CLOSE

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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Miramax
arrow
entertainment
11 Single Facts About Bridget Jones’s Diary
Miramax
Miramax

While it's not officially a holiday movie, so much of the action in Bridget Jones's Diary happens around the most wonderful time of the year that the rom-com has become essential wintertime viewing for many movie fans. Based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, it tells the story of a very single, and hopelessly romantic, working professional named Bridget (Renée Zellweger) who is determined to improve her love life. Enter two strapping gentlemen (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) to vie for her heart. Get to know more about the timeless dramedy that’s been delighting audiences since 2001. Just as it is.

1. THE SOURCE NOVEL CAME ABOUT FROM AN ANONYMOUS COLUMN ABOUT SINGLE LIFE.

In the foreword of Bridget Jones’s Diary, author Helen Fielding wrote about how she came to conjure up the story: “The Independent asked me to write a column, as myself, about single life in London. Much as I needed the money, the idea of writing about myself in that way seemed hopelessly embarrassing and revealing. I offered to write an anonymous column instead, using an exaggerated, comic, fictional character. I assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.”

2. SEVERAL CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON PEOPLE IN HELEN FIELDING’S LIFE.


Miramax

These include Jude (Tracey MacLeod) and Shazzer (Sharon Maguire, also the film’s director). In a column for the Evening Standard, MacLeod described how she didn’t even realize she inspired part of her best friend’s story until Fielding’s book launch party. “At the launch party for the first Bridget book, I was cornered by a smug married friend, ‘So ... what's it like being Jude?’ she asked,” MacLeod writes. “I was outraged. Of course I wasn't Jude, with her self-help books and horrible boyfriend. My boyfriend wasn't anything like Vile Richard ... But as more people began to believe that Jude and Shazzer were thinly-veiled portraits of myself and Sharon, I secretly got to like the idea.”

3. TONI COLLETTE DECLINED THE LEAD, AND KATE WINSLET WAS CONSIDERED FOR IT.

Before Zellweger stole the show, Aussie Toni Collette and Brit Kate Winslet were up for the part. According to AMC, “Toni Collette declined the role because she was on Broadway starring in The Wild Party at the time, and Kate Winslet was considered but the producers decided she was too young.”

4. HUGH GRANT ONLY SIGNED ON WHEN RICHARD CURTIS WAS ANNOUNCED AS THE WRITER. 


Miramax

“The only reason [I was a hard sell] was because I didn't feel they had the script quite right for a long time,” Firth told Cinema.com. “And I kept saying, ‘It's not working. Just get Richard Curtis to come in and help rewrite it.’ Eventually they did, and as soon as Richard came on board, I signed on the dotted line. So that's all it was.”

5. RENÉE ZELLWEGER GAINED 17 POUNDS FOR THE PART.

Zellweger’s weight gain for the role had the media abuzz for a while. According to The Guardian, “In order to play the eponymous heroine in the film adaptation of Fielding's bestseller, the actress gained 17 pounds, consulting a dietitian and endocrinologist who devised a regime of three full meals a day, multiple snacks, and no exercise.”

6. ZELLWEGER WORKED AT PICADOR FOR THREE WEEKS.

Zellweger went full Method for her iconic role, and became a temporary employee of the Picador publishing house. “We came up with a plan: she would be Bridget Cavendish, Bridget for obvious reasons and Cavendish as she was to be passed off as the sister of Jonathan Cavendish, a friend of one of our company chairmen,” Picador publicist Camilla Elworthy told The Guardian. “That last bit at least is true, and no one was to know that Jonathan Cavendish was one of the film's producers.”

7. ZELLWEGER KEPT A PHOTO OF JIM CARREY ON HER DESK.


Miramax

While working at Picador, Zellweger kept a picture of Jim Carrey on her desk—which made her alter ego Bridget Cavendish seem like some sort of obsessed fan. “Under the name Bridget Cavendish, she answered phones, served coffee, and made photocopies—without being recognized by any of her co-workers, who offered career advice and wondered privately why she kept a photo of Jim Carrey (her then-boyfriend) on her desk,” noted Hollywood.com.

8. ZELLWEGER INVITED HER BOSS AT PICADOR TO BE AN EXTRA ON SET.

In Camilla Elworthy’s write-up for The Guardian, she noted how she became a part of the production. “Renée sent me a thank you letter and gift after she'd gone and I have seen her a few times since then," Elworthy wrote. "She invited me on to the film set one day. She informed me that I had to stick around and be an extra and made sure that I was put somewhere that I would be seen ... As a result, half my head can be seen for half a nano-second in the launch party scene.”

9. THE EPIC FIGHT SCENE BETWEEN GRANT AND COLIN FIRTH WASN’T CHOREOGRAPHED.

You can thank the two actors for the hilarity of the iconic scene. In a Vulture article about the greatest fight scenes in movie history, writer Denise Martin recalled the improvised spar, writing, “No stunt coordinators. No elaborate choreography. Just a perfectly realized wimp brawl between two upper-middle-class Englishmen coming to awkward fisticuffs in front of a Greek restaurant.”

10. FIELDING ASKED FRIEND SALMAN RUSHDIE TO CAMEO IN THE FILM.

Recalling how he came to be part of the film, famed novelist Salman Rushdie told Texas Monthly, “Helen Fielding, the author of the book, is an old pal of mine, and she asked if I’d come along and make a fool of myself, and I said, ‘Why not?’”

11. GRANT DIDN’T HEAR ZELLWEGER SPEAK IN HER AMERICAN ACCENT UNTIL THE FILM’S WRAP PARTY.

Zellweger was so engrossed with Bridget Jones that one of her leading love interests didn’t meet the real actress until the end of the shoot. “Not once did she stop speaking with that accent, until the wrap party,” Grant told Cinema.com, “when suddenly this weird ... Texan appeared. I wanted to call security, I didn't know who the f*ck she was!”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Universal Home Video
arrow
entertainment
15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios