Marion Cotillard was cast after she met director James Gray during a dinner at a French fish restaurant where Gray and her boyfriend Guillaume Canet were talking about the script of Blood Ties (2013). Gray and Cotillard proceeded to get into an argument about an actor. "She threw bread at my head and she mentioned that she thought I was a jerk. And of course as consequence I immediately loved her." Gray told he had never seen Cotillard in anything before, but was instantly drawn to her. "I thought she had a great face, and not just physically beautiful because she is, but a haunted quality, almost like a silent film actress. I've talked about this, but she reminded me of Maria Falconetti in the Carl Theodor Dreyer film [The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)]; able to convey depth of emotion without dialogue specifically. I watched every film of hers I could get my hands on. And then I knew I had to write something for her. So that's the genesis of this thing [The Immigrant]. I wrote the movie for her and Joaquin Phoenix, and if they hadn't wanted to do the movie, I'm not sure I would have made it", he told.
For the role of Orlando, Jeremy Renner was taught multiple magic stunts and card tricks across a short period of time directly prior to filming. He apparently caught onto these tricks so quickly that the magician who trained him claimed Renner could become a professional magician with just a few more days of training.
James Gray told that he was watching Giacomo Puccini's opera 'Il Trittico' [directed by William Friedkin in 2008] and crying, and said to his wife: 'You know, they don't make movies about women anymore, like the old ones with Barbara Stanwyck and Greer Garson.' And she said: 'Why don't you make one?'. So Gray wrote a role for Marion Cotillard similar to Puccini's sin-haunted nun Sister Angelica. Gray also used his own family's history, the movie is also based on the experiences told to the director by his grandparents who were Russian immigrants who came through Ellis Island in 1923.
The title was originally "Lowlife", but the author of an novel with the same title threatened to sue James Gray, so the title was changed to "Nightingale" and was changed once again to "The Immigrant".
The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 24, 2013, but it was only released in US on May 16, 2014. Although the film didn't have much promotion in US, it over-performed at the box office and grossed $2 million in limited release two months after the film had leaked on the internet.