20 Things You Never Knew About 'The Usual Suspects'
It's been 20 years since we last heard from Keyser Söze. Time to revisit what went down behind the scenes.
The moniker Keyser Söze rings out in cinema lore, but he was named after some Los Angeles lawyer, a former boss of the writer. Sometimes the myth is much bigger than the origin, and that's exactly what makes The Usual Suspects so great. Director Bryan Singer's second film uses the myth of folklore in a modern way. His movie will confuse and distract you from the truth, while it's under your nose the entire time.
The Usual Suspects has one of the great twist endings in film history. According to Singer, it was forged in the tradition of movies like Double Indemnity, Rashomon, and Citizen Kane - heady company for a supposed heist movie from an unknown filmmaker. But Singer was nothing if not ambitious and, armed with Christopher McQuarrie's script (which would win an Academy Award), he set out to make a worthy film.
Singer succeeded and then some. The Usual Suspects was well-received critically and it gained a huge fanbase once it was released for home viewing. Word of mouth spread fast that this movie had an ending you needed to see. So let's celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Usual Suspects. Here are 20 things you never knew about the movie:
[Warning: explicit language, spoilers ahead]
1. The title The Usual Suspects comes from the famous Claude Rains line in Casablanca, but Singer found it in Spy magazine which ran a column using the term. When he was asked what his new film was about at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, he replied "I guess it's about a bunch of criminals who meet in a police lineup."
2. Singer and his high school friend, Christopher McQuarrie, made Public Access together in 1992 and the film shared the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in '93. Kevin Spacey was so impressed with it, he told Singer he wanted to be in his next film whatever it was.
3. Verbal Kint was written for Spacey. He glued the fingers on his left hand together to help give the illusion of a man with cerebral palsy, and he filed his shoes down to look worn by Verbal's limp.
4. Dave Kujan was written for Chazz Palminteri, who was originally unavailable. It was then offered to Christopher Walken, Clark Gregg, Robert De Niro, and Al Pacino. Walken and De Niro turned it down; Gregg was cast in another role (Dr. Walters); and Pacino didn't want to play another cop (he was coming off of Heat). Pacino admitted after seeing the movie, he regretted turning it down. Palminteri was finally cast when his schedule opened for a week.
5. Benicio Del Toro was cast at the suggestion of Spacey, who worked with him on Swimming with Sharks. Fenster was originally written for someone older, like Harry Dean Stanton, but Del Toro told Singer he had an idea for the role. Fenster's unintelligible accent was the actor's idea and Singer went with it.
6. All the actors were encouraged to improvise perplexed reactions to Fenster's odd vocal stylings. One scene, where Kevin Pollak breaks character as Hockney and asks "What'd you say?" was left in by Singer.
7. Michael Biehn was the first choice for the role of McManus and was approached about taking the role, but he had to decline because he was committed to William Friedkin's 1995 film, Jade. Stephen Baldwin was Singer's second choice.
9. McQuarrie wrote nine drafts of the screenplay over a period of five months.
10. Singer and McQuarrie originally conceived the famous police lineup scene as dramatic. But the five actors (Spacey, Baldwin, Pollak, Del Toro, and Gabriel Byrne) continually screwed up lines and could not stop laughing on set. According to Pollak, Del Toro "farted 12 takes in a row" and no one could hold it together. Byrne blamed Baldwin for starting it with the line that appears in the film: "Gimme the fuckin' keys you fuckin' cocksucker motherfucker rah rah rah!!" Which caused everyone to break up. Singer tried to get the cast to hold it together, even holding an angry meeting at one point, but it was to no avail. The laughter you see in the movie is authentic. Singer stitched his many takes together to form the final product and smartly edited it to heighten the humor of the scene.
11. The scene where Redfoot flicks his cigarette in McManus' (Baldwin) face is real. Greene was supposd to hit Baldwin's chest but missed, so the reaction is authentic.
12. French poet Charles Baudelaire should get the credit for one of the film's most famous lines: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." It's a version of a line from his poem "Le Joueur généreux": "The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you he does not exist." Reportedly, Singer and McQuarrie weren't aware of the origin.
13. McQuarrie's inspiration for the character of Keyser Söze was murderer John List, who killed his entire family before disappearing for 17 years. McQuarrie's character names are all his former co-workers at a Los Angeles area law firm and a detective agency. Keyser was his boss' name.
14. As Fenster and Hockney enter the garage shortly before the jewelry heist, Hockney can be heard telling a joke about a "chick" in the backseat of a car that's "totally naked." The punchline of this joke can be heard later on in the film in Hungarian, told by two men leaving the building by the docks before the climactic finish on the boat.
15. Baldwin and Pollak took their animosity for each other onscreen to heart. They still do not speak. A documentary included in the special features of the DVD includes both actors acknowledging their mutual disapproval, though neither admits its origin.
16. Spacey admitted he had to read the script twice to make sure he fully understood it.
17. Byrne dropped out of the production close to the shoot date, but came back when his asking price was met: The movie had to film in Los Angeles (where Byrne lived) and wrap in six weeks. Little did he know that was Singer's plan all along.
18. The nurse behind the counter is played by Singer's mother.
19. The Japanese characters on the outside of the meeting room where Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) is talking with attorney Edie Finneran (Suzy Amis) appropriately say: "Kobayashi" and "bengoshi" (lawyer); and the ones in reverse on the window read "seikou" (success), "chikara" (strength), and "zaisan" (assets).
20. The film was shot on a budget of $6 million over a period of 35 days.
[Big h/t to IMDb, Wikipedia, and this video]