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18 Simple Facts About Tropic Thunder

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Co-written, starring, and directed by Ben Stiller, 2008's Tropic Thunder was a show business satire about a group of mostly conceited, self-absorbed actors shooting a war movie. When their director strands them in the middle of a jungle before getting killed, the actors find themselves in real danger from traffickers, who they believe are a part of the movie. Here are some facts about the film to read before you take that step back.

1. BEN STILLER FIRST HAD THE IDEA FOR THE FILM IN 1987.

In 1987, Ben Stiller appeared in Steven Spielberg's World War II drama Empire of the Sun. He couldn’t help but notice that, at the same time, many of his actor friends were getting jobs in Vietnam movies, attending fake boot camps, and claiming it was a life-changing experience. Initially he had the idea of making a comedy about actors who go off to do war movies, come back, and are forgotten, paralleling the experiences of some actual war veterans. Then he realized that idea wasn’t funny.

2. KEANU REEVES WAS STILLER’S FIRST CHOICE FOR TUGG SPEEDMAN.

Stiller considered casting Reeves as Speedman, and keeping the role of agent Rick "Pecker" Peck for himself. He later changed his mind.

3. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. BASED KIRK LAZARUS ON THREE ACTORS.

At a press conference, Downey said he based Lazarus on three actors: Russell Crowe and Daniel Day-Lewis, “with a little” Colin Farrell. Lazarus was originally written as Irish; Downey changed him into an Australian because he was more comfortable improvising in that accent. When Stiller first pitched the idea of the character, Downey called it "The stupidest idea I've ever heard!" Stiller screened the movie to the NAACP, and received mostly positive feedback.

4. MOS DEF TURNED DOWN PLAYING ALPA CHINO.

The actor and recording artist wanted to change Alpa Chino from a rapper to an R&B musician, but the writers disagreed. Def had already played a closeted gay rapper on The Boondocks. Brandon T. Jackson (who went on to play Grover in the Percy Jackson movies) took over.

5. TOM CRUISE CAME UP WITH THE IDEA OF HAVING A STUDIO HEAD CHARACTER.

Stiller approached Cruise about playing the agent Rick Peck and sent him the script. Cruise thought it was funny, but wondered what the studio would be doing while all of the film's events transpired, so the role of studio head Les Grossman was created. It was also Cruise’s idea to give Grossman really big hands. After four days of makeup tests, Grossman's look was finalized.

6. OWEN WILSON WAS ORIGINALLY CAST AS PECKER.

Wilson dropped out after an apparent suicide attempt. Matthew McConaughey replaced him.

7. STILLER OPTED OUT OF DOING A BOOT CAMP BEFOREHAND.

The plan was that there would be an intensive two-day boot camp when the actors showed up for rehearsal. Instead, when a producer informed Stiller that due to scheduling, they could either do the boot camp or have a cast dinner, Stiller decided, "Let's just go for the cast dinner. That’ll be much more fun.”

8. SOME SCENES WERE IMPROVISED.

While Stiller and his co-writers Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen wrote the screenplay, there were purely improvised moments in the final cut. One was Jay Baruchel's Kevin Sandusky talking about the rise of Blu-Rays; Baruchel was talking about it on set and Stiller told him to do it in front of the cameras.

9. IT WAS MOSTLY SHOT IN KAUAI.

The Hawaiian island was also used for South Pacific (1958) and Jurassic Park (1993). Tropic Thunder was the largest production ever staged on the island.

10. THE WATER BUFFALO WAS PREGNANT, UNBEKNOWNST TO THE CAST AND CREW.

Bertha was flown in from Texas to play the animal Jack Black’s character Jeff Portnoy takes a ride on. Halfway through filming, the trainer called the set and announced that Bertha gave birth to a calf. In honor of Black, the calf was named Little Jack.

11. BLACK BRUISED A RIB.

But it wasn’t from Bertha. "I was running with my big gun, and I dove into a foxhole,” Black explained to the Chicago Tribune. “I landed funny on the gun, and it bruised my rib. That bruise lasted six weeks. You cannot breathe all the way without it hurting."

12. BLACK WOULD TAKE A NAP AND LISTEN TO NPR WHEN PUTTING ON THE FATTIES COSTUMES.

Filming the scenes from The Fatties—the movie within the movie in which Jeff Portnoy played the titular five characters—took three days. Black caught up on sleep while his prosthetics and make-up were being applied. Other times he passed the time listening to This American Life on his iPod.

13. STILLER ACKNOWLEDGED THAT IT WAS NOT AN EASY SHOOT.

After shooting in Kauai for 13 weeks, Stiller handed out T-shirts to the cast and crew that read "I SURVIVED BEN STILLER'S COMEDY DEATH CAMP." A couple of people required hospitalization after getting centipede bites, and there was a constant fear of the Leptospirosis virus.

14. THE FIRST CUT WAS THREE AND A HALF HOURS LONG.

At first, Stiller could only find 20 minutes that he would consider taking out. The theatrical cut was 107 minutes long.

15. CRUISE’S INVOLVEMENT WAS MEANT TO BE A SURPRISE.

Cruise wasn’t in the trailer and no images of Grossman were in the press kits on purpose. Cruise’s lawyer threatened legal action to media outlets that posted leaked images of Cruise as Grossman before the movie debuted. It was traced back to an INF staff photographer.

16. AL PACINO WAS COOL WITH ALPA CHINO.

Stiller claimed that the Oscar-winning actor was “tickled.”

17. THERE WAS A MOCKUMENTARY CALLED RAIN OF MADNESS.

Theroux played German filmmaker Jan Jürgen, a man looking to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) in the tie-in mockumentary inspired by the Apocalypse Now documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991). It was released on iTunes to promote Tropic Thunder, and came with its own website. Bill Hader played a studio executive and Janeane Garofalo made a cameo as a therapist.

18. PARAMOUNT PROMOTED DOWNEY IN CHARACTER FOR AWARD SHOW CONSIDERATION.

‘Kirk Lazarus’ was given his own "For Your Consideration" ads in trade magazines. It also doubled as a way to promote the DVD of the film, which featured a commentary with Downey as Lincoln Osiris and Lazarus. Downey ended up nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight.

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16 Sure Facts About Mrs. Doubtfire
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

After voice-over actor Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) gets divorced and loses custody of his three children, he resorts to dressing up and speaking like a matronly grandmother to get hired as his kids’ nanny. Here are some facts about Mrs. Doubtfire, which was released on this day in 1993.

1. IT’S BASED ON A BRITISH NOVEL.

During the mid-1970s, author Anne Fine walked by a “bric-a-brac” shop selling jewelry and old furs, never having the time to walk inside and meet the store’s proprietor, one Madame Doubtfire. Fine remembered the name in 1986 when she wrote her book Madame Doubtfire. Fine said her one request to the filmmakers was that they "not make the children bratty, and they did indulge me in that."

2. BLAKE LIVELY BLEW HER AUDITION TO PLAY NATALIE.

It came down to the future Gossip Girl star and Mara Wilson. To calm his daughter, Lively’s father told the then five-year-old Blake that she would be reading with Robin Williams’ twin brother at her final audition, not the movie star himself. That plan failed when someone in the room introduced Williams as Robin. Lively described the experience as “horrible.”

3. THEY WENT THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHS OF OLD WOMEN.

Director Chris Columbus claimed that he and his fellow filmmakers looked through “hundreds and hundreds” of photographs until finding a 1940s-era English woman to base Mrs. Doubtfire’s look on.

4. IT TOOK FOUR AND A HALF HOURS TO APPLY MRS. DOUBTFIRE'S MAKEUP.

Makeup artist Ve Neill did the honors. Neill—alongside Greg Cannom and Yolanda Toussieng—won the Oscar for Best Makeup, just like she did for Beetlejuice and Ed Wood. The wig was created by Toussieng, the hairstylist who created Edward Scissorhands' hair.

5. WILLIAMS WENT TO A SAN FRANCISCO SEX SHOP IN THE MRS. DOUBTFIRE COSTUME.

The shop employee was about to sell a sex toy to him when he realized the true identity of the customer.

6. IT WAS SHOT ENTIRELY IN SAN FRANCISCO.

That includes the five large sets built in a 100,000-square-foot building in the Richmond district. It used to be a candy warehouse. After Williams’ passing, fans of the actor left flowers, photographs, and letters at the Pacific Heights house that doubled as the Hillards' home. The plastic surgeon who lives there didn’t mind. In the original script, Mrs. Doubtfire was set in Chicago.

7. CHUCK JONES SUPERVISED THE OPENING ANIMATION.

Jones was the iconic animator of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons for Warner Bros. The full five minutes of Pudgy Parakeet and Grunge the Cat was released as a DVD feature.

8. COLUMBUS USED MULTIPLE CAMERAS SIMULTANEOUSLY TO CAPTURE THE CAST WHEN WILLIAMS IMPROVISED.

The director mostly shot one or two takes of each scene as it was written in the script before shooting something Williams made up. Columbus said the resulting footage gave him the option of cutting a PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17 version of the movie. (He ended up going with the PG-13 version.)

9. WILLIAMS DIDN’T KNOW THE BARBRA STREISAND LYRICS.

Harvey Fierstein (Frank) and Scott Capurro (Jack) taught Williams “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”

10. WILLIAMS TRIED TO BREAK PIERCE BROSNAN'S CONCENTRATION.

While Brosnan (Stu) was attempting to choke on the shrimp, Williams kept making suggestive comments to make his task much more difficult.

11. SALLY FIELD AND MARA WILSON ALSO WENT OFF SCRIPT.

When Field inadvertently gave herself a cappuccino mustache, it was added to the movie. Wilson ad-libbed her princess line.

12. LYDIA WAS EXPELLED FROM HER SCHOOL FOR WORKING ON THE MOVIE.


Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Lisa Jakub was kicked out of her Toronto school for taking the five-month-long gig. When Williams found out he wrote a letter to the school asking them to reconsider. School officials framed his letter, but didn’t change their mind about Jakub.

13. A LENGTHY SUBPLOT INVOLVING THE NEIGHBOR GLORIA WAS CUT.

Scenes were filmed where Daniel got even with Gloria for telling Mrs. Doubtfire nasty rumors about him by telling her to use dog urine to make her garden beautiful, which ultimately kills her flowers. Gloria is only in two scenes in the final version.

14. THE HILLARDS ALMOST GOT BACK TOGETHER.

Screenwriter Randi Mayem Singer left the movie when 20th Century Fox wanted her to change the ending so that Daniel and Miranda get back together. After the studio and Columbus read the new, happier ending in Leslie Dixon’s revised script, they asked Singer to come back and change the ending back to the two remaining divorced.

15. TALK OF A SEQUEL BEGAN IN 2001.

In 2014, Williams had given Elf screenwriter David Berenbaum the go-ahead to work on a second draft of the sequel, which was cancelled following Williams’ passing.

16. BUT A MUSICAL MIGHT STILL BE COMING.

In early 2015, Alan Menken announced that he was in the early stages of working on a musical adaptation of the movie. In May 2016, however, he told Digital Spy that the project had stalled out a bit. "Mrs. Doubtfire went through a change of lyricist, and then also a dramaturgical evolution," he said. "At the moment, the best thing I could say is
that it's on a creative hiatus." At this point, only time will tell if and when it happens.

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11 Things We Learned About Hedy Lamarr From Bombshell
Zeitgeist Films
Zeitgeist Films

At the height of her fame in the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was hailed as the most beautiful face in Hollywood. Her roles in films like Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and Samson and Delilah (1949) made her a household name, but the work she did off-screen reflected a completely different side of the glamorous Hollywood A-lister. She helped develop frequency hopping technology in an effort to aid the Allied Forces during World War II. Her invention would eventually become the basis for sophisticated military gear, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, but it wasn’t until 1990 that her accomplishments were recognized in a story for Forbes.

Now, decades later, the original audio recording from that Forbes interview has been unearthed. Lamarr’s story in her own words is featured in Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, a new documentary written and directed by Alexandra Dean, which details the life of the icon. Here are 11 things we learned about Lamarr from the film, which is in theaters now.

1. SHE WAS AN INVENTOR FROM AN EARLY AGE.

Born in Austria in 1914 as Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler, Hedy’s urge to tinker was evident early on. According to her son, Anthony Loder, she showed an interest in technology at age five. “She took an old-fashioned music box apart and put it back together again,” he said. As she grew older, Lamarr became more curious and her inventions grew more ambitious.

2. HER FAVORITE SUBJECT WAS CHEMISTRY.

As a student at a private school in Vienna, Lamarr enjoyed mixing together materials in her chemistry class. Many years later she told Forbes journalist Fleming Meeks that she was quite good at it. But instead of furthering her education, Lamarr pursued a career in cinema as a teenager.

3. HITLER BANNED HER FIRST FILM.

Portrait of artist Hedy Lamarr.
Zeitgeist Films

Hedy received her first acting credit in the Czech-Austrian romance Ecstasy (1933). The film was controversial for its day, and Hedy’s performance caused the biggest stir: In the movie she appears nude and simulates what was likely the first female orgasm in a feature film. But the risque content wasn’t Hitler’s reason for condemning the film: He told the U.S. press he banned it because the lead actress was Jewish.

4. SHE NEGOTIATED A HIGHER SALARY FROM MGM.

As Jewish actors and actresses were fleeing the Nazis, Louis B. Mayer of MGM came to Europe with the plan to sign some of them to his studio for a cheap price. When he met Hedy he said he was willing to pay her $125 a week, an offer she immediately refused. “She said, ‘I’m sorry that’s not good enough’ and walked out," said Richard Rhodes, author of the biography Hedy’s Folly. “People didn’t usually turn down Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.” But Hedy wasn’t about to let the opportunity slip away from her. She booked passage to America on the same ship Mayer was taking. Once on board, she put on her most becoming dress and jewelry and walked through the dining hall, making sure she passed Mayer’s table on the way. “I don’t know why, I don’t know what, but all of a sudden I got $500 every week,” Hedy said.

5. LOUIS B. MAYER’S WIFE CHOSE HER LAST NAME.

After persuading Hedy to work with him, Mayer decided she needed a new name to match her Hollywood persona. His wife Margaret suggested she take the name of her favorite silent film star Barbara La Marr. The last name also sounds like the French word for the sea (la mer), adding to its romantic appeal.

6. SHE WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR SNOW WHITE.


Zeitgeist Films

The first Disney princess Snow White was modeled on Lamarr’s classic beauty. That’s not the only iconic cartoon she inspired. Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger said they referred to the actress when creating Catwoman.

7. SHE DATED JOHN F. KENNEDY.

In addition to her six husbands, Lamarr dated plenty of famous men. She even saw John F. Kennedy for a brief period before he became president. Lamarr described the conversation leading up to their date: “He said, ‘What can I bring you?’ I said oranges, because I like vitamin C.”

8. HER INVENTION COULD HAVE CHANGED THE WAR.

Even as she rose to stardom, Lamarr never forgot the war ravaging her home continent. One issue she learned of concerned the U.S. Navy. The torpedoes shot from American submarines were controlled by radio waves, but German forces were jamming the signals before the weapons reached their targets. Hedy came up with a solution: Make radio signals impossible to detect by sending them through rapidly-changing frequencies. “It was so obvious,” she said. “They shot torpedoes in all directions and never hit the target so I invented something that does.”

She dubbed her invention “frequency hopping.” She collaborated with her friend and famous pianist George Antheil to work the concept into a usable design. They successfully applied for a patent, but unfortunately weren’t able to get the Navy to take the idea seriously during World War II.

9. SHE SENT HER BODY DOUBLE TO COURT IN HER PLACE.


Zeitgeist Films

The day Lamarr was set to testify in court over her divorce from her fifth husband, Howard Lee, her son got into a serious car accident. “Stressed and traumatized to the point of breakdown, she sent her Hollywood body double to testify in her place,” Rhodes said. This angered the judge so much that he slashed her share of the divorce settlement.

10. SHE HATED HER BOOK.

Hedy Lamarr’s 1966 autobiography Ecstasy and Me was written by a ghost writer. “Hedy’s manager was allegedly paid to get her to sign off on what turned out to be a salacious tell-all,” Bombshell producer Adam Haggiag said. “It focused on her sexuality and made her the butt of a joke.” Hedy had planned to write a more authentic version of her life story, but she died without publishing a second book.

11. SHE WAS NEVER PAID FOR HER INVENTION.

Though it was shelved at first, frequency hopping turned out to be hugely influential. The early technology can be seen in GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and military satellites today, and the total market value of the invention is estimated to be about $30 billion. But Lamarr was never paid for her contribution. In 1969, she learned that her designs had become widespread in Navy vessels. There’s evidence that the military used her patent before it expired, but by the time she became aware of this her window to sue them had already passed. While she wasn’t compensated, Lamarr did eventually receive the recognition she deserved for her work. In 2014, she was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Her son Anthony said, “She would love to be remembered as someone who contributed to the well-being of humankind.”

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