During his interview and director's commentary on the DVD for The Name of the Rose (1986) director Jean-Jacques Annaud reported that after 15-year-old Christian Slater had been cast as Adso of Melk, he was asked to read with three actresses auditioning for the role of "The Girl." He read first with Valentina Vargas and was scheduled to read with the other two actresses the next day, but that evening, he sent his mother (casting agent Mary Jo Slater) to tell Annaud that young Christian was so smitten with the 22-year-old Vargas that he didn't want the other two women to be considered. Annaud, amused, complied with Slater's wish.
When Michel Pastoureau pointed out that the pigs used in the film could not have pink skin, since there were no such variety at the time, the animals were dyed black, as there was no time to find others.
For the wordless scene in which the girl seduces Adso, Jean-Jacques Annaud didn't give Valentina Vargas directions. He allowed her to improvise the scene, but didn't explain to Christian Slater what his co-star would be doing, so as to elicit a more authentic performance from him.
William of Baskerville is amazed when he discovers a book by "Umberto of Bologna" - a reference to Umberto Eco, who teaches at the University of Bologna and is the author of the book the movie is based on.
Nowadays, according to the director, the only place where manuscripts and books are made with the same techniques and materials depicted in the movie is the abbey of Praglia on Padua (Veneto, Italy). It takes 6 months to a year to create a single page.
Jean-Jacques Annaud admitted to casting the ugliest actors he could get because he wanted the characters to appear "real", based on the men in the village where he lived. When he returned to his village, some of the men asked him if he really considered them to be as ugly as the actors, and he said, "Yes."
When filming on the Eberbach monastery, the German police was assigned to protect the manuscripts and books used on the movie. Even with this measures, a key page was stolen; it's the one that appears on a close up on the desk of the missing monk, showing a capital "B". The shot used in the movie was made a year after this incident, the time that took to made a new page, two weeks before the release.
The character of the Venerable Jorge de Burgos, a Spanish monk, is Umberto Eco's tribute to Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, who was also blind, and who wrote "The Library of Babel" which inspired elements of the story.
Feodor Chaliapin Jr. (Jorge de Burgos) was the son of Russian opera legend Feodor Chaliapin Sr.. Jean-Jacques Annaud was constantly concerned for his well-being, considering the stress of wearing cataract contacts (which made Chaliapin's eyes tear continually), working in the cold, damp sets, and doing his own fire stunts. Chaliapin dismissed Annaud's concerns and performed beyond Annaud's expectations.
One of the actors considered for the role of Salvatore was Franco Franchi, popular low-budget slapstick comedian in Italy, notorious for his rubber-face expressions. He refused the role, in spite of the international acknowledgment it brought, because he wanted to stay faithful to his image as a comedian.
Writer Umberto Eco was dismayed when he heard that Sean Connery was cast in the part of William of Baskerville. However, in 2011, he gave a largely positive review of the movie; although commenting that large parts of the book had been omitted, he called it a 'nice movie'.
After learning that Jean-Jacques Annaud was going to adapt The Name of the Rose, actor Ron Perlman (who had worked on Annaud's previous movie, Quest for Fire (1981)) contacted him because he desperately wanted to play Salvatore. Unfortunately, Annaud already had a different actor cast in the part. When this man died prior to production, the Italian government (who co-financed the movie) insisted he was replaced by an Italian actor. This actor was subsequently fired because he was uncooperative. Perlman was then finally offered the role, but had to catch a plane the very same day to arrive on set in time.
According to actor Ron Perlman, director/screenwriter Jean-Jacques Annaud had purposely not written a lot of the movie's dialogue in order to more easily secure funding. When they started filming however, he wanted Perlman to talk in all his scenes. Since Salvatore was described as a character who speaks 'six languages at once' (among them Latin, Italian, German, English, French), Perlman got copies of the book in all those languages. He then composed mixed-language sentences by combining words from Salvatore's sentences from each book.
The cloak worn by Alec Guinness in his role in Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) may have been used to costume one of the monks in this film. The cloak was owned at the time by Bermans, a British costume supply house that was one of several such companies from which costumes for this film were sourced.
The opening credits describe this film as a palimpsest of Umberto Eco's novel. A palimpsest is a document written on previously-used parchment or paper that has been erased, but the previous document is still partially-legible below.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
A mix-up in the shooting schedule whilst shooting Jorge de Burgos' death scene almost led to actor Feodor Chaliapin Jr. being killed for real. When director Jean-Jacques Annaud arrived on set to begin shooting the scene, the crew hadn't been informed that that was the scene they were shooting, and so hasty preparations were made to set up the effects for the shots. However, proper safety precautions were bypassed, and at one stage during the filming of the scene, part of the roof of the set gave way, and a large flaming oak beam fell on top of Chaliapin, knocking him to the ground and cutting his head. This shot can actually be seen in the film. After the incident, Annaud immediately raced over to make sure Chaliapin was okay, and the actor dismissed the incident, saying 'I'm 81 years old, I'm going to die soon. Is the shot okay?' Chaliapin actually went on to live another 6 years after the incident.
During the scene when the library is on fire, and William is telling Adso to leave, Sean Connery caught on fire for real and was only saved due to the quick thinking of Jean-Jacques Annaud, who jumped on top of him and rolled him around on the ground.
Bernardo Gui (played by F. Murray Abraham) is a historical person who was indeed an inquisitor at the time the story is set - he was quite a hard-working one too, sentencing some 900 people and executing at least 42 of them during his 15 years in office. Just like in the novel, the real Bernardo Gui was not killed as depicted in the movie - he died four years after the events of the film, in 1331, at the castle of Laroux.