The shooting of the author's wife is not a fictional incident. Source novelist William S. Burroughs did indeed accidentally shoot his wife Joan in the head in 1951 in Mexico in a "William Tell" stunt that went disastrously wrong. Mexican law at the time meant that Burroughs only served thirteen days in prison for killing his wife.
The movie is packed with characters based on real people and events from the life of Burroughs. Like Bill Lee, William S. Burroughs was an exterminator and drug addict, who accidentally shot his wife during a drunken game of "William Tell". Joan Lee is based on Joan Vollmer, Burroughs' deceased wife. Hank and Martin, Bill's fellow writers, are Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs moved to a section of Tangier, Morocco, known as the "International Zone", hence "Interzone". Tom Frost is based on Paul Bowles, and Kiki was the name of a young man Burroughs had a same-sex affair with in Tangier, while writing "Naked Lunch".
This was originally going to be the first David Cronenberg movie to be made outside of Toronto, until a panicked Ontario Film Board offered him unparalleled financial inducements and incentives. As it transpired, however, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait scuttled any plans to film in Tangier, Morocco, so the entire movie ended up being made in Toronto anyway.
One of the "Mugwumps" creatures built for the movie still exists, and is held by Recorded Pictures Company, the production company of Jeremy Thomas. Nevertheless, they are said to have degraded very fast, as they were not built to last (according to David Cronenberg on the DVD commentary).
As the movie couldn't be filmed in Tangier because of the war in Iraq, it was shot in Toronto. As a result of this, some trans-light panes were used to represent the exotic backgrounds seen through windows. Trans-light panes are large translucent enlargements of a photo.
The character name William Lee is the pseudonym William S. Burroughs used when he wrote his first novel, "Junky". One memorable segment from the original novel, "The Talking Asshole", is recited almost verbatim in this movie. Early in the movie, a character utters the mangled phrase, "No glot, C'lom Fliday", which is the final line of the novel.
According to David Cronenberg's DVD commentary, the main credits sequence is a direct homage to Visual Designer Saul Bass. This movie takes place in the 1950s, when Bass was active as a Graphic Designer and the director of main credits sequences for other people's movies.
Trailers for this movie featured footage of William S. Burroughs shot in the 1960s, with an impersonator providing narration about the irony of how a book that was banned and censored has now been made into a movie.
In Spain, after seven years, it was only released in Barcelona (Méliés Cinemes, November 1998) in a subtitled version. Later, in 2007, the movie was an official release limited in other provinces, also in a subtitled version.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When Lee buys the Clark Nova, the typewriter's vacant spot in the shop window is taken by a strange sculpture of a Mugwump clinging to a hanged man. While this sculpture seems to foreshadow Kiki's fate later in the movie, it is also a reference to a notorious scene in the book, where a Mugwump hangs a young man for sexual gratification.