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15 Lively Facts About Six Feet Under

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Making its debut on June 3, 2001, Six Feet Under—the funeral home-set HBO series created and produced by Oscar-winning American Beauty writer Alan Ball—proved (alongside The Sopranos and Deadwood) that HBO was single-handedly raising the bar for innovative television at the beginning of the 21st century.

1. THE IDEA WAS INSPIRED BY A 1948 BOOK.

Carolyn Strauss, then head programmer of HBO, wanted her network to do a show about death after watching the 1965 movie adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s satirical book The Loved One, which was based on the Los Angeles funeral business. She contacted Alan Ball, who was about to be in high demand when the Oscar nominations were announced, even though his sitcom, Oh, Grow Up, had just been canceled. Ball spent Christmas of 1999 in his childhood home in Marietta, Georgia, sleeping in his late sister’s bedroom and writing the pilot script for Six Feet Under.

2. BALL WAS GIVEN ONE STRANGE NOTE ABOUT HIS FIRST DRAFT.

Strauss told him that it was really good, but still too safe, so asked him: “Could you just make it just a little more f*cked up?”

3. ANNA FARIS WAS TOO FUNNY TO BE CLAIRE.

In auditioning for Claire, Anna Faris attempted to enact the scene in which the teenager, who is high, finds out that her father is dead. Ball kept laughing, even though Faris wasn’t trying to be funny. Lauren Ambrose eventually won the part.

4. JEREMY SISTO, ADAM SCOTT, AND PETER KRAUSE ALL AUDITIONED TO PLAY DAVID.

Peter Krause eventually accepted that he was much more like Nate than he had originally realized. Scott recalled that for his audition, "It was me, Michael C. Hall, and Jeremy Sisto testing for the role that Michael ultimately got." But there was a consolation prize for both actors: Sisto became a regular character when he was cast as Brenda's unstable brother, Billy, while Scott played David’s boyfriend for two episodes at the start of the second season.

5. IT WAS MICHAEL C. HALL’S FIRST ON-SCREEN ROLE.

Though Hall was a New York theater mainstay before Six Feet Under—most notably after taking over for Alan Cumming as the emcee in Cabaret in 1999—the series marked his Hollywood debut.

6. FRANCES CONROY THOUGHT BALL WAS FOCUSING TOO MUCH ON HER SHOES WHEN SHE AUDITIONED.

When she got the callback to potentially play Ruth, Frances Conroy decided not to wear the pink shoes she had worn to their initial meeting, as Ball had fixated on them (her future boss did inquire about their whereabouts). Conroy believes that Ruth wore white anklets on the show because she wore white anklets to her audition.

7. BALL SET THE SHOW IN LOS ANGELES FOR A SPECIFIC REASON.

The direct quote: “I purposely chose Los Angeles to set the series in because, in a show about death, why not set it in the world capital of the denial of death, which has got to be Los Angeles? Los Angeles is where you come to re-create yourself and to become immortal.”

8. THE OPENING SEQUENCE WAS SHOT IN SEATTLE.

American Beauty composer Thomas Newman wrote the music first, before the video and images were filmed and created. The tree was shot near Lake Washington, but only after being purchased for $400 from a Seattle resident’s yard, uprooted, relocated to the desired area, and held up by wires.

9. RICO AND JULIO DIDN'T HAVE TO ACT TO PLAY FATHER AND SON.

Freddy Rodríguez played Federico “Rico” Diaz. His son, Julio, was played by his real-life son, Giancarlo Rodriguez. (Giancarlo also appeared on an episode of Ugly Betty, also as Freddy’s son.)

10. ONE OF THE WRITERS STRONGLY OBJECTED TO ONE OF THE SCENES.

In “The Trip,” the 11th episode in the show's premiere season, Six Feet Under took a risk in depicting the death of a baby. One writer argued that filming the scene would make the show’s audience disappear. Instead, the writer disappeared; Ball fired him at season’s end.

11. LILI TAYLOR DIDN’T KNOW SHE WAS HAVING AN AFFAIR.

Taylor played Lisa Kimmel Fisher, Nate's roommate-turned-wife and mother of his child. In a dark plot twist, it was revealed that she was having an affair—a fact that Taylor herself wasn’t aware of until “the third episode from when it happened.” She claimed she would have played the part differently had she known.

12. GARY BUSEY UNSUCCESSFULLY AUDITIONED FOR A ROLE DURING SEASON TWO.

Busey auditioned for the role of Pete in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” W. Earl Brown got the part instead.

13. RICHARD JENKINS CAUSED CONFUSION AT AN ACTUAL FUNERAL.

While the show was still on the air, the actor who played Nathaniel Fisher—the ghost patriarch of the Fisher family—attended a funeral in the real world. A woman tapped him on the shoulder and asked him, “Are they filming this?” She wasn’t joking.

14. SOMEONE IN THE WRITERS ROOM SAID "WE SHOULD JUST KILL EVERYBODY" FOR THE SERIES FINALE, WHICH EVERYONE THOUGHT WAS FUNNY.

The laughter stopped when the room realized it was a serious suggestion, and Ball realized that it would be the perfect way to end the series.

15. AN EXTRA PLAYED 101-YEAR-OLD CLAIRE IN THE FINALE'S DEATH MONTAGE.

While every other actor wore prosthetics to play their older selves, Lauren Ambrose stopped portraying Claire once she was on her death bed. The extra was in her seventies. Contact lenses were used for the final shot of her eyes.

All images courtesy of Getty

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
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ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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Shopping Malls Might be Dying, But Miami Is Planning to Build the Largest One in North America
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Shopping malls and the "American Dream" are two things that are often said to be dead or dying, but one developer sees it a little differently.

Part shopping outlet and part theme park, American Dream Miami is slated to become the largest mall in North America when it opens in Miami-Dade County, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Indeed, "mall" might not be the best word for this mega-complex. In addition to retail outlets, plans are in the works for an aquarium, water park, ski slope, live performing arts center, Ferris wheel, submarine ride, skating rink, and 2000 hotel rooms.

The project is being developed by Triple Five Group, which operates the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada—currently the two current largest shopping and entertainment centers on the continent. It also owns the American Dream Meadowlands in New Jersey.

This announcement comes at a time when shopping malls are being shuttered across the country. More than 6400 stores closed last year, and another 3600 are expected to go out of business this year, according to Business Insider.

American Dream Miami will cost $4 billion and cover 6.2 million square feet. Developers hope it will attract tourists as well as local thrill seekers who want a closer entertainment option than Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. Developer Eskandar Ghermezian was reportedly inspired by a comment made by his daughter, who complained there was nothing to do in the area when it rained.

Critics of the project, however, called it "American Nightmare," arguing it would harm the environment and cause traffic congestion. The developer still needs to obtain several permits before construction can begin.

[h/t Sun-Sentinel]

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