Backed by the Pentagon: King Hussein of Jordan lent an entire brigade of his Arab Legion as extras for the film, so most of the "soldiers" are played by real soldiers.
Banned in China: Most Middle Eastern countries banned the film during its original release, finding its portrayal of Arabs offensive. One exception was Egypt: Gamal Abdel Nasser reportedly loved the movie and it subsequently became a hit in that country.
California Doubling: David Lean originally wanted to shoot the entire movie in Jordan, which is located in the same region where it takes place. Although the Jordanian government was very helpful, this proved to be impractical. In particular, Lean's plan to shoot the first battle scene at the real Aqaba simply wasn't feasible, as Aqaba (which had been a small village in 1917) had grown into a major city by 1962. (The scene was shot on a specially-constructed set in Almeria, Spain.) Much of the desert scenes were filmed in Jordan, but ultimately most of the movie was filmed in Spain. With its abundance of Moorish architecture, Seville plays the part of basically every Middle Eastern city in the movie. Desert scenes were also filmed in Morocco (specifically the climactic massacre and its aftermath) and, yes, California.
Creator Backlash: Peter O'Toole always seemed ambivalent about his performance, even though it was his Star-Making Role. He did not enjoy the experience of making the movie at all (understandable given the Troubled Production it went through) and felt that he was too raw and untested an actor to truly capture Lawrence's complex personality. Further, O'Toole went years without ever seeing the finished film in its entirety, though when he finally watched it sometime in the 1980's he admitted that it was quite impressive.
Deleted Scenes: Despite the extensive restoration done in 1989, the currently available cut of Lawrence (216 minutes without overture and intermission) still misses several sequences present in the original 1962 release. The most famous is a longer version of Lawrence's meeting with Allenby in Jerusalem towards the end, the so-called "balcony" or "seduction" scene. According to Robert Harris this scene couldn't be restored because of a poor audio match. It is included in the 2012 Blu-Ray release, with Charles Gray dubbing Jack Hawkins as Allenby.
Fake Nationality: Kind of. Half-Irish, half-Scottish Peter O'Toole, who might have been born in England or Ireland (he had two different birth certificates), as Welsh born but half Anglo-Irish and half Scots Lawrence. At any rate, they're both from the British Isles.
Apparently Alec Guinness bore such a striking resemblance to the real Faisal that people who didn't know he was dead thought he was the real deal, even though it's an Englishman playing an Arab.
Mexican-American Anthony Quinn as Bedouin tribal leader Auda Abu Tayi.
Fatal Method Acting: Averted. In the real Battle of Aqaba, Lawrence was nearly killed when his camel threw him after he accidentally shot it in the head. In a remarkable coincidence, Peter O'Toole was nearly killed himself when a gun or rocket used to signal "action" in the first take went off prematurely, and O'Toole was thrown by his panicked camel in front of the charging horses. (Another account holds that O'Toole was temporarily blinded by pellets from an effects gun and lost control of his animal.) Fortunately for O'Toole, the camel, trained for such situations, stood over him and saved him from being trampled.
Follow the Leader: This movie was so influential in its day that practically every movie set in whole or in part in a desert since it came out has effectively borrowed or outright stolen from it. Echoes of Maurice Jarre's iconic sweeping score can be heard in everything from Stargate to the Brendan FraserThe Mummy Trilogy movies.
Money, Dear Boy: Jose Ferrer was initially unsatisfied with the small size of his part, and accepted the role only on the condition of being paid $25,000 (more than O'Toole and Sharif combined) plus a Porsche. However, he afterwards considered this his best film performance, saying in an interview: "If I was to be judged by any one film performance, it would be my five minutes in Lawrence." O'Toole once said that he learned more about screen acting from Ferrer than he could in any acting class.
Recycled Set: The Aqaba set constructed for the film remained intact for several decades, turning up in numerous later movies such as Sidney Lumet's The Hill and John Milius's The Wind and the Lion. In the early nineties the Spanish government finally tore down the set to make way for highway construction.
First, it's worth noting that filmmakers had been trying to make a Lawrence movie since the mid-'20s. Two of the better known examples were an Alexander Korda epic in the '30s with Laurence Olivier as Lawrence, and a '50s Rank Organisation picture starring Dirk Bogarde. Both films fell apart due to political pressure: the former because of fear of alienating Turkey in the run-up to World War II; the latter because of a coup d'etat in Iraq, where the film was set to shoot. Lean and Spiegel narrowly beat a competing project, an adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play Ross, to the screen.
Michael Wilson worked on the screenplay for over a year, then was summarily dismissed by Lean for unsatisfactory work. Unfortunately the cast and crew were already in Jordan and waited for weeks before a new writer was hired. Robert Bolt's tenure as screenwriter got off to a rocky start when he was arrested for taking part in a CND demonstration in London, forcing Sam Spiegel to bail him out of jail. Bolt then showed his gratitude by granting a press interview where he slammed Spiegel and Lean as egomaniacs. Eventually Spiegel invited Bolt to live on his private yacht in Aqaba, mostly to keep an eye on him.
Logistics filming in Jordan were a nightmare. For a start, gaining rights to film there required intense negotiation: Spiegel brought in Anthony Nutting, a former British Foreign Office official, to secure King Hussein's approval.note The crew commandeered tanker trucks full of fresh water from Aqaba and airlifted frozen food to the location every day. David Lean and the crew had to meticulously sweep the desert sands free of footprints and tire tracks between takes. Outbreaks of illness laid many crew members low. Peter O'Toole's on-set drinking caused tension with Arab extras. The Jordanian government initially cooperated with the production but proved leery about filming in cities like Aqaba and Maan.
Spiegel and Lean's already testy relationship soon reached the breaking point. Spiegel rarely visited the set, but constantly complained long-distance about Lean's "wasting" money and allegedly poor footage. On one visit he showed up with William Wyler in tow, threatening to replace Lean if he didn't work faster. Lean eventually got back at Spiegel by sneaking into the dailies a shot of him flipping Spiegel off... in 70mm. Unsurprisingly, Lawrence marked their last collaboration.
Eventually shooting in Jordan got so expensive that the production moved to Spain. More difficulties arose: production designer John Box had to build the Aqaba set from scratch. The crew had difficulty finding camels and camel riders. O'Toole nearly died filming a battle scene when he fell off his camel, and injured himself on another occasion. Edmond O'Brien (playing Bentley) had an onset heart attack and Arthur Kennedy was flown direct from New York to replace him. Flash floods in Almeria delayed filming. Lean and his actors grew increasingly tense; Lean once exploded at Jack Hawkins for trying to lighten the mood on-set. Finally, Lean couldn't find suitable locations for the climactic battle and there was a final move to...
Morocco. The crew took up residence at an old Foreign Legion encampment in Ouarzazate, with no air conditioning in 100-plus degree F temperatures. Lean argued with his second unit directors on how to film the battle, firing one (Andre de Toth). note More diseases broke out among crew-members. Procuring camels again proved a problem. The main difficulty however came with the extras. Soldiers from the Moroccan army were employed without pay, which they understandably resented. During off-hours they actually took potshots at cast and crew, Lean included. Others deserted between takes and never came back.
Having survived an arduous production, the film encountered several PR disasters up to its release. Professor A.W. Lawrence, the title character's brother, threatened to sue the filmmakers, then tried to discredit the movie through interviews and editorials. An ugly scandal arose when Spiegel again refused to credit Michael Wilson. A Writers' Guild arbitration found in Wilson's favor, but Robert Bolt still received sole credit. Peter O'Toole attended press interviews drunk, drawing more bad attention. Finally, Lawrence received its American premiere during a newspaper strike in New York, and the few critics who saw it gave overwhelmingly negative reviews note . For all that Lawrence became a smash hit, and eventually an all-time classic, but it overcame a lot getting there.
Several actors were offered the leading role, including Marlon Brando, but Lean initially seemed set on Albert Finney, an unknown actor with few roles to his credit. Finney received an elaborate, four day screen test, performing scenes from early script drafts with several actors and reciting passages from Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Finney impressed Lean and producer Sam Spiegel, but Spiegel demanded Finney sign a multi-picture contract. Finney refused, instead performing his Star-Making Role in Saturday Night And Sunday Morning while Lawrence was still in production. Enter Peter O'Toole and the rest is history.
Horst Buchholz was the first choice, but had already signed on for One, Two, Three. Alain Delon had a successful screen test, but ultimately declined because of the brown contact lenses he would have had to wear.
Olivier was also offered the role of Auda abu Tayi, but he was engaged at The Chichester Theatre Festival.
Jackson Bentley originally had a bigger role and was meant for Kirk Douglas. He expressed interest but demanded a star salary and the highest billing after O'Toole, and thus was turned down by Spiegel.
Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar was offered the role of Sherif Ali, but he declined.
The original idea for the score was that it be divided between Maurice Jarre for the dramatic score, Aram Khatchaturyan for the Middle Eastern themes and Benjamin Britten for the British Imperial themes. The latter two had to pull out so Richard Rodgers was hired. Then when Lean and Spiegel listened to his contributions and Jarre's, they loved Jarre's so much they gave him the whole job instead.
Word of Gay: When interviewed, David Lean was pretty straightforward about this issue. He thought that one of Lawrence's key conflicts throughout the film was his inability to come to terms with his own homosexuality, and if you keep this in mind there are a lot of moments in the film that can be read in this way. He also compared the relationship between Lawrence and Ali to the doomed love affair in his heterosexual romance Brief Encounter.
Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: Shooting was just about to start when David Lean threw out Michael Wilson's original script completely. Robert Bolt was brought on to rewrite the script as filming began. As a result, the movie was filmed almost chronologically - a rarity then or indeed now, especially on such a large-scale film.