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29 Fun Facts About My Cousin Vinny

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Familiarize yourself with legal procedure, and these facts about My Cousin Vinny—the classic 1992 comedy in which a very green, fish-out-of-water lawyer defends two “yutes” mistakenly charged with murder in his first court case. (Warning: There's profanity in the clips below!)

1. THE MOVIE WAS INSPIRED BY AN ENCOUNTER WITH A GUY HOPING TO PASS THE BAR.

My Cousin Vinny was one of the earliest ideas screenwriter Dale Launer ever had. “In the very early '70s, I met a guy who ... was waiting the bar exam results,” he told ABA Journal in 2012. Launer asked what would happen if he didn't pass, and the guy said he could just take it again, and if he didn't pass that time, he'd just take it again. And again. Until he passed. “So I said, 'What’s the most times somebody has taken and failed and finally passed?'” Launer recalled. “He said, 'Thirteen times.' ... I always thought that guy who took 13 times to pass the bar, or girl, is probably out there practicing law in some capacity. Now, how would you feel if suddenly you learned that guy is your lawyer? ... What if you have been accused of a crime and clearly, you have what appears to be the worst lawyer in the country?”

2. LAUNER TOOK A ROAD TRIP FOR SCRIPT RESEARCH.

According to the bio on his website, Launer set off on a road trip across the South for script research. He rented a car in New Orleans, then drove through Mississippi and Alabama and down the Gulf Coast. The trip provided plenty of inspiration for scenes that would eventually make it into the script: Launer’s car got stuck in the mud, every restaurant had grits on the menu, and he experienced the unearthly call of the screech owl. He even stopped to talk to the district attorney in Butler, who reminded him of Lane Smith; the actor was eventually cast in the role of Vinny’s DA.

Also a big inspiration: the attitude of the people he met along the way. Everyone “was very friendly and helpful,” according to the bio, “but when he told them he was making a movie that took place in the south—they'd get very concerned—afraid that Hollywood movies always made them look like bumpkins. That too [was] weaved into the story.”

3. ROBERT DE NIRO WAS LAUNER’S FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY VINNY GAMBINI.

Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

After the script was written, a casting meeting was called and Launer met with Fox’s president, vice president, and CEO. When Launer suggested Robert De Niro for the part of Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, “the prez looked uncomfortable, embarrassed that I would suggest such an actor,” Launer told Writer Unboxed. “‘De Niro, uh … well … he’s not funny. And … his movies don’t make money.’ … Now ... the only movies De Niro acts in that make money? Comedies! So, I feel vindicated. But I wish I could’ve been given a big fat check when I [ended up] being proved right.”

4. DIRECTOR JONATHAN LYNN HAD NEVER SEEN THE KARATE KID WHEN HE CAST RALPH MACCHIO AS BILL GAMBINI.

“I was very eager to have Ralph Macchio in the movie,” Lynn said in the movie’s DVD commentary. “I must confess, I had never actually seen The Karate Kid. I watched him in a couple of videos that his agent sent and I thought he was just perfect for the part. … He’s very good in the movie.”

5. JOE PESCI BASED VINNY ON GUYS FROM HIS NEIGHBORHOOD.

“There’s a lot of people around like that in smaller neighborhoods, so I put a few of them together and [came] up with Vinny,” Pesci, who grew up in New Jersey, told The Movie Show in 1992.

6. THE STUDIO INITIALLY WANTED TO CUT MONA LISA VITO FROM THE FILM.

In 2007, Launer told Writer Unboxed that the studio had wanted to get rid of Vinny’s Chinese-food-loving, unemployed hairdresser/car expert girlfriend. To keep the character, Launer reluctantly added a scene, requested by the studio president, to the second draft: “He wanted Vinny’s girlfriend to complain that he’s not giving her enough attention,” Launer said. “You often see movies where some guy is hell bent on accomplishing something, and you’re on the ride with him—and his wife/girlfriend/mother is feeling neglected. And she complains. And I HATE this! ... Watching those scenes is simply boring. You want to fast forward it. Awful.”

Eventually, he said he “figured out a way where they’d HAVE to keep her and embellished her character ... she does complain, but at least apologizes for bringing it up, and you don’t hate her for bringing it up largely because it’s funny. ... Now, I thought if she brought this up at this point where he is simply going through hell—he should be pissed off. And he is. So he kinda tears into her.” Mona Lisa’s “biological clock” rant (above) became one of his favorite scenes in the script.

7. WILL SMITH WAS UP FOR THE ROLE OF STAN ROTHENSTEIN.

Mitchell Whitfield had just moved to Los Angeles from New York when he got word about the My Cousin Vinny auditions—which were taking place in New York. So he flew back to do the screen test. “Believe it or not, Will Smith was also up for the role,” Whitfield told Abnormal Use. “So, clearly, they didn’t know exactly which way they were going to go with the part. ... I think it could have been funny either way.” Whitfield ended up having to lose 25 pounds to play Stan.

8. THE STUDIO TOOK A CHANCE ON MARISA TOMEI.

Tomei didn’t have a lot of film experience when she landed the part of Mona Lisa Vito. “I’d seen her [on the set of Oscar] working with John Landis and [had] gone with [him] to the cutting room to look at her performance,” Lynn said in DVD commentary.” She was playing a 1920s blonde flapper, very different, but I could see how funny and talented she was. And we got her in to read. She read wonderfully and we persuaded the studio to let me go with this unknown actress in the role. It was the best decision I ever made.” Lynn said he knew they’d gotten the right actress for the part when he saw the dailies from the first scene they shot with her—Mona Lisa and Vinny’s arrival in Alabama, when she tells him, “Oh, yeah, you blend.”

9. TOMEI IS FROM BROOKLYN, BUT SHE DOESN’T SOUND LIKE HER CHARACTER.

Tomei grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, so “I really knew the neighborhood,” she told The New York Times in 1992. But that doesn’t mean she sounded just like Mona Lisa. “I don’t think that extreme, but I could be wrong,” she told NPR’s Fresh Air in 2010. “My mom was an English teacher, and she was on my butt about that kind of thing and correcting my speech from a young age.”

10. THE LEGAL SYSTEM IS PORTRAYED VERY ACCURATELY.

Lynn has a law degree from Cambridge University, and, he said in DVD commentary, “I get terribly irritated when I see films in which the legal procedure is obviously wrong.” In addition to Launer’s research, Lynn made adjustments to make sure the legal proceedings were correct. “I’m very pleased with the fact that, although this is heightened for comedic purposes, everything you see legally in this film could happen and is approximately correct,” he said. “Which, by the way, makes it the more frightening.” Lynn even sat in on a murder trial in the Monticello, Ga. courtroom that served as the inspiration for the Vinny courtroom set. “Some of the lines in the [Vinny trial] came directly from that trial,” he said, including Lane Smith’s pronunciation of heinous (“high-a-nus”) and his line about “our little old ancestors” in the opening remarks.

11. VINNY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE DYSLEXIC.

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In the original script, when Vinny is asked why it took him six times to pass the bar, he says, “I’m a little dyslexic.” Viewers would have experienced it themselves while watching Vinny attempt to read the huge book of Alabama Criminal Court procedure; Launer envisioned that the camera would show a close shot of a word jumbled up, gradually becoming less so until Vinny could read it—and the pattern would repeat itself as Vinny moved to the next word.

Ultimately, the idea got cut because Lynn “said he did not know how to portray dyslexia,” Launer told Abnormal Use. The screenwriter was very unhappy about the omission because it made Vinny seem “not so bright. You don’t know why it took him so long to get through the bar. And then suddenly he starts acting smart. What you have to do is make assumptions that he is actually a smart guy, and the law is just complicated and boring. And for some reason, he didn’t pay attention. ... I don’t know if there is any other conclusion than that.” In the final film, there’s no reason given for why it took Vinny six times to pass the bar.

12. ONE SCENE WAS LIFTED FROM A BOOK ABOUT COMEDY AND THE LAW.

The book featured real moments from actual courtrooms. Launer lifted the memorable voir dire scene of a potential juror for Vinny. The lawyers “ask them their opinion on capital punishment, and they said something like, ‘I think it should be left up to the victims' families,’” Launer told Abnormal Use. “Then they then described exactly what the murderer did, and then that the juror actually said, ‘Fry them.’ So I put that right in the movie.”

13. THEY SHOT IN AN ACTUAL PRISON ...

The cast and crew shot for several days in a state prison in Gainesville, Georgia, in the wing where prisoners are kept in solitary confinement. “It does have a death row, right beside the wing where we were shooting, and I looked all around death row,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. “It was a very frightening building, and we were all pretty scared when we were there, even though we had guards with us at all times.”

It took up to 40 minutes to get from the outside of the building to where they were shooting inside. Whitfield told Abnormal Use that “When Ralph and I were walking through the prison the first time like holding our blankets and walking to our cell and you hear the prisoners screaming at us. Those are real prisoners, and they really were yelling at us. ... They had to tone it down with what they put in the movie because they were saying some horrible stuff. Ralph and I were petrified.”

14. … AND THE MOVIE’S PRISON GUARDS AREN’T ACTORS.

The guards in the movie were real prison guards. The production used real prisoners as extras twice: once in the background when Stan and Bill are being brought into the prison, and during a short scene where the duo plays basketball during exercise time. “The prisoners were all extremely cooperative and did exactly what we asked,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. “I don’t know what incentives or threats were made in order to achieve that.”

15. THE SCENE WHERE VINNY AND STAN HAVE A MISUNDERSTANDING WAS CUT FROM THE SCRIPT.

The scene had appeared in the script Lynn initially read, but had been cut from the shooting script. Everyone agreed that it had to go back in, and it garnered some of the biggest laughs from audiences. The scene, of course, could never have really happened; any interaction between the accused and their lawyers would have to take place in an interview room—an issue the filmmakers discussed at length. Making it factually accurate, Lynn said, “would have meant losing that extremely funny scene, and we decided to bet that nobody noticed that it should have taken place in an interview room—and, in fact, nobody ever did.”

16. PESCI LEARNED HOW TO DO A CARD TRICK FOR THE FILM.

In the scene where Vinny is convincing Bill to let him represent him, Vinny does a card trick. “It was important to me that the card trick wasn’t faked,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. “Of course you can fake anything by cutting and showing another shot, but I talked about this to Joe before we started shooting, and he learned how to do this card trick. So the scene in which he does it does not have any cuts in it. He actually fools the audience before their very eyes. He did it beautifully. I thought Vinny’s argument would be much less powerful if the audience could say oh well that was just faked by the way the scene was cut.”

17. SCENES ABOUT BILL’S MOTHER WERE CUT.

In prep, someone at the studio pointed out what they thought was a big problem: What kind of Italian mother doesn’t come down to support her son when he’s on trial? “Well, that was a tough question, because the answer is, Mother ought to have been there,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. “But she would just have been a damn nuisance. The script was already long enough ... and we didn’t want to introduce another character who had no other plot function.” To compromise, the filmmakers added some scenes where, after Vinny comes down to Alabama, Bill’s mother has a heart attack. “We had Bill trying to keep in touch with mother in hospital and getting messages and there were a couple of scenes to do with mother’s heart attack; we never saw her,” Lynn said. “When we started putting the film together in the cutting room, it was just obvious that these scenes were going to be in the way of the momentum of the film. And we said, ‘Why don’t we just try leaving them out and see if anyone notices that mother never shows up?’ Nobody ever noticed. So we took those scenes out and saved between 5 and 10 minutes of stuff we really didn’t need.”

18. THE FILMMAKERS USED AN ACTUAL SCREECH OWL IN ONE MEMORABLE SCENE.

One of the film’s running gags is the fact that Vinny is always awakened by something—a steam whistle, noisy pigs, and, finally, a screech owl. Lynn and his team used an actual owl for the scene, “which was probably a ridiculous chance to take,” he said in DVD commentary. “People … think it’s a Muppet because its behavior was so perfect. It screeched, it looked back at Vinny, and then it looked back at the camera and screeched again. We got amazingly lucky with that screech owl.”

The owl’s screeches were added later. To get the bird to open his mouth at the right time, they used a trick: “We discovered that if you put a little bit of meat into its beak, it half swallows [it] and then, approximately three seconds later, opens its beak as the meat goes down,” Lynn said. “So we fed it a little bit of beef just before the camera starting turning so that for its first screech, which is added afterwards, his beak opened at the right moment. Everything else he did in that scene was pure luck, and we couldn’t believe our eyes when he reacted so perfectly, and of course we never shot it again.” The owl was basically a wild animal, Lynn said, though it had been trained a little bit: “He had heard a lot of gunfire in the previous weeks so that he wouldn’t get frightened by it.”

19. AUSTIN PENDLETON HAD EVERYONE IN STITCHES.

Director Jonathan Lynn cast his friend, Austin Pendleton—who, Lynn said, has a stutter in real life—in the role of the tongue-tied public defender. “I knew he would be really funny in that part,” Lynn told Abnormal Use. “But I really didn’t quite imagine just how funny. And I had to literally hide behind the camera. I normally sit by the camera. But I had to hide because I was laughing so hard. I had to somehow stop myself from making a sound, and I couldn’t let Austin be put off by seeing me … That’s the funniest moment I’ve had on any film I’ve ever made.” Whitfield agreed, telling Abnormal Use, “if you watch the movie and you see us at the table when he’s stuttering, and my shoulders are going up and down like I’m crying, I was laughing. I couldn’t help it.”

20. “YUTES” CAME FROM A REAL CONVERSATION.

The conversation between Vinny and Judge Chamberlain Haller about “two yutes” became “perhaps the most quoted piece of dialogue from the film,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. It was inspired by a conversation that Lynn and Pesci had when they were prepping the film at the Mayflower Hotel in New York City. “He said something about ‘these two yutes’ who were on trial and I said ‘what?’ and he said ‘what?’ and I said ‘what’s a yute?’” Lynn recalled. “I realized as we were having that conversation that that was something that ought to happen between Vinny and the judge, so I simply wrote it in the way it happened naturally.”

21. PESCI’S OSCAR ALMOST MADE A CAMEO.

The night before they shot the scene where Vinny sleeps like a baby during a prison riot after being held in contempt of court, Pesci had won the Oscar for Goodfellas. “He flew in from Los Angeles, and on the first take, when we panned to him, he was clutching the Oscar in his arms,” Lynn said in DVD commentary, laughing. “We sent that to the studio as the dailies.”

22. YOU CAN VISIT MANY LOCATIONS FROM THE MOVIE.

Though the film is set in Alabama, the production actually shot in three separate small towns in Georgia. “Apart from the courtroom,” which was a set, “virtually everything was shot on location,” director Jonathan Lynn said in Vinny’s DVD commentary. “It wasn’t a very expensive movie, and that was the cheaper way to go. It also had more authenticity.” Which means you can visit a number of the film’s locations—including the newly reopened Sac-O-Suds convenience store, where you can pick up a can of tuna. (Just make sure you pay for it!)

23. THE MOVIE WAS PRAISED BY THE LAW COMMUNITY.

“The movie is close to reality even in its details,” lawyer Maxwell S. Kennerly wrote on his blog, Trial and Litigation. “Part of why the film has such staying power among lawyers is because, unlike, say, A Few Good Men, everything that happens in the movie could happen—and often does happen—at trial.” Professor Alberto Bernabe of The John Marshall Law School, who hands his students a list of law movies organized by category, puts Vinny under “Education,” not just because “it provides so much material you can use in the classroom. For example, you can use the movie to discuss criminal procedure, courtroom decorum, professional responsibility, unethical behavior, the role of the judge in a trial, efficient cross-examination, the role of expert witnesses and effective trial advocacy.” The film has also been praised by a Seventh Circuit Court Judge; referenced by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; used to teach young lawyers at legal conferences; and made it into a legal textbook.

24. IT EARNED A SPOT ON THE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION’S LIST OF GREATEST LEGAL MOVIES.

Coming in at number three, “The movie packs in cinema’s briefest opening argument ('Everything that guy just said is bulls**t'), its best-ever introduction to the rules of criminal procedure, and a case that hinges on properly introduced expert testimony regarding tire marks left by a 1964 Skylark and the optimal boiling time of grits,” the journal writes. Launer said the honor was “like getting the Oscar. In some ways, better.” Vincent Gambini came in at Number 12 on the association's list of Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Aren't Atticus Finch).

25. TOMEI FOUND OUT ABOUT HER OSCAR NOMINATION IN AN UNLIKELY PLACE.

Tomei was sleeping on a friend’s couch—a friend who was pregnant and due at any moment—when she found out about her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Her friends were watching TV, and “there were shouts from the other room, and they awoke me,” she told David Letterman in 1993. “I didn’t know if she was going into labor or what.” Tomei would go on to win the Oscar—and yes, despite the urban legend that 74-year-old presenter Jack Palance announced the wrong name, the actress really did win.

26. THERE COULD HAVE BEEN A SEQUEL.

In 2004, Lautner’s bio noted that “Joe wanted to do it, but Marisa didn't. Now she does, and so does Joe, but the studio isn't terribly interested in the remake, feeling too much time has passed since the initial release. Perhaps everyone who liked it has passed on. Or changed their minds. Launer hopes they will see the light.” According to Whitfield, the sequel might have involved Vinny going to Europe.

27. JOE PESCI MADE AN ALBUM AS VINNY GAMBINI.

Before he was an actor, Pesci was a lounge singer; six years after My Cousin Vinny came out, he released an album called Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You. It features the songs “Wise Guy,” “Take Your Love and Shove It,” “Yo Cousin Vinny,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” a duet with Tomei as Mona Lisa. It debuted at Number 36 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart.

28. THERE'S A BOLLYWOOD VERSION.

Banda yeh bindaas hai ("This Guy is Fearless") was directed by Ravi Chopra and starred Govinda, Lara Dutta, and Sushmita Sen. Chopra reached out to Fox in 2007 for approval to produce the remake, and was given permission to make a film loosely based on the original idea. But in May 2009, Fox sued Banda yeh bindaas hai's production company, B.R. Films, for $1.4 million, saying the remake had not been approved, and that a script review showed the film to be "a 'substantial reproduction' of the U.S. film" with an identical storyline, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. B.R. Films denied the claims, saying their version featured different characters and settings; the company eventually settled with Fox in August 2009, paying the studio $200,000.

29. PATRIOTS COACH BILL BELICHIK REFERENCED VINNY DURING DEFLATEGATE.

“I would not say that I am Mona Lisa Vito of the football world,” Belichik said when asked what he knew about football pressure. When she heard, Tomei texted Pesci. "We thought it was pretty funny," she told The Rich Eisen Show.

This post originally ran in 2015.

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What AMC's The Terror Got Right (And Wrong) About the Franklin Expedition
Aidan Monaghan/AMC
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for The Terror. If you haven't finished the show, don't read further!

We know the outcome of Captain Crozier's battle with Tuunbaq in the AMC series The Terror, and that he chose (as some rumors have suggested) to live with the Inuit rather than return to London when he has the chance. Now, it's time for a post-mortem (sorry) of the show's historical highlights. While Dan Simmons, author of the book on which the show is based, created Lady Silence and her supernatural evil spirit—Tuunbaq definitely wasn't stalking the men of the Erebus and Terror back in 1847—much of the show is faithful to the actual events of the Franklin expedition, one of the most enduring mysteries in polar exploration. Here's a rundown of what The Terror got right, and where the show slipped up.

RIGHT: THE TERROR’S ARCTIC ATMOSPHERE

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Sir John Franklin and James Fitzjames
Capt. James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies), left, and Sir John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds) survey the ice.
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

Right off the bat, The Terror envelops viewers in an icy world that increasingly mirrors the crews’ isolation and desperation. In the first tragic scene, a sailor falls overboard into a sea of accurately rendered pancake ice. In another scene, Captain Francis Crozier sees a sun dog—a solar phenomenon caused by sunlight refracting through clouds of ice crystals, often witnessed by polar explorers. The officers' uniforms and caps are also recreated with authentic details. As the hopelessness of their predicament dawns on the officers and men, summer’s 24-hour daylight vanishes, replaced by the 24-hour darkness of winter. The imprisoned ships tilt with the pressure of the pack ice.

There were a few hiccups noticed by sharp-eyed viewers in the Remembering the Franklin Expedition Facebook group, however. Caulker's mate Cornelius Hickey has a fondness for cigarettes, but most sailors probably smoked pipes at the time, and definitely not inside the ship. (Good thing they had that fire hole bored into the ice!) And assistant surgeon Harry Goodsir’s technique with the Daguerrotype camera in the blind would have produced a terrible photo. His 20th-century stopwatch wouldn’t have helped.

WRONG: FRANKLIN’S BACK-UP PLAN

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Sir John Franklin and Capt. Francis Crozier
Captain Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), right, tries to convince Sir John that they're going to need rescuing pretty soon.
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

In a flashback in Episode 3, Sir John Franklin’s good friend Sir John Ross asks the soon-to-depart commander if the Admiralty had any plans for his rescue. When Franklin says one won’t be needed—since the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are the best-provisioned ships ever sent to the Arctic—Ross warns him that he’s being naïve. In real life, this conversation was much different, and it didn’t take place at the Admiralty.

Franklin and Ross knew firsthand how a well-provisioned expedition can become a fight for survival. (In Episode 6, Captain James Fitzjames hears the story of Ross’s disastrous Victory expedition from the Erebus's ice master Thomas Blanky, who was really there in 1829-1833.) Ross instead offered to rescue Franklin himself, and captained (at age 72!) a privately funded schooner in search of his lost friend in 1850. And because Ross and the Admiralty had had a major falling out decades before, Ross wouldn’t have been chatting with Franklin at the Admiralty's HQ in Episode 3, and he definitely wouldn’t have been there to hear Lady Jane Franklin’s plea for a search party in Episode 4.

Sir John Ross was the uncle of Sir James Clark Ross, whom we see in the first scene of Episode 1 and its replay, from a different point of view, at the end of Episode 10. In real life, Sir James was one of Crozier's closest friends.

WRONG (MAYBE): KILLER CANS

In a foreboding sign of things to come, Franklin removes a tiny blob of lead from his mouth while eating dinner with Fitzjames in the first episode. By Episode 4, the ships’ cooks are complaining that much of the canned meat is spoiled, and able seaman John Morfin shows up in Goodsir’s infirmary with a blackish line along his gums, an ominous sign of lead poisoning. To test that hypothesis, Goodsir feeds the monkey Jacko some of the canned meat, and then reveals his theory to the surgeon Stephen Stanley: The meat is contaminated with lead and the men have been eating it for more than two years.

The storyline is built upon a famous theory that is now in doubt. In the mid-1980s, forensic anthropologists found high levels of lead in Franklin crewmembers' remains. They suggested the source was poorly sealed food cans, and that lead poisoning led to the men’s deaths. But recent research has pointed to the Erebus’s and Terror’s unique water systems [PDF], which used lead pipes, as the primary source of contamination. And, a 2015 study compared lead content among seven crewmembers’ remains and found wide variation, suggesting some men may not have been debilitated.

RIGHT: SERIOUS SCURVY

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Goodsir and Young
Dr. Goodsir (Paul Ready) tries to save David Young (Alfie Kingsnorth).
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

David Young, the first fatality of The Terror, doesn’t show any signs of scurvy in Goodsir’s autopsy. But by the summer of 1848, the remaining crew camped on King William Island hasn’t eaten fresh meat in three years, and the Navy-issued lemon juice rations have either run out or lost potency. Signs of severe Vitamin C deficiency appear: Fitzjames’s old bullet wounds, which he boasted about at the officers' table in the first episode, begin to open up, and a rough-looking Lieutenant George Henry Hodgson loses a tooth as he chews the leather from his boot (a nod to Franklin’s awful 1819-1822 Arctic expedition) in Episode 9. The scenes match what most, though not all, historians and researchers now believe: that a grim combination of scurvy, starvation, exposure, and underlying illnesses spelled the end for Franklin’s men.

(VERY LIKELY) WRONG: FRANKLIN’S CAUSE OF DEATH

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Sir John Franklin and Tunnbaq
Tuunbaq takes a deadly swipe at Sir John.
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

The terrifying scene in Episode 3 in which Tuunbaq mauls Franklin to death and shoves him down the fire hole is most likely not the way it actually happened. Historically speaking, just after the men abandon ship in April 1848, Crozier and Fitzjames updated the note left in the cairn the previous spring. They reported that “Sir John Franklin died on 11th June 1847”—just 19 days after Lieutenant Graham Gore and mate Charles Des Voeux had left the same paper behind on May 24, 1847 and reported the crews “all well.” Unfortunately, it’s the only record ever found about the expedition’s progress, and no one knows for sure how Franklin died or what happened to his body. Inuit oral histories collected by Franklin scholar Louie Kamookak suggest Franklin was buried under a flat stone somewhere on King William Island, but to date, no trace has been found.

RIGHT: THAT CRAZY CARNIVAL

The wild masquerade party in the middle of the bleak and frozen Arctic, which Fitzjames orders as a morale-booster for the men in Episode 6, may seem like a total anachronism. In real life, it was a time-honored tradition. (We don't know for sure if the Erebus and Terror had a carnival because no logbooks from the expedition have been found, but it's likely that they did.) In 1819-1820, Sir Edward Parry led the first polar expedition to purposefully overwinter in the Arctic. He worried about how the men would fare psychologically during the months of darkness and teeth-cracking cold, so he brought along trunks of theatrical costumes and launched the Royal Arctic Theatre, a fortnightly diversion for the officers and men to perform silly plays and musicals. It kept the men busy writing shows, practicing their parts, and building sets, which Parry thought was the key to staying sane. The scheme was such a success that subsequent expeditions kept the tradition going. But unlike in The Terror, the frivolities didn’t end in fiery conflagrations and mass casualties. 

(POSSIBLY) WRONG: HICKEY’S MURDEROUS MUTINY

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Cornelius Hickey
Mr. Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) cooks up a mutiny.
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

In Episode 7, Hickey plans a mutiny and convinces enough of the desperate men to follow him, splitting the remaining officers and men into two groups and, in Episode 9, taking Crozier captive. Hickey also kidnaps Goodsir because, as the expedition’s sole remaining surgeon, he is the only one who knows how to wield a bone saw. We don’t know, though, if there was an actual mutiny among the Franklin survivors. The remains of some of Franklin's men were found in different locations, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a breakdown of order. Smaller groups may have split off from the main group because they simply couldn’t march any farther or had decided to return to the ships. Despite the harsh conditions of service in the Royal Navy, mutinies were quite rare.

RIGHT: CANNIBALISM

Hickey’s followers, starving and desperate, dine on morsels of steward William Gibson in one of Episode 9’s most wrenching scenes with historical precedent. Hudson’s Bay Company trader John Rae discovered the truth about the Franklin expedition from interviews with Inuit in 1854, including testimony that the men resorted to cannibalism to survive. In his infamous letter to the Admiralty, he wrote, “from the mutilated state of many of the bodies, and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative as a means of sustaining life.” Victorian England refused to believe it—but Inuit testimony and forensic research [PDF] supported Rae’s account, finally revealing the expedition’s fate.

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15 Actors Who Could've Played Han Solo
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Before Harrison Ford (watch his audition tape here) and Alden Ehrenreich were cast as Han Solo in the Star Wars film franchise, a number of young and famous Hollywood actors had a shot at playing everyone’s favorite “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerfherder.” Here are 15 of them.

1. AL PACINO

After the massive success of the first two The Godfather films, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino was the toast of Hollywood. He was given the script to Star Wars and was offered the Solo job, but turned it down to star in Sydney Pollack’s Bobby Deerfield instead.

“It was at that time in my career when I was offered everything,” Pacino told MTV in 2014. “I was in The Godfather. They didn’t care if I was right or wrong for the role, if I could act or not act. ‘He’s in The Godfather. Offer him everything!’ So they offered me this movie. And I remember not understanding it when I read it. Another missed opportunity!”

2. MILES TELLER

 Actor Miles Teller attends the 2018 DIRECTV NOW Super Saturday Night Concert at NOMADIC LIVE! at The Armory on February 3, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Christopher Polk, Getty Images for DirecTV

Fresh off the success of Divergent and Whiplash in 2014, Miles Teller’s name appeared on the shortlist of young actors being considered to play the title role in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Believe it or not, he had never watched a single movie set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” before his audition with Lucasfilm.

“I had never even seen any of the original Star Wars movies until maybe a month or a couple weeks before my first audition because I was like, ‘I should check this out,'" Teller told MTV’s Josh Horowitz on the Happy Sad Confused podcast. “I just love Harrison Ford, I think that’s a great character. I love his brand, I mean so many guys would’ve played that part so wrong and he has humor at the right times.”

3. SYLVESTER STALLONE

Before he wrote and starred in Rocky, Sylvester Stallone met with George Lucas and auditioned for the part of Han Solo. He knew he wasn’t going to get the job based on the director’s ambivalent demeanor during his reading.

When asked about the audition in 2010, Stallone told Ain’t It Cool News in 2010, “It didn’t meet with much approval since when I stood in front of George Lucas he didn’t look at me once, obviously being very shy. Then I said ‘Well obviously I’m not the right type.’ but it all worked out for the best since I don’t look good in spandex holding a Ray gun.”

4. ANSEL ELGORT

 Ansel Elgort attends New York City Ballet 2018 Spring Gala at Lincoln Center on May 3, 2018 in New York City
Steven Ferdman, Getty Images

The Fault in Our Stars and Baby Driver star Ansel Elgort was one of the names on Lucasfilm’s shortlist of young actors for Solo. While he has the good looks to play the rugged space pirate, Elgort was relieved that Alden Ehrenreich was selected instead. 

“Yeah, I was pretty worried, honestly,” Elgort told The Huffington Post. “I was pretty worried that if I got it, I’d have to change my DJ name. So I’m relieved.” (Elgort is also a musician and singer with the DJ name of “Ansølo.” He publishes electronic dance music and remixes on Soundcloud under the pseudonym.)

5. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN

Before his breakout appearances in Annie Hall and The Deer Hunter, a struggling young actor named Christopher Walken auditioned for Han Solo in Star Wars. Although the role went to Ford in the end, Walken was reportedly Lucas’s second choice for the space smuggler.

6. DAVE FRANCO

After starring in hit comedies like Neighbors, Dave Franco auditioned for Lucasfilm. During pre-production in 2016, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller—who both also directed Franco in 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie—were set to direct Solo: A Star Wars Story. The pair left the project well into filming due to “creative differences.” Despite a strong audition, Franco ultimately didn’t get the role.

“I’m not good with impressions or anything like that,” Franco told MTV. “I think that’s the reason why it’s so hard to cast this role. Do they want someone to perfectly embody who Harrison Ford is, or do they want to go a completely different route? Do they want someone to look really similar to him? I don’t know, I think they’re struggling with that.”

7. KURT RUSSELL

During the mid-1970s, Kurt Russell auditioned for both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, but Lucas wasn’t sure he was right for either job. While the director was still making up his mind, Russell dropped out of the running altogether to be a series regular on a TV Western called The Quest instead.

“[I was] interviewing for the part of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo," Russell told USA Today. "On tape, it exists. I didn’t have any idea what I was talking about. Something about a Death Star and a Millennium Falcon. I was actually pretty [close], in the final running, but I needed to give an answer to ABC to do a western show. I asked George, ‘Do you think you’re gonna use me?’ He said, ‘I don’t know if I want to put you with him, or those two guys together.’ I got to go to work, so I did the western. Clearly, made the right choice.”

When later asked about his decision to work on The Quest, which lasted just one season, Russell told Vanity Fair: “I don’t have any regrets. As an actor you can’t dwell on those things or you’ll go crazy. Things happen for a reason and I’m happy how things turned out in my career. My life and career may have been different, maybe for better or for worse, if I did Star Wars, but you can’t focus on it. You move on.”

8. SCOTT EASTWOOD

 Scott Eastwood attends the 6th Annual Hilarity For Charity at The Hollywood Palladium on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

In 2016, Lucasfilm auditioned more than 2500 actors roughly between the ages of 20 and 25 for Solo. The production company wanted an actor who was young enough to grow with the character through multiple movies. The list was whittled down to just eight names after screen tests, with actor Scott Eastwood—son of Clint—among those in the running. Although he was a favorite with Star Wars fans, Eastwood was 29 years old at the time and the oldest actor on the shortlist.

9. ROBERT ENGLUND

Before he was known as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Robert Englund auditioned for Han Solo. While he didn’t land the gig, Englund took the script home with him, because he thought his roommate would be perfect for the role of Luke Skywalker—and he was right! Englund’s roommate at the time was Mark Hamill, who played the iconic role for more than 40 years, most recently in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

“At that time, Mark Hamill was always on my couch,” Englund told ForceMaterial.com. “So there he was, halfway through a six-pack, watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I went in and I said to him, ‘Look at these sides, I think you’re right for this, man. This character is like a space prince, and it’s George Lucas!' ... I was just saying, ‘Wow, what if you got to be in a George Lucas movie, Mark? You’re the kind of actor he loves!’ So he got on the phone to his agent and the rest is history.”

10. LOGAN LERMAN

After gaining critical and commercial success in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Fury, Logan Lerman was reportedly on Lucasfilm’s shortlist of young actors to play Solo. While he didn’t end up landing the gig, Lerman said of the role to MTV, “I don’t think I’d be intimidated. It would just be fun.”

11. JACK REYNOR

 Jack Reynor arriving at the 'Detroit' European Premiere at The Curzon Mayfair on August 16, 2017 in London, England
Tristan Fewings, Getty Images

While audiences might know him as the lead character in the Irish drama What Richard Did or as the love interest in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Irish actor Jack Reynor was on the shortlist for Solo, and was ultimately happy he didn’t get the gig.

“That Han Solo movie is going to be really tough,” Reynor told The Irish Times. “I think the guy who is doing it is a really good actor, but, for myself, I was afraid of it. I kept thinking: if you f**k this up you’ll ruin people’s childhoods. If it doesn’t turn out great, you won’t be forgiven. That’s a lot of responsibility. And even if it goes great, you’ll do it, people will know you only from that and that defines your career. That would be very difficult. For me, working on original material is very important.”

12. BILL MURRAY

While still on Saturday Night Live, it was rumored that Bill Murray was up for Han Solo in A New Hope. In 2015, while at San Diego Comic-Con, Murray addressed the nearly 40-year old rumors: “I don’t know if I was up for it. I can’t tell you for sure. But I am working out in hopes of getting this new thing,” he joked. “I’m doing a lot of swimming and pilates."

13. TARON EGERTON

 Taron Egerton attends the EE British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) nominees party at Kensington Palace on February 17, 2018 in London, England
Jeff Spicer, Getty Images

Welsh actor Taron Egerton, who starred in Kingsman: The Secret Service and its sequel, was reportedly one of the three names (alongside Reynor and Ehrenreich) on the final shortlist for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Like Reynor, Egerton admitted he was very apprehensive of the role.

“Roles of that level are always going to be life-changing,” Egerton told The Guardian in 2016. “I wouldn’t run into it blind. It would definitely be a shutting-a-door-behind-me moment. That is something that I’d be wary of.”

14. GLYNN TURMAN

Coming off his breakout success in Cooley High in 1975, actor Glynn Turman auditioned for Lucas—but he didn’t even realize he had auditioned for the part of Han Solo until he read about it in Dale Pollock’s book, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, in 1983.

“In those days it said ‘black actor,’ ‘white actor,’ ‘Hispanic actor’ for every role, but it didn’t say either for the Han Solo part,” Glynn Turman told Empire Magazine in 2017. “It didn’t specify ‘black actor.’ I was rather pleased because I was just being called in as a talent. I remember George was very professional.” Turman must have impressed Lucas, as he was apparently considered for the role of Lando Calrissian as well.

“Later, I was approached for the role, in that same franchise, that [was given to] Billy Dee Williams,” Turman told Yahoo! Entertainment. “Handsome, swashbuckling, dashing Billy Dee. I hate him! Not true. Dear friend and a talented man. Lando Calrissian! That wouldn’t have fit me anyway. But it fits a Billy Dee Williams.”

15. EMORY COHEN

 Actor Emory Cohen attends the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival after party for Vincent N Roxxy at Black Market on April 19, 2016 in New York City
Cindy Ord, Getty Images for 2016 Tribeca Film Festival

In 2016, New York City-born actor Emory Cohen, a.k.a. “the cute guy from Brooklyn in Brooklyn,” was among the contenders to play Han Solo. "I read for it once," he later told The Daily Beast, and joked that, “They don’t even want me!”

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