Rats really did eat the soles off John H. Groberg's feet; they split open when he stood up. Later in life he was diagnosed with skin cancer on the soles of his feet. His doctor was curious about how he exposed the soles of his feet to the sun, and he explained that the treatment for his injury in Tonga had been to sear his soles with the heat of the sun.
The BYU scene was actually shot in New Zealand. Film-makers hired almost every swing club in the country to appear as extras. Anne Hathaway and Christopher Gorham do almost all of their own dancing. Anne was kicked in the head during one sequence. She was nearly knocked out.
A boy really did fall from a mango tree and remain unconscious for three days while John H. Groberg was a missionary. He remembers that he was on his way to church on a Tuesday, and he climbed the tree because it had some of the very best mangos. When he woke up on Thursday, he was worried that he was late for his meetings.
The real Feki's father was not a drinking man. He did not beat his wife. Liberties were taken in order to combine several characters. This particular alteration was done with the permission of the real Feki's children.
This film cast several Polynesian actors with little experience. They were able to rely on the more experienced Polynesian actors who conducted extra rehearsals for them and gave them lots of advice and support.
The real John H. Groberg as well as his wife Jean, one of his grandsons and one of his daughters with her husband can be seen at the very end during the wedding scene. As the camera pans from right to left, you can see his daughter, then her husband, then the grandson, then John is taking a picture of the couple, and his wife is next to him clapping.
Deseret Book, the publisher of the biography on which the movie is based, never previously sold film rights to any of their books. Deseret Book is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and John Groberg was one of the presiding elders of the Church at the time of the sale. There was, therefore, a great concern as to how the Church would be portrayed which had to be satisfied before the rights were sold. The deal was completed, in large measure, because several key members of the production team were active members of the Church.
When the film crew arrived on the Island of Rarotonga (capital of the Cook Islands), the Prime Minister welcomed them by gathering all of the religious ministers of the community for a prayer meeting. They prayed that the film crew would be blessed with good weather.