17 Connected Facts About Magnolia

Tom Cruise stars as Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia (1999).
Tom Cruise stars as Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia (1999).
New Line Cinema

Fortified with complete creative control fresh off his critically praised instant classic Boogie Nights (1997), Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed Magnolia (1999). It is a sprawling yet intimate story that features an all-star cast, including Jason Robards, Tom Cruise, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and William H. Macy. The unconventional film helped Anderson score his second Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, along with Cruise, who was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

1. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON ORIGINALLY WANTED TO MAKE A SMALL, CHEAP MOVIE.

"The truth of the matter is when I sat down to write Magnolia, I truly sat down to write something very small, very quick, very intimate, and something I could make very cheaply," Anderson recalled of his initial intention. "Boogie Nights was this massive, two-and-a-half-hour epic. And I thought, 'You know what? I wanna bury my head in the sand and just make a little small movie.'"

But of course, that wasn't the final result. "I started to write and well, it kept blossoming. And I got to the point where still it's a very intimate movie, but I realized I had so many actors I wanted to write for that the form started to come more from them. Then I thought it would be really interesting to put this epic spin on topics that don't necessarily get the epic treatment, which is usually reserved for war movies or political topics. But the things that I know as big and emotional are these real intimate everyday moments, like losing your car keys, for example. You could start with something like that and go anywhere."

Anderson wrote a draft of the script in William H. Macy's cabin in Vermont. Anderson was scared to venture outside the cabin because he spotted a snake, and that bit of fear helped him concentrate on writing.

2. ANDERSON WROTE THE SCRIPT TO AIMEE MANN'S MUSIC.

Anderson and Aimee Mann were friends, so he not only listened to her music while writing, but had some unreleased demos to use as creative inspiration as well. "In a way, I sat down to adapt one of her songs," he said. "There’s a song called 'Deathly' that she wrote and the very first line of the song is 'Now that I’ve met you, would you object to never seeing me again?' Melora Walters says that in the movie. That sort of notion of being unlovable or being so fu*ked up you can’t understand how anyone could love you back was really important and really beautiful to me. It kind of made sense to me at that time in my life. I probably owe Aimee a ton of money for the inspiration she was to this movie."

Most memorably, Mann's "Wise Up" plays toward the end of the film, with each character singing along. Anderson worried it might come off as ridiculous, "but I tricked everyone by getting Julianne Moore to do it first. She can always set the pace, because actors are so competitive. Then everyone was up for it."

3. GEORGE C. SCOTT WAS NOT A FAN.

The role of Earl Partridge was initially written for, and ultimately played by, Jason Robards, but at first Robards was not able to accept because of a serious staph infection. So Anderson went to George C. Scott, who, according to Anderson, threw the script across the room and said, "This is the worst f***ing thing I've ever read. The language is terrible."

4. TOM CRUISE SIGNED UP AFTER SEEING BOOGIE NIGHTS.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman watched Boogie Nights one night while shooting Eyes Wide Shut (1999) in England. Cruise enjoyed the film so much that he actually called Anderson to congratulate him and invited him to Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut set in England. After they met, Cruise asked Anderson to write a role for him. Frank "T.J." Mackey was offered to Cruise six months later.

5. CRUISE AND ANDERSON SHAPED CRUISE'S CHARACTER.

Anderson had written Mackey in golf pants and polo shirts, like the character's former paralegal inspiration, but Cruise convinced his director he would wear an armband, “those leather-wrist, masculine hero kind of things," and the whole wardrobe changed. "Several" video reenactments of Mackey bedding women were cut from the film. It wasn't until they started shooting the scene of Mackey stripping naked in front of Gwenovier (April Grace) that Anderson told Cruise to take off his pants in addition to his shirt. Cruise asked, "What?" Anderson replied, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’ll be funny."

The script as written had Mackey break down when he got to his dying father's door. Cruise didn't "feel" that and changed the scene, including adding the part when he threatens Phil Parma by saying he will drop-kick the dogs. Cruise thought it would be funny if Mackey was afraid of canines. As part of his contract, Cruise was purposely barely visible on the movie poster, because he would have overshadowed the ensemble cast, and his character was, as The New York Times put it, "inconsistent" with the Cruise brand at the time.

6. PHILIP BAKER HALL CONVINCED ANDERSON TO KEEP THE FROGS IN THE MOVIE.

After Anderson told Philip Baker Hall his next movie was going to feature a sequence where it rains frogs, Hall, who had already acted in Anderson's two previous films (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights), had a story for him. "Philip had been driving on a mountain pass in Switzerland and he said for about 15 minutes it rained frogs," Anderson said. "It was really foggy and the mountain road was covered in ice. The frogs falling was not the thing that freaked him out. What freaked him out was that his car could not get any traction and he was afraid he was gonna fall off the mountain! I just thought right then and there I gotta go through with this sequence."

7. THERE ARE A LOT OF EXODUS 8:2 REFERENCES IN IT.

"I’d be a liar if I said to you it was written initially as a Biblical reference," Anderson admitted of the frog scene. "I truthfully didn’t even know it was in the Bible when I first wrote the sequence." He had in fact read about a rain of frogs from the writings of author Charles Fort (The Book of the Damned). Once he realized it was in the Bible, specifically Exodus 8:2, he had the set decorator "surprise" him with how many 8s and 2s he can hide in the background. The numbers appeared in everything from weather forecasts to apartment numbers and decks of cards.

8. JOHN C. REILLY AND ANDERSON DEVELOPED THE ACTOR'S MUSTACHIOED CHARACTER WHILE TRYING TO PARODY THE SHOW COPS.

Before Boogie Nights came out, Anderson and John C. Reilly were unemployed and obsessed with Cops. When Reilly grew a mustache for fun (looking like many of the officers on the series), Anderson insisted they do their own parody of the Fox show, which Jennifer Jason Leigh and Philip Seymour Hoffman later appeared in. Some of Reilly's lines in those shorts made it into the movie, but his character became smarter and more sympathetic because Anderson wanted to make the actor a romantic lead.

9. ANDERSON PURPOSELY WROTE MACY'S CHARACTER TO HAVE A BIG EMOTIONAL MOMENT.

Anderson told The Guardian that he wrote an emotional scene for Macy almost as a way to challenge him. "I think he's scared of big emotional parts—he thinks actors shouldn't cry—so I wrote a big tearful, emotional part just for him," Anderson said.

10. STANLEY WAS AN ACTUAL SMART KID, AND HIS STORY WAS INFLUENCED BY FIONA APPLE.

Jeremy Blackman made his feature film debut in Magnolia as kid genius Stanley Spector. Before that, he was a recipient of the President of the United States Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement.

His character not being allowed to use the restroom was based on a story Anderson's then-girlfriend, singer Fiona Apple, once told him. "She had to go to the bathroom in some kind of taping situation, " Anderson remembered, "and they just said, 'Well, can you just hold it and do this thing for us first?’ And she did. And when she told me this story, I wanted to strangle every person involved." (Apple also created some of the paintings in the background of the film.)

11. PATTON OSWALT WASN'T PRIVY TO THE PLOT OF THE FILM.

Patton Oswalt portrayed blackjack dealer/scuba diver Delmer Darion, and had his own unique and telling experience of working on the movie, which he shared with The A.V. Club:

"Delmer Darion. God. I was doing a show one night, and I went back in the kitchen and was hanging out, and Paul Thomas Anderson was there. We were just talking, and he was like, 'I’m doing this movie if you want a part in it.' I said, 'Yeah, sure.' So they called me the next day and said I needed to come in to be fitted for a wetsuit. I said, 'Can I see the screenplay first?' And they were like, 'Nope.' So I went in and got this custom wetsuit made, and they gave me two pages of the script and flew me to Reno. We shot this scene and then hung out all night drinking. And a week later, we were shooting and I was in the wetsuit. It was so hot to the point where I wasn’t even sweating anymore. And Paul was dumping bottles of water on my head to keep me from passing out and I was like, 'Paul, what are we doing?' He said, 'I can’t say right now, but I’ll just say that you are the first frog that falls out of the sky.' And I went, 'Okay.' So that’s what working with PTA is like."

12. THOMAS JANE WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE TWO ROLES IN THE FILM.

Thomas Jane was originally supposed to have two roles in the film, but only portrayed the younger version of Jimmy Gator because he took another gig (Under Suspicion with Gene Hackman). "Paul (Thomas Anderson) never forgave me," Jane revealed. "And the movie with Gene Hackman, of course, has been totally forgotten."

13. THEY USED AN AUTHENTIC TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY CAMERA.

For the 1911 hanging, Anderson shot through a hand-cranked Pathe camera. "It's fun to see what it was like in 1911 hand-cranking the camera, finding out the limitations, the difficulties. You feel like you are there for a minute or two. And that's what I believe: you just can't fake it," Anderson said.

For the look of the other scenes, Anderson and director of photography Robert Elswit watched Being There (1979), Ordinary People (1980), Network (1976), and The Verdict (1982) before filming. "In terms of lighting styles, my brain took me to Eastern, wintertime movies, and I think that that seeped in [to this picture's palette]," Anderson said. "Sometimes we strayed from our plan, but my big goal was to make everything look like one story, so it didn't have the feeling of a vignette movie."

14. THE PHONE NUMBERS USED TO WORK.

Phil Parma dialed 818-775-3993 in the movie. When people dialed that number while the film was in theaters, they got the voicemail of a flustered woman saying, "Please leave a message at the tone." If you dialed Frank "T.J." Mackey's 1-877-TAMEHER, you would have heard Mackey's "Seduce and Destroy" program speech. If you dialed that number in 2011, The Chicago Tribune reported, it connected to a health club's corporate office.

15. ANDERSON INSISTED ON THE LONG RUNNING TIME, THEN LATER REGRETTED IT.

After New Line Cinema head of production Michael De Luca read Anderson's Magnolia script for the first time (on a Sunday, while Anderson watched movies in De Luca's screening room), De Luca was "ecstatic," then asked if there was any chance of cutting it down to two hours and 45 minutes. Anderson said "no." Since De Luca agreed to give Anderson creative control before seeing the script, there was nothing he could do. The running time was 188 minutes.

In 2015, Anderson admitted to Marc Maron that he regretted pushing for the three-plus hours of film. “I wasn’t really editing myself,” he said. “It’s way too fu*king long.”

16. THE REAL T.J. MACKEY CONSIDERED SUING.

Anderson got the initial idea of a pickup artist character from his friend, who taught an audio-recording engineering class. Two of his friends' students talked one day in the recording studio and their teacher recorded it. When the teacher played the unlabeled DAT years later, he was shocked to hear two guys quoting "seduction expert" Ross Jeffries. Anderson had John C. Reilly and Chris Penn read the transcription of the tape and incorporate it into the Mackey character. “He lifted some stuff almost word for word,” Jeffries later said. He ended up not suing because, according to Jeffries, he liked the movie.

17. IT WAS JASON ROBARDS'S FINAL FILM.

Sadly, Robards—like his character Earl Partridge—passed away from lung cancer, in December 2000. He was 78 years old.

12 Facts About Revenge of the Nerds For Its 35th Anniversary

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

In the summer of 1984, nerds were mainly perceived as guys who wore pocket protectors and had tape on their glasses. But in Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs was inventing the type of nerd culture we’re familiar with today. Decades later, nerds rule the world.

Revenge of the Nerds starred then-unknowns Anthony Edwards, Robert Carradine, Curtis Armstrong, James Cromwell, Larry B. Scott, John Goodman, and Timothy Busfield. In the movie, the jock-filled Alpha Beta fraternity bullies the geeks on the campus of Adams College, so to fight back, they form a frat chapter under black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs), and take down the jocks. The movie’s plot and title come from a magazine article published around that time about Silicon Valley innovators—who just happened to be nerds.

The film, which was budgeted at $6 million, only opened on 364 screens (it eventually expanded to 877). Somehow the movie had legs and grossed $40,874,452 at the box office and ranked as the 16th highest-grossing film of 1984. It was successful enough to spawn three sequels, none of which were as popular as the original. To celebrate Revenge of the Nerds' 35th anniversary, here are some geeky facts about the underdog comedy.

1. Greek officials at the University of Arizona objected to the movie being filmed on their campus.

The movie filmed at the University of Arizona, and involved the college’s Greek system. The Greek officials didn’t want the movie to be another Animal House, so they threatened to halt production. “We meet with the sororities, and we’re worried we’re about to deal with a bunch of feminists who are pissed because this is a fairly sexist movie,” the film’s director, Jeff Kanew, told the Arizona Daily Star. “I just say to them, ‘Look, I have kids, and I’ll tell you now, I’d let them see this movie. It’s about the triumph of the underdog, not judging a book by its cover. This is a good movie.’” The filmmakers won, and the Greeks allowed them to film there.

2. The set was one big party.

Ted McGinley—who played Alpha Beta honcho Stan Gable—told The A.V. Club: “I was so embarrassed to say Revenge Of The Nerds.” Kanew cast him because he saw him on the cover of a Men of USC calendar, sold at the University of Arizona bookstore. His good looks attracted “hot girls” from the UofA campus to watch the dailies with the cast and crew. “They had beer and pizza and sandwiches,” McGinley said. “I mean, you just don’t do that on movie sets. It was just so much fun, and I thought, ‘It can’t be better than this!’”

3. Curtis Armstrong knew it would be a good movie, even though his character wasn't fully fleshed out.

Curtis Armstrong filmed Risky Business but then was unemployed for a year before he got Revenge of the Nerds. “You have to realize the character of Booger in the original script was non-existent almost,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “What was there was just, ‘We’ve got b*sh!’ and ‘Mother’s little d**chebag’—those kinds of lines. I was looking at it and thinking, ‘How do I take this and even begin to make it likeable or accessible?’”

With its strong cast, writers, and director, Armstrong said, “It has to be a good movie. But I wasn’t sure how it was going to be taken as opposed to Risky Business, which was sort of an art-house-type movie. This was very much broader and very much cruder, but it had a message that went beyond sex jokes.”

4. The scenes between Booger and Takashi were improvised.

The actors would bring ideas to the director and vice versa, creating a lot of improvisation in the movie. In one scene, Booger and Takashi (Brian Tochi) engage in a friendly game of cards. But unbeknownst to Takashi, Booger tricks him. “We ran and got our cots, and Brian and I were next to each other,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “It wasn’t planned that we would be next to each other. It just happened that way.”

The production asked the guys to “come up with something” for them to film. “We had nothing at all!” Armstrong said. “We went to the prop people, and they had a deck of cards. And that’s where that scene [and Booger’s whole bit about taking money from Takashi] came from. And they liked it so much that, every time Takashi and I were in the room together, we would have to come up with something else.”

5. Lambda Lambda Lambda exists in real life.

On January 15, 2006, the University of Connecticut founded the co-ed social fraternity. It’s “unaffiliated with Greek Life” and is “dedicated to the enjoyment and enrichment of pop culture and to the brotherhood of its members. Tri-Lambs does not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, class, ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

6. Booger's belch came from a camel.

In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Booger and Ogre compete in a belching contest. Booger takes a swig of beer and lets out a robust seven-second belch and wins the contest. But the effects were added in post-production. “I can’t even belch on command,” Armstrong told USA Today. “If you said to me, ‘Can you belch now?' I couldn’t do it.”

To make up for Armstrong’s dearth of gas, “They wound up finding a recording of a camel having an orgasm,” Armstrong said. “They took this sound and blended it in with a human belch.”

7. Curtis Armstrong wrote a bio for Booger, but it turned out to be about himself.

Because his character wasn’t fully developed, Armstrong wrote a one-page bio for Booger. Years later he re-read the bio and realized he and Booger had similarities. “I’d basically retold my life as Booger without even being aware of it,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “[One detail] was that [Booger] used nose-picking and belching as a defense mechanism because [he’s] insecure. Now, mind you, I did not pick my nose and belch because I was insecure. However, I was insecure growing up. I didn’t have dates or anything like that; I was not good around girls. But I had other ways of defending myself other than being crude and picking my nose. When I look at it now with some distance, I realize all I was doing was writing about myself.”

8. A Dallas test screening almost killed Revenge of the Nerds.

The film tested well in Las Vegas—an 85—but when the Fox executives took the movie to Dallas, the number dipped. “You’re gonna send us to Dallas to screen a movie that celebrates nerds and in which the black guys intimidate the white football players?!” director Kanew told the Arizona Daily Star. The movie scored in the 60s, which caused Fox to cut marketing for the film and only release it on 364 screens. “I don’t really understand what happened, but it hung around and grew and grew and grew,” Kanew said.

9. Poindexter was originally named after a prop guy.

When Timothy Busfield auditioned for the movie, his character didn’t have many lines, so he had to read Lamar’s lines. At the time, the character was named Lipschultz, after the prop guy. All that was written for the character description was “a violin-playing Henry Kissinger.”

“There was one line Lipschultz had in the original, but our prop guy was named Lipschultz, and he didn’t like the fact that there was a nerd named Lipschultz, so they changed it to Poindexter,” Busfield said during a San Francisco Sketchfest Nerds reunion. Busfield found Poindexter’s costume at a thrift store and showed up to the audition with his hair parted, and danced to “Beat It.”

10. The sequel to Revenge of the Nerds afforded Anythony Edwards a pool.

Anthony Edwards told The A.V. Club that he didn’t want to appear in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, but acquiesced because the producers talked him into it. He’s hardly in the film, but the money he earned afforded him a simple luxury. “I ended up with a pool in my backyard that I called the Revenge of the Nerds II pool,” Edwards said. “Not that I’m complaining, but they seriously overpaid me for my weeks of work on the film, so I used it to put in a pool.”

11. A remake (thankfully) got shut down.

After two weeks of filming in the fall of 2006, a Revenge of the Nerds remake stopped production. Emory University in Atlanta pulled out of filming, but according to Variety, the real reason was because a Fox Atomic executive “was not completely satisfied with the dailies.” The cast included Adam Brody and Jenna Dewan.

12. Revenge of the Nerds pushed nerdom into the mainstream.

“I’m not going to say Revenge of the Nerds was responsible for everything in nerd culture, but I do think you could make an argument that that attitude began with the last scene in Revenge,” Armstrong told HuffPost. “The last scene—the scene I probably love above all in that movie—we’re at the pep rally and come out in front of everybody as nerds, and encourage these people of different generations to join them in their nerdness. I get teary thinking about it, and you could certainly make an argument that that was the beginning of embracing nerd culture by everybody.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

The Office Star Ellie Kemper Wants to Do a Reunion Episode

NBC - NBCUniversal Media
NBC - NBCUniversal Media

While rumors of The Office getting a reboot have been swirling around for years, the outlook on that happening any time soon doesn't look good. But a reunion episode might just be possible.

Ellie Kemper, who played Erin Hannon in the beloved series, recently stopped by Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen to dish about the sitcom and her thoughts on whether it might be making a return to the small screen: "I would love there to be a reboot, but I don't think there will be. So, that's a sad answer," Kemper admitted. "But maybe like a reunion episode? That would be fun."

E! News reports that Kemper isn’t the only cast member that wants to get the band back together. Jenna Fischer, who played Pam Beesly, also thinks a reunion episode would be a hit. “I think it's a great idea," Fischer said in 2018. "I would be honored to come back in any way that I'm able to.”

A key player in the series' success, however, is not so enthusiastic about the idea. Steve Carell, who played the infamous Michael Scott, doesn’t think a revival would be well-received. "The climate's different," Carell told Esquire back in 2018. "I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behavior. I mean, he's certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That's the point, you know? But I just don't know how that would fly now.”

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