Stone hired Jane Rusconi, a recent Yale graduate, to head up a team of researchers and assemble as much information about the assassination as possible while he completed his directing duties on Born on the Fourth of July (1989). While Stone read two dozen books about the assassination, Rusconi read well over two hundred books on the subject.
John Candy's (Dean Andrews') sweaty face during his talk with Garrison is real. Candy was petrified at the idea of appearing in a dramatic film with actors like Gary Oldman and Donald Sutherland. He sweated profusely throughout all his scenes.
In preparation for her portrayal of Marina Oswald, Beata Pozniak studied the twenty-six volumes of the Warren Commission Report, read every single "Time" and "Newsweek" magazine article about her character, and then actually lived with the real Marina for a while.
"X" (Donald Sutherland), is based on L. Fletcher Prouty, Chief of Special Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and, thus, principal liaison officer between the Pentagon and the C.I.A.) during the J.F.K. Presidency. He was a Technical Advisor for the film.
Those are real tears choking up Kevin Costner as he makes his closing summation as Jim Garrison. The weight of what he was saying, meant the actor became emotional, although the speech was not scripted that way.
Dr. Marion Jenkins, the anesthesiologist, plays himself in the film. He was genuinely surprised at the level of detail and research that had gone into preparation for that key scene. Even the tiles for the set of Trauma Room One were exactly the same shade of green he remembered (even though the scene itself is black and white in the finished film).
Garrison's final lines in the film, "If it takes me thirty years to nail every one of the assassins, then I will continue this investigation for thirty years. I owe that not only to Jack Kennedy, but to my country", are lifted directly from the last word of his 1967 Playboy magazine interview.
Oliver Stone was given a copy of Jim Garrison's book, "On the Trail of the Assassins", by a friend to read on the plane to the Philippines during the filming of Platoon (1986). After reading the book, Stone knew he'd found a new film project.
Veteran movie critic for The Washingtonian, Pat Dowell, had her thirty-four word capsule review for the January issue rejected by Editor John Limpert, a known opponent to the film. Limpert didn't want a positive review for a film that he regarded as treacherous. Dowell resigned in protest.
During the party scene flashback, Clay chastises David Ferrie, "Always one hare-brained scheme or another." He is right, too. The real David Ferrie was famous for doing stupid things. He once tried to turn a water tank into a submarine, unsuccessfully.
Even before this movie had finished filming, the Washington Post national security correspondent George Lardner showed up on-set and wrote a scathing article attacking the movie. Lardner based this on the first draft screenplay he had read. Other leading newspapers followed suit upon the film's release, many taking particular umbrage with the liberties with the facts that Oliver Stone had taken.
When Oliver Stone spoke at the National Press Club about the movie, someone asked if he meant to insinuate that the government was involved in the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, as well as J.F.K.'s. He replied with a simple one word answer, yes.
When Joe Pesci is ranting about the assassination, saying that no one will ever solve the J.F.K. murder, he utters the famous line, "It's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma." He was paraphrasing Winston Churchill's quotation, made in a radio broadcast in October 1939: "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."
For the recreation of the assassination at Dealey Plaza, the producers had to pay the Dallas City Council a large amount of money to hire police to reroute traffic and close down streets for three weeks. Stone only had ten days to shoot the entire sequence. Director of Photography Robert Richardson employed two 35mm cameras, five 16mm cameras and fourteen different film stocks for the sequence.
Oliver Stone cast Kevin Costner in the lead role based on his performance in the Untouchables (1987). He wanted him to be just as obsessed with solving Kennedy's assassination in this film, as he was with capturing Al Capone in that film. Coincidently, Costner got both roles in this movie, and The Untouchables (1987), after the two primary choices, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford turned it down.
Every detail concerning the set for the Oval Office was meticulously reconstructed based on archival footage of the White House during President John F. Kennedy's term. The set cost about seventy thousand dollars to complete, yet it only appears in about eight seconds of film, and is in black and white.
When Ferrie is raving about the necessity of killing Kennedy in order to free Cuba, he is unaware of a bitter irony. Part of the deal worked out by J.F.K. to get the missiles removed from Cuba, was a pledge by the U.S. not to invade the island nation. This was revealed only after the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Kremlin archives were opened to the public. This is why, even after J.F.K. was killed, Cuba remained a Communist country after the Cold War ended. The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, which was enacted February 7, 1962, is still in effect. As of 2013, there are five Communist countries still in existence: Cuba, China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Laos.
Getting permission to film in the Texas School Book Depository proved to be very difficult. The Depository demanded fifty thousand dollars to put someone in the window where Lee Harvey Oswald had stood. They were only allowed to film at certain times of the day, with only five people allowed on the floor at any one time. Co-Producer Clayton Townsend said that the hardest part of the whole process was getting permission to transform the building back to the way it looked in 1963. That took five months of negotiation. Scenes of interior action on the sixth floor were actually filmed on the fifth floor, as the sixth floor is a museum exhibit. But all point of view shots of the motorcade were filmed from the actual sixth floor window, as well as all shots of the shooter behind the window, as seen from the outside.
Shortly after the film's release, film critic Roger Ebert received a tongue-lashing from Walter Cronkite, berating him for praising this movie. Cronkite was adamant that there wasn't a shred of truth to the film.
Perry R. Russo, who was a key witness to conversations taking place between David Ferrie, Clay Shaw (a.k.a. Clay Bertrand), and Lee Harvey Oswald, plays a man in the bar at the beginning of the film, where Garrison and Lou are watching the television coverage on the shooting. Mr. Russo yells about how they should give the shooter a medal for shooting Kennedy.
When shooting footage of the grassy knoll gunman, Oliver Stone could not find a gun which made enough smoke to be visible. Since modern guns release almost no smoke from their barrels, a smoke machine was made to get the effect which they wanted.
"The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it" was a Nazi quote, but this concise version did not belong to Adolf Hitler; it was spoken by Joseph Goebbels. Hitler had written "...in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility...in the primitive simplicity of their (the broad masses') minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie..." in "Mein Kampf" (Vol.I, ch.10, p.252; (c)1925).
The film alludes to the so-called "umbrella man" as being part of the conspiracy, possibly as some type of signal for the shooters since he is standing very near to the limousine as Kennedy is shot. The implication is he and/or his motives were never identified. However, in the late 1970s, around ten years after Clay Shaw's trial, he was identified as Louie Steven Witt, and testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations. According to filmmaker Errol Morris, and published with the New York Times, this mystery man opened his umbrella as Kennedy drove by, not for any sinister reasons, but to protest against Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, who was an ambassador to Britain, and is a reference to former British Prime Mister Neville Chamberlain's umbrella. Morris' short film describing this is titled "The Umbrella Man".
James Woods eagerly lobbied for the role of Garrison. However, he and Oliver Stone had vast creative differences, Woods wanting the film to be more of a biography of Jim Garrison, with much more emphasis on his personal life, while Stone wanted it to be primarily about the case.
The film generated intense controversy upon its release with many accusing Oliver Stone of making up many of the facts. In fact, Stone published an annotated version of his screenplay, in which he justifies and attributes every claim made in the film. Stone later addressed the controversy in his television movie Wild Palms (1993), in which he has a cameo. That film takes place in the 21st century, and has Stone appearing on a talk show discussing how all of his conspiracy theories surrounding J.F.K. had been proven true.
Computer mock-ups of the assassination, particularly one by Dale K. Myers have since strenuously argued against the Magic Bullet Theory as presented in this film by pointing out that the Presidential Limo actually had a step in its manufacture, moving the passenger seats inwards. This had been overlooked in Garrison's diagram. However, Myers' simulation is not without criticism of its own, in regard to accuracy.
Oliver Stone made a handshake deal with Warner Brothers, on the proviso that the studio would retain all rights to the film if they stomped up twenty million dollars for the budget. Stone did this deal because he didn't want the screenplay to do the rounds of all the studios, thereby lessening the chances of potential leaks.
The characters "Janet and Bill Williams" are based on Michael and Ruth Paine who, like in the movie, take in Marina Oswald into their home. Ruth Paine alerted Lee to the job at the Texas School Book Depository.
DIRECTOR_CAMEO(Oliver Stone): Oliver Stone can be seen very briefly in the assassination re-enactment. Look very close for him as the Secret Service Agent who runs towards the back of the limo after the fatal headshot.
Several times when talking about Washington, D.C., Mr. X (Donald Sutherland) says, "inside The Loop". He is referring to the convergence of several freeways known as "The Beltway" around the nation's capital. The nickname is common to natives, and those who work in Washington, D.C.
The television show Seinfeld (1989) would later parody the "magic bullet" theory featured in JFK (1991), in an episode where Kramer and Newman believe that they had been spat at by New York Met Keith Hernandez. Jerry diagrams the course of the "magic loogie" and Keith later reveals that there was a second spitter, Roger McDowell. Wayne Knight, who plays Newman, is also in JFK (1991) as a member of Garrison's team. He would be one of the two men to model the shooting in court to prove the implausibility of the "magic bullet", not unlike how Jerry disproves Newman and Kramer's theory.
Kevin Costner breaks the "4th Wall" during his closing statements in the courtroom scene. Staring directly into the camera he tells the audience, "it's up to you" making reference that it's up to US citizens to show the world that they live in a democracy.
Jim Belushi makes a cameo in the Director's Cut, as an accomplice of J.F.K.'s murder. He appears in Elm Street (where the President was killed) as archive footage when Jim Garrison explains step by step J.F.K.'s murder in the trial.
During one scene of a National Security Council meeting, a General accuses Kennedy of "having his hand on the chicken switch again." A "Chicken Switch" is an emergency cut-off button installed in Air Force flight simulators. If the testing candidate feels his life is in danger, he can "chicken out" by shutting down the machine. By using this vernacular, the General identifies himself as both a pilot, and an Air Force General.
The movie mentions a conflict of interest connection between Vice-President Johnson and a military contractor called Brown and Root, and its financial motivations in preventing Kennedy's ending the Vietnam war as a motive for Kennedy's assassination. The same corporation, now known as Kellog, Brown, and Root (KBR) a subsidiary of Halliburton, was a military contractor connected with Vice-President Cheney.
When David Ferrie meets with Garrison the second time at the Fontainebleau, he recites a line of poetry: "Oh what a web we weave when we practice to deceive." This is a paraphrased quote from "Marmion", an epic poem written by Walter Scott in 1808. The actual line is: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!"
During the conversation between Jim Garrison and X, X appears a flashback in black and white, in which a headmen group of some organizations (C.I.A., N.S.A., Pentagon, et cetera) plot to control Kennedy, and one of them asks Max Taylor to follow McNamara. Max Taylor is really Maxwell D. Taylor, General of the U.S. Army at this time, and McNamara is really Robert McNamara, United States Secretary of Defense, when Kennedy was President, and one of Kennedy's advisers.
Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte were both considered for the role of Jim Garrison. Bridges was turned down because he was not a major box-office draw, while Nolte was considered to be too old. He later worked with Stone in U Turn (1997).
Reportedly, after starring in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Kevin Costner wanted a year off making films. Director Oliver Stone brazenly sent Costner's wife a copy of the screenplay for JFK (1991), so she persuaded him to star in the film.
When discussing the Oswald impersonators, Laurie Metcalf's character tells them about one of the impostors going to buy a car. The salesman remembers him being 5' 7", but the real Oswald was 5' 11". In reality, Frank Whaley, who plays the impostor, is 5' 7 1/2", while Gary Oldman, who plays Oswald, is 5' 9".
Actor Woody Harrelson's father was a hitman convicted of murder on three seperate occasions. On the third occasion he admitted to the murder of a federal judge and also admitted to having played a part in the assassination of JFK and a witness claimed he had drawn maps of the location in Dallas from which he fired his weapon. The FBI discounted his claims. However, Jim Marss claims in 1989's Crossfire that Charles Harrelson is the youngest of 'The Three Tramps' questioned and released by police on the day of the assassination. Forensic Artist Lois Gibson has conducted photographic analysis and has concluded the youngest and tallest tramp is Charles Harrelson.
Due to its exceptionally large cast which included many notable stars, this film became a key hub in the Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon game. (Another was National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), which also starred Donald Sutherland) Some versions of the game prohibit the use of this and Animal House for that reason.
The Jerry Johnson Show segment is based on Jim Garrison's real-life appearance on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson on January 31, 1968. Carson pressed Garrison with hostile questions, which Garrison believed was part of a concerted effort by the media to discredit him. Audio from the real interview was later used in an episode of Mad Men (2007), set in 1968.
The film was responsible for the 1992 Assassinations Disclosure Act, which allowed the American public to see important documents regarding JFK's assassination in the period of 25 years (the original year for such disclosure was 2029). On 26 October, 2017, the Trump administration released a great part of the documents known as the "JFK Files".
During the conversation between Jim Garrison and X, there is a close-up of a desktop nameplate which is partially obscured. It reads "M/Gen. E.G... nsd... e", and is a reference to Major General Edward G. Lansdale of the United States Air Force. Lansdale is the subject of the book "J.F.K. and Vietnam" by John M. Newman, one of the film's Technical Advisors.
The real Jean Hill filmed a cameo in which she played the stenographer during her own questioning. The shot was composed so that her face and the face of Ellen McElduff playing her would ironically be seen on split sides of the screen. But it didn't make the final cut. Her cameo can be seen as an outtake on the 2-disc Special Edition DVD.
While Kevin Costner makes his closing summation as Jim Garrison, and is tearful, although the scene wasn't scripted that way, it was due the weight of what the actor was saying. It added powerful emotion, and fortunately for Costner, a re-shoot wasn't necessary with him not tearful.
Walter Matthau portrays Senator Russell B. Long, not Senator Huey P. Long. Huey Long was assassinated in 1935 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He wasn't alive at the time of the J.F.K. assassination. Russell was Huey's son.
In the film, Clay Shaw calls his butler Smedley, after Major General Smedley Butler, the most decorated U.S. Marine, with vast military career, and later on, in 1934, revealed the Business Plot, a fascist conspiracy to overthrow President Roosevelt.
One of three Oliver Stone films about an American President, which has a title referencing the name of the American President, who is the subject of the movie. The first was JFK (1991), the second was Nixon (1995), and the third was W. (2008).
Kurt Russell, Christopher Lambert, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Campbell, Michael Biehn, Stephen Lang, Ron Perlman, and Ed Harris were considered to play Jim Garrison.
In the Director's Cut, there's a scene during The Jerry Johnson Show, where Jim Garrison jokingly replies to the host that he "stopped beating his wife". This actual quote was used by President Richard Nixon during a press conference. Oliver Stone would later direct Nixon (1995), but he didn't use the quote in that movie.
Kevin Costner, John Candy, and Laurie Metcalf have all co-starred with Gaby Hoffmann. Costner in Field of Dreams (1989), Candy and Metcalf in Uncle Buck (1989). What's more, Costner and Candy played relatives of Hoffmann, as in Field of Dreams (1989), Costner played Hoffmann's father, and in Uncle Buck (1989), Candy played Hoffman's uncle. Metcalf played Hoffmann's neighbor in this film.
The descriptions of four of the six shots that Jim Garrison asserts were fired in his closing argument are essentially the same as the descriptions of the four shots that Robert J. Groden asserted were fired in his comments on the report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations' photographic experts panel. The two shots not in Groden's list are the shot that struck a curb near James Tague, and the shot that killed the President.
In the ending credits, after the down-up scrolling titles explaining events after the narrated in the movie, appears the quote ""What is past is prologue". It belongs to the play "The Tempest", written by William Shakespeare on 1610. It appears on the statue called Future, created on 1935 by Robert Aitken and located on the northeast corner of the National Archives Building in Washington DC.
JFK (1991) is one of two films in which Joe Pesci and John Candy consecutively appeared (in year terms), with John Williams as the composer. The other film was Home Alone (1990). In addition Pesci also appeared in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), also composed by Williams.
Five of the cast have starred in films directed by Tony Scott. Kevin Costner, Tomas Milian, and Sally Kirkland in Revenge (1990), Gary Oldman in True Romance (1993), and Michael Rooker in Days of Thunder (1990). Of these three films, True Romance is the only Scott-directed film not to be released in 1990.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When the movie was released, there was speculation that the character X didn't exist, and claims that Oliver Stone made him and his information up. However, after the film's release, when Stone spoke at the National Press Club, he was asked about X, and where he came from. Stone then said the character X is mainly based on Fletcher Prouty, who was at the event on stage with Stone, and said that he met him a couple years before the movie was made. The meeting between Garrison and X never actually took place between the two, but all the information that X tells Garrison in the movie, he actually told to Stone when they met. Stone said he took the liberty of having them meet in the movie, because Jim Garrison pretty much came to the same conclusion as Prouty did as to why Kennedy was killed.
Garrison's meeting with Mr. X was originally scripted and shot as two different meetings, the second one occurring after Garrison has lost the case, and it would have been the last scene in the film. During post-production, the two meetings were weaved into one. On the Special Edition DVD, the complete alternate scene is available.