Poet and rock musician Jim Carroll documented his precipitous fall from talented high school basketball phenom to drug addict in The Basketball Diaries, a series of entries put together in book form in 1978. After many attempts at turning it into a movie, rising stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg were joined by a talented cast that included Lorraine Bracco, Bruno Kirby, and Juliette Lewis in the 1995 movie adaptation. Here are some facts about the film to read before you wonder how the hell you're still alive.
1. ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL AND RIVER PHOENIX WERE ORIGINALLY SET TO STAR.
The Basketball Diaries was almost made by Columbia Pictures in the late 1980s starring Anthony Michael Hall. Ethan Hawke, Eric Stoltz, Matt Dillon, Stephen Dorff, and River Phoenix all expressed serious interest in playing Jim Carroll, too. Phoenix wanted the role so badly he once pulled a paperback copy of The Basketball Diaries out of his pocket and proclaimed, "I want to play Jim Carroll" in an MTV interview. Though Phoenix passed away in 1993, two years before the film was released, Carroll wondered if the actor would have been able to pull off the basketball scenes.
2. STUDIO EXECUTIVES WANTED TO SET IT IN SEATTLE.
Director Scott Kalvert had read The Basketball Diaries when he was 15 years old and compared it to Catcher in the Rye. "Nobody really wanted to make the movie," Kalvert claimed. "Some wanted [the locale] changed to Seattle because Seattle was cool. Someone wanted to change it so Jim wasn't the one involved in drugs, and I had a specific take on it."
3. THE SCREENWRITER USED TO FOLLOW CARROLL AROUND NEW YORK CITY.
Bryan Goluboff used to follow Carroll around Greenwich Village in the 1980s, when the future screenwriter was a teenager and Carroll was playing music.
4. JIM CARROLL DIDN'T KNOW WHO LEONARDO DICAPRIO WAS ... UNTIL HE REALIZED HE WAS "THE KID FROM GROWING PAINS."
"When they first told me it was gonna be Leo, I didn't know who he was," Carroll told The Los Angeles Times. "If they'd said the kid from Growing Pains, I would have known, because when I first saw that kid, I said, 'This kid has a lot of presence.' I said, 'That kid is very pretty. He's gonna do well.'"
5. MARK WAHLBERG HAD TO READ FOR THE PART SIX TIMES BECAUSE DICAPRIO DIDN'T WANT HIM IN IT.
Mark Wahlberg had appeared in just one film, 1994's Renaissance Man, and ended up reading for the part of Mickey a total of six times. DiCaprio initially refused to work with him. "Leonardo said, ‘No way, I’m not making a movie with Marky Mark,’" Wahlberg recalled in 2015. It didn't help that at an MTV Rock n' Jock basketball game, Wahlberg blocked a shot by DiCaprio, while in his underwear, and while being a self-admitted "prick" about it. It also didn't help that Wahlberg was eight hours late to his first reading with DiCaprio (because of a canceled flight). The two eventually buried the hatchet.
6. DICAPRIO DID HIS RESEARCH.
He hung out in Greenwich Village and went to a poetry reading with Carroll, basically living out Goluboff's fantasies.
7. THERE WAS A DRUG CONSULTANT ON SET.
An ex-addict was hired for authenticity. DiCaprio outlined how to talk like a junkie to the Los Angeles Times: "The voice: you go down an octave," DiCaprio explained. "Even when you raise your voice it's like you got this frog in your throat. It's not necessarily being tired and it's not necessarily like being drunk. It's sort of like your body becomes jelly and all your bones and everything become completely relaxed. You just feel at peace. Supposedly. I don't know. I've never done it. Right?"
8. THE REAL NAMES WERE ALL DIFFERENT.
With the exception of Carroll's, all of the characters's names were changed to avoid lawsuits.
9. REGGIE WAS THE ONE CHARACTER IN THE MOVIE NEVER MENTIONED IN THE BOOK.
Reggie was played by Ernie Hudson, who looked back on the making the movie fondly. "I got to know Leonardo DiCaprio; he was great to work with," Hudson told The A.V. Club. "He’s a very talented guy; I look at that movie now, and I love the scenes that we had together. It certainly took everything I had. It was some of the best work I’ve ever done."
10. CHLOË SEVIGNY DIDN'T WANT IT MADE.
In Jay McInerney's New Yorker profile of the then-20-year-old "It Girl," he documented the time Sevigny—a fan of Carroll's work—approached him in the East Village and told him, “You can’t let them do this.” McInerney elaborated that she was worried the film would "violate the spirit of the book" and reported that she rolled her eyes at the thought of Marky Mark being involved in the project.
11. THREE FUTURE SOPRANOS STARS WERE IN IT.
Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Melfi) played Jim's mom; Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) portrayed Bobby, Carroll's friend with leukemia; and Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy) had the honor of getting vomited on while riding the ferry. When asked in 2010 about some of her favorite roles, Bracco cited her work in The Basketball Diaries, saying "it was a really great character."
12. THE BASKETBALL SCENES WERE FILMED AT SCOTT KALVERT'S FORMER HIGH SCHOOL.
Forest Hills High, located in Queens, New York, hosted the movie's basketball games. "I think they've still got my picture and prison number on the wall," the director joked. When asked if he played high school hoops, Kalvert said, "No. I did the drugs, though."
13. CARROLL MISSED THE MOVIE'S WORLD PREMIERE AT SUNDANCE.
He had to stay in New York City and meet with a Vatican monsignor who investigates miracles, "like the image of Christ burnt into a tortilla," for research.
14. CARROLL DIDN'T LIKE THE MOVIE.
While he thought the performances were really good—particularly DiCaprio and Wahlberg's—Carroll took issue with the movie's ending. "If they just ended with him staring out the window I think it would've worked. It would've been very literary. The way they re-shot it was kinda corny, so clean and everything." He also didn't agree with Kalvert's direction. "But the director was just a techno freak. He didn't have any literary sense at all."
One night during production, Carroll had a "real blow out" with Kalvert, and DiCaprio seemingly took Carroll's side and left the set. "But he just had a crème brulee and returned. Once I lost his cachet, my leverage went way down."
15. IT GOT MORE PEOPLE TO READ THE BOOK.
Carroll—who passed away in 2009—was surprised that the movie got more people to read his original book. "I thought these kids that were going to see it were going to see Leo and Marky Wahlberg; they're not going to buy the book. But it was actually kids who were buying the book, and I started to get this flood of mail from kids with drug problems or who got off drugs because of the book."