During rehearsals, the two actors had trouble finding the chemistry they needed for their scenes together. To better understand what each needed from the other's role, William Hurt suggested they try an experiment where they would switch roles, with Hurt as Valentin and Raul Julia as Molina. The role-switching rehearsal went so well that Hurt initially suggested to director Hector Babenco that they should switch parts for the film as well. Obviously, the switch did not occur, but Hurt states that it was a very useful experiment in helping them more fully understand their own characters.
The original Broadway production of the musical "Kiss of the Spiderwoman" opened at the Broadhurst Theater in New York on May 3, 1993, ran for 904 performances and won the 1993 Tony Awards for the Best Musical, Book and Score.
In an interview with National Public Radio, William Hurt stated that during a day off from production, he and a female companion were abducted at gunpoint by multiple gunmen in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He was reportedly told to face a wall, at which point her was certain the gunman was going to execute both of them. Hurt refused and after a brief shouting exchange, all of the kidnappers left the scene. The incident was not reported to the production company at the time as he (Hurt) was certain that filming would be shut down, putting completion of the film in jeopardy.
William Hurt initially struggled with developing characterization and mannerisms for Luis, until he became inspired to portray the character not necessarily as a homosexual, but more like "a woman trapped in a man's body."
The film was made and released about nine years after its source novel of the same name "Kiss of the Spider Woman" ("El Beso de la Mujer Araña") by Manuel Puig was first published in 1976. Argentinian author Puig adapted the book into a stage play in 1983 and this was first staged in the same 1985 year that this movie was first released. The novel was also adapted into a stage musical a decade later in 1993.
The name of the film's main movie-within-a-movie was "Her Real Glory". It was said to have been made by the Nazis in Germany during World War II and was both a wartime romance and a Nazi propaganda film.
According to the book" The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial History" by J. Piazza & G. Kinn (2008), Burt Lancaster was originally offered the lead role of Luis Molina. Director Hector Babenco originally had felt that William Hurt was too well-built and handsome for the part.
William Hurt's Best Actor Oscar was the first Academy Award won by an actor for playing an openly gay character. Hurt is also seen in drag in this movie, the Oscar win being a rare occasion in which an Oscar for acting has been won with an actor in drag.