Source author John le Carré included 'The Tailor of Panama' as one of his four best novels during an interview on 5 October 2008 on BBC Four. The other best works he selected were 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy', 'The Constant Gardener' and 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold'.
One of few major Western productions to shoot exclusively in Panama (except for the interiors shot in Ireland's Ardmore Studios). What movies had shot there in the past had predominantly filmed in the Panama Canal region or Panama was one of a group of international filming locations. At the time, Panama had been mostly used for television and documentaries. The Naked and the Dead (1958) was one earlier picture that filmed exclusively in Panama.
According to director John Boorman's audio-commentary, Geoffrey Rush smokes whereas Pierce Brosnan doesn't whilst Brosnan's character Osnard smokes and Rush's character Harry doesn't. So in the breaks between scenes, often Brosnan would put his cigarette out at the same time Rush would light up.
Pierce Brosnan is the second and to date the last actor to play James Bond to appear in a filmed adaptation of a John le Carré spy story. Sean Connery was the first in The Russia House (1990). Connery did it after playing Bond whereas Brosnan did it during his era as Bond. This picture was made and released between his Bond movies The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Brosnan's last Bond film, Die Another Day (2002). The Mi6 building seen in the film is the real Mi6 head-quarters in London and this use of the building was consistent with the Pierce Brosnan's Bond movies of the time which also used the real Mi6 HQ.
Early in the movie, the picture makes a couple of references of the James Bond series that lead actor Pierce Brosnan was starring in at the time. Pierce Brosnan introduces himself by saying: "Name's Osnard" which is similar to the James Bond character's famous intro-line, 'The name's Bond. James Bond', whilst reference early in the film is made to a 'Mr. Connery' - Sean Connery was the first ever actor to play Bond on the big screen.
The recurring "nunca de rodillas" (never on our knees) phrase is remarkably similar to the one of Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, who actually said "I rather die on my feet than live on my knees".
One key difference between John le Carré's 'The Tailor of Panama' novel and this film adaptation is that the book was set before the United States' handover of the Panama Canal's sovereignty to Panama whereas this movie is set afterwards.
This film's opening prologue states: "Often called the 8th wonder of the world[,] The Panama Canal was built by American engineers and operated by the U.S. Army for 85 years. At the end of 1999, it was controversially handed back to Panama leading to intense speculation about the future of this vital gateway. Meanwhile in a corner of Panama City, plying his trade was . . . THE TAILOR OF PANAMA."
Actor Pierce Brosnan once auditioned for this film's director John Boorman's earlier movie Excalibur (1981). According to director John Boorman's audio-commentary, it was a poor audition and Brosnan didn't get the part. Boorman apologized to Brosnan for not giving him a part.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The character of Andy Osnard was originally meant to be killed by Harry Pendel at the end of the film. Ultimately, however, director John Boorman thought that such an action would cast a pall on the character of Harry, and that it would be far more realistic for Osnard to get away with it.
The DVD shows the film's alternate ending where Harry Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) shoots Andy Osnard (Pierce Brosnan). The studio didn't like this downbeat heavy-handed ending so the ending in the film has Osnard live, seen on a plane leaving Panama and flirting with an air hostess.