Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin first came to the public's attention after writing the legal drama A Few Good Men, first as a play, then as a film. Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore starred in the 1992 Rob Reiner-directed movie about two U.S. Marines who are court-martialed for the murder of a fellow Marine, purportedly under orders from their higher-ups. Here are some truths about the critically-acclaimed courtroom drama that you can definitely handle.
1. AARON SORKIN WROTE THE PLAY ON BAR NAPKINS WHILE BARTENDING.
Sorkin’s older sister, Deborah, had recently joined the Navy JAG Corps fresh from graduating from law school when she called him one Sunday morning. Deborah told Aaron about a case she was working on involving a hazing gone wrong at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, where the accused said they were ordered to do it by a superior, involving a “Code Red.” Sorkin then went to work as a bartender at Broadway's Palace Theatre. While patrons were taking in the first act of La Cage aux Folles, he began writing A Few Good Men on some cocktail napkins. He went home that night and typed up what he had written on the napkins on a Mac 512 K he shared with his roommates, and continued to do so until he was finished.
2. LINDA HAMILTON AND JODIE FOSTER AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF LT. COMMANDER GALLOWAY.
3. JASON ALEXANDER WAS SET TO PLAY LT. SAM WEINBERG.
But when Seinfeld was renewed by NBC for a second season, he was no longer available. Reiner then gave Kevin Pollak the part after he read with Cruise.
4. TOM CRUISE SAW THE BROADWAY PLAY BEFORE SIGNING ON TO PLAY LT. KAFFEE.
He also insisted on learning all of the “legalese” dialogue in the script.
5. LANCE CPL. HAROLD DAWSON WAS PLAYED BY ROB REINER’S PERSONAL ASSISTANT.
Wolfgang Bodison started in the mail room at Reiner’s production company, Castle Rock, before becoming a production assistant, then Reiner’s personal assistant on Misery. He was scouting locations for A Few Good Men when Reiner decided Bodison looked like a Marine and that he should act in the film. Bodison has gone on to act in other films, as well as write and direct.
6. JOSHUA MALINA WAS IN BOTH THE BROADWAY PLAY AND THE MOVIE.
Frequent Sorkin collaborator Joshua Malina played PFC Downey for the last six to eight months of the stage production. He played Tom, Colonel Jessup’s clerk, in the movie. It was his first feature film role.
7. DESCENDANTS OF HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS TOOK PART IN THE PRODUCTION.
Frank Capra III was first assistant director. Marlene Dietrich’s grandson, J. Michael Riva, was the production designer.
8. JACK NICHOLSON WAS PAID $5 MILLION FOR 10 DAYS OF WORK.
Nicholson, as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, was in just three scenes in the entire movie. Technically he worked an extra morning for free when Reiner and crew didn’t get all of his footage shot in time.
9. NICHOLSON DID A LOT MORE WORK THAN HE HAD TO.
He recited the famous courtroom speech an estimated 40 to 50 times, at full intensity every time—even for all of the shots that were of Cruise, Moore, Pollak, Kevin Bacon, and the rest of the courtroom simply reacting to what he was saying. Nicholson said he was “quite spent” by the time he finished.
10. A LOT OF DEFERENCE WAS SHOWN TO NICHOLSON.
The three-time Oscar winner told Reiner he noticed that when he walked into the first rehearsal, the rest of the cast rushed to their seats. "Afterward I told him, 'Rob, it was so strange I felt like the (expletive) Lincoln Memorial,'" Nicholson told the Los Angeles Times. "I blushed actually."
11. KEVIN POLLAK’S MOTHER HIT ON JACK NICHOLSON.
Pollak wrote about the incident in his book, How I Slept My Way to the Middle, and recalled the story during an appearance on Conan.
12. REINER THOUGHT ONE LINE OF DIALOGUE WAS MUCH FUNNIER.
After Galloway tells Kaffee and Weinberg she has the medical reports and Chinese food, she suggests they eat first. After a beat, Weinberg asks, “You got any Kung Pao chicken?” Reiner thought it should have gotten a laugh. He claimed it never did.
13. KIEFER SUTHERLAND WAS A BAD DRIVER.
Multiple takes were needed for a scene in which Kiefer Sutherland's Lt. Kendrick drives the legal team around the base, after he clipped a couple of Marines. He wasn’t used to driving a military Jeep.
14. SORKIN MADE A CAMEO.
Fittingly, he’s in a bar scene, as one lawyer talking to a woman about a case.
15. THERE WAS A LOT OF DISCUSSION ABOUT GALLOWAY.
An unnamed executive gave Sorkin the note: "If Tom Cruise and Demi Moore aren't going to sleep with each other, why is Demi Moore a woman?" His response? "I said the obvious answer: Women have purposes other than to sleep with Tom Cruise." He claimed the incident was his worst experience as a screenwriter.
Demi Moore said she really wanted the part in the first place because Galloway was a “genderless” role. Roger Ebert in his 2.5 star review wrote that a friend of his intuited that Galloway was originally written as a man. In Sorkin’s third draft of the screenplay, dated months before shooting, the movie ends with Kaffee asking Galloway out on a date. She responds by telling him to wear matching socks, like she did before the first day of the trial. That exchange did not make it into the movie.
16. THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT REFUSED TO ENDORSE THE FILM.
This meant that the filmmakers couldn't utilize any military installations during filming. Most of A Few Good Men was shot on a Culver City soundstage.
17. FOUR LAWYERS HAVE CLAIMED KAFFEE WAS BASED ON THEM.
The men all played a role in Deborah Sorkin’s Guantanamo Bay case, where 10 Marines faced assault charges, each with his own lawyer. One advertised on his law firm’s website that his exploits became the basis for Kaffee, and it was great for his career. Through a spokesman, Sorkin told The New York Times that Kaffee wasn’t based on anybody.
Jessup was though, according to Jack Nicholson, who recalled two Marine generals who were on set as consultants. They both knew the actual Jessup and his story.