15 Facts About American History X

Behind-the-scenes drama wasn’t enough to derail Tony Kaye and Edward Norton’s 1998 gritty crime drama, which went on to win critical acclaim and a rampant fanbase. Here are 15 things about the making of the controversial film that might surprise you. 

1. IT’S DIRECTOR TONY KAYE’S DEBUT FILM.

Kaye, who had cut his chops directing music videos and art installations in the 1990s, made the jump to directing feature films with American History X. The movie is also screenwriter David McKenna’s debut. 

2. KAYE TRIED TO DISOWN THE FILM.

Kaye was unsatisfied with the final cut of the movie, so he tried to use Alan Smithee—the official pseudonym (coined in 1969 and discontinued in 2000) for directors looking to disown their projects—in the credits. The Directors Guild of America blocked the effort, however, because DGA guidelines stipulated that directors could only use the Smithee pseudonym if they agreed not to publicly disparage the film, something the overly vocal Kaye had already done. 

3. IT WAS PARTLY BASED ON THE LIFE OF REFORMED SKINHEAD FRANK MEEINK.

Meeink, who served three years in prison for charges related to white supremacist beliefs, is now an accomplished anti-skinhead author and lecturer. 

4. JOAQUIN PHOENIX TURNED DOWN THE LEAD ROLE OF DEREK VINYARD.

He thought the film’s subject matter was too intense. 

5. NORTON WAS ALLEGEDLY CAST WITHOUT KAYE’S APPROVAL.

Norton stepped in when Phoenix passed on the project—reportedly against Tony Kaye’s wishes. Kaye wanted to find another actor, but let Norton keep the part because Kaye simply couldn’t find anyone better prior to the start of shooting. 

6. TO PLAY DEREK, NORTON HAD TO BULK UP AND SHAVE HIS HEAD.

The normally slight actor gained 25 pounds of muscle for the role.

7. NORTON WAS NOMINATED FOR THE BEST ACTOR OSCAR FOR HIS PERFORMANCE.

Roberto Benigni took home the trophy for Life is Beautiful

8. NORTON ALLEGEDLY TOOK A PAY CUT TO APPEAR IN THE MOVIE.

Reports claim he received one-fifth his usual $1 million-per-movie fee. 

9. NORTON TURNED DOWN A ROLE IN SAVING PRIVATE RYAN FOR AMERICAN HISTORY X.

He would have played Private Ryan (Matt Damon got the part instead). 

10. THE DINER DANNY AND DEREK GO TO IS A FAMOUS HOLLYWOOD LOCATION.

While it closed in 2000, Johnie’s Coffee Shop is immortalized in movies like The Big Lebowski and Reservoir Dogs.

11. EDWARD NORTON HELPED WITH THE FILM’S FINAL CUT.

While Kaye was editing the film (which took more than a year), Norton and the movie’s studio, New Line Cinema, would send him story notes. And after two of Kaye’s submitted cuts proved unsatisfactory, Norton stepped in to provide his own version of the movie, which is 20 minutes longer than Kaye’s. 

12. OUTRAGED OVER NORTON’S CUT, KAYE CANCELED THE FILM’S PREMIERE.

Kaye heard that the unauthorized cut of the movie was accepted at the Toronto Film Festival while he was shooting a commercial in Germany. The scorned director immediately boarded a plane to Toronto and had organizers pull the movie from the festival’s lineup. When it came time for the film’s wide release, he filed a $200 million lawsuit to legally have his name changed to Humpty Dumpty in the credits as his way of protesting of the unapproved cut. He also took out 40 pull-page ads in trade papers denouncing the movie. 

13. KAYE BROUGHT SOME BACKUP TO HIS NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE FILM STUDIO.

The studio allegedly called a meeting to hash things out with the distraught director, who showed up with a rabbi, a priest, and a monk to try to smooth things over. Kaye’s stunt didn’t work, and the working relationship remains sour. 

14. KAYE SAW THE MOVIE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2007.

Nine years after the film’s controversial release, Kaye agreed to introduce and sit in on a free screening of American History X at a YWCA in Wilmington, North Carolina. 

15. KAYE HAS CREATED A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE FILM’S CONTROVERSY.

The doc, entitled Humpty Dumpty, was never released.

Mifflin Madness: Who Is the Greatest Character on The Office? It's Time to Vote

Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
NBC

Your years of watching (and re-watching) The Office, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, have all led up to this moment. Welcome to Mifflin Madness—Mental Floss's cutthroat competition to determine The Office's greatest character. Is Michael Scott the boss you most love to hate? Or did Kevin Malone suck you in with his giant pot of chili?

You have 24 hours to cast your vote for each round on Twitter before the bracket is updated and half of the chosen characters are eliminated.

The full bracket is below, followed by the round one and round two winners. You can cast your round three vote(s) here. Be sure to check back on Monday at 4 p.m. ET to see if your favorite Dunder Mifflin employee has advanced to the next round. 

Round One


Round Two


Round Three


The Office Planned to Break Up Jim and Pam in the Final Season—Then (Smartly) Thought Better of It

Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly's relationship in The Office was truly a romance for the ages. Fans were delighted when, in Season 3—after years of flirting—John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer’s characters finally got together. But an alternative plan for the show’s ninth and final season saw the couple going their separate ways.

Season 9 saw one of the most stressful storylines the show had to offer when Jim took a job in Philadelphia and Pam struggled to take care of their children on her own back in Scranton, putting intense strain on their otherwise seemingly perfect relationship. In one unforgettable scene, a particularly tense phone call between the couple ends with Pam in tears. Fischer’s character then turns to someone off camera named Brian for advice.

As Collider reports, Pam and Jim's relationship could have taken a turn for worse in the final season—and the writers had planned it that way. As recounted in Andy Greene's new book, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, series creator Greg Daniels sat down with each of the show's stars before starting the final season to discuss where their characters would go. John Krasinski, who played Jim, pitched the idea of putting Jim and Pam’s relationship on thin ice. According to Krasinski:

"My whole pitch to Greg was that we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam, and now, after marriage and kids, there was a bit of a lull there, I think, for them about what they wanted to do … And I said to Greg, ‘It would be really interesting to see how that split will affect two people that you know so well.'"

Several writers weighed in with ideas about how they might handle a split between Jim and Pam from a narrative standpoint—though not everyone was on the same page.

Warren Lieberstein, a writer on the series, remembered when the idea of bringing Brian—the documentary crew's boom operator—into the mix. “[This] was something that came up in Season 5, I think," Lieberstein said. "What if that character had been secretly there the entire time and predated the relationship with Jim and had been a shoulder that she cried on for years?’ It just seemed very intriguing." Apparently, the writers thought breaking the fourth wall would jeopardize the show, so they saved it for the last season.

Writer Owen Ellickson said there was even some talk of Pam and Brian “maybe hooking up a little bit," but the negative response to the storyline led the writers to "pull the ripcord on [Pam and Jim's separation] because it was so painful to fans of the show." Ellickson said that they backtracked so quickly, they even had to re-edit certain episodes that had already been shot to nix the idea of Jim and Pam splitting up. Which is something the show's millions of fans will be forever grateful for.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER