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16 Heady Facts About Being John Malkovich

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In 1999, writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze joined forces to make Being John Malkovich. The fantasy comedy told the story of a puppeteer named Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) who discovers a portal into the brain of actor John Malkovich (Malkovich as “himself”). Schwartz charges money to give others access to seeing life through Malkovich’s eyes, before growing frustrated once his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) falls for his business partner Maxine (Catherine Keener), who believes she has fallen for Malkovich. Here are some facts about the movie after I see you seeing me in court.

1. CHARLIE KAUFMAN COMBINED TWO IDEAS TO WRITE THE SCRIPT.

Kaufman wrote the script in 1994, after his time writing for Chris Elliott’s Fox sitcom Get a Life. The script got him more work writing for television, but studios didn’t know what to do with it. Used to working with a writing partner, Kaufman decided to collaborate with himself, and married two seemingly disparate ideas he had into the same script. One was a man falling for a woman who wasn’t his wife, and the other was someone finding a portal into John Malkovich’s head. In 1996, Spike Jonze read the script.

2. KAUFMAN SAYS JOHN MALKOVICH WAS THE ONLY CHOICE TO PLAY THE TITLE ACTOR.

“That’s what I thought was funny,” Kaufman told Vulture. “It wouldn’t have worked, in my mind, with anyone else.” He partially picked Malkovich because of how funny the name sounds when you repeat it.

3. FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA HELPED GET THE SCRIPT TO MALKOVICH.

Francis Ford Coppola—who is Jonze’s former father-in-law (Jonze and Sofia Coppola were married from 1999 to 2003)—called Malkovich on Jonze’s behalf. When he first read the script, Malkovich wondered if he had somehow wronged Kaufman in the past (the two had never met.) Before agreeing, Malkovich told Kaufman he wouldn’t mind producing or directing the project, but thought he should find a different actor.

4. NEW LINE CINEMA WANTED A DIFFERENT ACTOR.

The studio dropped the project the day after chairman Robert Shaye asked the producers of the film—which included R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe—why the movie couldn’t be Being Tom Cruise. Funnily enough, John Malkovich’s first question was also why it wasn’t Cruise.

5. CAMERON DIAZ AND SPIKE JONZE HAD AN ODD FIRST MEETING.

She walked into the restaurant for her meeting with the director and found Jonze nodding off in his chair. Diaz had flown herself out to New York to audition for the part of Lotte.

6. THE CREW DIDN’T RECOGNIZE DIAZ AS LOTTE.

Kaufman hadn’t described Lotte (or Maxine)’s looks in his script, so it was up to Jonze. The director took pictures of people he met on the street and worked with Diaz to find her look. When she was dressed up in character and talked to some members of the crew, they thought she was a stranger.

7. JOHN CUSACK FOUND THE SCRIPT BECAUSE HE ASKED FOR AN INSANE ONE.

He asked William Morris to give him “the craziest, most unproducable script you can find." When Cusack finished reading the Malkovich script, he wanted in immediately.

8. THEY FOUND DR. LESTER ON A LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW.

Actor Orson Bean had been working on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman for years, but wasn’t a well-known name. After spending a long time trying to find the right actor for Dr. Lester, a producer saw Bean as a guest on The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder and requested he audition.

9. CATHERINE KEENER DIDN’T LIKE HER OWN CHARACTER.

“I wasn’t who I saw for the part of Maxine," Keener told The New York Times. "She was sexy and bold, and I didn’t really like her." The actress earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance.

10. MALKOVICH ENCOURAGED KAUFMAN AND JONZE TO HEIGHTEN THE SATIRE.

"I said: 'Turn it up.' Who better to make fun of yourself—your impotence, your vanity, your ridiculousness—and say it's O.K.? I am ridiculous—I mean, I am a celebrity. It's sort of like human sacrifice. To offer yourself up as a subject of ridicule and scorn to make a point about the society we live in, which has this celebrity obsession.''

11. CHARLIE SHEEN WAS NOT KAUFMAN’S CHOICE FOR MALKOVICH’S SHOWBIZ FRIEND.

In the original script, Kevin Bacon was the buddy. It was Malkovich who suggested Sheen.

12. KAUFMAN SET A SCENE DURING A RICHARD III RUN-THROUGH ON PURPOSE.

“I liked the idea that Malkovich would have to rehearse in a hump,” Kaufman told Salon in 1999.

13. DAVID FINCHER MADE AN UNCREDITED CAMEO.

The director of Fight Club and The Social Network portrayed Christopher Bing, the fictitious national arts critic for the Los Angeles Times, who talks about Malkovich’s puppeteering in the documentary. Other cameos include Sean Penn and Fight Club actor Brad Pitt. Jonze also took a turn in front of the camera as Derek Mantini’s assistant.

14. THE BEER CAN TOSS WAS NAILED ON THE FIRST TRY.

Contradicting Jonze’s recollection of the incident on the DVD commentary, Malkovich explained that Jonze doubted anyone could hit Malkovich in the head that late at night from a passing car. “70 or 80 sets of hands shot up on the crew saying they would like to try,” the actor recalled in a Reddit AMA. John Cusack’s writing partner was the lucky winner who got the opportunity, and hit Malkovich in the head on the first try. Jonze had said the culprit was an annoyed drunk extra.

15. THE ORIGINAL FINAL ACT OF THE FILM WAS MUCH DIFFERENT.

Instead of Craig making Malkovich a famous puppeteer, in the original script Craig announced to the world that he is the master puppeteer, and Malkovich is his puppet. He does a one-man show in Las Vegas. Mr. Flemmer (of Mertin-Flemmer) is actually the devil, and tries to convince Craig to get out of Malkovich’s mind so that he and his group can take over the world. When Craig and The Great Mantini, the world’s best puppeteer, challenge each other, Flemmer controls The Great Mantini’s Harry S. Truman puppet, which culminates in Flemmer raising the real Truman from the grave to tell the audience to vote for Mantini. A defeated Craig leaves the vessel, and Flemmer and company take over as Malkovich and have him rule the world. Craig and Lotte reunite, but it’s revealed that The Great Mantini is controlling him, and Flemmer is controlling The Great Mantini, and when Flemmer laughs, his throat looks like the tunnel to the vessel that goes into Malkovich. The closing credits would have been scored by the They Might Be Giants song "Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head."

16. KAUFMAN AND JONZE DECIDED NOT TO EXPLAIN THE MOVIE.

While the writer and director agreed to this, Malkovich had his own guess and shared it with the press. "I think it's about acting—opening the door into the mind of someone else, and how, escaping your own mind for 15 minutes, you see the beauty and fascination and eroticism even in the most boring things. I think it's about the need to escape yourself for 15 minutes that everyone feels. But what it's really about is something more sinister. It's the idea that we now lead virtual lives. We live our joys and sorrows and foibles through the lives of public people. It's about the end of art. Because art has to take its cue from life.''

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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