I spent a not-insignificant portion of 2021 writing about behind-the-scenes facts, stories, and secrets from TV shows and movies. I learned a lot, so I wanted to round up the juiciest and most fascinating tidbits about how Hollywood, well, works, before heading into a brand-new year of saying, "Wait, that actor prepared for a role by doing what?!"
That being said, you may have read some of these facts before. I'll link to the original post each of them is from if you want to read more. And now, here are 35 pieces of information you can use to break the ice at your next holiday party.
1.The crew of Mother! made Jennifer Lawrence a "Kardashian tent," where the actor could watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians, eat gumballs, and "decompress" after filming intense scenes. Naturally, it was also decorated with pictures of the Kardashians.
Lawrence told Vogue that in filming the movie, "I had to go to a darker place than I’ve ever been in my life. I didn’t know if I’d be able to come out OK." The tent provided a much-needed "happy place" for the performer.
2.NBC was terrified of what Richard Pryor would say when he guest hosted during the first season of SNL, and executives believed his material was "too dangerous" to be broadcast live. They refused to allow him to host the first episode, like Lorne Michaels wanted, and when he did appear, they insisted on a five-second delay in between what he said and what aired. Today, that kind of delay is typical for live events broadcasted on television.
3.Meg Cabot told Cosmopolitan that she was 100% on board with killing off Mia Thermopolis's father, who is still alive in The Princess Diaries books.
When a producer told her she needed to kill off Mia's dad, Cabot asked why. Cabot was told, "We want to have a bigger role for the grandmother because we’ve got this great actress that wants to play her." When Cabot asked who exactly wanted the role, the producer told her it was none other than Julie Andrews.
Cabot's response? "Oh my god. Kill him. Kill the dad.”
4.To ensure that the identities of the contestants remain secret, the crew of The Masked Singer have to sign nondisclosure agreements, and they aren't permitted to use their phones while they're working. If they do ask to use their phones, they're allowed to...but they're forced to wear something a producer referred to as a "shame sash," a pageant-type sash designed to "humiliate anyone who wants to use their phone on set."
5.In Gone Girl, Ben Affleck's character was supposed to wear a baseball cap in an airport to avoid attention, but a spat between the actor and director David Fincher over which team's hat it would be shut down production for four days. Fincher wanted it to be a Yankees cap, but native Bostonian Affleck refused, explaining that he'd "never hear the end of it." The pair eventually compromised on a Mets hat.
6.In Hulu's The Great, Catherine urinates on wheat at the behest of Peter's eccentric aunt Elizabeth, who tells her that if the wheat sprouts, it means that she's pregnant. This was 100% a real pregnancy test used back in the day.
Writer and creator Tony McNamara told Vanity Fair, "They also had pregnancy tests — they would piss on some wheat and if it bloomed, then they felt like you were pregnant.”
If you're curious: According to Harvard, "in the first known pregnancy tests," ancient Egyptian women peed on wheat and waited to see if it would bloom, just like Catherine does in the series. The test accurately predicted "70-85% of pregnancies."
This wasn't the only old-school medical factoid McNamara included in the series. At one point, Catherine is told that if she inserts the top of a lemon into her vagina, it will act as a contraceptive. Said McNamara, "Women used the tops of lemons as sort of a diaphragm because there was a physical stop, but also because they believed citric acid would kill sperm."
7.Serena Williams is such a big fan of Nickelodeon's Avatar franchise that she appeared in both Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel series, The Legend of Korra. In the former, she voiced Ming, a Fire Nation prison guard who is kind to Iroh, and in the latter, she played a "female sage." Ming appears in the Season 3 episode "The Day of Black Sun: Part 1 – The Invasion," while the female sage can be found in Season 2's "Beginnings, Part 1."
8.Roald Dahl didn't like much of the beloved 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, despite the fact that he wrote the screenplay himself. The author was particularly concerned that Gene Wilder didn't have it in him to play the eccentric candy maker.
Donald Sturrock, a friend of Dahl and the author of his biography Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, wrote, "He had serious reservations about Gene Wilder's performance as Wonka, which he thought 'pretentious' and insufficiently 'gay and bouncy.'"
And in 2016, Sturrock told Yahoo! Movies that Dahl was already upset when the producers shot down his first two choices for the role: comedian Spike Milligan and actor Peter Sellers. Sturrock said, "I think he felt Wonka was a very British eccentric. Gene Wilder was rather too soft and didn’t have a sufficient edge."
9.Kelly Marie Tran told Vanity Fair that she believed that there were "some romantic feelings going on there" between her character, Raya, and Raya's adversary Namaari during their climatic showdown in Raya and the Last Dragon.
Tran noted that this was not necessarily Disney's official stance, and said, "I think if you’re a person watching this movie and you see representation in a way that feels really real and authentic to you, then it is real and authentic. I think it might get me in trouble for saying that, but whatever."
She added, "I want to live in a world where every single type of person can see themselves in a movie like this. There’s a lot of work to be done in that respect. I’d love to see a Disney warrior who — I don’t know, can I say this without getting in trouble? I don’t care — is openly in the LGBTQ community. I would love to see representation in terms of someone who maybe isn’t able-bodied. And I’m hopeful. We’ll see."
10.When the Duffer Brothers thought that Stranger Things would only last a single season, they planned on killing off Eleven, who would "sacrifice herself to save the day." But she was granted a reprieve when they realized that there could be more episodes. In the book Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down, Ross Duffer wrote about the change, "we needed to leave it more up in the air, because deep down we knew the show just wouldn’t really work without Eleven." Additionally, they knew at that point "how special [Eleven actor] Millie was," which further motivated them to keep the character around.
11.According to a Netflix behind-the-scenes video, the glass stepping stones set from Squid Game used real tempered glass. In the words of Jung Ho-yeon, who played Kang Sae-byeok, it was "actually terrifying" to film on. Jung estimated that the bridge was suspended about one meter (that's a little more than a yard) above the ground.
Director and creator Hwang Dong-hyuk said in the same video, "A mere 1.5 meters can make you frightened. The glass made them nervous. I think we could notice the unnoticed rigidity and fear of the body. It felt like really jumping off a high bridge. The game was real and they felt real fear. Their bodies showed that fear. We think that set had the power of realism."
12.Tom Hiddleston revealed that Loki's death in Thor: The Dark World was supposed to be permanent. He said that "Chris [Hemsworth] and I played that scene for real," and that it was supposed to be the natural conclusion of Loki's redemptive arc, where he would save his brother and Jane Foster but sacrifice himself in the process. However, when the death scene was shown to test audiences, they refused to accept that it wasn't another one of Loki's tricks. So the creative team made it so: At the end of the film, Loki is sitting on Odin's throne in disguise, a twist that Hiddleston said worked because "I didn't even know it was a twist!"
13.Before Chris Evans was offered the role of Captain America, John Krasinski tested for the part. On Ellen, he said that Chris Hemsworth (Thor) walked by while he was putting on Cap's suit and said, "Ya look good, mate." Krasinski joked that seeing how jacked Hemsworth was made him take off the suit and quit, but he admitted that in reality, "I acted my heart out that day. And it didn't work out, so."
14.Stephen Hawking got a chance to see The Theory of Everything before it premiered, and he liked what he saw. Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking, told Variety that Hawking said to him, "I’ll let you know what I think — good or otherwise." To which Redmayne replied, "Stephen, if it’s otherwise, you don’t need to go into details."
Luckily for Redmayne, the legendary scientist was impressed, and when the film ended, "a nurse wiped a tear from Hawking’s eye." Hawking described the movie as "broadly true" and later emailed the filmmakers to express his approval.
James Marsh, the director, told Variety, "He emailed us and said there were certain points when he thought he was watching himself." But Hawking's highest praise came in the form of a "generous gift": Permission for the filmmakers to use his own iconic, computer-generated voice, which is trademarked, rather than the fake one they'd come up with. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten said, "We spent a lot of time and money trying to reproduce the voice, but we never got it." And in the end, they didn't need to.
15.Producer Jerry Weintraub thought Michael Phelps would be perfect for the title role in The Legend of Tarzan. That is, until he saw Phelps hosting SNL.
Vanity Fair's Rich Cohen was with Weintraub when he saw the episode, and witnessed his outsized disappointment to Phelps's onscreen presence. After watching for two minutes, Weintraub yelled at his assistant, "He’s a goon! Why didn’t anyone tell me he’s a goon? Turn it off. Goddammit, turn it off.” Alexander Skarsgård ultimately won the role.
16.One of Prince Charles' most punchable moments in Season 4 of The Crown comes when he makes an achingly awkward comment during the press conference to announce his and Diana's engagement. The real Prince Charles said the exact. Same. Thing.
In the show, Diana looks (understandably) hurt, but in real life, she "laughed it off." Despite that, later in life, Diana said, "Charles turned around and said, ‘Whatever in love means,’ and that threw me completely... God, absolutely traumatized me."
17.Prince was a huge fan of New Girl, so much so that he asked the show for the chance to guest star. Obviously, they said "yes!" In the episode, Prince (starring as himself, naturally) hosts a party. Originally, the Kardashians were also going to make cameo appearances as guests.
When Prince got wind of this, he supposedly replied, "They would never be invited to a Prince party." Their appearances were swiftly cut. Zooey Deschanel recalled in an appearance on Conan that the scripts and call sheets featuring the Kardashian name were literally burned by a P.A.
18.Tony Todd, the actor who played Candyman in the 1992 film of the same name, received an extremely well-deserved bonus for filming a scene in which live bees pour out of his character's mouth.
Todd told the Guardian that he "negotiated" a $1,000 bonus for every time he was stung while filming the scene, for a grand total of $23,000 for 23 stings. As freaky as working with live bees may seem, Todd said, "Everything that’s worth making has to involve some sort of pain. Once I realized it was an important part of who Candyman was, I embraced it. It was like putting on a beautiful coat."
19.After eating dog shit on camera for Pink Flamingos, Divine got worried about side effects and called the hospital. Imitating his mother, he told a nurse that his son had just eaten "dog doody." The nurse said that the "son" would be just fine, though she recommended watching out for symptoms of worms (and getting rid of the dog).
20.The production team behind CODA (an acronym that stands for "children of Deaf adults") were careful to accurately recreate the day-to-day lives of Deaf people.
For instance, the film is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Director Sian Heder told the Hollywood Reporter that American Sign Language "has regionalisms just in the way that a Boston accent would." Thus, the cast learned how to sign the name of the city, as well as names for different types of fish native to the area, since Gloucester's primary industry is fishing (and the main characters, the Rossi family, are themselves fishermen). And when Anne Tomasetti, one of the film's ASL masters, saw the Rossi family home, she pointed out that their couch should be facing the door, so that they could see any visitors enter. Said Heder, "It was like this ‘of course’ moment."
Troy Kostur, who played family patriarch Frank Rossi, said about Heder, "She had done her homework. And not many directors do that. They put you in there, they throw an interpreter next to you, and they kind of work their way through it."
21.Taika Waititi envisioned a 1980s-era flashback to Thor and Loki's childhoods in Thor: Ragnarok. Thor would be a "pudgy little kid walking around with a mullet and being picked on by other kids," while Loki is a "little emo goth hanging out by himself," comparable to Draco Malfoy. It got cut because it became "pointless" as the rest of the story developed, and also because it involved Thor meeting Valkyrie, which would've screwed up other aspects of the plot.
22.David Bowie voiced Lord Royal Highness in a SpongeBob SquarePants special called "SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis" because his 6-year-old daughter loved the show. On his blog, Bowie wrote that it was the "Holy Grail of animation gigs."
23.Drew Carey, who took over The Price is Right hosting duties after Bob Barker retired in 2007, once saw a contestant win an unprecedented $30,000 from the show's Plinko game. In Plinko, contestants "drop chips down a board, hoping to land them in a $10,000 slot," which this particular contestant did three times in a row. A producer stopped the woman before she could go a fourth time, and told Carey that the game was "fixed."
Carey panicked, thinking that this would be a scandal leading to the loss of his job and possibly jail time, but he needn't have worried: The game was rigged with fishing line to reach the $10,000 slot every time because it had just been used to film a commercial. The moment didn't end up in the episode, most likely to preserve the integrity of the game (and the egos of its producers), but the show did award the woman her $30,000 off camera.
24.After seeing the final cut of Gremlins, one of Warner Bros.' notes to Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante was that there were too many gremlins. Spielberg responded that they could cut all the gremlins and call the movie People, but somehow he didn't think people would show up. Spielberg got his way, and gremlins remained the main draw of Gremlins.
25.An episode of Seinfeld is based on Larry David's experience of sort of (but not really) quitting Saturday Night Live. During Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit in 2017, David recalled that six weeks into his gig as a writer, he snapped and quit after yet another one of his sketches was cut just minutes before the show was set to air.
On his walk home, David began to regret quitting, and when he encountered his coworker Kenny Kramer (the eventual inspiration for Seinfeld's Kramer), Kramer advised him to "simply to go back into the office on Monday and pretend the whole thing never happened." That's exactly what David did: He showed up at the Monday morning writer's meeting, pitched a sketch about trapeze artists, and that was that.
In "The Revenge" (Season 2, Episode 7), George quits his job in a fury and tries the same trick David used, but in his case, and as is typical on Seinfeld, it doesn't turn out as planned.
26.During an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Johnny Knoxville recalled that Lorne Michaels offered him a weekly three- to five-minute segment on SNL to do "pranks or stunts." Even though Knoxville thought it was a "wonderful opportunity," he decided to pursue producing the Jackass television show for MTV instead, both because it offered more creative control and allowed him to continue collaborating with his friends.
27.Jennifer Garner's "exhale" speech in Love, Simon wasn't in the original script, but it was added after Garner told director Greg Berlanti, "I want to connect with my son in the last act."
28.Merv Griffin, the creator of both Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, composed the theme song for the former in less than 30 seconds. He received royalties from it for the rest of his life, and estimated to the New York Times that it made him around "$70 million to $80 million."
29.In 1972, the stage musical 1776 was adapted for the screen, but one song was missing: “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men," which depicted "Revolutionary War era conservatives as power-hungry wheedlers focused on maintaining wealth." Producer Jack L. Warner had the song cut at the express request of his close friend...then-president Richard Nixon.
Warner went so far as to ask for the original negative of the song to be destroyed, but the editor secretly put a copy of it in storage. Upon hearing of the cut, director Peter H. Hunt asked Warner, "How could you do this?" Warner replied, "With a pair of scissors." Sony Pictures eventually re-released the movie with the song intact. As for Nixon's dream of a squeaky-clean perception of American conservatism in the 1970s, we can all agree that 1776 was the least of his problems.
30.George R. R. Martin likes the version of Shae from the Game of Thrones TV show better than the one in his books. In an interview, Martin said that actor Sibel Kekilli's "take on Shae was much different than the character's in the books." At first, Martin was taken aback by how unrecognizable Kekilli's Shae was, but he soon became convinced that it was "a better Shae." He elaborated, "Her Shae has more depth than my version. Her Shae has more...emotional realism than my Shae."
What particularly impressed Martin was Kekilli's ability to make Shae her own character, with motivations and personality traits that existed independently of her relationship with Tyrion. He did jokingly point out that while he preferred the onscreen Shae to the one in the books, "They're both dead now, so it doesn't matter."
31.At least one stunt got cut from the Jackass movie due to the amount it would've cost to insure it. The movie wasn't insured as a whole; instead, each individual stunt or prank came with its own price tag. One bit would've involved Chris Pontius dressing up as Satan and walking into a Pentecostal church where they handle snakes, but when the insurance company said it would cost $5 million, the idea was dropped.
32.Idris Elba revealed in a 2019 Hot Ones interview that Alexa Fogel, the casting director for The Wire, told him to pretend he was American, rather than British, while auditioning for the show, since creator David Simon didn't want any non-American actors cast in the series.
Elba kept up the ruse until his fourth audition, during which he was asked about his childhood and background. Elba said, "My parents told me not to lie. You gotta look someone in the eye and be honest. I have lied. It's never worked out for me." So he came clean and said, "Don't fire Alexa, she told me not to tell you guys." Despite the ruse, Elba still got a role; Simon cast him as Stringer Bell, rather than Avon Barksdale, the role for which he was originally trying out. Avon was ultimately played by Wood Harris.
33.Dan Stevens said that to keep from literally wasting away while playing the Beast in 2017's Beauty and the Beast, he ate four roast dinnersa day. To become the Beast, Stevens had to use stilts and wear a muscle vest, both physical burdens that caused a lot of sweating and, subsequently, weight loss. Stevens was particularly prone to overheating during dance sequences, and depended on a cooling vest that he compared to those worn by Formula One drivers.
34.At one point in Chef, chefs Martin (John Leguizamo) and Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) sprinkle cornstarch on their balls due to the humidity. This isn't dwelled upon or even really explained, but rest assured, it's a real thing.
Jon Favreau told Eater, "Like when John Leguizamo signed on to do the part, I got him to read Kitchen Confidential [by Anthony Bourdain]. I said, 'Start with this one.' There's a scene in the movie, we're sprinkling cornstarch on our nuts, that was a suggestion that John Leguizamo said, 'We should have a scene with cornstarch' because he had read the book. I said, 'Yeah, yeah, so Bourdain talks about putting cornstarch in your balls.' It ends up being a real laugh."
He added that the moment was a sort of Easter egg for chefs in the audience, because "people who aren't chefs are like, 'What the hell are they doing?'"
35.Lady Gaga ad-libbed the moment in House of Gucci where she crosses herself and says, "Father, Son, and House of Gucci."
She told Variety, "I would do it in the trailer all the time. I was doing it in the trailer and then something about that scene when we were doing it felt right. We did it, and it’s a testament to Ridley Scott as a director because he uses the stuff. He uses the creativity. He uses the love."
Roberto Bentivegna, the screenwriter, told Variety, "It’s iconic. Amazing. There was so many great ad libs that didn’t make the cut. That was certainly a great one. They just had such a great time riffing. I think that some writers might feel like their words are precious and everything has to be respected, but for me it was joyful. It was like they’re feeling it. It’s like music. It’s like they’re jamming and the melody is taking them to this awesome improvisation. I was very flattered that they felt like doing that."
The year is almost over, and we're looking back on 2021. Check out more from the year here!
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