Chung Ling Soo was a stage character created by William Ellsworth Robinson, a white man who disguised himself as a Chinese man to cash in on audiences' enthusiasm for the exotic. Robinson lived as Chung, never breaking character while in public. He died in March 1918, when a bullet-catch trick went wrong. "My God, I've been shot" were both his last words and the first English he had spoken on stage in nineteen years.
David Bowie initially declined the role of Nikola Tesla when it was offered to him. Christopher Nolan flew out to him personally to tell him that he was the only person he imagined for the role, and that his larger than life persona would make the idea of Tesla building a teleportation device believable. Upon hearing this, David Bowie changed his mind and took the role.
Nikola Tesla was a world-renowned inventor, physicist, and engineer. For a while, he conducted electrical experiments at his lab in Colorado Springs, where he was also known for his eccentric behavior.
When Nikola Tesla's machines are being exhibited in the Royal Albert Hall, a man in the audience protests that Tesla's electrical current is unstable. Later in the movie, the same man appears in Colorado Springs as one of Thomas Edison's associates, thus proving that magicians are not the only ones who hide within their rivals' audiences.
The editing includes one hundred forty-six time jump cuts, in which the next shot either flashes back or skips ahead to another time period of the storyline. This averages to almost one timeline jump per minute of movie.
Sam Mendes wanted to do this movie as his follow-up to American Beauty (1999), which had just been nominated for seven Academy Awards. Another offer came from Newmarket Films on behalf of Writer, Producer, and Director Christopher Nolan, of whom Author Christopher Priest had never heard. Priest was prepared to close the deal with Mendes, when a VHS copy of Nolan's Following (1998) was delivered to his house by motorcycle (Memento (2000) was still in post-production). Priest was impressed, and chose Nolan (in part to also support a new filmmaker over an established one).
When Alley (Andy Serkis) is introduced, he makes a reference to a magic trick in which one person guesses the item in a person's pocket. The same trick fooled Serkis' character Gollum in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012).
Alfred Borden takes on the stage name of "The Professor". This is the nickname that was given to many magicians at this time (Professor Hoffman, Professor Otto Hermann Professor Tucan) Dai Vernon. Most notably, Dai Vernon bore the nickname, the man many consider to be the best modern-day sleight-of-hand magician.
The in-the-hands vanishing bird cage was developed and performed successfully for many years by Harry Blackstone, Sr. His son, Harry Blackstone, Jr. also performed the trick successfully for many years.
In the bullet-catching scene, Harry Dresden is on the list of performers under "The Professor". Dresden is a fictional wizard in "The Dresden Files", a series of books by Jim Butcher, and the basis of The Dresden Files (2007).
This is one of two Christopher Nolan movies, in which a character has a two-headed coin. The other one was The Dark Knight (2008), in which Harvey Dent a.k.a. Two-Face used one to decide his fate, or the fate of his victims.
When Alfred is in prison, his inmate number is D-23. The movie was released by Touchstone Pictures, a Disney subsidiary. D-23 is the official Disney Fanclub; 23 refers to 1923, the year Walt Disney opened the studio.
Angier's double mumbles a few lines from a speech while rehearsing on stage before his first performance. What he is saying is actually the words of Harry Percy (Hotspur) from William Shakespeare's Henry IV, when called to appear before the King and explain his failure to turn over prisoners after a recent battle in Scotland. Apparently, Hugh Jackman used this speech in previous auditions. Presumably, it was believed that having the double deliver a few lines from Shakespeare would lend him an actorly air, as his character is, in fact, a dissolute stage actor.