Sue Lyon was chosen for the title role partly due to the size of her breasts. Stanley Kubrick had been warned that the censors felt strongly about the use of a less developed actress to portray the sexually active 14-year-old.
Since the censors would allow nothing close to a suggestion of pedophilia, Lolita's age had to be increased from 12 in Vladimir Nabokov's original novel to 14 for the film. They also objected to a scene where Humbert Humbert was to gaze at Lolita's picture while in bed with her mother Charlotte; in the end, the scene was filmed with Charlotte lying fully dressed on the bed and Humbert lying beside her wearing a robe.
Stanley Kubrick shot most of Peter Sellers' scenes with two or three cameras at once. The actor did his most inspired work on the first take, so Kubrick used that technique to get all the angles he needed without losing spontaneity.
Stanley Kubrick held a special screening for Vladimir Nabokov a few days before the film's premiere. That was the first time the author learned that most of his screenplay had been jettisoned, but he reported himself very happy with the picture, praising Kubrick and the cast.
Cinematographer Oswald Morris had a major falling out with director Stanley Kubrick during shooting. Kubrick was furious when images from the film appeared in the press during shooting. He blamed Morris, who, as cinematographer, was responsible for managing rushes/ dailies from each days shoot, and which was where the leaked images had apparently come from. It was later revealed that it was in fact a junior lab assistant at the film processing lab that had sold them to the press. Kubrick never apologized to Morris for the accusation and an angry Morris vowed never to work with director again.
Although the story takes place all across the United States, many of the major sets and exteriors (hotel, hospitals, even residential streets), clearly look more like locales in England, where the picture was actually shot.
Vladimir Nabokov's original screenplay diverged greatly from the novel, but only a portion of it was used by Stanley Kubrick, even though Nabokov gets screen credit. Nabokov later published it as "Lolita: A Screenplay". The unused screenplay featured an Alfred Hitchcock-like cameo for Nabokov, who is referred to as "that nut with a butterfly net" (Nabokov was well known as an amateur lepidopterist). Although he generally admired the movie adaptation of his book, Nabokov regretted the waste of his time in writing a screenplay which was altered so drastically during filming.
James Mason was the first choice of director Stanley Kubrick and producer James B. Harris for the role of Humbert Humbert, but he initially declined due to a Broadway engagement. Laurence Olivier then refused the part, apparently on the advice of his agents. Kubrick considered Peter Ustinov, but decided against him. Harris then suggested David Niven; Niven accepted the part, but then withdrew for fear the sponsors of his TV show, Four Star Playhouse (1952), would object. Mason then withdrew from his play and got the part. Harris denies claims that Noël Coward also rejected the role.
According to Elstree Studios records, Lolita was filmed from Nov 1960 to Feb 1961. The studio charged £34,000 for the sound stage rentals. Sadly, the sound stages used for the film were demolished to make way for a Tesco store.
All throughout the film, Lolita's mother and friends refer to her by the nickname "Lolita". Which in fact in the novel Dolores Haze's nickname "Lolita" was given to her only by Humbert and he was the only one using that name. Lolita's mother used "Lo" as a nickname for her daughter.
The distinctive Flemish-Gothic spires of the Delaware & Hudson Building in Albany, New York can be seen in the background, as Humbert drives to Lolita's house near the end of the movie. This would indicate that she was living in or near the town Rensselaer.
In the opening scene, when Humbert encounters the drunken Quilty, he asks him, "Are you Quilty?" Quilty replies, "No, I'm Spartacus. You come to free the slaves?" This is a reference to Stanley Kubrick's previous film, Spartacus (1960).
The film Humbert, Charlotte and Lolita watch at the drive-in is The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). When the film cut to the three characters in the car, Stanley Kubrick had a different soundtrack recorded to make the film sound scarier.
Whether it had to do with her casting as Lolita or not, Sue Lyon, three years earlier, played a "Lolita type" character in an episode of The Loretta Young Show titled Alien Love in which she flirts with her older male teacher, who winds up in trouble for it.
Sue Lyon's Lolita is watching, and being scared silly by, The Curse of Frankenstein at the drive-in theater. The particular scene shows Christopher Lee revealing himself as The Monster. Fifteen years later, Lyon would co-star with Christopher Lee in the 1977 low-budget thriller, The End Of The World.
The Production Code Administration passed the film with a few snips on the soundtrack and an early fade to the scene in which Lolita seduces Humbert after her mother's death. The British and Australian prints contain the scene as originally shot.