Michael Biehn was the first choice for the role of McManus and was approached about taking the role, but he had to turn down the part because of his previous commitment to filming Jade (1995). The part then went to Stephen Baldwin who was the second choice.
The line-up scene was scripted as a serious scene, but after a full day of filming takes where the actors couldn't keep a straight face, director Bryan Singer decided to use the funniest takes. A making-of documentary shows Singer becoming furious at the actors for the constant cracking-up. In an interview (on the Special Edition DVD), Kevin Pollak states that the hilarity came about when Benicio Del Toro "farted, like 12 takes in a row." Del Toro himself said "somebody" farted, but no one knew who.
When Redfoot flicks his cigarette into the face of McManus, it was originally intended to hit his chest, so McManus' reaction is actually Stephen Baldwin's real unscripted reaction that Bryan Singer decided to keep in the movie.
The character of Fenster was named after the German for window, and originally conceived as the oldest man of the group, a more seasoned veteran. Benicio Del Toro was originally asked to audition for the role of McManus. Benicio asked to audition for the role of Fenster, telling the director that he had an 'idea' for the part. The unintelligible way that Fenster spoke was Benicio's idea, and the director decided to go with it. In one scene, Hockney says in response to Fenster, "What did he just say?" That was Kevin Pollak the actor speaking, not his character; he actually did not understand what Fenster said. The cop's (Christopher McQuarrie) reaction to Fenster in the line-up ("In English please") was unscripted and unrehearsed, as was Fenster's rather strong reaction.
As Fenster and Hockney enter the garage shortly before the jewelry heist, Hockney can be heard telling a joke about a "chick" in the backseat of a car that is "totally naked". The punchline of this joke can be heard later on in the film in Hungarian, told by two Hungarians leaving a building by the docks before the climactic finish at the boat.
Kevin Spacey had been so impressed with Bryan Singer's first film Public Access (1993) that he told him he wanted to be in his next film when he met the young director after a screening at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival.
In the "making of" documentary, both Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Pollak acknowledge that their long-standing feud with each other began on the set of this film. Though neither actor directly states what caused their animosity towards each other, Pollak does mention that Baldwin, in an attempt to stay in character as MacManus, would go around acting tough and sometimes bully the other actors. Baldwin does admit that he was bullying towards Pollak on film (their numerous "stand off" confrontations with each other on screen).
In the original script, the opening scene was longer featuring a subplot of Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) planting a bomb on the ship. It was shot but later left on the cutting floor. Part of it remained with Keaton asking Keyzer, "What time is it?". Because of the last minute change, all shots of the exploding ship were shot at Director Bryan Singer's backyard.
Originally, Keyser Soze was supposed to have the name Keyser Sume, named after Christopher McQuarrie's old boss. He allowed his old boss to read the script, and decided he did not want to be associated with an inherently evil villain, so requested a change be made.
Benicio Del Toro's bizarre dialect in the film was reportedly so unintelligible that during one scene, actor Stephen Baldwin actually forgot his cue due to being unable to understand what Del Toro had said.
Gabriel Byrne originally turned down the film, not believing that the filmmakers could pull it off. He was convinced after a sit-down meeting with Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer, impressed by their enthusiasm and vision. As the start date approached, Bryne backed out. He was undergoing personal issues at the time and wasn't able to leave Los Angeles. Consequently Singer reshuffled the schedule so that the entire film could be made in the LA area over a period of five weeks, all to accommodate his lead actor.
Neither Bryan Singer or Christopher McQuarrie realized that the film's famous line, "the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist", was actually a quote from French poet Baudelaire.
The Japanese characters on the outside of the meeting room where Kobayashi is talking with Edie Finneran and others say "Kobayashi" and "bengoshi" (attorney); the ones in reverse on the window read "seikou" (success), "chikara" (strength), and "zaisan" (assets).
Composer/editor John Ottman provided the breathing voice at the foreground from a shot behind the ropes, and also the gloved hands in the shot of Keyzer dropping the cigarette on the floor. Keyzer's foot stomping the cigarette was Director Bryan Singer's foot.
The writer can be seen as the Police officer at the very end of the film. On the left hand side of the frame as Chazz Palminteri looks for Verbal Kint. He is visibly seen laughing at the camera, in a nod and wink gesture to the audience who got bamboozled.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In an interview on The Colbert Report (2005), Kevin Spacey revealed that Bryan Singer managed to convince every one of the major actors that they were Keyser Soze. When first screened for the company of actors, Gabriel Byrne was so stunned when he found that he wasn't Keyser Soze that he stormed off into the parking lot and argued with Singer for a half hour.
When Verbal Kint falls to the ground during the interrogation by Kujan, Verbal clearly says "I did, I did kill Keaton." Kujan is yelling at the time and does not hear the slip up, which Verbal quickly covers up by saying "I did see Keaton get shot."
In the commentary track, it is mentioned that Benicio Del Toro chose to make Fenster's dialogue unintelligible because Fenster's only real purpose was to die as an example to the other characters, "so it doesn't matter what he says". Kevin Pollak jokingly laments that Del Toro is such a skilled actor that he took what was meant to be nothing but a throw-away character and "stole every scene he was in!"
During the bedside interrogation of the Hungarian survivor of the fire, the interpreter mistranslates a key word. The Hungarian uses the word "pasas" (pronounced "pash-aash") which the interpreter (who speaks Hungarian with a strong American accent and is therefore not native) translated as "we were picking up a 'package'". "Pasas" is actually Hungarian slang for a "guy". Only another Hungarian could have picked up on it, and as a result, no one in the movie did, hence the police's investigation of the non-existent cocaine delivery as the motive for the fire, which allowed Verbal the time he needed to go free.
Watch closely near the end, when Keaton is shot and Verbal hides behind the pile of ropes. As Verbal runs to the ropes he passes behind a stack of tires and does not emerge, but the pan quickly continues to the ropes. Bryan Singer told Kevin Spacey to stop behind the tires so Verbal isn't actually seen hiding behind the ropes, because "There's no one there. There was never anyone behind the ropes."
When Verbal borrows Dave Kujan's lighter for his cigarette, he uses his right hand to light it (since his left arm is cripple). However, he can't make the lighter work and it slips from his hand. At the end, it is revealed that Verbal is actually left-handed and that his left hand works perfectly (Keyser Söze is also shown to be left-handed in the flashback scenes).
In the opening sequence, when the unknown gunman urinates on the flame, it is gelatinous & lumpy. At the start of the interrogation by Kujan, Kint asks for coffee and notes that when he gets dehydrated, his urine becomes very thick and lumpy.
In the movie, Kevin Spacey's character explains that his nickname is "Verbal" because he talks too much. In the DVD commentary, Bryan Singer points out that the nickname is a clue, since Keyser Soze is said to have a Turkish mother and a German father. According to Singer, in a mix of German and Turkish, "Keyser Soze" can be roughly translated as "King Blabbermouth."
at around 20 mins) After Jeff Rabin serves coffee for Dave Kujan and Verbal Kint, Verbal starts talking about Guatemala. Then Dave Kujan asks Verbal Kint, "Now, what happened after the line-up?". After that we see Verbal Kint focusing on the bottom side of the cup Dave Kujan has been holding.
The writer Christopher McQuarrie sat down during his lunch break at the solicitors office where he worked and made up the plot to the film from a notice board. The board was made by Quartet, a company based in Skokie, Illinois, the same make as is in the film.
Five actors played the part of Keyser Soze: Gabriel Byrne's and Kevin Spacey's faces are shown as Keyser Soze. In the flashback sequence, Keyser Soze is played by a man with long hair that obscures his face--this was one of the grips, chosen because he was unable to straighten his elbows, giving him a surreal, powerful look. Composer/editor John Ottman provided Keyser Soze's hand lighting a cigarette; and Bryan Singer played the close up of Keyser's feet.
According to Bryan Singer in the DVD Commentary, when he was trying to get Gabriel Byrne to put on the hat and coat and pretend to be Keyser Soze, Byrne kept resisting and kept demanding to know why Singer wanted him to dress up as Keyser. Singer says that he finally blurted out to Byrne "It's because I'm a big Miller's Crossing fan!" Byrne starred in Miller's Crossing (1990) which features thematic imagery of Byrne in a hat and overcoat and a scene of Byrne's hat flying away.