California Doubling: The story takes place in the Ozarks, but the landscape in the movie doesn't look like the Ozarks. In fact, it was shot in Colorado and California. The contrast between the tall granite snow covered peaks of the Rockies and High Sierras, and the actual weathered hills of the Ouachita, Boston, and Arbuckle mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas is so extreme, this veers into The Mountains of Illinois territory. No, you can't actually go skiing in Oklahoma.
Henry Hathaway later said he hated Glen Campbell's performance, which he described as wooden, and claimed the singer was only cast so he could have a hit with the theme song which would help promote the film. Hathaway also felt that Kim Darby was wrong for her part.
John Wayne was not pleased with the finished film. He greatly disliked Kim Darby's performance, and while promoting the film for its U.S. release in June 1969, he told interviewers that he had starred in much better films, citing Stagecoach as an example. He was as surprised as anyone that it was his performance in this movie that won him an Oscar.
He disliked Kim Darby's performance and the two hardly spoke off-camera.
He was so annoyed by Robert Duvall's Method Acting approach that he threatened to punch him if he questioned the director one more time.
Dennis Hopper claimed that Wayne chased him round the studio with a loaded gun.
I was like his in-house commie. If anything went wrong on set, he'd yell, "Where's that pinko Hopper?" On True Grit, he arrived one day in his helicopter, and started shouting: "My daughter went up to UCLA yesterday and that communist Stokely Carmichael made a speech using all this four-letter language, and I want that fucking pinko Hopper, I want his fucking head!" But he was always funny to me, I think he liked me. And his sons were good friends of mine. He just believed I was a communist.
Reportedly, Wayne refused to leave his trailer unless the studio fired Hopper for drug use. Wayne came to this conclusion because he saw white powder on Hopper's shirt, and presumed because of his hippie lifestyle, that he was snorting cocaine. Director Henry Hathaway managed to get Wayne out of his trailer when it was discovered that the "cocaine" was actually powdered sugar from a donut Hopper was eating.
Mia Farrow turned down the role of Mattie Ross. Robert Mitchum, with whom she had just done a film, had told her that Henry Hathaway was cantankerous and impossible to work with. She lobbied to get Hathaway replaced by Roman Polanski, who had recently worked with her successfully in Rosemary's Baby, but to no avail. She later said it was one of the biggest professional mistakes of her career. Karen Carpenter and Sally Field were also considered.
Elvis Presley was considered for La Boeuf, but "Colonel" Tom Parker, his manager, insisted that Presley should receive top billing.
Award Category Fraud: Despite Mattie being the protagonist, Hailee Steinfeld was demoted by almost every single film awards association to "Best Supporting Actress" while her co-star Jeff Bridges was nominated for Best Actor. note Though for the Oscars at least, there is a theory it was to give her a better chance of actually winning, since Best Actress was considered a lock for Natalie Portman at the time.
And Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, despite being the protagonist, is the last name to appear in the credits. This may be partially due to it being her first film.
California Doubling: Set in Eastern Oklahoma (with the exception of the first act, which is set in Western Arkansas), shot in New Mexico and Texas. As anyone familiar with Oklahoma (or Arkansas, or New Mexico and Texas for that matter!) can tell you, they don't really look alike.
Dawson Casting: Hailee Steinfeld was 13 at the time, while Jeff Bridges was 61. It's a minor case for Steinfeld, who is only off by one year, but a more major one for Bridges, who like John Wayne before him is two decades olden the literary Rooster Cogburn.
Disabled Character, Disabled Actor: A woman missing her left forearm (due to a birth defect) was hired to play older Mattie in shots that don't show her face. She winds up having more screen time than the actress that plays older Mattie, mostly due to the long shot at the end of Mattie walking away from Rooster's grave that lasts into the credits.
Sleeper Hit: The Western had long struggled at the box office for decades, the Coens never had a breakout box office smash (their highest-grossing hit was No Country for Old Men, which was a modest $70 million hit), and it was opening in a crowded Christmas window. But thanks to a well-executed ad campaignnote making the movie seem very revenge action-oriented, set to Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down", weak holiday competitionnote Little Fockers, Yogi Bear, and Gulliver's Travels (2010), all of which virtually vanished after their opening weekends amidst critical and audience disapproval, awards buzz, and Jeff Bridges in the midst of a career renaissancenote He took home Best Actor for Crazy Heart earlier in the year and TRON: Legacy opened the week before True Grit, the film had a long, very successful run to the tune of $171 million domestic (about 8x its opening weekend, a phenomenal multiplier) and $254 million worldwide off a modest $38 million budget. On top of its 10 Oscar nominations, it was also the most-attended Western since Unforgiven 18 years prior, and easily the highest-attended Coens film, with over double the take of No Country.