In 1993, after more than a decade of moving from the hands of one producer to another, Jeff Maguire’s script for In the Line of Fire finally made its way to the big screen. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the film starred John Malkovich, Renee Russo, and Clint Eastwood as a longtime Secret Service agent still harboring guilt about not being able to protect JFK—and ready to make sure another presidential assassination doesn’t happen on his watch. The cat-and-mouse game ended up earning more than $100 million at the box office, making it the seventh highest grossing film of the year. To celebrate the political thriller’s 25th anniversary, here are 11 things you might not have known about In the Line of Fire.
1. THE SCRIPT MADE THE ROUNDS.
Jeff Maguire wrote the script for In the Line of Fire more than 10 years before it would ever hit the big screen—and his lack of success getting a script produced in the interim had put him and his wife in a precarious financial situation. With mounting credit card bills, overdue rent, and a phone that was about to be disconnected, Maguire and his wife were just getting ready to give up on Los Angeles and move toward a quieter life in New Hampshire when he got a call that Rob Reiner’s Castle Rock Entertainment had purchased the script for a cool $1 million.
“That day we traded in a blouse I got my wife for her birthday so we could go out and celebrate," Maguire told The New York Times of how the couple found the cash to celebrate his success. The hard work—and waiting—paid off: Less than a year after almost giving up on the Hollywood dream, Maguire earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
2. THE IDEA WAS PARTLY INSPIRED BY A MEETING WITH LYNDON B. JOHNSON.
The idea to write a script about a Secret Service agent was suggested to Maguire by producer Jeff Apple, who had long dreamed of making a political thriller when, as a child, he had the chance to meet Lyndon B. Johnson but was equally impressed by the security detail that surrounded the then-Vice President.
3. AT ONE POINT, ROBERT REDFORD WAS ATTACHED TO STAR.
Though Clint Eastwood will forever be associated with the role of ultra-dedicated Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, he was hardly the first choice for the role. As the script made its way around Hollywood over the years, a number of other actors were either attached to or offered the project, including Robert Redford. Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, James Caan, Tommy Lee Jones, and Val Kilmer were among the other names wanted for the role of Horrigan.
4. ONE STUDIO WANTED IT TO BE REWRITTEN FOR TOM CRUISE.
Though Maguire was anxious to get the script sold, he had a very clear vision for the story and wasn’t willing to compromise on certain points—even if it meant passing up a big payday. When the higher-ups at Imagine, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s company, expressed interest in purchasing the script if Maguire would rewrite the lead so that a younger actor like Tom Cruise, who was in his late 20s at the time, could play it, the struggling scribe flat-out refused. Making the character younger would mean that he’d have to toss out the JFK subplot, which was a deal-breaker for Maguire.
5. ROBERT DE NIRO WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE ROLE OF MITCH LEARY.
John Malkovich turned in a creepy and memorable performance as Mitch Leary, In the Line of Fire’s would-be presidential assassin. But like Eastwood, Malkovich wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice for the role. That honor belonged to Robert De Niro, who eventually had to pass on the project due to scheduling conflicts with A Bronx Tale. Jack Nicholson and Robert Duvall were also reportedly in contention for the part.
6. FRANK HORRIGAN WAS INSPIRED BY ONE OF JFK’S SECRET SERVICE AGENTS.
Though the movie is a work of fiction, main character Frank Horrigan was partly inspired by Clint Hill, one of John F. Kennedy’s Secret Service agents who was on duty the day the 35th president was assassinated in Dallas. In 1975, Hill sat down for an emotional interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, where he broke down and admitted that he felt responsible for what had happened that terrible day.
“I still feel today a sense of failure and responsibility because that was our job: to keep the president safe, to protect him at all costs,” Hill said. “And on that particular day, we were unable to do that.” Much of Horrigan’s desire to right that wrong came from Hill’s interview.
7. THE SECRET SERVICE OFFERED THEIR FULL COOPERATION—WHICH WAS A FIRST FOR THE AGENCY.
In the Line of Fire holds the distinction of being the first movie that received the Secret Service’s full cooperation in getting the film made. “They didn't agree to help us because they thought the film would portray them in a heroic light—Clint plays a pretty flawed character, and John [Malkovich]'s character makes some very negative points about the Secret Service,” director Wolfgang Petersen told the Los Angeles Times. “I think the Secret Service was interested in the possibility of their world being accurately portrayed in a Hollywood film for the first time. They didn't want us to make a commercial for them, they just wanted it to be real, and though they had no creative control, they made many suggestions we happily accepted.”
8. WOLFGANG PETERSEN WAS A LITTLE INTIMIDATED BY CLINT EASTWOOD.
Though he was already a highly acclaimed director with two Oscar nominations on his resume (for writing and directing 1981’s Das Boot), Petersen admitted that the idea of directing a Hollywood icon like Eastwood was a slightly terrifying prospect.
"I must admit, I was initially a bit intimidated at the prospect of directing Clint, but any fears I had disappeared after our first meeting, and once we started shooting he never challenged my direction," Petersen told the Los Angeles Times. “At the beginning he told me, 'I won't interfere, but if you want my advice I'll be there for you—otherwise I'll leave you alone.' I took up his offer and consulted him a lot.”
9. DROPPING EASTWOOD INTO HISTORIC MOMENTS COST A PRETTY PENNY.
In order to create as realistic a portrait as possible of Eastwood’s history with the Secret Service Agency, the filmmakers implemented some state-of-the-art computer effects to swap out the faces of real agents with the actor’s to show him being part of key events with Bill Clinton and George Bush. But as the JFK plotline was so integral to Horrigan’s character, it was important to Petersen that the audience be able to witness that as well, which became their biggest challenge, as Eastwood would have been 30 years younger. The solution? Drop footage of Eastwood from the original Dirty Harry into archival footage of JFK’s motorcade. It’s estimated that 10 percent of In the Line of Fire’s $40 million budget went to its digital effects.
10. JOHN MALKOVICH COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT ALL THE RUNNING.
When asked about the toughest part of playing the unhinged antagonist, Malkovich admitted that it was the physicality of the role. "The hardest thing about this part was all the running I had to do,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I hate running and don't intend to do it again for a long time. I didn't train for the running scenes either—I just put down my cigarettes for a minute and ran."
11. IT COULD BE TURNED INTO A TV SERIES … MAYBE.
Frank Horrigan could rise again. In 2015, Deadline reported that In the Line of Fire was being turned into a television series at ABC. There’s been no update since on any casting or a release date, so it very well could be a stalled project. But you never know.