14 Surprising Facts About Empire Records

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Nearly a quarter-century after its original release, Empire Records is in the news again. In early April, Deadline reported that a stage version of the 1995 cult hit is being developed for Broadway, with an eye toward a 2020 debut, to mark the film's 25th anniversary. The premise of Allan Moyle’s Generation X movie staple is pretty straightforward—a group of teenagers working in an independent record store try to combat a corporate chain from taking it over—but it connected with audiences in a deep (and lasting) way. Featuring rising stars Liv Tyler, Renée Zellweger, and Ethan Embry, the movie was released on September 22, 1995 to barely any fanfare. Somehow, years later, fans discovered it and have helped keep its memory alive. Here are some “damn the man” facts about the movie.

1. THE MOVIE FLOPPED IN THEATERS.

The film grossed just $293,879. Originally, Warner Bros. planned to release the film in 1250 theaters on September 22, 1995, but the studio wasn’t happy with the film, so they didn’t promote it in any way—no ad campaign, no big Hollywood premiere. The $10 million film, which only screened in 87 theaters, grossed $180,286 in its first week, but by the second weekend, it was practically out of theaters. (The film went wider in October but only grossed $16,645 more.) Out of 280 films released in 1995, Empire Records ranks as the year’s 236th highest grossing movie. It’s not the bottom, but it’s pretty close.

2. THE SOUNDTRACK FARED MUCH BETTER THAN THE MOVIE.

The soundtrack, which only featured 16 out of 50 songs used in the movie, cracked the top 100 Billboard charts and spawned two hit songs. The Gin Blossoms’s “Til I Hear It From You” was written by band members Jesse Valenzuela and Robin Wilson and musician Marshall Crenshaw. The song peaked at number five on the Billboard chart and was the Gin Blossoms’s first song to enter the top 20. Edwyn Collins’s “A Girl Like You” was also a hit, peaking at number seven on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. On 2012’s Record Store Day, a vinyl edition of the soundtrack was released.

3. THE SOUNDTRACK VERSION OF “SUGAR HIGH” WAS NOT THE INTENDED MIX.

In the movie, Zellweger performed the song with Coyote Shivers. During an interview with Consequence of Sound, Shivers explained why the version he and Zellweger sang in the movie isn’t the one that appeared on the soundtrack. Apparently the record company didn’t want it on the soundtrack, and the music supervisor thought the song was too loud. But when the song’s producer declined to remaster it, the supervisor picked “the rough mix that was meant just for playback while filming. And the label put it as the last song on the record on the original pressing,” Shivers said.

4. ANGELINA JOLIE ALMOST PLAYED THE PART OF DEB.

In hindsight, it would have made sense for Jolie to play the shaved-head and suicidal Deb, a role that eventually went to Robin Tunney. Producer Alan Riche described Jolie as being “a force of nature,” and considered her for the other female roles but “she was just too much.” Which begs the question: Would Jolie have actually shaved her head like Tunney did in a scene?

5. TOBEY MAGUIRE WAS CAST IN THE MOVIE BUT DROPPED OUT DUE TO PERSONAL REASONS.

IMDb credits Maguire’s role as “Andre,” but the scenes he shot were cut. Empire Records filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina and director Allan Moyle forced all the actors to live in beachfront properties next door to each other to create real friendships. According to a BuzzFeed article:

“Maguire showed up, felt aimless, may or may not have consumed a psychotropic drug, and somehow ended up in the basement of Moyle’s beach house eating a giant bowl of cereal. Moyle found him there, they talked for several hours, Maguire asked to go back to Hollywood to figure his life out and write a screenplay. Moyle agreed to buy it; Maguire returned to Hollywood—and, as far as Moyle knew, never wrote the script. But two years later, he was the star of The Ice Storm; eight years later, he was Spider-Man.”

Ethan Embry remembered it differently, though. “I don’t remember him coming out [to North Carolina],” he told The Wrap. “I remember seeing him at an audition and I remember smoking a cigarette with him while we were both waiting to go in. I had totally forgotten that he was out there until people started talking about it again.”

6. COYOTE SHIVERS LIED ABOUT HIS AGE TO GET THE PART OF BERKO.

Originally, producers wanted Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day to play the role, but his touring schedule wouldn’t allow for it. Shivers, who at the time of casting was in his late 20s, got picked to play the teen Berko. In 2015, Shivers told Consequence of Sound he lied about his age because the producers wanted a teenager to play the role and “I looked young anyway.” Shivers said the producers later found out that he was Liv Tyler’s stepdad at the time (he is only 12 years older than Tyler), which exposed him for his real age. That, and him getting car insurance in North Carolina with the over-26-years-old rate.

7. ETHAN EMBRY HAD A CRUSH ON LIV TYLER ... AND SO DID EVERYBODY ELSE.

“I just remember having the biggest crush on [Liv]. Ever. Which was very difficult, because then we went to shoot That Thing You Do! and I still had a f***ing crush on her,” Embry told The Wrap. During a Rex Manning Day video message, Maxwell Caulfield relayed how everybody in the cast took to Liv. “Liv Tyler was at the center of it all,” he said. “Everybody was gravitating to this young, emerging swan.” 

8. RENÉE ZELLWEGER AND RORY COCHRANE WERE DATING AT THE TIME.

Renée Zellweger, Rory Cochrane, Johnny Whitworth and Liv Tyler in 'Empire Records' (1995)
Warner Bros.

The couple met on the set of Dazed and Confused (Zellweger had a brief cameo) two years prior to filming Empire Records. They also appeared together in the 1994 film Love and a .45. Cochrane (who plays the store’s night manager Lucas) encouraged Zellweger to audition for the film, and she got the part of store employee Gina. In the movie, the stoner logo from Dazed and Confused appears on a cash register.

9. THE STUDIO MADE ALLAN MOYLE TONE DOWN THE FILM.

At one point, the studio took the movie from the director and wouldn’t let him have final cut of it. “The studio was in a cocaine mentality, while we at the movie were in a pot mentality,” Moyle explained to BuzzFeed. Even though the script contained R-rated material, the studio wanted a PG-13 rating and rid the movie of much of its swearing and scenes of the teenagers smoking marijuana (eating pot brownies seemed to be okay, though).

10. THE SCENE WHEN MARK HALLUCINATES BEING AT A GWAR CONCERT WAS ACTUALLY FILMED DURING A GWAR CONCERT.

It wasn’t in the script, but Embry’s character Mark eats a pot brownie (Embry joked that the brownies were made with real pot) while watching a video of the band GWAR on TV, then imagines he’s in the TV. During filming in North Carolina, actor James “Kimo” Wills (Eddie) spotted a flyer for a GWAR show and told Embry about it. Moyle hadn’t heard of GWAR but let Embry concoct a scenario.

“Man, GWAR is coming to town and I think Mark should have a fantasy where’s he’s playing with GWAR, and they did it,” Robin Tunney, imitating Embry, recalled during a BuzzFeed LA Empire Records reunion, in August. “And then Allan let us take a camera to the GWAR concert and I drank Jägermeister with the bass player from GWAR,” Embry chimed in. He also talked to Vanity Fair about filming the concert. “We did a couple takes of it, and the audience was just standing there like, ‘What is going on?’—and then they continued with their show.”

11. TOM JONES INSPIRED REX MANNING’S WARDROBE.

Costume designer Susan Lyall told BuzzFeed how former 1980s pop idol Rex Manning’s over-the-top wardrobe came to be. She found the purple satin shirt at New York’s Trash and Vaudeville and then added fringe to it. She described the fashion as being “Tom Jones + Rod Stewart + Trash and Vaudeville.”

12. “REX MANNING DAY” IS CELEBRATED ON APRIL 8TH EVERY YEAR.

A flyer on a door in the movie announces Rex’s in-store appearance as “April 8th,” which is why it’s honored then. Maxwell Caulfield played the ridiculous singer Rex Manning, who shows up at Empire Records for an album signing. In 2015, for the film's 20th anniversary (and Rex Manning Day), Brooklyn's Rough Trade Records tricked out its storefront to look like the record store in the film, replete with actors Ethan Embry, Johnny Whitworth, and the band GWAR making surprise appearances. Caulfield was unable to make the event, but a tanned stand-in recreated the “Say No More (Mon Amour)” video and snapped photos with fans.

13. REX MANNING DAY IS A TRIBUTE TO KURT COBAIN.

A photo of Kurt Cobain performing with Nirvana.
Getty Images

Screenwriter Carol Heikkinen based the script on her time working at Tower Records, and keeping with the music theme, she slipped in an important date. “I was just talking to the writer [Carol], and she was saying it’s in one of the drafts,” Ethan Embry revealed to The Wrap in 2015. “April 8th is the same day they found Kurt Cobain’s body. It’s not the day he died. We shot that the same year they found him, so it represents the death of a rock star. Nobody ever says it in the movie. Nobody ever says April 8th.”

14. THE CAST HAD NO IDEA HOW POPULAR THE MOVIE BECAME.

In 2013, Embry and several of the other cast members attended an outdoor screening of the film in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood, which is when they realized just how much people loved the movie. “[It was] like, ‘Let’s just go and watch it and make fun of ourselves,” Embry told Vanity Fair in 2015. “And I took a picture of the five of us together, and it exploded on Twitter. And we all sat there wondering why.” The cast reunited again in July 2014 for a screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where 4000 fans came out for the film and a Q&A session. Some of the cast got together again for Rex Manning Day 2018.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Robert De Niro

RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images
RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images

Robert De Niro is part of the pantheon of independent-minded filmmakers who cut through Hollywood noise in the 1970s with edgier fare to create what became known as “The New Hollywood.” Following stints with Brian De Palma and Roger Corman, De Niro teamed up with Martin Scorsese for the first time with 1973's Mean Streets, which launched a fruitful artistic collaboration that has produced some of the best movies of the past half-century.

Even after his shift into commercial comedies like Meet the Parents, “dedication” has remained De Niro’s watchword. The two-time Oscar winner has earned Hollywood legend status with panache and bone-deep portrayals. Here are 10 facts about the filmmaker on his 75th birthday. (Yes, we’re talkin’ to you.)

1. HIS FIRST ROLE WAS IN A STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ—AT AGE 10.

Robert De Niro got bit by the acting bug early. He threatened to thrash a hippopotamus from top to bottom-us as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of 10. (This is the remake and casting the world needs right now.)

2. HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TO PURSUE ACTING.

Robert De Niro arrives at the UK premiere of epic war drama film 'The Deer Hunter', UK, 28th February 1979
John Minihan, Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter whose work was part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and his father, Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated abstract expressionist painter. So the apple falling into drama school instead of the art studio still isn’t that far from the tree. Having already gotten a youthful dose of stage life, De Niro quit his private high school to try to become an actor. He first went to the nonprofit HB Studio before studying under Stella Adler and, later, The Actors Studio.

3. HE’S A DUAL CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES AND ITALY.

De Niro is American, Italian-American, and, as of 2004, Italian. The country bestowed honorary citizenship upon De Niro as an honor in recognition of his career, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the passport office. A group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America strongly protested the Italian government’s plan due to De Niro’s frequent portrayal of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

4. HE GAINED 60 POUNDS FOR RAGING BULL.

Preparing to play the misfortune-laden boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull required two major things from De Niro: training and gaining. For the latter, De Niro ate his way through Europe during a four-month binge of ice cream and pasta. His 60-pound-gain was dramatic enough that it concerned Martin Scorsese. It was one way to show dedication to a role, but the training element was even more impressive. De Niro got so good at boxing that when LaMotta set up several professional-level sparring bouts for the actor, De Niro won two of them.

5. HE AND MARLON BRANDO ARE THE ONLY ACTORS TO WIN OSCARS FOR PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER.

De Niro won his first Oscar in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II, for portraying the younger version of Vito Corleone—the wizened capo played by Marlon Brando, who also won an Oscar for the role (Brando’s came in 1973, for The Godfather). No other pair of actors has managed the feat, although Jeff Bridges came close in 2010 when he was nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (a role originated by John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie of the same name). Oddly enough, Bridges was in contention for the role of Travis Bickle, the role that earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

6. HE DROVE A CAB TO PREPARE FOR TAXI DRIVER.

If you’re looking for commitment to a role, ask Hack #265216. De Niro got a taxicab driver’s license to study up to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and spent several weekends cruising around New York City picking up fares. It’s possible that having his teeth filed down for Cape Fear is the most intense transformation he’s undergone for a role, but picking up a part-time job to live the lonely life of Bickle is more humane.

7. ONE OF HIS FILMS POSTPONED ONE OF HIS OSCAR WINS.

The 53rd Academy Awards—where De Niro won for playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull—were originally scheduled for March 30, 1981 but were postponed until the following day because of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., claimed the attack was intended to impress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley grew obsessed with after watching Taxi Driver.

8. HE LAUNCHED THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal speak onstage at the 'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, philanthropist Craig M. Hatkoff, and De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 as a showcase for independent films that would hopefully “spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan” after the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks. With its empire state of mind, the inaugural festival in 2002 featured a “Best of New York Series” handpicked by Martin Scorsese and drew an astonishing 150,000 attendees.

9. HE WAS ONCE INTERROGATED BY FRENCH POLICE CONCERNING A PROSTITUTION RING.

One of the most bizarre chapters in De Niro’s life came when he was publicly named in the investigation of a prostitution ring in Paris. The 1998 incident included a lengthy interrogation session (De Niro filed an official complaint) and a pile of paparazzi waiting for him when he left the prosecutor’s office. De Niro railed against the entire country, vowing to return his Legion of Honour and telling Le Monde newspaper that, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France.” (He had cooled off enough by 2011 to act as the Cannes Film Festival’s jury president.)

10. HE LOVED THE CAT(S) IN MEET THE PARENTS.

Meet the Parents’s Mr. Jinx (Jinxy!) was played by two Himalayans named Bailey and Misha, and De Niro fell in love with them. He played with them between scenes, kept kibble in his pocket for them, and asked director Jay Roach to have Mr. Jinx in as many scenes as possible.

National Portrait Gallery Celebrates Aretha Franklin With Week-Long Exhibition

Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA
Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA

With the passing of Aretha Franklin on August 16, 2018, the world has lost one of its most distinctive voices—and personalities. As celebrities and fans share their memories of the Queen of Soul and what her music meant to them, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery will pay tribute to the legendary songstress's life with a week-long exhibition of her portrait.

Throughout her career, Franklin earned some of the music industry's highest accolades, including 18 Grammy Awards. In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nearly 30 years later, in 2015, the National Portrait Gallery fêted Franklin with the Portrait of a Nation Prize, which recognizes "the accomplishments of notable contemporary Americans whose portraits reside in the National Portrait Gallery collection." (Madeline Albright, Spike Lee, and Rita Moreno are among some of its recent recipients.)

Milton Glaser's lithograph of Aretha Franklin, which is displayed at The National Portrait Gallery
© Milton Glaser

Franklin's portrait was the creation of noted graphic designer Milton Glaser, who employed "his characteristic kaleidoscope palette and innovative geometric forms to convey the creative energy of Franklin's performances," according to the Gallery. The colorful lithographic was created in 1968, the very same year that the National Portrait Gallery opened.

Glaser's image will be installed in the "In Memoriam" section of the museum, which is located on the first floor, on Friday, August 17 and will remain on display to the public through August 22, 2018. The Gallery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. and admission is free.

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