Mark Rydell was the first director attached to this film, with Barbra Streisand interested in playing Claudia. However, Rydell cast the younger Debra Winger instead. Then Streisand came back after Winger pulled out. Then Rydell left the project, and Streisand hired Martin Ritt. Streisand says she was genuinely frightened of Leslie Nielsen, who managed to convince her he was dangerous. She says she wishes she had "fought back" more in their dramatic sequence together, but that he really did scare her.
The original Broadway production of "Nuts" by Tom Topor opened on April 28, 1980 and ran for 96 performances. Anne Twomey was nominated for the 1980 Tony Award (New York City) for Actress in a Play for "Nuts".
The start of the movie in theaters featured a 1987 Daffy Duck Warner Brothers animated short called The Duxorcist (1987) which was made exclusively for the film's release. The cartoon short was theatrically released in the USA with Nuts (1987) but is not included on the DVD for this movie.
The movie was originally in development at the Universal Pictures studio which they started developing in 1982 after purchasing the film rights to Tom Topor's off-off-Broadway play in 1980. After this, the film studio actually financed the play's move to have a Broadway season. In January 1982, production announced that the low-budgeted picture would be produced and directed by Mark Rydell and star Debra Winger. However, Universal Studio executives became nervous about the film's controversial story elements and put the movie into turnaround and sold the property to the Warner Brothers studio.
Actress Barbra Streisand performs a number of roles on this picture. Streisand was producer, wrote music for the film and was the top-billed lead actor and star. Reportedly, Streisand had turned down an offer to direct the movie. Moreover, Streisand was also an uncredited screen-writer on the film, something that the Warner Brothers studio later acknowledged.
According to media reports, actors Al Pacino, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando were considered for the lead male role of Aaron Levinsky. Dustin Hoffman put himself forward for the part but the Warner Brothers studio rejected Hoffman due to high salary demands and creative differences. The role in the end went to Richard Dreyfuss who had been the original first choice but who had originally turned down the role.
According to the book 'Barbra: An Actress Who Sings' by 'James Kimbrell', Streisand did not really promote the picture at all bar doing a three-part interview with film critic Gene Shalit on the Today (1952) show and participating in a press conference when the movie launched internationally in foreign (non-USA) territories.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The film's closing epilogue states: "Claudia Draper was tried in the State Supreme Court, New York County, on a charge of manslaughter in the first degree. She was defended by Aaron Levinsky. She was acquitted. Dr. Herbert A. Morrison resigned from the staff of New York County Prison Hospital. He was then appointed Director of Health and Welfare Commission, County of New York".