20 Things You Never Knew About 'True Romance'

Celebrating the anniversary of Clarence and Alabama's whirlwind love story.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'True Romance'
Warner Bros.

It's been over two decades since an unknown screenwriter named Quentin Tarantino sold his first script and saw it made by Tony Scott, the director of Top Gun. That movie was True Romance and it immediately popularized a new brand of violence — the funny kind, punctuated with pop culture references. True Romance marked the first of a number of Tarantino films that would rule the 1990s. 

True Romance is the story of a kung-fu-loving Elvis fanatic named Clarence Worley and his prostitute fiancé, Alabama. They accidentally steal a suitcase full of cocaine and decide to travel cross-country to Los Angeles to sell it and live happily ever after. However, things don't go as planned. The lovers are pursued by the mob and targeted by the DEA before all is said and done. 

Of course, it's the getting there that makes True Romance so great. Starring a who's who of rising Hollywood stars, the movie contains non-stop action, and I don't just mean fights. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette have sizzling chemistry as runaway lovebirds, and their misplaced optimism makes them a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde couple. The film churns forward like a freight train as everyone converges in L.A. and things explode in typical Tarantino fashion. (Yes, there's a Mexican standoff.)

Tarantino's script may be the movie's biggest star in the end. The mixture of action and comedy wasn't anything revolutionary at the time, but the writing was truly something different, something modern. More than two decades later, True Romance still hums with danger. It fits snugly into the Tarantino universe and doesn't buckle under inspection. Here are 20 things you never knew about the 1993 production, as we take you behind the scenes:

20 Things You Never Knew About 'True Romance'

1. Quentin Tarantino famously worked as a video store clerk before breaking into the movie industry and it was on that job he met writer Roger Avary. Avary had a script called The Open Road, but he couldn't finish it. Using Avary's pages as inspiration, Tarantino churned out a 500 page monster that would eventually become both True Romance and Natural Born Killers. He sold True Romance first, for $50,000, the WGA minimum at the time.

2. Tarantino's script also kills Clarence at the end and reveals Alabama was just using him to escape her life. Director Tony Scott changed this, insisting on a more happy ending. 

3. Drew Barrymore was the first choice for the role of Alabama Whitman, but she was unavailable. Scott searched a year for the right actress, considering and rejecting Bridget Fonda, Diane Lane, Kyra Sedgwick, and Julia Roberts along the way. It would eventually go to 24-year-old Patricia Arquette.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'True Romance'

4. The name "Alabama" is an homage to Pam Grier in Women in Cages.

5. While writing, Tarantino envisioned Robert Carradine and Joan Cusack in the lead roles.

6. Scott wasn't pleased with Christian Slater's vision of Clarence when shooting started so the director gave his star a copy of Taxi Driver to watch.

7. When Gary Oldman heard he'd be playing "a white guy who thinks he's black... a killer pimp," he laughed and accepted. When I interviewed him in 2011, Oldman told me Drexl Spivey is still one of his favorite characters. His performance was based on reggae singer Willi One Blood.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'True Romance'

8. Oldman used a contact lens from Bram Stoker's Dracula for Drexl's dead eye.

9. The sequence between Dennis Hopper as Clarence's father and Christopher Walken as a mobster hunting Clarence has been called "one of the most beautiful tête-à-têtes in contemporary cinema, wonderfully written and made utterly iconic by the two virtuoso actors." Tarantino has referred to the scene as one of his proudest moments.

10. After Hopper and Walken trade back and forth, Walken's character shoots Hopper's in the head, an event Hopper was nervous about. (Brandon Lee had been killed on the set of The Crow with a prop gun that same year.) To show him it was safe, Scott stood in for Hopper and took a test shot. However, the gun was close to Scott's head and it extended upon firing, leaving the director on the floor and bloody.

11. Brad Pitt came up with the idea to make his character, Floyd, a stoner who never leaves the couch. He even dressed himself. He found a discarded hat on the street in Venice Beach and wore it in the role.

12. Jack Black was originally in the movie as a theater usher, but his scene was cut. You can see it on the DVD special features, however. 

13. Clarence's sunglasses were repurposed by Tarantino in Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Uma Thurman wears them as Beatrix in the hospital after pummeling Buck.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'True Romance'

14. In the diner scene, when Clarence asks Alabama what her turn-offs are, she replies "Persians." In acting out the scene, however, Arquette used a different ethnicity for each take, insisting on being equally offensive to everyone.

15. Val Kilmer was initially interested in playing Clarence, but Scott wanted him for the "Mentor" role of Elvis Presley. Kilmer spent hours in makeup for his two days of filming, and you can't tell it's him in the movie. He's called "Mentor" so the production could escape any litigation from the Presley estate.

16. The word "fuck" and its many wonderful derivatives are used 225 times in the movie.

17. Scott gave Arquette the Cadillac from the film as a gift after shooting wrapped.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'True Romance'

18. Tarantino fans know about the writer/director's shared universe. Many characters (or family members of characters), props, and lines of dialogue are used in multiple movies. Aside from the sunglasses, True Romance is connected to a couple of other Tarantino flicks. Lee Donowitz (played by Saul Rubinek) is the grandson of Sergeant Donnie Donowitz from Inglourious Basterds. And Mr. White says he worked with a girl named "Alabama" in Reservoir Dogs.

19. Using Alabama for the voice-over scenes was an homage to Sissy Spacek in Badlands and Linda Manz in Days of Heaven, both Terrence Malick films.

20. Arquette's son Enzo Rossi plays Alabama's son at the end of the film. He was four years old at the time.

(h/t to IMDb, Wikipedia, and my True Romance DVD)

Managing Editor, Zimbio — entertainment writer, critic, and reporter since 2011. Bay Area. Origin: Shark City.