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Trivia / The Deer Hunter

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  • All-Star Cast: Retroactively, since the movie launched the careers of Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep.
  • California Doubling: Although the famous deer hunting scene was supposed to take place in western Pennsylvania, it was shot on Mt. Baker in Washington.
  • Cast the Expert:
    • Chuck Aspegren was not an actor, and in fact worked in a steel mill. Filmmakers liked him when they met him while visiting the steel mill, and offered him a part.
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    • They also cast an actual priest to play the priest at the wedding.
  • Completely Different Title: Known as Voyage au bout de l'enfer ("journey to the end of hell") in French, and O Franco Atirador ("The sniper") in Brazilian Portuguese.
  • Dawson Casting: There was some controversy as the actors were too old for their characters who are supposed to be in their late teens or early twenties.
  • Doing It for the Art: The studio wanted to replace John Cazale when he was ruled un-insurable. Robert De Niro put up the money for the insurance. Cazale died shortly after filming was completed.
  • Dueling Movies:
    • With Coming Home, another Vietnam-themed film. They were both regarded as the first big time Hollywood films to examine the war in its aftermath, and were both nominated for Best Picture that year. Jane Fonda even sought Meryl Streep to appear in that too, but she was already committed to The Deer Hunter.
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    • Also with Apocalypse Now, as competing edgy, artistic epics set in Vietnam, made by a Perfectionist director. Since The Deer Hunter came out while Francis Ford Coppola was in the Troubled Post-Production phase of the fabled Troubled Production of Apocalypse Now, it managed to steal some of its thunder, but the two movies were still often linked in the public eye. One New York Times profile of Michael Cimino had him bragging that Coppola came to visit him and told him "You beat me, baby!", and Cimino also pointedly declared in the piece that "Vietnam was not the apocalypse".
  • Dyeing for Your Art: Christopher Walken ate nothing but water, rice and bananas to achieve the withdrawn, hollow look of his character.
  • Enforced Method Acting:
    • At Michael Cimino's request, Christopher Walken spat in Robert De Niro's face during Nick and Michael's last encounter. Needless to say, DeNiro wasn't prepared for that. Also, the slapping during the Russian Roulette scenes was real.
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    • Also subverted: Per De Niro's suggestion, a real charge was placed in the gun during the Russian Roulette scenes to heighten the tension. The crew made sure, however, that the actors wouldn't get the bullet for real.
    • Robert De Niro worked in a real steel mill as an ordinary steelworker at a blast furnace for nine months under a false name, to get a grasp of a steeler's life. Chuck Aspegren was a real-life steelworker before his acting career.
    • The bamboo cages in the river scenes actually contained live rats.
    • De Niro and John Savage were really hanging from the bottom of the helicopter and their reactions are real.
    • Cimino asked the extras in the wedding scenes to behave as if it were a real wedding. To his surprise, many of them brought actual wrapped gifts.
    • The actors were all given photos of themselves together as children to carry in their back pocket - to emphasise the sense of camaraderie between them. The props department made fake ID cards for everyone and other paraphernalia to enhance this.
    • Casting directors had trouble finding someone vicious enough to play the man who starts the Russian Roulette game. She ended up casting a local man whom she knew had a particular hatred of Americans.
  • Executive Meddling: An example of someone actually defying it. John Cazale played a major supporting role despite suffering from terminal lung cancer. He died shortly after filming had been completed. When his condition became known to the studio heads, they tried to get him replaced, but Cimino and Meryl Streep (Cazale's girlfriend) threatened to walk off the set. Cazale also didn't have insurance, so De Niro paid for it himself.
  • Fake Nationality: Needless to say, none of the three leads were actual Russian-Americans.
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: A dramatic version - Meryl Streep was allowed to improvise her dialogue.
  • Irony as She Is Cast: Nick urges Michael to drive faster. Christopher Walken has a phobia of driving too fast in cars.
  • No Stunt Double: Robert De Niro and John Savage performed their own stunts for the fall into the river, filming the thirty foot drop fifteen times in two days.
  • Portrayed by Different Species: The deer which Michael allows to get away was actually an elk. The crew had a very difficult time trying to get the elk to look at them, as it was apparently used to various noises. It finally looked at them when someone in the crew yawned.
  • Real-Life Relative: John Cazale was engaged to Meryl Streep during the film and would remain so until his death. Streep only took her role in the film so she could be near Cazale in his final months.
  • The Red Stapler: Dark example. Many people were inspired to play Russian Roulette after the scene in the film.
  • Star-Making Role:
    • Christopher Walken won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and didn't look back afterwards.
    • Meryl Streep had been a One-Scene Wonder in the film Julia, but her Oscar-nominated turn in this movie brought her to immediate attention.
  • Throw It In!:
    • Angela being warned about bumping her head off the doorway while being carried out? Rutanya Aldi accidentally hit her head while being carried on the first take.
    • George Dzundza completely blows the toast line when the group arrives in the mountains the first time. His reaction is legitimate, and a few of the other actors can be seen laughing in response.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • The original spec script, entitled The Man Who Came to Play, was about people who go to Las Vegas to play Russian Roulette.
    • The protagonist in the original script, Merle, was an individual who sustained a bad injury in active service and was damaged psychologically by his violent experiences, but was nevertheless a tough character with strong nerves and guts.
    • In an original draft of the script, Nick lived and Michael played the Russian Roulette.
    • Roy Scheider was originally cast as Michael, but withdrew from the production two weeks before the start of filming, due to "Creative Differences".
    • Jeff Bridges was considered for Nick, while Brad Dourif was considered for Steven. Gérard Depardieu was considered for Julien.
  • Word of God: It is generally believed that Steven is not the father of Angela's baby, due to his remark that he "never really did it with Angela"; he was apparently the only one who offered to marry her, to save her the indignity of becoming an unmarried mother. In the DVD Commentary for the Special Edition DVD release, Michael Cimino revealed that Nick was the father. This was a highly debated issue by fans of the film that was, until then, a mystery.


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