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Trivia / American Beauty

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  • Breakthrough Hit: For Sam Mendes.
  • Completely Different Title:
    • Croatia: The Vortex of Life
    • Estonia: Elusive Beauty
    • Taiwan: American Heart Rose
  • Creator Chosen Casting: Sam Mendes' first choices for Lester Carolyn Burnham were Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening.
  • Dawson Casting: Downplayed with Mena Suvari, who was 20 at the time playing the teenaged Angela (this was probably necessary — depicting an adult character lusting over a teenager who was actually played by a teenager likely would've turned a lot of people off to the movie. Not to mention potentially made the actress involved uncomfortable), and with Wes Bentley, who was also 20. Averted by Thora Birch, who really was 16, meaning that for her brief topless scene her parents and child labor representatives were on the set for the shooting.
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  • Doing It for the Art: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening and Conrad L. Hall worked for significantly less than their usual rates.
  • Dyeing for Your Art: Kevin Spacey actually did bulk up that much. He had to change his posture to accommodate for several scenes being shot out of order.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Carolyn is having a breakdown rant at the dinner table that Lester is supposed to stop by dropping a plate of asparagus on the floor. After a few unsuccessful takes, Kevin Spacey decided "screw this" and unexpectedly threw it at the wall, violently shattering a real glass plate. Annette Bening and Thora Birch reacted with genuine shock (although you don't see the expressions on their faces in the shot).
  • Follow the Leader: Is said to have been the movie that inspired Desperate Housewives. It inspired a lot of other "dark heart of suburbia" movies too.
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  • Inspiration for the Work: According to his Oscar speech, screenwriter Alan Ball was sitting at the World Trade Center plaza when he saw a paper bag floating in the wind and was inspired by it to write the film, which was originally conceived as a stage play.
  • Mid-Development Genre Shift: The film was originally written as a stage play.
  • Missing Episode: A huge subplot was filmed and eventually cut from the final film. Jane and Ricky would be on trial and convicted for Lester's murder - with the video of Ricky jokingly asking if she wants him killed incriminating them. Barbara Fitts would find her husband's bloody t-shirt and hide it, implying he'll get away with it. Additionally it would show that Carolyn and Buddy King would get married, while Angela would be seen on a Baywatch style TV show. Mendes dropped it because he felt it ruined the tone of the story. More details here.
  • Quote Source:
    • Foregone Conclusion
  • Star-Making Role: For Wes Bentley and Thora Birch.
  • Throw It In:
    • Kevin Spacey was only supposed to drop the plate in the dinner scene, but he wasn't getting the right reaction, so after a few takes, he threw the plate against the wall as hard as he could. The actresses' startled reactions were real.
    • The scene where Lester attacks Carolyn's feet with a remote control car was also unscripted, and Annette Bening's surprise and annoyance are a real reaction.
    • He also improvised everything Lester does in the car while stoned, including singing along to "American Woman".
    • In the scene when Carolyn told Lester that she was ready to go while he was smoking pot with Ricky outside the restaurant, Spacey could not control his laughing and Wes Bentley can be seen laughing too, as this was not scripted.
    • The "Look Closer" Tagline was inspired by something the set dresser had put on Lester's cubicle at work. Sam Mendes only noticed it in the editing and thought it would make a good marketing slogan.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • The opening shot was originally going to have Lester flying through the air, above all the houses and down into his bed.
    • Barbara was supposed to have more dialogue, and conversation scenes with her husband. Sam Mendes however chose to cut them, feeling her character was conveyed far better through her silence.
    • A pivotal sequence in the original script would have Jane and Ricky seeing a car crash on the freeway, which was changed into Ricky's line about filming a dead homeless woman to cut costs. The part where Jane decides to walk home with Ricky rather than ride with Angela was then added in to make up for it.
    • In the original script, Lester enjoyed country music, much to the annoyance of Jane and Carolyn.
    • An earlier draft would have given Col. Fitts a gay lover who had died in Vietnam.
    • Terry Gilliam, David Lynch and Mike Nichols declined the chance to direct the film.
    • Chevy Chase,note  Kevin Costner, Jeff Daniels, Tom Hanks, Woody Harrelson, John Travolta and Bruce Willis were considered for Lester Burnham.
    • Kim Basinger, Helen Hunt and Holly Hunter were considered for Carolyn Burhnham.
    • Jake Gyllenhaal and Seth Green auditioned for Ricky Fitts.
    • Kirsten Dunst,note  Sarah Michelle Gellar,note  Alyson Hannigan, Katie Holmes and Brittany Murphy were all offered the role of Angela, but turned it down. Tiffani Thiessen tested for the same role but failed the audition. Jessica Biel was cast, but dropped out due to her commitment to 7th Heaven.
  • Write What You Know: Alan Ball based Lester's story on aspects of his own life. Lester's re-examination of his life parallels feelings Ball had in his mid-30s. Like Lester, he put aside his passions to work in jobs he hated for people he did not respect. Scenes in Ricky's household reflect Ball's own childhood experiences. Ball suspected his father was homosexual and used the idea to create Col. Fitts, a man who "gave up his chance to be himself". Ball said the script's mix of comedy and drama was not intentional, but that it came unconsciously from his own outlook on life. He said the juxtaposition produced a starker contrast, giving each trait more impact than if they appeared alone.