Robert Redford screen-tested with Candice Bergen for the part of Benjamin Braddock but was finally rejected by director Mike Nichols because Nichols did not believe Redford could persuasively project the underdog qualities necessary to the role. When he told this to Redford, the actor asked Nichols what he meant. "Well, let's put it this way," said Nichols, "Have you ever struck out with a girl?" "What do you mean?" asked Redford. "That's precisely my point," said Nichols.
Dustin Hoffman was already set to play a role in Mel BrooksThe Producers when the opportunity to audition for "The Graduate" came up. Deferentially, Hoffman asked Brooks' permission to audition for the part in the other film. Through his wife, Anne Bancroft, (already cast) Brooks was familiar with the story of "The Graduate". He allowed Hoffman to audition, blithely confident he'd be found unsuitable for role of Mrs. Robinson's lover.
In Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft's first encounter in the hotel room, Bancroft did not know that Hoffman was going to grab her breast. Hoffman decided offscreen to do it, because it reminded him of schoolboys trying to nonchalantly grab girls' breasts in the hall by pretending to put their jackets on. When Hoffman did it onscreen, director Mike Nichols began laughing loudly offscreen. Hoffman began to laugh as well, so rather than stop the scene, he turned away from the camera and walked to the wall. Hoffman banged his head on the wall, trying to stop laughing, and Nichols thought it was so funny, he left it in.
Although Mrs. Robinson is supposed to be much older than Benjamin, Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman are just under six years apart in age. He looked naturally boyish, and she was made up to look older. For the same reason, Bancroft was only 8 years older than her "daughter" Katharine Ross, William Daniels (Mr. Braddock) only 10 years older than his "son" Hoffman.
The movie is full of womb imagery. From Benjamin's constant desire to stay immersed in his parent's swimming pool, to the slow close-up shot of the hips of Katherine's roommate as she brings the "Dear John" letter to Benjamin, to returning to the actual womb of the elder and maternal Mrs. Robinson.
When Elaine tracks down Ben in his gloomy room and he causes her to scream, a number of other tenants gather behind the landlord in the doorway. One says, "Shall I get the cops? I'll get the cops..." It's Richard Dreyfuss.
In the famous promotional still for this film, Dustin Hoffman is seen in the background framed by Mrs. Robinson's shapely leg. The leg in that photo didn't belong to Anne Bancroft, however; it belonged to a then-unknown model, Linda Gray, who later played Mrs. Robinson in a London stage musical of The Graduate.
Mike Nichols initially wanted French actress Jeanne Moreau to play Mrs. Robinson. The idea behind this was that in the French culture, the "older" women tended to "train" the younger men in sexual matters. The producers for the movie, Joseph E. Levine and Lawrence Turman, were completely opposed to the idea. Mike Nichols was even more set on having Simon and Garfunkel do the integrated soundtrack for the film. Nichols agreed to switch actresses for Mrs. Robinson as long as he could still use Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
The movie's line "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?" was voted as the #63 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100), as the #5 of Premiere's "100 Greatest Movie Lines" (2007).
Sources vary on precisely what the truth is about the possibility of Doris Day playing Mrs. Robinson. One rumor says the property was acquired with her in mind as Mrs. Robinson, and producer Lawrence Turman sent the novel to her manager/husband, Martin Melcher, wanting to know their opinion of Day in the role, but Melcher was so disgusted by the thought that he refused to even mention it to her. Doris Day wrote in her 1975 memoir, which is probably more accurate, that she was actually offered the role, but "I could not see myself rolling around in the sheets with a young man half my age whom I'd seduced".
Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft were the not quickly chosen for the leads of this film. Warren Beatty was originally going to be the lead, but after he did not get the role, Robert Redford was selected. Patricia Neal was considered, but reportedly declined because she was uneasy about playing a lead role so soon after having a stroke.
Two interesting camera techniques are used in the film. In the scene where Benjamin is running, he is shown at some distance running straight at the camera, an effect which makes him look as if he getting nowhere as he's running. (This technique is accomplished with a very long telephoto lens, which foreshortens distances in relation to the camera.) In another scene, Benjamin is walking from the right side of the screen to the left, while everyone else in the scene is moving from left to right. In western culture, things that move left to right seem natural (think of the direction you read words on a page), those that move right to left seem to be going the wrong way. These two visual techniques echo the themes of the film, Benjamin is going the wrong way, and getting nowhere in life.
Paul Simon wrote two songs for the film that director Mike Nichols rejected: "Punky's Dilemma" and "A Hazy Shade of Winter". Both appear on the Simon and Garfunkel "Bookends" album. The song "Mrs. Robinson" was not written for the movie; it was the working title of a song Simon was then writing (originally called "Mrs. Roosvelt", and about Eleanor Roosevelt) and Nichols decided to include it. Simon and Art Garfunkel only sing the chorus but none of the verses of the later hit song. Additionally, the chorus portion sung contains some lyrics not featured in the more popular "final" version of the song.
Apparently, Dustin Hoffman's screen test consisted of him fumbling his lines and awkwardly trying to grab Katharine Ross's behind, which angered her. As he left thinking he didn't get the role, his awkwardness was just what director Mike Nichols needed for Benjamin Braddock.
Within a year of the movie's release, plastic manufacturing companies became enormously successful. Many people attribute this to Walter Brooke's quote about "plastics". Brooke himself once told his nephew that he would have invested in plastics, if he had known that the remark would lead to such success.
Although Calder Willingham and Buck Henry share screen writing credit, Buck Henry wrote the shooting version of the screenplay without assistance, and Henry was not even aware of Willingham's draft. Henry was the fourth screenwriter asked to try to adapt Charles Webb's novel, however, and Willingham filed a challenge with the Writer's Guild for screen credit after the movie was completed. Because Webb's novel consists of large passages of dialogue, and both writers lifted various lines that appeared in each version, Willingham's challenge was successful.
At the AFI tribute to Mike Nichols, Dustin Hoffman recounted that when he was first called to discuss auditioning for the role of Benjamin, he told Nichols that he thought he was being made fun of a little, considering how "wrong" he seemed for the character described in the source novel. "'It [the book] says he's five-foot-eleven or something, and he's a track star, and he's head of the debating club, and he's from Boston or something, he's a WASP, and I... it feels like this is a dirty trick, sir.' And in his inimitable way, he says, 'You mean, you're Jewish'. And I said, 'Yes'. 'And that's why you don't think you're right.' I said, 'Yes'. And he said, 'Well maybe he's Jewish inside'. And I then got the part, after a screen test."
Mike Nichols realized one reason why he had so much difficulty casting for Benjamin Braddock when he read the Mad Magazine parody of his film. One of the jokes was Benjamin asking his parents why he was Jewish and they were not, and Nichols, who is Jewish himself, realized that his film had an subconsciously autobiographical element about being an ethnic outsider in a privileged WASPish society.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When Benjamin is shown banging on the church window with his arms raised and extended, many reviewers felt he was portrayed as a Christ-like image. In actuality, this was a compromise with the minister of the church. The minister had threatened to throw everyone out when the scene was rehearsed with Benjamin pounding his fists on the fragile window, which had been a gift to the church.
On Inside the Actors Studio, director Mike Nichols claims that the final "sobering" emotion that Benjamin and Elaine go through was due to the fact that he had just been shouting at the two of them to laugh in the scene. The actors were so scared that after laughing they stopped, scared. Nichols liked it so much, he kept it.