When Henry (Jack Nicholson) is riding on horseback to catch the stagecoach carrying Julia (Mary Steenburgen), the horse loses its footing and plows into a ditch throwing Henry several feet in the air. The scene was not planned and that was actually director Jack Nicholson flying head first into the ditch. Fortunately, neither the horse nor Nicholson was injured save for some bruises. Later, upon viewing the footage in dailies, Nicholson exclaimed, "That's A Keeper!".
Director and star Jack Nicholson once said jokingly of this movie: "The director of this film is one selfish, demanding egomaniac. And the leading man isn't much better. All he wants to do is lie down in front of an air conditioner the whole day!".
"Jack Nicholson personally selected movie newcomer Mary Steenburgen for Goin' South (1978)" according to website 'Allmovie'. According to the 'Turner Classic Movies' website, Steenburgen "...was sitting in the casting office waiting room when Nicholson first encountered her. He noticed she didn't have a reading script, gave her one with three scenes marked off and arranged to read with her the following day". That reading session ended up going for around two hours.
Jack Nicholson original want to direct and star in a traditional Western movie called "Moontrap". The only studio offer him a deal was United Artists, which volunteered US $2-3 million but only if Nicholson also would be in the film. But Nicholson didn't want to star in the movie. Nicholson insisted the picture was logistically too ambitious for him to divide his attention between acting and directing. His acting fee was over US $1 million per picture. He volunteered to play Webb the grizzled old goat and to cover himself in gray hair with a matted beard. But over the time George C. Scott, Lee Marvin, Marlon Brando, Jon Voight and Dennis Hopper were approached to play Webb. The movie had a screenplay by Alan Sharpe. So in the end Nicholson dropped the project and turned his attention instead to Goin' South (1978). Nicholson once said: "But I didn't want it to be ten years before I directed again [it had been about seven years since Nicholson had directed his last picture Drive, He Said (1971)]. I also had another acting job for Stanley Kubrick [in The Shining (1980)] coming up" so Nicholson decided to star in and direct Goin' South (1978).
The picture's Goin' South (1978) promotional materials formed a large heart symbol out of the bottom serif of the "t" character in the movie's title logo reflecting the movie's romantic-comedy storyline.
According to the biography 'Jack's Life: A Biography of 'Jack Nicholson'" (1996) by Patrick McGilligan, there was regular on set conflict between new star actor-comedian John Belushi and the actor-director and the films' producers. Belushi allegedly made several demands on the production. The book states: "Belushi was one jarring note in the proceedings. On the one hand, Jack wanted to like the comedian, whose popularity was soaring. Belushi blustered and posed, but he was fundamentally sweet, the kind of guy Nicholson liked to take under his wing . . . However, Belushi had a short fuse. He made petty demands and fought with the Goin' South (1978) producers, especially Harold Schneider, whose job it was not to lose fights. The television comedian became progressively more sulky as filming dragged on and, partly in response to his behavior, his role seemed to shrink".
First credited film where Jack Nicholson directed himself and starred in the movie at the same time acting as both star and director. Nicholson had not appeared in his first official previous directorial effort Drive, He Said (1971). Nicholson was an uncredited director on Roger Corman's The Terror (1963) in which Nicholson also appeared.
This western was filmed in Durango, Mexico which Mexicans call "La Tierra del Cine". At the time of production over seventy westerns had shot there and had been a regular filming location for John Wayne westerns. The Duke's son had built a western set construction town there which got rented out for movie productions. Goin' South (1978) utilized this locale making just a few re-purposed sign and color adjustments for the film to be shot in the same place as Wayne's recent earlier western Chisum (1970). Ironically, both Wayne and Nicholson have both portrayed characters called Jake, Wayne in Big Jake (1971) and Nicholson in Chinatown (1974) and later in The Two Jakes (1990).
In a 'Rolling Stone' magazine interview with Lawrence Eisenberg in 1982, actress Mary Steenburgen once said of her casting in this film: "By the time something like that happens, you've had so many years of elation and disappointment that you begin to treat your heart very carefully. Earlier in the week, a job I'd been told I had in a television pilot was yanked out from under me and given to a blond with big boobs". The next day, Steenburgen got to do a ten-minute read with Jack Nicholson that in the end ran for around two hours. Steenburgen added: "When I left, I was so excited I screamed for thirty floors in the elevator of the Gulf & Western Building. Nobody could imagine what was happening in my mind not just in terms of work but life wise. I had no perspective. I didn't know if I was going to be an overnight international film star or back at the Magic Pan" [where Steenburgen had worked as a restaurant waitress].
The movie's script had been doing the rounds of Hollywood for a while. Jane Fonda was offered the role of Julia Tate when the film was originally in development around seven years earlier in 1971 but Fonda turned it down saying that she had just recently done a comedy-western. Actor-director Jack Nicholson has said: "But she had done Cat Ballou (1965) and wouldn't touch it. I suggested moving this story away from that and more towards Preston Sturges" but Fonda still declined.