Jay Cocks first gave his friend Martin Scorsese a copy of Edith Wharton's novel back in 1980. At the time, he told Scorsese, "When you do that romantic piece, this one is you". It took Scorsese seven years to finally get around to reading the book.
Director Martin Scorsese had said that this is the "most violent" film he's ever made, an obvious reference to the emotional versus physical states of being. Ironically, for a director who is well known for over-the-top violent fare like Taxi Driver (1976) and Goodfellas (1990), this film happens to be Scorsese's first to earn a "PG rating" since New York, New York (1977).
The painting of two Native Americans about to kill a young woman is a depiction of the death of Jane McRea. The event took place in 1777 in upstate New York, shortly before the battle of Saratoga, and was a key event in rallying Patriot militia. Jane McRea was the woman on whom James Fenimore Cooper based the character of Cora in "Last of the Mohicans". This book was made into the film The Last of the Mohicans (1992), which also starred Daniel Day-Lewis.
The lady standing to the right of Winona Ryder and admiring her engagement ring at the Beauforts' ball (just before Archer approaches and bows) is Tamasin Day-Lewis, sister of Daniel Day-Lewis, who was in town to visit her brother and drafted by Martin Scorsese to take the part. She's better known as the author of a series of cookbooks.
In 1993, when the movie was first released, a publicity still of Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis in an embrace had been printed in US Magazine. Pfeiffer was holding a roll of Certs breath mints and it had not been edited out of the photo. It was too late to correct the photo so the issue was sent to news stands with the erroneous photo in them.
The opening scene takes place during a performance of Faust at the Academy of Music, which was the main opera house in New York City prior to the opening of the Metropolitan Opera in 1883. Faust was the first opera staged at the Met when it opened in October 1883. The scene was actually filmed at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.
Just past the middle of the movie, an exterior image of New York is shown. One of the buildings has "Schoonmaker's Painters Supply Store" painted on it. Thelma Schoonmaker has been Martin Scorsese's editor for years.
The paintings that Newland Archer encounters as he navigates the drawing rooms in the Beaufort mansion are, in order: The Duel After the Masquerade Ball by Jean-Leon Gerome (completed in 1857), The Return of Spring by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (completed in 1886), L'Ambitieuse (Political Woman) by James Tissot (completed in 1885).
Martin Scorsese set up a deal with 20th Century-Fox to write the screenplay with Jay Cocks. Fox attached a budget of $32 million to the project. Before anything came of it, however, Fox head Joe Roth told Scorsese that he would be first in line to see the picture, but he just couldn't finance it. Universal then stepped in, although it was not prepared to spend any more than $30 million. Finally Mark Canton of Columbia - with whom Scorsese had made Goodfellas (1990) - offered the full budget.
The interior of Mrs. Mingott's house was filmed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house in downtown Troy, NY, home to about 35 men at the time. Setup and filming took approximately three weeks and was done while school was still in session. The first floor was the only one used for filming and during shoots members of the house had to remain silent upstairs or leave the house. The shot of the house as a solitary structure on a small hill is movie magic, as the house is surrounded on both sides by other buildings.
Martin Scorsese, being a huge fan of the classic Hammer horror films, cast Michael Gough in this film, who, like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, starred in many of the British company's horror features, and became something of an icon.
The ornate key which Newland sends to the Countess Olenska, by implication the key to a secure trysting spot, is actually the key to a Steinway piano. The lyre-shaped top is the Steinway and Sons logo, still used by the company on their pianos.
In one scene, Newland says to May that she's almost 22 years-old. At the time of filming and its initial release (early September 1993) Winona Ryder fit exactly this description as her 22nd birthday was on October 29.
Miriam Margolyes has voiced her frustration with the fact that Winona Ryder was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category at the 1994 Oscars for her lead performance, which Margolyes believes kept her from being nominated in the supporting category herself.
About 20 minutes into the film, Sillerton Jackson ('Alec McCowan') endures a mediocre meal at the Archer home. In Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) McCowan's character, Chief Inspector Oxford, suffers the same fate (twice) at the hands of his wife (Vivien Merchant).
2 months after the October 1993 opening of The Age of Innocence, Michelle Pfeiffer left Daniel Day-Lewis behind to tempt another married man: Homer Simpson. In the Season 5 episode "The Last Temptation of Homer" (which aired December 9, 1993), she played Homer's new coworker Mindy, who had the same effect on him that she had on Newland Archer.
In the novel, May Welland Archer is described as fair while Ellen Olenska has dark hair. Here in the film, it is switched since Winona Ryder as May is a brunette and Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen is blonde.
When Newland accompanies the Countess to the Parker House Hotel in Boston, the shop next to the entrance is owned by Mlle. Lily Bart. This is a reference to the main character from The House of Mirth, another novel by Edith Wharton.
The opening scene featuring the opera Faust was filmed at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia (opened 1857), because there are no opera houses in New York suitable for the period in which the film is set.
This was Martin Scorsese's first film to be shot in the Super 35 format, with a common-top extraction, for a 2.39:1 aspect ratio which he previously used for Cape Fear (1991) through the Panavision (anamorphic) format.
Daniel Day-Lewis, and Michelle Pfeiffer kiss in the carriage outside of the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, the shot shows Certs brand fresh mints on Michelle's character, and it was a modern Certs breath mint and not made until the 1920's so it was impossible to have it in the movie at all.