In London this film was the Royal Command Film Performance for 1965, with the Queen attending the premiere. James Mason was among the stars presented to Her Majesty, and he was able to secure free tickets for the evening for his parents, who were both octogenarians by this time. However, they disliked the film so much that they discreetly left the cinema at the intermission--even though their son had not appeared on-screen yet.
After the film's tepid reception, especially for his own starring performance, a once-enthusiastic Peter O'Toole declared, "It was a mistake and I made the mistake because I was conservative and played safe. And that way lies failure".
In a 1971 interview, Peter O'Toole spoke of some of the difficulties of location filming: "The three months we spent in Cambodia were dreadful. Sheer hell. A nightmare. There we were, all of us, knee deep in lizards and all kinds of horrible insects. And everyone hating us. Awful".
Upon returning to England, Peter O'Toole said, "If I live to be a thousand, I want nothing like Cambodia again. It was a bloody nightmare". Cambodia's crown prince, Norodom Sihanouk, took exception to this remark and banned O'Toole from the country. "That is the sort of thing that makes tourists nervous", was the royal quote.
Peter O'Toole hated filming in Hong Kong, calling it "Manchester with slanted eyes". When he arrived at his hotel, he horrified the management by pulling a rickshaw and the driver into the main hall at 2:00 a.m. and buying him a drink.
According to director Richard Brooks' biographer Douglass Daniel, though the Cambodian government never demanded any script approval, one condition of its agreement to allow on-location shooting in the troubled nation was for the production company to build a 45-room addition to an existing hotel near the famed Angkor Wat ruins, at a cost of $600,000 from the $9-million budget.
The crew and cast were joined by Cambodian translator Dith Pran, who was a liaison between Cambodians and the filmmakers and stars. Later he left the country after the 1975 Communist takeover and his own imprisonment, which were told in The Killing Fields (1984).
During filming there was a spate of political violence in Cambodia. One day a mysterious Frenchman appeared on the location and darkly advised Richard Brooks to get his company out of the country by March 12th. With Peter O'Toole's concurrence, the work schedule was doubled and the daily shooting went on from noon until nearly dawn. The 12-week schedule was cut to nine and the company left the country on March 3rd. A week later, the American and British embassies were attacked by mobs. O'Toole was convinced that some of the attackers had worked on the film as extras.
In her book, 'To The End Of Hell', 'Denise Affonço' notes that her late husband Phou Teang Seng (who was later murdered by the Khmer Rouge) worked on this film as a stage manager and was responsible for the entire crew's canteen. Denise spent a month on the set (in Siem Reap) when she was pregnant with her son, Jean-Jacques.
Peter O'Toole had several run-ins with snakes in Cambodia. While walking down the middle of a jungle road, he came face-to-face with a black cobra. He recalled, "They say no snake can travel faster than a scared human, but I ain't so sure. The snake went like hell, but luckily away from me". One dinner he found a live snake in his soup and on another occasion a cobra slithered onto the set and into the makeshift ladies' toilet. According to O'Toole, of particular dread was a snake called the Two Step--"It bites you, you take two steps and then you die".
Richard Brooks was very secretive about the screenplay he had written for this film, and would refuse to show it to the actors in advance of filming; even then, they would only be given individual scenes just before they were due to be filmed. This was a habit which Brooks continued on later movies, usually claiming he was afraid of being plagiarized by television writers.
The DVD sleeve notes state that director Richard Brooks was "eager to tackle Lord Jim's epic themes" from the source Joseph Conrad novel. "The casting of Peter O'Toole', a top box-office star, paved the way for the high-budget production to begin".