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14 Unusual Facts About The Usual Suspects

Before he directed X-Men, Bryan Singer made a name for himself with a movie about a different batch of heroes, with a different set of super powers. The Usual Suspects premiered at Sundance in 1995, played Cannes in May, and hit theaters exactly 20 years ago today, entertaining almost everyone (though Roger Ebert famously disliked it) with its twisty, humorous criminal caper. You already know who Keyser Söze is, but here are 14 things you might not have known about the film. 

1. KEYSER SÖZE WAS NAMED AFTER A LAWYER. 

Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie once worked for a lawyer named Keyser Sume (pronounced Sue-may), whom he told: “You’ve got a great name. You’re going to be the villain in a script some day.” When it came time to write The Usual Suspects, McQuarrie figured that, for legal reasons, he’d better not use the exact name, and so he replaced it with part of the Turkish expression “söze boğmak,” which means “talk too much” (literally, “drown in/with words”). Considering that the movie also has a character nicknamed Verbal because he “talks too much,” Turkish audiences might not have been as surprised by the movie’s ending as other viewers were.

2. KEVIN SPACEY ASKED TO BE IN THE MOVIE BEFORE HE EVEN KNEW WHAT IT WOULD BE. 

The actor met Bryan Singer at a screening of the director's first feature, Public Access, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1993. Spacey liked the movie so much that he told Singer he wanted to be in whatever he made next. “I took that as an assignment,” Singer told Charlie Rose. “Because I worship this man as an actor.”

3. MCQUARRIE THOUGHT UP THE TITLE AND POSTER IMAGE BEFORE HE CAME UP WITH THE STORY.

The satirical news and entertainment magazine Spy had a regular feature called “The Usual Suspects” (taken from a line in Casablanca), which McQuarrie thought would make a good movie title. What would it be about? Well, the usual suspects—a bunch of guys in a police lineup. It practically writes itself!

4. KEVIN SPACEY READ THE SCRIPT NOT KNOWING WHICH PART HE WAS SUPPOSED TO PLAY.

He liked the characters of Keaton and Dave Kujan, which eventually went to Gabriel Byrne and Chazz Palminteri, respectively. But Spacey was most drawn to Verbal Kint who, as it happened, was the part Singer and McQuarrie wanted him for anyway. In fact, McQuarrie later said he wrote the part specifically with Spacey in mind, “because he was lesser known at the time. I wanted the audience to dismiss him as a minor character.” 

5. AL PACINO TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF DAVE KUJAN TO PLAY A COP IN A DIFFERENT MOVIE.

That would be Heat, which famously paired him onscreen with Robert De Niro for the first time. Pacino didn’t want to play a cop twice in the same year, so he opted for the more prestigious, Michael Mann-directed project.

6. THE DIRECTOR SAW THE FILM AS A PARALLEL TO THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Singer explained his theory in one of the DVD's making-of featurettes: New York is Kansas, where normal daily life happens; Los Angeles is Oz, where there’s a variety of adventures and colorful characters, including Kobayashi: “Is he the man, or is he the man behind the curtain?” Both stories also have endings that cast doubt on the reality of what the audience just saw. 

7. THE FILMMAKERS WANTED HARRY DEAN STANTON, NOT BENICIO DEL TORO. 

That’s quite a different direction for the character of Fenster, who in the film is known for his nearly incomprehensible manner of speech and not much else. Singer had an older actor in mind, someone like Stanton (whom he mentioned specifically), to give the partnership of Fenster and McManus an old guy/young guy dynamic. But on the page, the role didn’t have much personality to it, and Singer couldn’t seem to find an actor who fit. It was Spacey who suggested Del Toro.

8. FENSTER’S UNIQUE DIALECT WAS ALL BENICIO DEL TORO’S IDEA. 

As Del Toro explained it on Inside the Actors Studio, his character’s only real purpose in the story was to die. So to liven things up, Del Toro tried delivering Fenster’s lines the way the audience hears them in the film—very quickly, and with a thick, indiscernible accent. Nobody on the set could understand him. Singer later recalled, “At first I thought it was a joke, but I didn’t want to offend him if it wasn’t a joke.” Once he determined that Del Toro was doing it on purpose, as a conscious character choice, Singer embraced it. He gave Kevin Pollak a line (“What did you say?”) to let audiences know that the movie knew that Fenster was hard to understand. 

9. GABRIEL BYRNE TRIED TO DROP OUT JUST BEFORE FILMING BEGAN. 

The actor was dealing with some personal issues that made him reluctant to make the film (or any film) at the time. His agent, attributing it to cold feet, asked if he was sure. He said he was. She asked what it would take for him to do the film. He said, “If they shot it in Los Angeles, where I live, and it took no longer than five weeks, I’ll do it.” Singer and company readily agreed to those terms; it wasn’t until later that Byrne realized shooting for five weeks in Los Angeles was what they had planned anyway. (Yep, even the scenes set in New York were shot in L.A.) 

10. THE LINEUP SCENE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE SERIOUS, BUT BENICIO DEL TORO KEPT FARTING. 

Though the script didn’t play that scene for laughs, the actors were in a silly mood the day of the shoot and kept screwing around with the lines, cracking each other up. On the special edition DVD, Del Toro gave an additional reason for the hilarity: “All I remember is that someone farted … and no one knew who the guilty party was.” Kevin Pollak remembers it differently: “Del Toro farted like 12 takes in a row.” Frustrated, Singer chewed them out during the lunch break, which only made it harder for the actors to keep straight faces when they got back to work. Singer finally embraced the tone and used the scene to establish camaraderie among the characters, making it work to his (and the film’s) advantage. 

11. THE ENTIRE INTERROGATION SCENE, BITS OF WHICH ARE SPRINKLED THROUGHOUT THE MOVIE, WAS SHOT BEFORE EVERYTHING ELSE. 

Singer and the cast spent five days filming that sequence. Without all the flashbacks interspersed, it felt like a two-person play between Spacey and Palminteri. 

12. THE FILM’S EDITOR IS ALSO ITS COMPOSER.

Writer/directors are common. Even director/cinematographers aren’t unusual. But a composer/editor? John Ottman has been successful at both halves of that combination, largely thanks to Bryan Singer. The two met while working on someone else’s student film at USC, and Singer later asked him to edit his feature debut, Public Access. When that film lost its composer at the last minute, Ottman—who had been dabbling in music on the side—pitched himself for double-duty. The result was such that Singer wanted Ottman to do both jobs on his next film, too, which Ottman agreed to through “mutual blackmail.” “On The Usual Suspects, [Singer] says, ‘You’re not gonna score this movie unless you edit it,’” Ottman explained. “And I said, ‘Well, I’m not gonna edit it unless I score it.’” Except for the first X-Men, Ottman has been the composer/editor on all of Singer's movies.

13. IT WON EVERY OSCAR FOR WHICH IT WAS NOMINATED.

All two of them: Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Spacey, and Best Original Screenplay for Christopher McQuarrie. Spacey has since been nominated for another Oscar (Best Actor for 1999’s American Beauty), which he also won, so he’s batting 1.000. (So is McQuarrie, who has only been nominated that one time.) No losers in this crowd!

14. IT SUCCEEDS AT SURPRISING (MOST) VIEWERS BY MAKING THEM ASK THE WRONG QUESTION.

McQuarrie explained that instead of making audiences wonder “Who is Keyser Söze?,” the movie is set up so that the central question becomes “Is Keaton dead or alive?” Thus, misdirected, viewers are caught off-guard when the Keyser Söze question is answered. Of course, the marketing for the movie—which did emphasize the question “Who is Keyser Söze?”—might have undermined that a little.

Additional Sources:
Special Edition DVD features

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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