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.

11 Surprising Facts About Sylvester Stallone

Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As streetwise boxer Rocky Balboa (in eight films) and haunted Vietnam veteran John Rambo (in five films), the man born Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone has made his brand of muscular melodrama a staple of the action film genre across five decades.

The latest Rambo chapter, Rambo: Last Blood, opens September 20. In the meantime, check out some of the more intriguing facts about the actor, from his modest beginnings as an accidental porn star to his peculiar rivalry with Richard Gere to his waylaid plans to run a pudding empire.

1. An errant pair of forceps gave Sylvester Stallone his distinctive look.

Many comedians have paid their bills over the decades by adopting Sylvester Stallone’s distinctive lip droop and guttural baritone voice. The facial feature was the result of some slight mishandling at birth. When Stallone was born on July 6, 1946 in Manhattan, the physician used a pair of forceps to deliver him. The malpractice left his lip, chin, and part of his tongue partially paralyzed due to a severed nerve. Stallone later said his face and awkward demeanor earned him the nickname “Sylvia” and authority figures telling him his brain was “dormant.” Burdened with low self-esteem, Stallone turned to bodybuilding and later performing as a way of breaking through what seemed to be a consensus of low expectations.

2. sylvester Stallone attended college in Switzerland.

A publicity still of Sylvester Stallone from the 1981 film 'Victory' is pictured
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite a tumultuous adolescence in which he was kicked out of several schools for misbehavior, Stallone eventually graduated high school while living with his mother in Philadelphia. He went on to attend American College, a university in Leysin, Switzerland, where he also worked as a gym teacher and dorm bouncer in addition to selling hamburgers on campus. It was there he became interested in theater—both acting and writing.

Stallone continued his education at the University of Miami before moving to New York with the hopes of breaking into the entertainment industry. While auditioning for parts, Stallone worked as a movie theater usher and cleaned lion cages at the zoo. He was fired from the theater for trying to scalp tickets to a customer. Unknown to Stallone, the customer was the theater owner.

3. Sylvester Stallone’s mother was an expert in “rumpology.”

Stallone’s parents separated while he was still a child. His father, a beauty salon owner named Francesco Stallone, was apparently prone to corporal punishment, and would cuff his young son for misbehavior. (Stallone was once caught swatting flies with a lead pipe on the hood of his father’s brand-new car.) His mother, Jackie Stallone—whom he once described as “half-French, half-Martian"—later grew interested in the study of rumpology, or the study of the buttocks to reveal personality traits and future events.

4. Sylvester Stallone had a small part in a porno.

Actor Sylvester Stallone is pictured during a promotional tour for the film 'Rambo' in Madrid, Spain in January 2008
Carlos Alvarez, Getty Images

While struggling to make it as an actor, Stallone was talked into making an appearance in Party at Kitty and Stud’s, a 1970 softcore adult film that was not as explicit as other sex features of the era but still required Stallone to appear in the nude. While he was initially hesitant to take the role, Stallone was sleeping in a bus shelter at the time. He took the $200 for two days of work. Following the success of Rocky in 1976, the film’s producers capitalized on their now-valuable footage and re-released it under the title The Italian Stallion. In 2010, a 35mm negative of the film and all worldwide rights to it were auctioned off on eBay for $412,100.

5. Sylvester Stallone wrote a novel.

In addition to his acting ambitions, Stallone decided to pursue a career in writing. After numerous screenplays, he wrote Paradise Alley, a novel about siblings who get caught up in the circus world of professional wrestling in Hell’s Kitchen. Stallone finished the novel before deciding to turn it into a screenplay. Paradise Alley was eventually produced in 1978. The book, which was perceived as a novelization, was published that same year.

6. Sylvester Stallone was not a fan of the Rambo cartoon series.

After the success of 1982’s First Blood and 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, Stallone was confronted with a litany of Rambo merchandising. Speaking with the Chicago Tribune in 1986, he said he disliked that the psychologically-tortured war veteran was being used to peddle toys. “I couldn’t control it,” he said. “I tried to stop it, but I don’t own the licensing rights.”

On the subject of Rambo: The Force of Freedom, a 1986 animated series featuring a considerably softened-up version of the character, Stallone was resigned. “They’re going to make this Saturday morning TV cartoon show for kids with what they tell me is a softened version of Rambo doing good deeds. First of all, that isn’t Rambo, but more important, they tell me I can’t stop them because it’s not me they’re using. It’s a likeness of a character I played and don’t own.” The show lasted just one season.

7. Sylvester Stallone never planned on the Rocky series enduring as long as it has.

Through the years, Stallone has made some definitive declarations about the Rocky series, which has been extended to eight films including its two spin-off installments, 2015’s Creed and 2018’s Creed II. Speaking with movie critic Roger Ebert in 1979 shortly before the release of Rocky II, Stallone indicated Rocky III that would conclude the series. “There’ll never be a Rocky IV,” he said. "You gotta call it a halt.” In 1985, while filming Rocky IV, Stallone told Interview magazine that he was finished. “Oh, this is it for Rocky,” he said. “Because I don’t know where you go after you battle Russia.” In 1990, following the release of Rocky V, Stallone declared that “There is no Rocky VI. He’s done.” Upon the release of Rocky Balboa in 2006, Stallone once more declared he was finished. "I couldn't top this," he told People. "I would have to wait another 10 years to build up a head of steam, and by that point, come on."

Creed was released nine years later. Following Creed II, he posted a message on Instagram that served as a “final farewell” to the character. Several months later, in July 2019, Stallone told Variety that, “There’s a good chance Rocky may ride again” and explained an idea involving Rocky befriending an immigrant street fighter. It would be the ninth film in the series.

8. Sylvester Stallone was offered the lead role in Beverly Hills Cop.

Actor Sylvester Stallone is pictured during production of the 1978 film 'Paradise Alley'
Central Press/Getty Images

In one of the more intriguing alternate casting decisions in Hollywood history, Stallone was originally offered the Axel Foley role in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop. Not wishing to make a comedy, Stallone rewrote the script to focus more on the action, as Detroit cop Foley stampedes through Beverly Hills to find his friend’s killers. Stallone described his version as resembling “the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy” and said his climax involved a game of chicken between a Lamborghini and an oncoming train. Producers opted to go in another direction. It became one of Eddie Murphy’s biggest hits. Stallone would later use some of his ideas for a rogue cop in the 1986 film Cobra.

9. Sylester Stallone does not get along with Richard Gere.

While filming 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush, in which Stallone and then-unknown actor Richard Gere both played 1950s street toughs, the two actors apparently got off on the wrong foot. Stallone recalled that Gere drew his ire for being too physical during rehearsals—and worse, getting mustard on Stallone during a lunch break. Incensed, Stallone demanded the director choose one of them to stay and one of them to be fired. Gere was let go and replaced by Perry King.

10. Arnold Schwarzenegger once tricked sylvester stallone into starring in a box office bomb.

Actors Sylvester Stallone (L) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) are photographed during the premiere of 'The Expendables 2' in Hollywood, California in August 2012
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Stallone has often discussed his rivalry with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the two action stars were believed to be the two biggest marquee attractions in the 1980s. Recalling his 1992 bomb Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Stallone told a journalist in 2014 that he believed Schwarzenegger was to blame. “I heard Arnold wanted to do that movie and after hearing that, I said I wanted to do it,” he said. “He tricked me. He’s always been clever.”

11. sylvester Stallone wanted to create a pudding empire.

In 2005, shortly before Rocky Balboa resurrected his film career, Stallone embarked on a line of fitness supplements. His company, Instone, produced a pudding snack that was low-carb and high in protein. Stallone even appeared on Larry King to hawk the product. A legal dispute with a food scientist over the rights to the concoction dragged on for years and Instone eventually folded.

Highclere Castle—the Real-Life Downton Abbey—Is Available to Rent on Airbnb

Highclere Castle, used as the setting for Downton Abbey
Highclere Castle, used as the setting for Downton Abbey
Emily_M_Wilson/iStock via Getty Images

Have you ever wanted to spend a night in a castle? And not just any castle—the Downton Abbey castle, Highclere Castle? On November 26, one lucky couple will get the opportunity to relive the TV show and movie, when castle owners Lady and Lord Carnarvon will cordially invite one person and their guest of choice to spend the night in the castle, which is located in Hampshire, England—about 45 miles west of London. On October 1 (Airbnb reservations go live at noon BST) anyone with a verified profile, positive reviews, and passion for Downton Abbey can vie for the opportunity. Even though the castle has 300 rooms, they are only making one bedroom available, for $159.

Upon arrival, the royals will host cocktails with the guests in the saloon. Visitors will hear stories from more than 300 years of Highclere Castle history (construction on the castle began in 1679, and has been in the Carnarvon family ever since).

“I am passionate about the stories and heritage of Highclere Castle and I am delighted to be able to share it with others who have a love of the building and its history,” Lady Carnarvon said in the Airbnb listing.

The Earl and Countess will host a dinner for the guests in the state dining room, and afterwards have coffee in the library. Before bed, the guests’ butler will escort them to their gallery bedroom. The next morning, guests will receive a complimentary breakfast, a private tour of the 100,000-square foot castle and 1000-acre grounds, and a special gift from the Carnarvons. (Airbnb will also make a donation to The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.)

It should be noted the castle doesn’t have Wi-Fi or central air, but it does have fireplaces and central heat. There are a few rules guests must follow, though: all newspapers must be ironed; one butler per person; cocktail dress is required at dinner; gossip is restricted to downstairs; the listing is midweek because, as the Dowanger once said, “What is a weekend?”

If you don’t win the opportunity to stay at Highclere, all is not lost: you can tour the castle year-round.

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