE IN THE MOVIE, BECAUSE OF SHOWGIRLS.
At this stage in Mark Wahlberg’s career, he had a hit song under the name Marky Mark, had done The Basketball Diaries—which is how Anderson discovered him—and was basically an underwear model. In Grantland’s oral history, Wahlberg explained why he didn’t want to read the script. “Showgirls had just come out. That movie was a disaster. And you know, coming from the underwear background, the music stuff, I was like, ‘Ehh, I don’t want to do this.’ But there was just so much hype around the script. So finally I started reading it. I got 35 pages into it, I put it down, I said, ‘I’ve got to meet the director.’ I said, ‘This guy either finally wants me to take the Calvin Kleins off, or he wants to make a really serious movie.’”
2. BURT REYNOLDS DISLIKED PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON AND THE MOVIE.
It’s no secret the pair didn’t get along on set. Reynolds, who played porn filmmaker Jack Horner, recently told GQ why their personalities clashed. “I think mostly because he was young and full of himself. Every shot we did, it was like the first time [that shot had ever been done].” He also told The Guardian that he turned down acting in Anderson’s follow-up, Magnolia, because “I’d done my picture with Paul Thomas Anderson, that was enough for me.”
In addition to not being a fan of Anderson, Reynolds didn’t like the movie either. “I just didn’t like the subject matter,” he told 11th Hour. “I thought I did a good job, I certainly worked hard on that film, but I was never crazy about it.”
3. REYNOLDS AND ANDERSON NEARLY CAME TO PHYSICAL BLOWS.
Everybody on the set knew Reynolds had a temper, and everybody knew the director and Reynolds didn’t quite get along. But there was an incident when the two almost got into a physical fight. One day on set Reynolds felt Anderson was disrespecting him. The film’s first AD, John Wildermuth, tells this story: “Burt got so frustrated he pulled Paul outside into the backyard and started yelling at him, like a father, you know? ‘You f--kin’ little punk kid, don’t tell me what to do.’” Actor Tom Lenk added, “All of a sudden we saw fists flying. We saw some fists flying from Burt Reynolds. I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this, but it was like he was trying to punch our director in the face.”
4. ANDERSON THINKS A GOOD PORN STAR NAME SHOULD HAVE TWO “G”S AND ONE “K” IN IT.
The director told NPR he’s not sure how he came up with the name Dirk Diggler, but for some reason he wrote the name down on an index card when he was 17 years old. “I mean, I think a good porn name has to have two Gs in it. It just—it just looks good and it sounds good for a good porn name. And you know, a K is pretty important, too. So you know, I wish I really knew, but it just kind of hit me like it hit him, I guess, like ‘Dirk Diggler,’ wow.”
5. THE STUDIO HAD A PROBLEM WITH MULTITASKING ACTORS.
The original cut Anderson turned in to New Line Cinema would’ve been rated NC-17, so in order to get an R rating, he had to reedit some of the sex scenes. Their main issue? “They had a problem with humping and talking at the same time,” he told NPR. “And essentially it boiled to when they said ‘She's humping there and she’s talking. Can you pick one?’ And I said, ‘Well, the talking is more important.’ So we just went and shot a shot of Nina Hartley, and I said, ‘Nina, hump once, stop, say your lines, and we’ll move on.’ And we did that and put it in and got the R.”
6. THERE ARE NO CHARACTER ARCS.
Instead of following the template of having the characters change and be different people at the end of the film, Anderson decided against it. “That doesn’t really happen here,” he told Indiewire in 1997. “Everybody is the same. Maybe if there’s a change, it’s like one degree. Normally you see a 90-degree change in a movie. To me, they’re all pretty much the exact same people as they were at the beginning of the movie.”
7. RON JEREMY CONSULTED ON THE MOVIE.
According to Grantland’s oral history, Anderson spent a year hanging out with legendary porn star Ron Jeremy, who’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as starring in the most porn films—2000 of them. “Nobody knew who Paul was or anything and Ronnie just, on good faith, immersed him in our business,” recalled adult film actress Veronica Hart. “And Ronnie ended up getting screwed out of the movie.”
Jeremy’s scene entailed being in a prison cell with The Colonel. Jeremy told The Independent that during the film’s production he invited Anderson and the cast to “a lot of my sets, but Burt Reynolds never came. He said, ‘I know porn: I don’t need to see that.’”
8. ALFRED MOLINA HAD NEVER HEARD “JESSIE’S GIRL” OR “SISTER CHRISTIAN.”
The London-born actor played drug dealer Rahad Jackson (supposedly based on Eddie Nash) and during the firecracker scene he sings along to two 1980s classics—Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and Night Ranger’s "Sister Christian." "When I said yes to the part, they sent me those two songs ... I knew neither of them because neither was released in England,” Molina told Grantland. “So I had to sit down for like three days on my own, playing those songs over and over and over so that I knew them backwards because they became so emblematic for the character.”
9. ANDERSON’S DAD—PLUS ROBERT DOWNEY JR.’S FATHER—INFLUENCED THE FIRECRACKER SCENE.
Anderson’s father, Ernie, created a character named Ghoulardi for a Cleveland TV show, on which he’d sometimes set off fireworks on-air. The firecracker scene was also inspired by Robert Downey Sr.'s 1969 film, Putney Swope.
“If you watch Putney Swope ... there’s a wonderful piece of background action where a character throws a firecracker off in a scene and everyone turns around and looks,” Anderson told Creative Screenwriting. “I called up Robert Downey Sr. and I said, ‘You have a great piece of background action that I want to take and make a piece of foreground action.’ He said, ‘Great, be my guest.’”
10. THE FILM’S ENDING IS BASED ON RAGING BULL.
At the conclusion of the movie, Dirk Diggler recites his character’s dialogue while staring at himself in a mirror. He finishes with the quote, “I’m a star,” whereas in Raging Bull, Robert De Niro (as Jake LaMotta), quotes On the Waterfront and repeats, “I’m the boss.” “I was halfway through the scene when I realized I was writing something that really closely resembled Raging Bull,” Anderson told IndieWire.
“There’s an Al Pacino poster in [Dirk’s room in] the beginning of the movie, so you’ve got him playing Brock Landers playing Robert De Niro playing Jake LaMotta, playing Marlon Brando playing Terry (from On the Waterfront) doing Shakespeare. So you’ve got movie reference on top of movie reference. I just sort of stumbled into that, and thought not to shy away from stumbling into something that I had somehow sort of subconsciously gotten.”
11. ANDERSON SAYS THE MOVIE IS MOSTLY ABOUT FAMILY.
In 1998, Cinemattractions asked Anderson what he thought the film was about. “It’s about finding a family, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I know that sounds kinda preposterous, ‘cause it’s about porno! That’s a really kinda weird thing, is that you want to say ‘Well, it’s about the pornography industry’ and then you want to quickly say well, not really … But I think ultimately, the thing that I really liked most and really focused on is, that it’s about a lot of people searching for their dignity, and trying to find any kind of love and affection they can get. And they find it in really f***ked up and twisted ways—but they get it, you know?” But Anderson simplified the plot for Empire Magazine : “It’s about a guy with a big d**k."
12. WAHLBERG OWNS HIS PROSTHETIC APPENDAGE.
Last year Wahlberg appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers, where he discussed the delicate process of making Diggler’s famed organ and revealed that, “It’s actually the only prop that I’ve ever kept from a movie. I didn’t think there would be that much interest in it. But maybe at some point I can sell it at auction for charity.”
13. ANDERSON ISN’T INTERESTED IN MAKING A SEQUEL, MAINLY BECAUSE HE THINKS MOST OF THE CHARACTERS WOULD BE DEAD.
When the website Moviehole asked Anderson if he’d consider doing a sequel to Boogie Nights, Anderson said no. “[But] you know, I wonder how many of these characters would even still be alive?” he pondered. “Probably a few of them, but I fear that most of them might be dead. I doubt Dirk Diggler’s still alive. He’d be probably gone. I couldn’t see him making it. I can see Burt Reynolds’ character Jack Horner still going on, though."