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 that way, and that was Director Jack Nicholson flying head first into the ditch. Fortunately, neither the horse nor Nicholson was injured, except for some bruises. Later, upon viewing the footage in dailies, Nicholson exclaimed, "That's a keeper!"
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 allmovie.com. 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.
According to the biography "Jack's Life: A Biography of Jack Nicholson" (1996) by Patrick McGilligan, there was regular on-set conflict between John Belushi and Nicholson, and the film's 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 producers, especially Harold Schneider, whose job it was not to lose fights. Belushi 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. Nicholson did not appear in his first official previous directorial effort Drive, He Said (1971). He was an uncredited director on The Terror (1963), in which he also appeared.
The 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 in 1971, but she turned it down, saying that she had just recently done a comedy-western. 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.
During a 2016 Back to the Future convention, Christopher Lloyd was asked what's his favorite film out of the movies he'd done. He named this movie as the movie he had the most fun making, and wished that more people knew about it, calling it "one fun little movie".
Jack Nicholson originally want to direct and star in a traditional Western movie called "Moontrap". The only studio offer him a deal was United Artists, which volunteered two to three million dollars, but only if Nicholson would also 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 one million dollars per picture. He volunteered to play Webb the grizzled old goat, and to cover himself in gray hair with a matted beard. Over 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 this movie. Nicholson once said: "But I didn't want it to be ten years before I directed again (it had been 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 this movie.
In a Rolling Stone Magazine interview with Lawrence Eisenberg in 1982, 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 blonde 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 and 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 waitress).
Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito portrayed archvillains in Tim Burton "Batman" franchise films, as the Joker and the Penguin, in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), respectively. Christopher Lloyd also played villains. He played Klingon Commander Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), as well as playing Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).
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. This movie 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, Wayne and Nicholson have both portrayed characters called Jake, Wayne in Big Jake (1971) and Nicholson in Chinatown (1974) and The Two Jakes (1990).