All of John Doe's books were real books, written for the film. They took two months to complete and cost $15,000. According to Somerset, two months is also the time it would take the police to read all the books.
As preparation for his traumatic scene in the interrogation room, Leland Orser would breathe in and out very rapidly so that his body would be overly saturated with oxygen, giving him the ability to hyperventilate. He also did not sleep for a few days to achieve his character's disoriented look.
While filming the scene where Mills chases John Doe in the rain, Brad Pitt fell and his arm went through a car windscreen, requiring surgery. This accident was worked into the script of the film. Ironically, the original script did call for Pitt's Det. Mills character to be injured during this sequence--but to something other than his hand.
Gwyneth Paltrow was David Fincher's first choice for the part of Brad Pitt's wife, having impressed him with her work in Flesh and Bone (1993). Paltrow was initially not interested, so Fincher had to ask her then boyfriend - Brad Pitt - to get her to come in and meet with him.
There's a line in which Mills names motives that killers give; one of them is 'Jodie Foster told me to do it.' He is referring to John Hinckley Jr., a man that was obsessed with Jodie Foster and attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan to impress her. The other that Mills says is "My dog told me to do it.", a reference to David Berkowitz, AKA, the "Son of Sam", a serial killer who terrorized the New York City area in the summers of 1976 and 1977 and claimed that his neighbor's dog was possessed and told him to commit murder.
When looking for the part of Victor, David Fincher stated that he wanted to find someone who was incredibly skinny, around 90 lbs. Michael Reid MacKay auditioned, and at the time weighed 96 lbs. Fincher gave him the part and jokingly told him to lose some more weight. Much to his surprise, MacKay turned up to filming having lost another 6 lbs.
The "Platinum Series" DVD of Se7en by New Line is mastered from a new HDTV transfer which was made directly from the camera negative. This required that the whole film had to be re-graded digitally, applying color and contrast correction to every shot under the director's supervision. The resulting HDTV master is now the official master of the film. The digital corrections are quite extensive in some shots as the DVD supplements demonstrate in detail.
Andrew Kevin Walker had enormous difficulty getting a studio to buy the rights to his script because he was a complete unknown in Hollywood. Allegedly, he put together a list of agents that represented writers that work in the crime and thriller genres, and just called each one up until he got a positive response.
The film was the subject of a lawsuit brought by a photographer whose work was used in the background of John Doe's apartment. The case was decided in the filmmakers' favor. Sandoval v. New Line Cinema Corp., 973 F.Supp. 409, 412-414 (S.D.N.Y 1997).
The autopsy of the first killing, as originally scripted, was incorrect according to the research of makeup man Rob Bottin (who viewed a real human autopsy as part of his prep work). The scene was truncated from the original script and shows only the sewn-up corpse of Gluttony, not the actual autopsy.
Surprisingly, this enjoyed some degree of success in post-revolutionary Iran where it did well at the box office (this was prior to the hardline Iranian regime taking control and effectively outlawing anything pro-Western). Its success in Iran can partly be attributed to the fact that the film's cinematographer, Darius Khondji, hails from that country.
The screenplay had references to a partner Mills had when he still lived in the country, named Parsons. Parsons was shot and killed while on a bust with Mills, and consequently Mills is overprotective of Somerset in some scenes. All references to Parsons were deleted before shooting began.
An edited-out sequence near the beginning had Somerset looking over the country home he's planning on moving into. He uses his switchblade to cut loose a rose on a fragment of silk wallpaper and carries it with him throughout the movie. The rose falls out of his jacket as he is taking off his gun before eating with the Mills family. (This touch was edited out, too. Both sequences are in the supplementary section of the Criterion laserdisc.) The rose is briefly visible in the opening scene, sitting atop a handkerchief on Somerset's dresser.
When Somerset is in his apartment, he can be heard listening to a radio broadcast of John F. McClellan. McLellan was a Boston disc jockey (among other things) who did live Tuesday night broadcasts from the Boston club Storyville, on WHDH radio in the early 1950s. In the clip in the movie, you can hear McLellan's voice announcing some of the members of the band at Storyville that night, including Charlie Parker with Herb Pomeroy on trumpet.
A rejected version of the credits had the same scratchy handwriting and Coil-remixed "Closer", but used static images instead of the jumpy, blurred footage used currently. (This credit sequence is in the Criterion laserdisc supplement section.)
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The producers intended that Kevin Spacey should receive top billing at the start of the movie but he insisted that his name not appear in the opening credits, so as to surprise the audience with the identity of the killer. To compensate, he is listed twice in the closing credits: once before the credits start rolling, and once in the rolling credits in order of appearance. Another advantage from Spacey's point of view, as he saw it, was that he was excluded from the film's marketing during its release, meaning he didn't have to make any public appearances or do any interviews.
The ending in the movie is the ending in the original draft of the screenplay. Producer Arnold Kopelson had it rewritten and the ending became a race to save Tracy's life. When David Fincher, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman read the new ending, they all demanded the that original ending be put back in or they wouldn't do the movie. (From the Platinum Series DVD).
Before Kevin Spacey was set to shoot his first scene, he asked director David Fincher if he should shave his head for the role. David Fincher replied "If you do it, I'll do it." Both Fincher and Spacey were bald for the remainder of the movie production.
The victim tied to the bed for a year was not an animatronic model, but a very skinny actor made up to look even more corpse-like. Rob Bottin used a set of exaggerated teeth to make the head look smaller and more shrunken from malnutrition.
Kevin Spacey as the antagonist, John Doe, made his first appearance in the film, as the photographer taking pictures of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman at the sloth crime scene. If you pause the film, when Pitt's character is slapping the camera out of the photographer's hand (at around 54 mins), you can clearly see that, it is Kevin Spacey.
The ending narration of Somerset quoting Ernest Hemingway was an added compromise that neither David Fincher or Morgan Freeman particularly cared for. The decision came from New Line after poor test screenings regarding the dark ending.
It is raining every day in the movie except for the last day. The reason is less about thematic issues and more about continuity. It rained on the first day that Brad Pitt filmed so they kept it going as they were rushing to do all of Pitt's scenes before he left to go make Twelve Monkeys (1995).
To appease the producers, who wanted to soften the dramatic ending a bit, an alternate version of the ending was storyboarded, with Somerset saying that he "wants out", and killing John Doe, thereby preventing Doe from winning, and Mills from ending up in jail. In the mean time, the crew shot a test ending, which is basically the theatrical ending without some of the dramatic shots. This finale was so well received in screenings that it convinced the producers to go along with it, and not even film the alternate ending.
One version of the script contained a few scenes following the final confrontation between the detectives and John Doe. In one, Somerset is recovering in the hospital after being shot by Mills, and the captain delivers a letter to him from Mills which reads, "You were right. You were right about everything."
One of the re-written endings of the film involved Somerset discovering that John Doe was raised by an abusive priest in a church orphanage. Doe kidnaps Mills and lures Somerset to a decrepit church decorated with artwork depicting the Seven Deadly Sins, intent on making Somerset murder him out of vengeance. Instead, Doe and Somerset engage in a shootout, and Somerset lawfully kills Doe to protect Mills' life.