Oliver Stone’s JFK examined the possible government cover-up of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy through the eyes of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), who in 1967 filed charges against businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) for his alleged involvement in the conspiracy. The film earned eight Oscar nominations, and lots of controversy, with some criticizing Stone for misleading moviegoers with false information. Here are some facts about the movie that can be seen through the looking glass.
1. OLIVER STONE WAS GIVEN JIM GARRISON’S BOOK IN AN ELEVATOR IN CUBA.
Stone was in Havana in 1988 to accept an award at the Latin American Film Festival when Ellen Ray, the publisher of Garrison’s book On the Trail of the Assassins, gave him a copy. He read it while in the Philippines working on Born on the Fourth of July and was enthralled. Stone bought the rights to the book, as well as the rights to Jim Marrs' Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, and hired Garrison’s editor, Zachary Sklar, to help him write the screenplay.
2. STONE WAS SECRETIVE WITH THE SCRIPT.
Stone sold the script to Warner Bros., despite his belief that he could have made a better deal elsewhere. "I didn't want the script going all over the world to be bid on and read," Stone told the Los Angeles Times. "I knew the material was dangerous and I wanted one entity to finance the whole thing."
3. HARRISON FORD AND MEL GIBSON TURNED DOWN THE LEAD.
Ford was taking a break from acting, and Gibson and Stone shared a “strained” dinner meeting. Kevin Costner agreed to the role for $7 million, plus a percentage of the box office.
4. COSTNER MET GARRISON'S REAL ENEMIES.
The actor met both Garrison’s fans and his critics. "I wanted Costner to get both sides, to witness the hatred and extremism that Jim engenders and as an actor to look into the eyes of his enemies and know what he was up against back then," explained Stone. "These were tough people and they'd come in a parade in front of Costner with their New Orleans accent saying that Jim's a snake—that he liked boys and was angry that Shaw stole his lover and a lot worse."
5. THE REAL JIM GARRISON PLAYED CHIEF JUSTICE EARL WARREN.
On September 24, 1964, the Warren Commission determined that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Garrison saw the movie before he passed away in 1992 and was, according to Stone, a “very happy man.”
6. STONE WANTED MARLON BRANDO FOR X.
Donald Sutherland ended up playing the mysterious figure. Stone realized in retrospect that Brando would have made the already long dialogue of X’s “15 times longer” anyway.
7. FRANK WHALEY WAS SET TO PLAY LEE HARVEY OSWALD.
Frank Whaley—who had worked with Stone on The Doors, which was released in March of 1991—insisted he was promised the part by Stone. He found out that Gary Oldman won the role when he was waiting for a movie to begin, reading a free magazine provided by the movie theater. "I just was so f**king heartbroken, because I was really anxious to play that role and to work with Oliver again," Whaley told The A.V. Club. Stone later apologized and cast him as the Oswald impersonator in the film. A couple years later, Whaley got to play Oswald in the 1993 made-for-TV movie Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald.
8. BEATA POZNIAK LIVED WITH MARINA OSWALD FOR TWO MONTHS.
To prepare for her U.S. screen debut as Oswald’s widow, the Polish actress befriended Marina and the two spent some time as roommates.
9. POZNIAK AND OLDMAN IMPROVISED THEIR FIGHTS.
The script simply read, “Lee and Marina have a fight.” Stone met with the two actors and asked them what they thought the scene was about. Pozniak said it was like working on a theater production more than a movie.
10. WAYNE KNIGHT AND STONE CLASHED OVER HIS ACCENT.
Wayne Knight (Seinfeld's Newman) used an accent he heard growing up in northwest Georgia for his audition as Numa Bertel, which Stone loved. But Knight discovered upon meeting the real, New Orleans-born Bertel that he didn’t sound like that at all. Knight insisted on using Bertel’s real accent in the film, though it took a while to convince Stone. "He’s rough trade, that man," Knight told The A.V. Club of Stone.
11. COSTNER INSISTED THAT JOHN CANDY NOT BE CUT.
John Candy was “devastated” when he heard his role as lawyer Dean Andrews was being cut from JFK, so Costner intervened. Stone wrote a letter to Candy apologizing for considering taking his nervous, sweaty character out of the movie.
12. COSTNER ALMOST RUINED A TAKE BECAUSE HE WAS LOOKING AT A SNAKE BEING KILLED.
Kevin Bacon and Costner were shooting a scene at Angola prison when Costner broke eye contact to watch a crew member use a machete to hack a snake to death.
13. THERE WAS EXPENSIVE ATTENTION TO DETAIL.
Kennedy’s Oval Office was reconstructed from archival footage, at a cost of $70,000. It was seen for only eight seconds. In black and white. Stone also spent $4 million to restore Dealey Plaza to its 1963 form. Dallas police had to reroute traffic and close streets for three weeks.
The exterior of the Texas Theatre, where Oswald was arrested, was also remodeled to look like it did back in 1963, thanks to permission from the Texas Theatre Historical Society.
14. X WAS BASED ON L. FLETCHER PROUTY AND RICHARD CASE NAGELL.
Prouty was an Air Force officer who served in the Pentagon, and former aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He believed heavily in a conspiracy. Nagell claimed to be a CIA agent to Garrison and claimed he knew Kennedy was going to be killed before it happened.
15. X WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO RETURN AT THE VERY END OF THE MOVIE.
But Stone realized it didn’t work. Because some of the dialogue meant for the coda was important, it was edited in over the black and white flashbacks and documentary footage, combining X’s two scenes into one.
16. THE FIRST CUT WAS FOUR AND A HALF HOURS LONG.
Stone said he had to leave “a lot more Shaw stuff” on the cutting room floor, as well as Jim almost getting set up in a men’s airport restroom, and “a wonderful scene” with a “Johnny Carson-type.” (The real Garrison appeared on The Tonight Show with Carson in 1968.) Oldman also recalled a cut fantasy sequence where Oswald looked straight into the camera and said he was innocent.
17. THE FILM WAS ATTACKED BEFORE IT CAME OUT.
Dan Rather, The Washington Post, and The New York Times all said or published negative things about the movie, based on the screenplay alone. Newsweek’s cover read: “The Twisted Truth of JFK: Why Oliver Stone's New Movie Can't Be Trusted." Stone called the experience “distressing.”
18. IT LED TO THE JFK RECORDS ACT OF 1992.
The Act was unanimously signed by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, precipitated by the public’s reaction to the movie. It stated all records on the incident were to be eventually disclosed, which hasn’t happened thanks to the CIA.