When Alejandro Amenábar's The Others was released in the summer of 2001, it was quickly hailed as an instant horror classic. The slow-burning Gothic ghost story follows a WWII-era mother named Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her two photosensitive children (Alakina Mann and James Bentley) living in a dimly-lit, isolated mansion on the remote isle of Jersey in the British Channel Islands. When her children begin talking about the ghosts they hear and see around the home, Grace must face a reality that her strict religious beliefs can't fathom.
Amenábar had already made a name for himself on the world cinema circuit at just 25 years old with 1997's Open Your Eyes, starring Penélope Cruz (which Cameron Crowe later remade as Vanilla Sky, also starring Penélope Cruz). But The Others turned the twenty-something director into a bona fide international player. With its spare cast and limited filming locations, the movie took in nearly $210 million worldwide on a modest $17 million budget. It won eight of the 15 Goya Awards (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars) it was nominated for, with Amenábar taking home Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. But beyond the stats, here are some fascinating facts about the movie you might not have known.
1. THE FILM WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO BE SET IN CHILE.
Director Amenábar holds dual Chilean-Spanish citizenship—he was born in his father's native Chile in 1972, and his family permanently moved to his mother's native Spain when he was 18 months old. His first two films had been successful Spanish-language films, and his original script for The Others was also in Spanish and set in southern Chile. When the decision was made to make the film in English, it was important to Amenábar to find a devoutly Catholic area in which to set it, so that the original religious symbolism of his Spanish script would still translate.
"When my producers read the script, they thought it was the perfect Victorian ghost tale, so they thought it would be more organic taking place in England," Amenábar told journalist Tony Earnshaw for Fantastique: Interviews with Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Filmmakers. Britain's Channel Islands, off the French coast of Normandy, were chosen in part because of their long Catholic tradition, and also their fraught wartime occupation. "I needed the husband to go to war and come back," Amenábar said of the film's narrative. "And when we decided to set it in England, it made sense to set it during the Second World War, and especially in these Islands, which were the only British territory occupied by the Nazis."
2. IT WAS SHOT IN ENGLISH BECAUSE OF TOM CRUISE.
Amenábar co-wrote and directed the 1997 psychological thriller Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), which Tom Cruise decided to option after it screened at 1998's Sundance Film Festival. That movie was remade by Cameron Crowe as Vanilla Sky, with Cruise starring and producing. Though Amenábar was not involved in the production of Vanilla Sky, Cruise loved his script and wanted to work with him directly.
When Cruise later saw Amenábar's script for The Others, he sought to produce that film, too—on the condition that it be for an English-speaking audience. For Amenábar, The Others was only his third movie and he'd never done an English-language production before, but it felt like a gamble worth taking. "When you shoot a film in English you have a much more open market," Amenábar told The Guardian. "And then when Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman got involved, I knew that the destiny of the film was changing."
3. ALEJANDRO AMENÁBAR DIDN'T SPEAK ENGLISH.
Securing Hollywood heavyweights to champion him was somehow the easy part for Amenábar. "My very first concern [was working in a different language] because I didn't speak English at the time," he said, but he started learning the language and delegated what he needed to. "Once you decide to do a project which is not your natural language, what you have to do is rely on and trust people. We hired a very good English translator … I was open to change things in order to make it sound very, very British."
4. IT MADE HISTORY AT THE GOYA AWARDS.
The Others earned a total of eight Goya Awards, including Best Film. It's the first film to earn Spain's highest film honor in which not one word of Spanish is spoken.
5. NICOLE KIDMAN AND TOM CRUISE'S DIVORCE WAS FINALIZED TWO DAYS BEFORE THE MOVIE'S RELEASE.
Initial shooting for The Others took place in the summer of 2000, but news of Cruise and Kidman's separation came in February 2001, while The Others was in post-production. Their contentious, high-profile divorce was finalized just two days before the movie hit American theaters. (They settled their divorce on August 8, 2001; The Others arrived in theaters on August 10, 2001.)
"As exec producer of The Others, Tom Cruise has handed Kidman the most generous divorce settlement any working-thesp wife could ask for," Variety cynically noted in its otherwise positive review. And Amenábar said repeatedly that neither Kidman nor Cruise let their private drama affect their support or dedication to the film or its release. "Of course, personal lives are always a worry," he told The Guardian, "But these people are huge, hard workers and they were very devoted to the film. The fact that they both showed up at the premiere in L.A. just proves how supportive they were."
6. KIDMAN QUIT THE FILM DURING REHEARSALS.
During rehearsals and pre-production, the subject matter—and particularly [SPOILER] Grace's killing of her children—was giving Kidman such intense nightmares that she quit the project. "At one point I didn't want to make the film because I couldn't even go there emotionally," she has said. "It was still very difficult to exist in that state … when you’re doing an intense film the boundaries blur." Fortunately, Amenábar and his team were able to convince her to return to the film, but "I was so glad to step out of her in the end," Kidman said.
7. MOST OF THE FILM WAS SHOT IN SPAIN.
Amenábar might have been willing to alter the location and language of the film, but he insisted on filming it in Spain. The house used for the shoot, the Palacio de los Hornillos located in Cantabria, Spain, was designed in 1904 by London-based architect Ralph Selden Wornum as the country estate of the Duke of Santo Mauro. As such, it's one of the few examples of Victorian architecture in Spain.
The scene where Grace finds her husband returning home in a thick fog was shot along the Lime Walk at Kent's Penshurst Place, a popular filming location for British period pieces (and even part of The Princess Bride), but the rest was filmed in Madrid and the Hornillos estate with any outdoor scenes being coated in gray mist. The "results are Anglophilic through and through," Variety's Dennis Harvey wrote in his review of the film.
8. LIKE THE CHARACTERS THEY PLAYED, THE CHILD ACTORS WERE KEPT AWAY FROM SUNLIGHT DURING FILMING.
Early in the movie, Grace explains that the curtains in her home must always stay closed because her children, Anne and Nicholas, have a severe allergy to light (the photosensitivity she describes may be xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare genetic disorder where the body can't properly protect or repair itself from UV damage). But actors Alakina Mann and James Bentley—who Amenábar said behaved like real siblings—also had to stay cloistered indoors for the duration of the three-and-a-half-month shoot.
"I was feeling sad for them, because they couldn't be exposed to sunlight, to keep their skin as white as possible," Amenábar told Nitrate Online. "Of course they were in makeup, but they had to stay pale. So when they went out, it was at night, like little vampires."
9. LIKE THE CHARACTER LYDIA, AMENÁBAR WENT MUTE FOR A YEAR.
In the movie, Grace insists that something traumatic must have happened to the kitchen girl, Lydia (Elaine Cassidy), for her to stop speaking. And at the end, the mysterious, all-knowing head servant Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan) reveals that Lydia went mute when she realized she was dead.
As a toddler, Amenábar himself dealt with something like selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that renders someone (usually a child) unable to speak or communicate. When his parents decided to flee Chile for Madrid just two weeks before General Pinochet's Chilean coup d'etat, Amenábar was 18 months old. "In Chile I had started to talk a bit, and in Spain I did not say anything for one year," he told the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2007.
10. AMENÁBAR APPEARS IN ONE OF THE OLD MOURNING "BOOK OF THE DEAD" PHOTOS.
Like Alfred Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan before him, Amenábar found a way to make a brief cameo in his horror flick. "Half of the photographs [in the film] are real and half are fakes," Amenábar said of the postmortem photographs Grace finds in the attic storage room. "We asked for originals and we lost them." Because of that, replicas were made, and the director appears in one of them.