In 2015, various news outlets revealed that an episode of Homeland included Arabic graffiti protesting the portrayal of Muslims on the popular Showtime series. Some of the phrases written on the set’s walls included “Homeland is racist” and “Homeland is not a show.” The messages were seemingly left on the set without the producers’ knowledge or consent. A group calling themselves “Arabian Street Artists” took credit for the act, saying it was done to air their “political discontent.”
This wasn’t the first time that the backgroundS of films and television shows have revealed interesting hidden messages, props, or inside jokes. Here are 10 more examples.
1. FUTURAMA’S SECRET LANGUAGE
It’s hard to believe that Homeland and Futurama have anything in common, but it turns out that the latteralso includes hidden messages in graffiti and signs. The show contains an alien language, which clever viewers have decoded—allowing them to find messages in the background like “laser tentacle surgery” and “used human probes.”
2. HIEROGLYPHIC R2-D2 AND C-3PO IN RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Indy lifts a huge rock to uncover the Ark, there’s a pillar featuring hieroglyphics that reference the famous Star Wars characters R2-D2 and C-3PO. There’s a second example later in the same scene, though it’s a little harder to see: On the back wall of the Ark, there’s a hieroglyph of Princess Leia with R2-D2 and C-3PO again.
3. HAN SOLO ON THE FIREFLY
A 12-inch figurine of Han Solo frozen in carbonite can be seen in many episodes of the science fiction show Firefly. The prop department made this specifically for Nathan Fillion because he’s a huge Star Wars fan. And rumor has it that they used to sneak it into scenes as a joke, without informing the producers and directors.
4. CREW NAMES HIDDEN IN CORONATION STREET
In 2015, some crew members of the British soap opera Coronation Street got into trouble for sneaking their names onto props and sets, including football shirts, newspapers, and resident call buttons. Apparently it went too far when a prop master named Peter Eccleston put his own name on a hardware store. An on-set source told the Mirror, “They think getting their names on TV is a hoot and reckon it’s really funny. But to be honest there are quite a few people wishing for a change at the top to stop this nuisance.”
5. THE RECURRING PROP NEWSPAPER
Prop masters have inside jokes that go way beyond putting names on a hardware store, though. There isone prop newspaper that has been spotted in a ridiculous number of films and television shows. You can see it in Angel, No Country for Old Men, Everybody Hates Chris, Desperate Housewives, Modern Family, and many other titles. The paper is from Earl Hays Press, a newspaper prop company in Sun Valley, California, and use of the newspaper has become a sort of inside joke within Hollywood—plus, it’s cheaper to recycle.
6. THE GROSS RESTAURANT NAME IN ANCHORMAN
In Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) visits a Mexican food restaurant with a group of her fellow female coworkers. The restaurant’s sign says its name is “Escupimos en su Alimento.” Translated into English, that means “We spit in your food.”
7. THE ACCURATE, AND SOMETIMES HUMOROUS, WHITEBOARD IN THE BIG BANG THEORY
CBS has a physics professor on the set of The Big Bang Theory to proofread and fact-check the scripts. In addition to making sure everything is scientifically accurate, he sometimes adds some humor to the whiteboard that sits in Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment. For instance, in the episode “The Jiminy Conjecture,” two of the characters get into an argument about a cricket. In the background, the whiteboard features Dolbear’s law, a formula that explains the relationship between temperature and the rate at which crickets chirp. The information on the board doesn’t get referenced much; it’s mostly for science enthusiasts to enjoy.
8. MAGNA DOODLE ART ON FRIENDS
Beginning in season three, a Magna Doodle toy hung on Joey and Chandler’s door in Friends. At a certain point, a man on the electric crew began changing the drawing on the magnetic surface for each episode. Sometimes the message related to the episode. For instance, in “The One with the Cat,” the apartment gets robbed, and the Magna Doodle displays the message, “Thanks for all your stuff.” A couple episodes later, Chandler gets a manicure. The Magna Doodle reads, “Nice nails, Chandler!”
9. TYLER DURDEN’S FACEBOOK PAGE IN THE SOCIAL NETWORK
David Fincher directed both Fight Club and The Social Network. In the latter, he referenced an iconic character from his earlier film: Tyler Durden. At one point, Mark Zuckerberg is on his computer, working on Facebook. The words “Tyler Durden’s Photos” are briefly visible.
10. LOST PAINTING IN STUART LITTLE
This is less of a hidden message than an (unintentionally) hidden object. In the 1999 film Stuart Little, the main characters are an affluent Manhattan family who happen to own a lot of nice paintings. In 2009, an art historian named Gergely Barki was watching the film with his daughter when he noticed a painting by Róbert Berény in the background. That particular painting had been missing since 1928 and was worth around a quarter of a million dollars. Barki eventually got in touch with an assistant set designer for the movie, who had bought the piece at an antique store in Pasadena for just $500. And the painting was returned.
Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy (1969)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
On May 25, 1969, United Artists released the film Midnight Cowboy, starring Jon Voight (Texas transplant Joe Buck) and Dustin Hoffman (the sleazy Ratso Rizzo) as street hustlers in New York City. It was the first studio film to receive an X-rating (the studio refused to edit anything out), and it became the first X-rated movie to be nominated and win a Best Picture Oscar (A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris followed suit with X-rated nominations). Hoffman and Voight were also nominated for Oscars, and screenwriter Waldo Salt and director John Schlesinger ended up winning gold statuettes for the movie. After the movie became a success, the MPAA demoted its rating to an R.
Based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy, the controversial film managed to gross $44 million—about $200 million by today’s standards. The movie saved the careers of its actors, producers, and Salt, who had been blacklisted and fallen on hard times. It also produced a hit song, Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Here are 15 facts about the landmark film.
1. John Schlesinger was reluctant to hire Dustin Hoffman.
Like everybody else, the filmmakers associated Dustin Hoffman with Benjamin Braddock, the clean-cut twentysomething he played in The Graduate. “The truth was, I saw The Graduate as a setback, because I was determined not to be a star,” Hoffman told the Los Angeles Times. Hoffman was doing Off Broadway performances during the casting of Midnight Cowboy, so Schlesinger checked him out in a play. Hoffman frequented an automat with fellow thespians Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall; one night Hoffman showed up there with a scruffy beard, disheveled clothes, and a Bowery accent. Schlesinger said to Hoffman, “Why Dustin, you do fit right in,” and he got the part.
2. Mike Nichols tried to talk Dustin Hoffman out of doing the movie.
Dustin Hoffman stars in Midnight Cowboy (1969).
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hot off the heels of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, Hoffman could’ve kept his romantic lead image up, but instead he opted to take a supporting part in Midnight Cowboy. “Mike Nichols, in fact, called me up,” Hoffman told Peter Travers. “And he says, ‘Are you crazy?’ He says, ‘I made you a star. This is an ugly character. It’s a supporting part to Jon Voight.’ He says, ‘What are you doing? Why are you sabotaging?’” But Hoffman stuck to his guns and took the role. “I love the fact I was trying to remain a character actor and that was my desire,” he said.
3. Jon Voight was cast only after the original actor was fired.
Jon Voight auditioned for the role of Joe Buck and really wanted the part, but the producers chose Michael Sarrazin, whose major claim to fame is the 1969 Jane Fonda film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? “Sometimes I would be offered a role and I would recommend somebody else—I was that kind of person,” Voight told Box Office Mojo. “Yet this one stopped me because the thing I was excited about for this piece wasn’t going to happen. I felt quite sick about it.”
Fortunately for Voight, the producers changed their minds when Sarrazin demanded more money. “It came back to looking at our screen tests back to back,” said Voight. “Apparently, Marion Dougherty, who was the casting director, was in the room and said, ‘Well, there’s no doubt who's the best actor.’ John Schlesinger said, ‘Who?’ And she said, ‘Jon Voight.’ Then, Dustin was called in to look at the tests and apparently he said, ‘When I look at my scene with Michael Sarrazin I look at myself—when I looked at my scene with Jon Voight, I look at Jon.’ That was a huge compliment. I think between these comments, that’s what tipped the balance and then John [Schlesinger] came forward, so I was very fortunate.”
4. Voight worked for scale.
Voight was so desperate to play Joe Buck that he worked for scale: “‘Tell them I'll do this part for nothing,’” Voight toldThe Telegraph. “They took me at my word, and they gave me minimum for Midnight Cowboy.” At the end of the shoot, they sent him a $14.73 bill for meals on the last day of filming.
5. Hoffman thought the movie would ruin his career.
The actor attended a preview of Midnight Cowboy and noticed “people walked out in droves.”
“Twenty minutes into that movie, Jon Voight has a gay sex scene in the balcony with a kid who was played by Bob Balaban, and people would get up at that point and just walk out of the theater,” Hoffman told Larry King. “We said, ‘We have big problems’ when we heard we got an X-rating and we thought this could end everybody’s career. As a matter of fact, I was talked into doing a movie I wished I hadn’t done, because they had me so frightened that I had buried myself and reversed whatever good The Graduate did.” Hoffman’s agent forced him to star with Mia Farrow in the romantic drama Johnand Mary to make him “look like a respectable person.”
6. Voight knew the film was destined to become a classic.
Voight and Schlesinger wrapped filming in Texas and Voight noticed how red the director’s face was. Voight thought Schlesinger was having a heart attack and asked him if he was okay. “He looked up at me and said, ‘What have we done? What will they think of us?’ After all, we had made a film about a dishwasher who lives in New York and f*cks a lot of women,” Voight toldEsquire. “In the moment he’d finished it, he was shaking. All of a sudden, he saw it as banal and vulgar. He’s having an anxiety attack and I grabbed his shoulders to shake him out of it. I said, ‘John, we will live the rest of our artistic lives in the shadow of this great masterpiece.’ He said, ‘You think so?’ I said, ‘I’m absolutely sure of it.’ The only reason I said such an extravagant thing was because I wanted to get him out of it and nothing would take him out of it but that. But the statement turned out to be true.”
7. Voight and Hoffman were competitive with each other.
What made the chemistry between Hoffman and Voight work so well is they were constantly competing with one another. Hoffman became a movie star before Voight did, and that brought some jealousy to the set. “We were like Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, two fighters going at it,” Hoffman told the Los Angeles Times. “We knew the movie depended on the bond between us. All through shooting, we’d say to each other, out of the side of our mouths, like a fighter in a clinch, ‘Buddy, is that the best you can do?’”
8. Hoffman placed pebbles in his shoe to acquire Ratso’s limp.
“Why pebbles? It’s not like you’re playing a role on Broadway for six months where you’re so used to it, limping becomes second nature,” Hoffman toldVanity Fair. “The stone makes you limp, and you don’t have to think about it.”
9. Schlesinger came out during the movie’s production.
In the late 1960s, one's sexuality wasn't often discussed in the open. But the British director fell in love with Michael Childers, who worked as his assistant on the movie. “We were one of Hollywood’s first out couples,” Childers toldVanity Fair. “He took me everywhere. I felt a little bit uncomfortable at times, but John never did. He said, ‘F*ck ‘em.’”
“John was totally torn up, because part of him wanted to just embrace this, and another part of him was in terror,” the film’s producer, Jerome Hellman, said. “He had these fantasies that if he were openly gay on a film set, that if he tried to give the crew an order, they would turn on him. I said to him, ‘John, look, you’re the director. It’s your movie. I’m the producer, but I’m your partner. There’s nobody who can challenge your authority. If someone speaks out of line to you, they’ll be fired the same minute.’”
10. The famous “I’m Walkin’ Here” line was improvised.
The scene in which Joe and Ratso attempt to walk across the street and almost get hit by a cab was filmed guerilla-style, with a camera in a van across the street. “It was a difficult scene, logistically, because those were real pedestrians and there was real traffic, and Schlesinger wanted to do it in one shot—he didn’t want to cut,” Hoffman explained. “He wanted us to walk, like, a half a block, and the first times we did it the signal turned red. Schlesinger was getting very upset. He came rushing out of the van, saying, ‘Oh, oh, you’ve got to keep walking.’ ‘We can’t, man. There’s f*cking traffic.’ ‘Well, you’ve got to time it.’”
They figured out how to properly time the walk but then almost got run over by a cab. “I guess the brain works so quickly, it said, in a split of a second, ‘Don’t go out of character,’” Hoffman said. “So I said, ‘I’m walking here,’ meaning, ‘We’re shooting a scene here, and this is the first time we ever got it right, and you have f*cked us up.’ Schlesinger started laughing. He clapped his hands and said, ‘We must have that, we must have that,’ and re-did it two or three times, because he loved it.”
11. Hoffman threw up on set while trying to cough.
Talk about Method: Ratso has a deadly cough (consumption), and in a particular scene Hoffman got sick in real life. “Because I was so nervous that I was going to come across fraudulent and not have the right cough, I tried to do the cough as realistically as I could,” Hoffman toldVanity Fair. “Each time, I tried to do it more realistically until, finally, I did it so realistically I threw up all over Jon. My lunch came up. All over his cowboy boots. Jon looked down. He said, ‘Man, why’d you do that?’ He thought I did it on purpose.”
12. Schlesinger didn’t think anybody would make the movie today.
In 1994, the director found himself at a dinner party with a studio executive. “I said, ‘If I brought you a story about this dishwasher from Texas who goes to New York dressed as a cowboy to fulfill his fantasy of living off rich women, doesn’t, is desperate, meets a crippled consumptive who later pisses his pants and dies on a bus, would you—’ and he said, ‘I’d show you the door,’” Vanity Fairreported in 2000.
13. Me And Earl And The Dying Girl pays tribute to Midnight Cowboy.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's 2015 Sundance hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl features two friends who turn The Criterion Collection movies into film school comedies. One of those films is Midnight Cowboy, renamed as 2:48 p.m. Cowboy. In the film, Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) portray Ratso and Buck, respectively.
“Midnight Cowboy became my favorite movie,” Cyler said in a featurette on Greg and Earl’s films. “Now I can’t stop watching it. I’m addicted to it. I’ll be in my trailer. ‘RJ, whatcha doing?’ ‘Watching Midnight Cowboy with some ramen noodles right now.’ It’s just so quirky the way the parody was made, and not just because I got to wear a beautiful cowboy hat.”
14. There’s a speakeasy bar in Austin named after the film.
Midnight Cowboy the bar is located inside a former oriental massage parlor that was busted by the FBI, hence the seedy name. It has a red light—not a sign—outside to mark the place. In order to drink there, you need to make a reservation online, and when you get there, you buzz the box and give the password “Harry Craddock.” They have rules, though: no talking on your cell phone inside the bar, and no “excessive displays of public affection.”
15. A Chicago theater turned it into a stage production.
Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre puts on a lot of literary adaptations, and in 2016 they presented a stage version of Midnight Cowboy, based on the book.
In a move that only a super-popular series could pull off, it was announced last year that HBO’s Game of Thrones would be getting its own 110,000-square-foot tourist attraction in Northern Ireland (where much of the show has been filmed) featuring scenes, sets, and props from Westeros. And of course, fans were instantly interested.
While the initial plan was to open the attraction this year, that date has been pushed back and an expansion on the original concept has been added.
Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, Ireland has partnered with Game of Thrones's creators to convert the studios into an exhibition. The sets were used for filming scenes in Winterfell and Castle Black, but the display will include props, costumes, live-action cosplayers, and set pieces representing all of the show’s locations.
While other interactive fan events have already been held, such as the display at SXSW and the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, this will be the most extensive and in-depth experience for diehard fans of the series.
When asked about the possibility of bringing a similar attraction to the U.S., Jeff Peters, HBO’s vice president for licensing and retail, toldThe New York Times that there were no set plans yet, but, “it’s possible. We get pitched all the time, and we’re open to a lot of different opportunities.”