When Paul Thomas Anderson approached George C. Scott about playing the role of Earl Partridge, Scott threw the script across the room, saying "This is the worst fucking thing I've ever read. The language is terrible."
Aimee Mann's music inspired Paul Thomas Anderson to write the script and at least one lyric (and possibly more) from an Aimee Mann song was lifted and used as dialogue. In the song "Deathly" the lyric goes: "Now that I've met you / Would you object to / Never seeing / Each other again". In the film, Melora Walters's character says "Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing me again?"
In an interview with Marc Maron in January of 2015, Paul Thomas Anderson was asked if he had the opportunity to re-cut the film. He replied, "I'd slice that thing down. It's way too fucking long. It's unmerciful how long it is." He added that "maybe a few" trajectories in the film's plot lines could've been eliminated.
The Mason symbol is on various walls in the WDKK studio. When Jimmy Gator's producer puts his hand on his shoulder, before the show starts, we see he is wearing a ring with the Mason's symbol on it. Similar to the Masonic farewell, "We met upon the level and we're parting on the square", the phrase is a Kipling quote, "tried on the square" is part of the official Masonic farewell. One of Stanley's library books is "A History of Masonry". The 82nd Mason lodge (8 and 2 being prominently featured throughout the film) is located in Magnolia, Arkansas.
In one of the early versions of the script, Paul Thomas Anderson proposed making it clear to the audience that all the events took place in a very small area, like one square mile or ten square blocks. It was later decided this would take too long to clarify and would confuse people.
The murder of Edmund Berry Godfrey mentioned in the prologue in actual fact occurred on 12 October 1678 and the three men (Green, Berry and Hill) executed for the murder were done so on evidence provided by Miles Prance, who later pleaded guilty to perjury. The mystery is still unsolved.
The title "Magnolia" not only refers to Magnolia Blvd in LA, where much of the movie takes place, but is also similar to the term Charles Fort (who is referenced many places in this movie) coined for a hypothetical region where things that fall from the sky come from - "Magonia".
The credits for the "What Do Kids Know?" game show give the web address www.wdkk.com which led directly to the movie's official website. The web address "www.seduceanddestroy.com" led to the film's official site, too. Both these links are now dead.
One of the books Stanley is reading at the library is about scientist Charles Fort, who is noted for his work expanding the boundaries of scientific research to include strange phenomena such as those featured in the film.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson is the son of former ABC-TV announcer Ernie Anderson, who started his career as a Cleveland late-night monster-movie host named "Ghoulardi". Paul Thomas Anderson's production company is called Ghoulardi Pictures. One running Ghoulardi gag was to make fun of Parma, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb known for its Polish population. Philip Seymour Hoffman's character is named Phil Parma. One of Ghoulardi's catch phrases was "Stay sick!" When Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) remarks to Thurston Howell ('Henry Gibson') that he is sick, Thurston replies, "Stay that way."
The trailer for the movie features shots filmed especially for it, featuring each character, in a specific location from the film in which they where prominently featured, looking directly at the camera and saying their name. They are (in order): Stanley Spector in the library, Jimmy Gator on his show's set, Donnie Smith in a dentist's chair, Earl Partridge in his death bed, Frank "TJ" Mackey in the interview chair, Linda Partridge in her car in the rain, Phil Parma at Earl's front door, Rose Gator in her car at an intersection, Claudia Wilson Gator at the restaurant, Jim Kurring at the police station, and a frog sitting on the green light of a traffic light with a magnolia flower rising and blocking it out. Ricky Jay narrates the trailer.
During the end credits of "What Do Kids Know?", the final production note is that the program was a Partridge Production, referring to Earl Partridge. The only other reference to Earl as a television producer comes from his son Frank Mackey during his interview with Gwenovier. When asked about his parents line of work, Frank responds that his father worked in television and that his mother was a librarian.
Philip Seymour Hoffman stated during the deathbed scene, everything after Frank's 'I'm not going to cry for you' was improvised by Tom Cruise. Cruise didn't feel the scripted lines worked and Paul Thomas Anderson told Cruise to think of when his own father died and to let it move him. During the next take Cruise broke down sobbing, resulting in the scene seen in the film. Hoffman stated Phil's reaction to Frank sobbing was his own, since he didn't know Cruise would enter such a zone and he felt the purity of Cruise's emotion.
According to Thomas Jane, he was supposed to play two different characters in the film. But the scheduling overlapped with Under Suspicion (2000) so he was only available for the brief cameo as the young Jimmy Gator.
Jimmy Gator mentions that What Do Kids Know is endorsed by the "P.T.A." or "Parent Teacher Association." "PTA" is also the initials of the film's director Paul Thomas Anderson, and a common nickname for Anderson.
Each line in the "Wise Up" scene is in reference to what what the character singing is going through. When Claudia sings, "It's not what you thought when you first began it" this refers to her cocaine addiction. Jimmy's "You're sure there's a cure, and you have finally found it" refers to his cancer. Donnie's "You think one drink will shrink you 'til you're underground and living down" refers to his drinking. Linda's "Prepare a list for what you need before you sign away the deed" refers to her dying husband's will.
Claudia calls herself Claudia Wilson instead of Claudia Wilson Gator since she doesn't want to be associated with her father Jimmy Gator. Frank T.J. Mackey changed his name and lies that his father isn't alive and that his mother is so he won't be related to his father Earl Partridge.
Paul Thomas Anderson: [Iris In/Out] The very first story of the prologue is shot like a silent film. The first shot opens with the Iris In technique, used frequently during the silent film era to open and close shots.
The numbers 8 and 2 appear frequently throughout the film: - The first weather forecast: 82% chance of rain. - The gambler in the prologue needs a 2 in blackjack, but instead gets an 8. - The coil of rope on the roof when Sydney commits suicide. - One of the posters held up in the 'What Do Kids Know' audience. - The movie poster at the bus stop on Magnolia Blvd. - The placard on the third hanged convict. - Jim Kurring's box number at the date hot line. - Sydney Barringer's mother and father's apartment number is 682. - The forensic science convention starts at 8:20. - Delmer Darion flips over a stack of cards to reveal the 8 through 2 of diamonds. - Right after Jim Kurring sees Donnie Smith climbing up the building, you can see a flash of a sign on the side of the road that says "Exodus 8:2" (it's visible again when the frogs fall and hit Kurring's car) - The number on the fire fighter's plane. - In Marcy's mug shots, her criminal record number is 82082082082. - In the Smiling Peanut bar, there is a chalkboard visible with two teams, The Frogs and The Clouds, and the score is 8 to 2. - Spray painted on the cement as graffiti next to Dixon. - The kids were two days away from entering their eighth week as champions. - Quiz Kid Donnie Smith won his 100, 000 dollars on 28 April 1968. - The first two numbers of the Seduce and Destroy Hotline (1-877-TAME-HER) are 82. - Claudia proposes 8:00 for a date with Jim, but Jim says he doesn't get off work until 10:00, so the date is set for 10:00, 2 hours later than the original suggested time. - At the police station in the beginning of the movie, the clock says 8:02. - When Donnie enters the Smiling Peanut bar, the song "Goodbye Stranger" is playing. We hear the song playing from exactly 28 seconds after it's started. - Frank says "Respect the cock, and tame the c*nt" which is 8 syllables, and then right after says "Tame it!" which is 2 syllables.
Paul Thomas Anderson has said that he was unaware that the story of frogs falling from the sky is in the Bible (he took it from Charles Fort's writing) when he wrote the screenplay. The Bible story of the plague of frogs was brought to his attention by Henry Gibson prior to filming. After he became aware of the story, Anderson worked references to Exodus 8:2 into the movie.
Character Jimmy Gator, a quiz show host, claims that "the book says, we might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us." The reference is to the opening sentence of The Natural History of Nonsense, a book debunking superstitious beliefs published in 1946 by Bergen Evans, a professor of English at Northwestern University. Prof. Evans served as the host of several TV quiz shows in the 1950's (Down You Go (1951), It's About Time (1954), and Super Ghost (1952)). Among many other topics, Evan's book discusses the belief that it sometimes rains frogs, an event that features prominently in the movie.
The furniture store and Mobil station next to it (where the frogs scene is shot) is at the corner of Sherman Way and Reseda Blvd., in Reseda, California, about a block away from the disco club seen in Boogie Nights (1997).
When the frogs are falling, we see a caption on a picture in Claudia's apartment, "but it did happen". And it did. This happens when storms pass over a lake teeming with frogs, picking them up and dumping them elsewhere. This happened in the town of Villa Angel Flores in Mexico after a tornado picked up a cluster of toads and dropped them over the town one evening in June, 1997.
Following the Exodus 8:2 theme that is throughout the movie, just before the attempted suicide of Sydney Barringer, to his left below his feet against the wall, wire is coiled up forming the number 8:2.
Along with the scenes further explaining The Worm, there were many other scenes and dialogue exchanges included in the script but not used for the final film, including: - A scene in which Jimmy talks with Paula, the dancer he is sleeping with in the opening credits. - Extended dialogue between Gwenovier and Frank, about "Subjective human experience and terrible things", which was referenced in the final cut but not shown. - A brief dialogue between Jim and Claudia after he asks her on a date, in which they both find they have the same favorite restaurant. - We see what happens to Stanley between the events of that day's game show, and him talking to his sleeping father. - Further explanation during Earl's monologue concerning the reasons why he mistreated his first wife. - The tone of Frank's confrontation with his father is considerably different, with him showing less hostility, more genuine sympathy and concern, and attempting to wake him up. - It is made clear in the script that Jimmy doesn't survive the fire in his house caused by the destroyed television. - We see Marcie's confession for what happened to the "guy in the closet".
Many things happen in pairs throughout the movie. Two characters are named Jim. Two women take drugs (Claudia and Linda). The game show host (Jimmy Gator) and game show producer (Earl Partridge) are dying of cancer. Both of those characters also cheated on their spouses and have children that denounce them. There are two quiz kids (Donnie Smith and Stable Spector). There are two caretakers: Officer Jim Kurring for Claudia and nurse Phil Parma for Earl Partridge. Two characters are humiliated on television simultaneously: Frank T.J. Mackey at an interview and Stanley Spector on a game show. Voice over is heard when Jim Kurring takes a shower towards the beginning of the movie and Claudia towards the end. Both Jimmy Gator and Donnie Smith mention the catchphrase "Rub-a-dub" and they also drink. Frank T.J. Mackey and Donnie Smith say "Go! Go! Go!"
Dixon's last line in his rap song about the Worm says "If the sunshine don't work, the good lord bring the rain in!" This foreshadows how the weather will play out throughout the movie. When he tells Officer Jim Kurring "I told you who done it and you're not even listening to me." He's saying his father called "The Worm" is who killed the person in Marcy's closet. Dixon is Marcy and "The Worm's" son.
Corey Haim is mentioned by name twice in the film, and his personal life encapsulated many of the themes. Like Donnie and Stanley, Haim was a child celebrity who suffered at the hands of neglectful parents. Haim also used drugs to cope with the trauma that resulted from being a victim of sexual molestation as a child, like Claudia.
The frogs gave the characters what they deserve either for good or bad. Donnie Smith wanted braces, so the frog hit him and caused him to fall face down breaking his teeth. Linda needed to go to the hospital by ambulance to get better, so the frogs got her there quicker. Jimmy Gator wanted to kill himself, so the frog helped by breaking through at that moment.