The Birdcage (1996) Poster



Hank Azaria realized after filming that he had actually based his voice on his grandmother's.
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Robin Williams was originally cast as Albert, but he wanted a change from flamboyant characters, and asked to be cast as Armand. Mike Nichols agreed, and re-cast him.
Mike Nichols required that Nathan Lane and Robin Williams filmed at least one good take of each scene sticking to the script before he would allow them to improvise (something both of the actors are known for).
Filmmaker and PBS producer Rick McKay was hired by director Mike Nichols, months before filming of "Birdcage" began, to go to Paris, London, San Francisco and Atlanta to make a feature length documentary about drag queens. McKay did thorough research to find drag queens all over the world to interview and to film in performance. This finished documentary was used to train Nathan Lane and Robin Williams.
Hank Azaria's slip and fall during the shrimp scene was not planned. Hank Azaria really fell, and he, Robin Williams, and Dan Futterman are holding back laughter.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson has said that this movie is one of two films "that without fail or question will make me stop dead in my tracks and watch all the way to the very end, no matter what else is happening or needs to get done." The other film is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980).
Hank Azaria created two different voices for the character of Agador Spartacus, one being somewhat of a more masculine voice and the other one being higher pitched. He was worried about the second one being too stereotypical until he asked a gay friend of his, who thought it was more realistic.
Breakthrough movie role of American Broadway actor Nathan Lane.
Director Mike Nichols had to be covered by a sound blanket during the toast scene because he was laughing too loud.
Steve Martin was originally cast as Armand Goldman and Robin Williams was to play Albert Goldman but scheduling conflicts caused Martin to drop out of the role and Williams then decided to assume the role of Armand instead.
In the movie, Calista Flockhart's character Barbara is "not even 19". Flockhart was actually 30 at the time of the filming. Dan Futterman's character Val is supposed to be 20, but in reality, he was actually 27 when the film was being shot.
With 18.3 million dollars, it had the highest weekend opening gross with an openly gay character in the lead until Brüno (2009).
The song sung by Armand and Katherine in her office, "Love Is in the Air," is a song that was cut from the Stephen Sondheim musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Originally supposed to be the first number in the show, it was replaced by the song "Comedy Tonight", sung by Nathan Lane in the 1996 Broadway Revival.
In the scene when Gene Hackman is on the ladder he gives the peace sign as a reference to Richard Nixon. Hackman was on Nixon's enemies list back in the 1970's.
The screenplay is based on the well-known French farce La Cage aux Folles (1978).
While Albert acts as Mother, Armand describes her to Senator Keeley as the "girl from Grover's Corners." Senator Keeley replies that Grover's Corners is "a great place to call home." Grover's Corners is the fictional, idyllic small town in Thornton Wilder's famous stage play "Our Town."
While Nathan Lane, like his character in the film, is openly gay, he hadn't come out at the time of the film's release.
On his 30th birthday, Hank Azaria worked on Heat (1995) until 6 a.m., then headed to this movie. When Mike Nichols found out it was his birthday, and that he had been working for 18 hours straight, he sent Azaria home.
The film cast includes four Oscar winners: Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Grant Heslov and Dianne Wiest; and one Oscar nominee: Dan Futterman.
Robin Williams' seventh film to gross over 100 million dollars in the U.S.
David Alan Grier was originally cast in the role of butler, but the racial implications and cultural differences from the play caused the production to combine the butler role and Hank Azaria's character.
The two-minute opening sequence looks like one continuous Steadicam shot when, in fact, the sequence consisted of three separate shots seamlessly combined through the magic of dissolves, matting, and morphing:
  • Shot one began in a helicopter out over the Atlantic and ended over the street in Miami's South Beach area where the club was located
  • Shot two began on a crane (simulating a chopper) where the Steadicam operator was gradually lowered to ground level before stepping off the crane; he then traversed the street and proceeded through the club's front door
  • Shot three was executed on a studio soundstage where the Steadicam operator began just outside the "club" exterior, and then proceeded inside for the shot's conclusion. According to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the most difficult aspect of the process was matching the speed of the crane with that of the helicopter.
Hank Azaria's role was expanded from initially playing Albert's dresser to Agador Spartacus, the couple's Guatemalan maid.
The original working title of the film was "Birds of a Feather" and the first drafts of the script still bear this title.
The Jonathan Swift piece about Irish peasants eating their babies that Val refers to is "A Modest Proposal".
After Mike Nichols showed the final cut to his editing team in Martha's Vineyard, they all had a celebratory meal. "I was very emotional and very angry: I couldn't speak all through lunch," Nichols said of that day. "The film was so good, so strong. I realized I'd had no inkling of my anger at the people who had written me off. My reaction, instantaneously, was 'F**k you, bastards. You thought I couldn't do this anymore. Well, look at this.'
Dan Futterman (Val) and Grant Heslov (National Enquirer Photographer) play supporting roles in The Birdcage. Exactly 10 years after the film's release, they earned their first Oscar Nominations in the Best Adapted Screenplay (Futterman for Capote (2005)) and Original Screenplay (Heslov for Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)) categories.
Mike Nichols recommended the improvisation of the line "But you keep it all inside" which was said by Robin Williams.
The Stephen Sondheim song "Can That Boy Foxtrot", used in the film, was a song cut from the original stage production of Sondheim's musical, "Follies".
Mike Nichols cast Hank Azaria after seeing him in Quiz Show (1994).
In the early 80s, director Mike Nichols was hired by producer Allan Carr to direct a different "Americanized" version of La Cage aux Folles (1978), this one for Broadway. It was to be set in New Orleans and titled The Queen of Basin Street. However, when Carr brought in a new production team to co-produce, Nichols, choreographer Tommy Tune, and composer Maury Yeston were all fired. This project eventually became the 1983 hit Broadway musical, La Cage aux Folles.
When Hank Azaria couldn't figure out how to play a scene where Agador had to calm an anxious Albert down before a show, Mike Nichols gave him some background to help. His character was partially based on Judy Garland's dresser.
Hank Azaria continued his Agador character in several episodes of The Simpsons (1989).
Mike Nichols cast Calista Flockhart, despite minimal Hollywood experience, after seeing her in an Off-Broadway production of The Loop.
Celsius is played by Luca Tommassini. Robin Williams suggests he dance like Madonna. Luca Tommassini actually danced in Madonna's 1993 The Girlie Show World Tour.
The pianist, who plays for Albert during his rehearsal with Celsius, is wearing a t-shirt with Maria Callas, the famous operatic soprano, on it. The picture was taken after a performance of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly."
This is Dan Futterman's second film appearance with Robin Williams. His first film role had him cast as a thug that bullies William's character in the 1991 movie "The Fisher King".
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Gene Hackman and Christine Baranski would work together again 8 years later in Welcome to Mooseport (2004).
The Birdcage is the second movie Mike Nichols and Gene Hackman made together. The first film was Postcards from the Edge (1990).
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In the movie, the Simpson case was mentioned. This is in reference to the high profile case of O.J. Simpson at the time.


The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

A remake of La Cage Aux Folles was originally planned in the mid-80's, with Frank Sinatra and Dudley Moore suggested for the lead roles. Sinatra was game, but Moore decided against it, causing the project to be in limbo until the mid-90's.
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