When meeting with James Coburn to discuss the film, director Paul Schrader encouraged Coburn to make heavy preparations for his role. Coburn responded "Oh, you mean you want me to really act? I can do that. I haven't often been asked to, but I can."
During their praise of the film, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel noted that James Coburn was the perfect kind of person that seems like he could intimidate a man like Nick Nolte, who is famous for playing domineering and blustery men.
'James Coburn''s part was first turned down by Paul Newman and then James Garner, both turned it down because they felt that it would be very tiring to play such a dark, awful character. Both actors were friends of Coburn, and Garner suggested him for the part.
When the family reunites for Sally Whitehouse's funeral, Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) is asked by his sister if he's a serious Christian, which he denies. Dafoe played Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) nine years before.