On August 5, 1983, Tom Cruise—wearing Ray-Bans and his skivvies—starred in the teen dramedy Risky Business and slid his way into pop culture history. In his first starring role, Cruise dealt with a killer pimp named Guido, romanced a call girl named Lana, and charmed his way into Princeton. The film’s $63.5 million gross launched Cruise as a bona fide movie star, a title he still holds three decades later. Here are 12 things you might not know about the '80s classic, on its 35th anniversary.
1. AT ONE POINT THE MOVIE WAS TITLED WHITE BOYS OFF THE LAKE.
Because the movie took place, and was partly filmed, in Chicago’s affluent Highland Park suburb, located along Lake Michigan, writer-director Paul Brickman (who grew up in Highland Park) told Salon that, "The working title was White Boys Off the Lake. I think the studio rejected that because it sounded like an off-Broadway play. So we started doing word association to come up with a new title.”
2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE CONFORMIST.
Brickman also told Salon that Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist was a huge influence on the film: “I thought, ‘Why can’t you present that as a film for youth and aspire to that kind of style and still have humor in it?’ That was the test: to meld a darker form of filmmaking with humor. Tone is what I wanted to play with.” Though Risky Business comes off as a satire about capitalism couched as a teen comedy, The Conformist is a political drama situated during Italy’s 1940’s Fascist regime.
3. THE DIRECTOR WAS NOT INITIALLY SOLD ON TOM CRUISE.
Cruise was filming The Outsiders in Tulsa, Oklahoma when he got the call to audition for Risky Business. Cruise told Interview, “Originally, Paul [Brickman] had seen Taps and said, ‘This guy for Joel? This guy is a killer! Let him do Amityville III!’ Somehow, my agent, without me knowing, arranged to have me just drop by the office to say hello. So I went in wearing a jean jacket, my tooth was chipped, my hair was greasy. I was pumped up and talking in an Oklahoma accent, ‘Hey, how y’all doing?’ Paul just sat there, looking at me.” Cruise returned to Tulsa but flew back to L.A. and auditioned again. “I walk in and see this stunningly gorgeous woman sitting there looking at me and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God,’” Cruise said. “Rebecca [De Mornay] had already been cast. They wanted to see the two of us together. I tested, and to make a short story long, we didn’t test that well. Paul just believed in me.”
4. CRUISE LOST WEIGHT IN ORDER TO LOOK MORE BABY-FACED.
According to an interview with Cruise in a September 5, 1983 issue of People, Cruise “shed 14 pounds in five weeks by jogging in the Florida sun and strict dieting. When he had reached his weight goal, he stopped exercising ‘so I could put on a little layer of baby fat’ for his unathletic character.” Cruise explained, “[Joel's] a very vulnerable person. I didn’t want any physical defenses up for him. No muscle armor at all.”
5. CRUISE IMPROVISED THE UNDERWEAR SCENE.
In what became the movie’s most iconic moment, Cruise uses a candlestick holder as a mic and dances around his house to Bob Seger’s 1978 song “Old Time Rock and Roll." “I was just looking for something that was a timeless rock and roll piece that wouldn’t be dated,” Brickman told Yahoo! of his song choice. The scene wasn’t filmed at the Highland Park-located house; it was filmed at a schoolhouse in Skokie, Illinois.
Cruise told Cameron Crowe how the scene unfurled: “So I took the candlestick, and I said, ‘How about making this the audience?’ And then I just started ad libbing, using it as a guitar, jumping on the table. I waxed half the floor and kept the other half dirty, so I could slide in on my socks. As we went along, I threw more stuff in. Like the thing with the collar up, jumping on the bed. Originally, it was only one line in the script: ‘Joel dances in underwear through the house.’ We shot it in half a day.” And Cruise danced his way into history.
6. SEVERAL PARODIES EXIST OF THE SEGER DANCE SCENE—INCLUDING TWO INVOLVING BEN STILLER.
When Ron Reagan, Jr. hosted a 1986 episode of SNL, the cold open entailed Reagan being home alone at the White House, where he does what any First Kid would do: strip down to his underwear and dance to “Old Time Rock and Roll." During a scene in Scrubs, three of the characters hilariously recreate the dance moment. A 1992 episode of The Ben Stiller Show involves Stiller doing a spot-on impression of Cruise, who in the sketch is turning his life into a musical called Tom Cruise: Dress Casual, replete with a snippet of the underwear scene. Then, at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards, Stiller once again parodied Cruise—but this time as Cruise’s stunt double. Cruise appears in the skit as himself and allows Stiller to once again act out the underwear scene. The Stiller/Cruise comedic partnership continued years later when the good-humored Cruise worked with Stiller in the Stiller-directed 2008 film Tropic Thunder.
7. SEVERAL PORSCHE 928S WERE USED IN THE FILM.
“Porsche, there is no substitute,” Joel says as he speeds around town in his dad’s Porsche, only to have it later sink into Belmont Harbor. Porsche manufactured the 928 model from 1978 to 1995, and it was the first mass-produced Porsche with a V8 engine. Four of the 1979 models show up in the movie (and a 1981 model), including one that was gutted for the lake scene, and another that was painted gold. A collector tried to track down all of the Porsches but only found one of them, which he bought for $49,200 at a 2012 Hollywood memorabilia auction.
8. CRUISE THINKS THE FILM IS ABOUT CAPITALISM.
Ten years prior to casting Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, Cameron Crowe spoke with Cruise for Interview and asked him what he thought Risky Business was about. “It’s about today’s capitalistic society,” Cruise said, in 1986. “Do the means justify the ends? Do you want to help people, or do you just want to make money? Joel is questioning all of that. So am I ... I’m not saying I’m some erudite political figure—but it bothers me. At least I’m asking the question. The movie is Joel’s exploration of society, how he gets sucked into this wild capitalistic ride.”
9. THE MANUFACTURER OF THE CRYSTAL EGG WENT OUT OF BUSINESS IN 2011.
“I’m very disappointed in you,” Joel’s mom tells her son after she comes home from vacation to find her prized crystal egg cracked. Earlier in the film, hookers steal the egg from the mantel but return it to Joel by throwing it like a football. In real life, the egg was made by a century-old Corning, New York manufacturer named Steuben Glass Works, who made all kinds of prized pieces until they shuttered operations in 2011, mainly because the demand for crystal declined post-recession.
10. THE FILM WAS THE MOVIE DEBUT OF BOTH MEGAN MULLALLY AND BRONSON PINCHOT.
Before she was a Emmy-winning actress, Megan Mullally played a hooker in Risky Business. Wearing pink lingerie and with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth, she appears for just a few seconds. In the end credits she’s listed as “Call Girl.” Bronson Pinchot has much more screen time starring as Joel’s wise-cracking friend Barry. In a 2009 interview with The A.V Club, Pinchot said working with Cruise was “weird” and called Cruise “the biggest bore on the face of the Earth.”
11. TOM CRUISE AND REBECCA DE MORNAY DATED IN REAL LIFE.
Cruise has always been coy about his private life, but in 1986 he opened up to Rolling Stone about a girlfriend whom he fell in love with. “That girlfriend was his Risky Business costar, Rebecca De Mornay,” reads the article. “Despite their incendiary love scenes, they didn’t start dating until after the film’s release in late summer of 1983.” The long-distance relationship dissolved some time after Cruise shot the film Legend, in London, and before he went off to film Top Gun. “Relationships are hard,” Cruise told the magazine. “You have to know when you’re going to be in a different place from someone else, you have to have the strength to separate.” In 1987, Cruise married his first wife, actress Mimi Rogers.
12. TWO ENDINGS WERE SHOT, BUT BRICKMAN ONLY LIKED THE ORIGINAL.
At the end of Risky Business, Joel dines at a restaurant with Lana and he says, “I was just thinking where we’ll be in 10 years,” and she says they’re going to make it big. He asks, “Was this a setup?” and she says, “No.” Cut to them walking through a park at night and them talking about how they won’t be seeing each other for a while. She asks to spend the night with him and he jokingly asks if she has any money, and then his voiceover kicks in: “My name is Joel Goodsen. I deal in human fulfillment. I grossed over $8,000 in one night ... Time of your life, huh, kid?”
But in the alternate ending, they dine at the same restaurant and have a similar conversation. “Was our night together just a setup?” he asks Lana and she says “no” then adds “Why does it have to be so tough?” He summons her to come over and sit on his lap, which she does. The camera pulls back to reveal a stunning view of Lake Michigan (it’s obvious they’re dining inside the Hancock building). While still on his lap, the couple embrace and Joel’s voiceover is exactly the same except “time of your life” gets changed to “isn’t life grand?”—a subtle yet more sarcastic and ambiguous ending.
“We had to change the ending to make it more upbeat and commercial,” Cruise told Cameron Crowe. “Geffen Films felt it was too ... basically they felt it was a bummer, okay? At one point, Paul [Brickman] said he wouldn’t direct the new ending. They were going to hire another director to direct it. Paul really fought it. We all did … In the end, I think we got across the same point, though. Joel knows in his heart that this woman is more important than money.” At a 30th anniversary screening of the film, Brickman finally showed an audience the ending he had intended for the film.