Remembered for its long runtime, for launching Michael Clarke Duncan into stardom, and for being one of the few adaptations of his writing that Stephen King actually enjoyed, the 1999 film The Green Mile has certainly left its mark on contemporary cinema. Here are a few things you may not have known about the heartwarming and occasionally bone-chilling fantasy film.
1. TWO CENTRAL CHARACTERS ALMOST WENT TO DIFFERENT ACTORS.
Although director Frank Darabont cast Tom Hanks in the lead role of Warden Paul Edgecomb (a choice that delighted author Stephen King) fairly early in production, the director reportedly offered the part to John Travolta, who turned Darabont down. Additionally, the supporting role of Wild Bill Wharton, the rambunctious psychopath played by Sam Rockwell, was shopped to Josh Brolin at one point.
2. BRUCE WILLIS HELPED CAST A STARRING ROLE.
The character John Coffey’s unique blend of imposing stature and gentle demeanor made casting the part a tricky task. Luckily, Bruce Willis had the right man for the job. Upon hearing of the casting search for the character, Willis was sure his friend and Armageddon costar Michael Clarke Duncan was a perfect fit for the role. Willis used his A-list pull to contact Darabont and suggest his greenhorn friend for the film.
3. TOM HANKS NEARLY PLAYED HIS “OLDER SELF.”
The story of Hanks’s character Paul’s experiences as a death row warden in 1935 is bookended by two sequences set in 1999 in which a much older Paul introduces and concludes the narrative. Eighty-two-year-old Dabbs Greer played the older incarnation of the character in his final big screen role. Before the casting of Greer, however, the plan was for Hanks to play the “Old Paul Edgecomb” part himself. But the makeup team couldn't manage to transform Hanks into a believable centenarian, so Greer was wrangled for the position.
4. THERE WAS MORE THAN ONE MR. JINGLES.
Between 15 and 30 trained mice were used to portray the clever ward mascot Mr. Jingles, in addition to animatronics and CGI effects. (Thankfully, the latter techniques were utilized in the scene when Mr. Jingles suffers the wrath of the malicious Percy Wetmore.) The mice were coaxed to their marks with small dishes of food.
5. DUNCAN’S STAND-IN SNUCK ONTO SET TO GET THE JOB.
While Duncan had little trouble landing his Green Mile gig after Willis’s endorsement, one particular crewmember had to jump through a few hoops … or stow away in the back of a few trucks. Rodney Barnes, an aspiring producer and writer who had been working as a production assistant and set security guard, hoped that by playing stand-in for Duncan he would be able to meet his hero, Stephen King. Barnes recalls hiding out in the back of a prop police vehicle to sneak onto the film's set, a caper that impressed Darabont enough to land him the gig.
6. DARABONT ALLEGEDLY THREW A DOGHOUSE ON SET.
Production concluded approximately one month behind schedule, which would frustrate any director. A rumor about Darabont’s growing irritation alleged that the director threw a tantrum on set, lifting and hurling a prop doghouse in a fit of rage. Darabont actually addressed this story during the movie’s audio commentary featurette available on the movie’s Blu-ray release; he denied chucking the pooch’s house and attributed the urban legend to Entertainment Weekly.
7. DUNCAN WASN’T ACTUALLY THAT TALL.
At 6 feet 5 inches tall, Duncan was a large man by anyone’s measure. However, he was practically average height on the set of The Green Mile, alongside costars David Morse (6 feet 4 inches) and James Cromwell (6 feet 6 inches). Blocking tactics gave Duncan the appearance of towering over his costars.
8. MANY OF THE ACTORS “LET THEMSELVES GO” DURING PRODUCTION.
To achieve era-appropriate body types, several stars’ preparations included neglecting their usual dietary and exercise regimens. The doughier ranks included Hanks, who opted for the look of a slightly chubby everyman; Duncan, who stopped lifting weights in order to avoid an anachronistic level of fitness; and Bonnie Hunt, who gained 15 pounds to play Hanks’ screen wife.
9. THERE WAS A FUNNY NAMING COINCIDENCE ON THE CAST SHEET.
Two of Hanks’s fellow officers, played respectively by actors Jeffrey DeMunn and Barry Pepper, are named Harry and Dean Stanton. The film also includes a crass but cooperative inmate played by character actor Harry Dean Stanton. It was apparently a coincidence—the names came directly from King’s source material.
10. THE FILM IS MARKED BY TWO MAJOR ANACHRONISMS.
When Darabont shifted the setting of King’s story from 1932 to 1935 in order to include reference to the 1935 Fred Astaire/Ginger Roberts musical comedy Top Hat, he overlooked two remaining elements that proved incongruous with the year in question. The first involves the uniforms worn by the lawmen in the film; uniforms weren’t standard for death row corrections officers in the 1930s. The second, and substantially larger, error is the use of the electric chair itself. Louisiana didn’t replace the gallows with the chair as its means for capital punishment until the early 1940s.
11. HANKS DEFENDED THE MOVIE’S RUNTIME AGAINST COMPLAINING CRITICS.
At 188 minutes, The Green Mile takes up a healthy chunk of your day. Upon the film’s release critics voiced frustration with the growing trend of three-hour movies, much to affirmed cinephile Hanks’ chagrin. The actor publicly said, “Hey, it's more movie for your dollar! It's like an extra inning. Wow! Now you can get a whole evening of entertainment!”
12. SPIKE LEE WAS A VOCAL CRITIC OF THE JOHN COFFEY CHARACTER.
Always outspoken about the depiction of African American men and women in Hollywood productions, Spike Lee took The Green Mile to task for what he and some film critics saw as the relegation of Duncan to the detested trope of “magic Negro,” a term for an enchanted black character who exists purely to better the lives of his white compatriots.
13. THE GREEN MILE WAS THE HIGHEST GROSSING STEPHEN KING MOVIE.
While The Shining claims the longstanding cult esteem and The Shawshank Redemption might top the lot in basic cable omnipresence, the somewhat less heralded The Green Mile that managed to hit an impressive $136.8 million in domestic ticket sales and $286.8 million worldwide.
14. THERE IS A REDDIT THREAD DEVOTED TO DETERMINING HOW LONG PAUL EDGECOMB WILL LIVE.
The movie leaves off with the 108-year-old Paul, infected by unnatural life as a result of John Coffey’s power (deeming it his punishment for destroying a saintly miracle) wondering aloud just how long he has left on Earth. In 2013, one Reddit user opened discussion to determine the answer to Paul’s question, hoping to calculate a sum based on the estimated lifespan of the likewise infected mouse Mr. Jingles. Answers vary from 200 to 10 quadrillion years.
15. THE GREEN MILE SHARES A NUMBER OF CAST AND CREW MEMBERS WITH THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.
Writer/director Darabont’s 1994 film, also an adaptation of a Stephen King story set in a penitentiary, shares with The Green Mile actors Jeffrey DeMunn, William Sadler, Mack Miles, and Brian Libby, composer Thomas Newman, editor Richard Francis-Bruce, and set decorator Michael Seirton.