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
iStock
18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
iStock
iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios