Greta Garbo initially requested that Laurence Olivier play the lead, Don Antonio, since she was impressed by his performance in Westward Passage (1932). In July 1933, the press announced that Olivier would take the part. However, when they did the rehearsals in August, Garbo and Olivier had no chemistry, and he was released, although MGM Studios honored his negotiated salary of $1,500 a week for four weeks minimum. Garbo requested that John Gilbert be cast in the role instead.
For the famous closing shot of Greta Garbo at the prow of the ship, director Rouben Mamoulian had wanted the camera to begin with a long shot, and then, in one unbroken take, gradually dolly in on a two-thirds close-up of Garbo's face, holding on her at the end of the shot. Unfortunately, with the camera's 48mm lens that close to the human face, pores tend to resemble craters on the surface of the moon. Borrowing on aspects of the magic lantern, Mamoulian devised a large, ruler-shaped, glass filter strip that was clear at one end, becoming increasingly more diffused along its length. With this glass filter mounted in front of the lens, as the camera moved in on Garbo, the glass strip was gradually drawn through the filter holder, beginning with the clear end, and ending with the diffused end (close-up), softening Garbo's facial features with more flattering results
Since John Gilbert was falling out of favor with the majors as a leading man, Greta Garbo was doing him a big favor by requesting him as the male lead. Unfortunately, the film did not help to re-establish Gilbert, and soon after he dropped out of pictures altogether.
Lawrence Grant is in studio records/casting call lists as a cast member, but he did not appear or was not identifiable in the movie. C. Henry Gordon was announced as a cast member, and Edward Cooper was listed as a cast member in a contemporary Hollywood Reporter news item, but neither appeared to be in the film. However, recognition of actors was difficult because of period makeup.
The jeweled off-the-shoulder gown the Christina wears when she formally receives Antonio at court has survived. The exhibit "Hollywood Costume" curated by Deborah Nadoolman, which was installed at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2012 and later the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles in 2014, featured the gown.