It took Peter Sellers nearly nine years to get this movie made by a studio, mainly because by the 1970s Sellers' career had hit rock bottom and no studio in Hollywood would work with him. After the revival (and success) of the Pink Panther movies, Lorimar Pictures finally greenlit the project.
Peter Sellers was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor. Some said the reason Sellers lost was because of the outtakes at the very end of the movie as the credits are rolling. Sellers himself later said the outtakes "broke the spell" of the movie.
After the novel's release and the subsequent purchase of rights to the book, Peter Sellers successfully lobbied for the lead role by sending a telegram to author Jerzy Kosinski with the message, "Gardener available for work". It was during casting and after the success of the later Pink Panther movies that Sellers became the only choice for the lead role.
In the scene where Chance decides to try kissing Eve, he is watching The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) from 1968 on television as his example. Hal Ashby, the director of this film, was the editor of that film.
Every contract that Peter Sellers signed included a clause which stipulated that his accommodations must have the bed facing East-West. Chance says: "I like to sleep with my head facing North". The attorney he's with says "But this bed is facing West!"
In different versions, the end credits are either shown over several outtakes of Sellers trying to say a line (the message from Raphael) ultimately not used in the movie version (restored to the home video version), or they are shown over TV white noise. Peter Sellers was at the film's screening at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival. He was furious with director Hal Ashby and the producers for including the outtakes version of the end credits for this performance and at the audience's reaction to them. This incident may have finally persuaded the producers to change their minds. When the film opened soon after in Australia in late May 1980, the entire end credits were removed from all prints (leading to a deafening thud on the soundtrack after the film's final line). Eventually these prints were all replaced with versions including the "white noise" end credits and the film's main theme by composer Johnny Mandel.
A gay partygoer who thinks Chance has suggested an interest in watching gay sex says, "You wait here, I'll go get Warren." This may be a dig at Warren Beatty. whose heterosexual activity was legendary. The professional and personal relationship between Beatty and Hal Ashby was at times virulent, with Ashby refusing to see Beatty during the waning months of his life.
Henry B. Dawkins, who plays Billings the X-Ray Technician, really was an X-Ray technician. In the 1990s he became head of the Radiology Department at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville, North Carolina, one of this film's shooting locations.
Peter Sellers' then-wife, Lynne Frederick, was originally slated to have a part in the film, but her psychiatrist advised them not to work together. She did accompany him to the set every day to give him emotional support.
In the scene on the Madison Drive sidewalk at the National Mall in Washington D.C., Chance stops and appears to be taking direction from a pointing statue (of Benito Juarez, which is actually located near the Watergate Complex on Virginia Avenue.) Chance, standing in front of the National Gallery of Art, then walks toward the domed Natural History Museum.
In the Season 1 episode The Lonely (1959) of the original The Twilight Zone (1959), Jack Warden plays prisoner James Corry, who is exiled to a far away asteroid. His only friend is a supply ship captain named Allenby, who delivers provisions to the asteroid. In Being There (1979), the resident physician at the Rand estate is also named Allenby (played by Richard Dysart).
After the President leaves the Rand house the table clock in the hall that Chance is watching indicates 10:30, but it chimes twelve times, even though he's been told several times that they are very accurate.
Like the anonymity of Chance himself, Sellers, who was British, incorporated an accent that was neither wholly British nor American, creating a distinct alien feel to his character. The same has been said over the years about the so-called "French" accent of his Inspector Clouseau.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The inscription "Life is a state of mind" is on Rand's tomb and also serves as the last line in the movie. These words were also inscribed on Peter Sellers' own tomb, when he died a year after the movie was released.
Originally there was a different last shot planned for the funeral sequence at the end of the film. Director Hal Ashby was chatting with another director one day about filming when he commented how well everything was going. "It's like walking on air," he said, then suddenly was struck with a thought. He changed the last shot to the one that appears now in the movie.
The South African Publications Control Board ordered that the final minutes of this film be cut from the South African release print because the scene showing Chance walking on the water surface "might offend many South African Christians".