Meet the Parents—the first film in a comedy trilogy that made more than $1 billion at the box office—helped give Robert De Niro new cinematic life as a comedic actor, and solidified Ben Stiller as a leading man. On the occasion of its 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the film that you unfortunately cannot milk.
1. IT'S A REMAKE OF A 1992 INDEPENDENT FILM.
In 1992, Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke wrote and starred in Meet the Parents, a 75-minute flick that Glienna also directed on a budget of about $100,000. Unable to find a distributor for their film, the filmmakers eventually sold the rights to Universal Studios.
2. JIM CARREY CAME UP WITH THE NAME "FOCKER."
At one point in the film's development, Jim Carrey was set to star as Greg, with Steven Spielberg directing. It was during this back and forth that Carrey came up with the idea that the main character's last name should be "Focker." After Carrey and Spielberg moved on, the studio offered the project to Austin Powers director Jay Roach.
3. JAY ROACH WAS "TERRIFIED" TO DIRECT THE FILM.
Roach was apprehensive in attempting to sell the project to both De Niro and Stiller. Stiller thought Roach was only pretending to be nervous. Roach swears he was not. "I don’t think it was strategy," Roach told Entertainment Weekly. "I wanted them to know I was terrified. I’m really bad at faking."
4. NAOMI WATTS AUDITIONED AT LEAST FIVE TIMES TO PLAY PAM.
"I think the director liked me but the studio didn’t," Watts told The Daily Beast of her multiple auditions for the film. "I heard every piece of feedback you could imagine, and in this case, it was 'not sexy enough.'" Teri Polo landed the role.
5. STILLER PROPOSED TO HIS GIRLFRIEND DURING THE FILM'S PRODUCTION.
Stiller proposed to Christine Taylor at the same time he was rehearsing Meet the Parents. "I asked her father for permission before I did it," Stiller recalled to Parade. "It was like Meet the Parents in real life, because Christine’s father is an intimidating guy who owns a security company; we’re good friends now, but at the time I was in the basement rec room saying, 'I really would like to marry your daughter' ... He's a man of few words but he was very welcoming. I was more nervous asking him than asking her."
6. THE ORIGINAL OPENING SCENE WAS TOO EXPENSIVE TO FILM.
The film's original opening had Greg proposing to Pam during a Cubs game at Wrigley Field—and failing spectacularly. To save money (the film had a $55 million budget), they had Greg’s failed proposal take place outside of a school instead.
7. THE IDEA FOR THE LIE DETECTOR CAME FROM DE NIRO.
While researching a role, De Niro read up on polygraphers. He then talked about what he had read to Roach at a pre-shoot dinner. "At that point, there was no lie detector scene in the script," Roach told Entertainment Weekly. "But after hearing all this, I thought, 'Oh, this has to be in our movie.' Now it’s become the central image of all the ads, the trailers, everything." Jack Byrnes being ex-CIA was in the script from the very beginning.
8. GREG'S CHARACTER WAS INFLUENCED BY DUSTIN HOFFMAN'S CHARACTER IN THE GRADUATE.
Jim Herzfeld was one of the two credited screenwriters for Meet the Parents, along with John Hamburg. Herzfeld said he always thought of Greg as someone who was misunderstood, like The Graduate's Benjamin Braddock. (For the 2004 sequel, Meet the Fockers, Dustin Hoffman was cast as Greg's dad, Bernie Focker.)
9. THE PHARMACY USED IN THE MOVIE STAYED OPEN WHILE THE ACTORS FILMED.
For a scene in which Stiller interacts with a pharmacy cashier (played by Judah Friedlander), the production not only used a real pharmacy—but an open one. Whenever the actors would finish a take, the actual cashiers would get back to work and deal with the customers. When the cameras started to roll again, the cashiers would stand off in a corner so that they wouldn't be seen by the cameras. "Maybe it was a legal thing where they had to keep the pharmacy open," said Friedlander of the scene. "It made it pretty chaotic. But that scene was a lot of fun, because it was mostly improvised, and that's my favorite thing to do, is making stuff up on the spot."
10. BLYTHE DANNER WAS GOING FOR GRACIE ALLEN.
Blythe Danner (mom to Gwyneth Paltrow in real life) took inspiration from Gracie Allen, the wife and comedic partner of George Burns, in her role as Dina Byrnes.
11. "FOCKER" WAS ALMOST CHANGED.
The MPAA refused to allow the use of the last name "Focker" unless the filmmakers could find someone with that actual surname. (Presumably, they did.)
12. MR. JINX WAS PLAYED BY TWO CATS.
13. THE MOVIE INSPIRED A CAT TOILET-TRAINING PRODUCT.
Jo Lapidge and her husband, Terry, came up with the idea for Litter Kwitter—a toilet-training tool for cats—after seeing Meet the Parents. (Litter Kwitters come with plastic rings you put over the toilet seat. Gradually the hole in the rings gets bigger until the rings aren’t needed at all.) On set, though, the cats weren’t actually trained to use the toilet.
14. YOU CANNOT SEE GREG’S AIRPLANE RANT ON AN AIRPLANE.
If you happen to be watching Meet the Parents on an airplane, you won't see the airplane scene. It was cut out of the in-flight version.
15. ROACH DID HIS BEST TO MAKE STILLER UNCOMFORTABLE.
Stiller hated the clothes he wore in the movie, which Roach knew; he wanted the actor to be as uncomfortable as his character.