Riding around in an old VW bus with a motivational speaker, an angsty teen, a depressed Proust scholar, and a surly grandpa sounds like a terrible time. But Little Miss Sunshine managed to turn the Hoover family road trip into a delightful experience. In honor of the indie darling’s 10-year anniversary, check out these facts about the movie’s Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired screenplay and numerous Breaking Bad references.
1. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER SPARKED THE IDEA.
The Terminator himself accidentally inspired the Little Miss Sunshine screenplay. Screenwriter Michael Arndt was struck by a speech that Arnold Schwarzenegger gave to a bunch of high school students which included the lines, “If there’s one thing in this world that I hate, it’s losers, I despise them.” As Arndt explained at a 2007 bookstore appearance, “I thought, there’s something just so wrong with that attitude. There’s something so demeaning and insulting about referring to any other person as a loser, and I wanted to … attack that idea that in life you’re either going up or you’re going down.”
2. THE SCREENWRITER WAS MATTHEW BRODERICK’S ASSISTANT.
Before Arndt wrote Little Miss Sunshine, he held down a job as Matthew Broderick’s personal assistant. He eventually quit to focus on his writing, and it paid off big time. After winning an Academy Award for his very first script, he went on to pen the screenplays for Toy Story 3, Inside Out, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
3. A MARRIED COUPLE DIRECTED IT.
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are partners both professionally and personally. The couple met as college students at UCLA in 1980; he was a film major, she was into dance. They married eight years later and decided to collaborate on some short films. Throughout the 1990s, the pair directed music videos for the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Smashing Pumpkins (like this one). But it wasn’t until they read the Little Miss Sunshine script in 2001 that they made the leap into features.
4. IT TOOK FIVE YEARS TO MAKE THE MOVIE.
Little Miss Sunshine
languished in development hell for half a decade. After several rounds of failed pitches, the producers managed to sell Focus Features on the project. But two years of arguing with the directors over the shooting location and cast took its toll on the studio and they eventually dropped the movie. Luckily, producer Marc Turtletaub intervened. He bought the rights back from Focus and financed the project himself. By 2006, it was finally completed and ready to screen.
5. BILL MURRAY AND ROBIN WILLIAMS WERE CONSIDERED FOR ROLES.
Since the movie was in production for so long, many Hollywood names were discussed before the final cast was confirmed. Robin Williams, Alec Baldwin, and David Duchovny were all considered for the part of Richard Hoover, which eventually went to Greg Kinnear. Donald Sutherland almost played grouchy grandpa Edwin at one point (Alan Arkin won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the part), and Bill Murray was the leading choice for Frank (Steve Carell’s character).
6. THE DIRECTORS DREW ON A 1973 PBS REALITY SHOW.
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Dayton and Faris cited the PBS series An American Family as one of their inspirations. Considered the first reality show, this 1973 documentary series followed the Loud family over seven months. Its frank portrayal of family life often cast the Louds in a harsh light, but that’s what attracted Dayton and Faris. “That’s another story of horrible characters that you end up rooting for,” Dayton said. “We may not be able to identify with a gay Proust scholar, but what you can always relate to is someone who has passion in their life.”
7. DWAYNE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A MOHAWKED BEEFCAKE.
Cheryl’s sullen, silent son Dwayne was a little different in the original casting notes. The Los Angeles Times described this Dwayne as a “Mohawk-sporting bodybuilder.” But Dayton and Faris cast skinny, floppy-haired Paul Dano in the role instead because the then-22-year-old actor was too good to pass up. “His Mohawk was a feeling, not an external statement,” Dayton joked.
8. REAL CHILD BEAUTY PAGEANT CONTESTANTS APPEARED IN THE MOVIE.
The directors spent several months attending child beauty pageants as research for the film. So when they were finally ready to shoot, they asked actual contestants they had met to play Olive’s rivals in the fictional “Little Miss Sunshine” competition. Those contestants included eight-year-old girls like Maliah Hudson, who had been a fixture of the pageant circuit since she was an infant.
9. ABIGAIL BRESLIN REALLY WAS LISTENING TO MUSIC IN THE BUS SCENES.
Foul-mouthed Edwin Hoover has no qualms about dropping F-bombs in front of his young granddaughter, because Olive always has music blasting from her headphones. It turns out Abigail Breslin did, too. Because Alan Arkin was concerned about saying some of his cruder lines in front of the young actress, the crew made sure Breslin’s Discman was loaded with Kelly Clarkson tunes at all times. She really didn’t hear a word Arkin said until she watched the completed film.
10. THERE ARE SEVERAL CONNECTIONS TO
Little Miss Sunshine
dropped in 2006, a full two years before AMC premiered its meth empire masterpiece Breaking Bad. Oddly, the movie seemed to anticipate the critically-acclaimed series with a slew of unintentional references. Little Miss Sunshine and Breaking Bad share the desert backdrop of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Show stars Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris both appear in the movie, with Cranston as Stan Grossman and Norris as a pervy state trooper. Oh, and that current Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul? The actor who played Marco in season one also acted in the Little Miss Sunshine ensemble as Officer Martinez.
11. THE FILM IS DEDICATED TO THE PRODUCER’S NIECE.
Producer Peter Saraf’s niece Rebecca Annitto played an extra in the movie, but she sadly never got to see the final print. The teenager died in a car accident before Little Miss Sunshine was completed. But the editors included a sweet shout-out to her in the end credits that reads, “In loving memory of Rebecca Annitto, a true beauty inside and out.”
12. IT SOLD FOR A RECORD AMOUNT AT SUNDANCE.
When Little Miss Sunshine screened for audiences at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, it sparked wild standing ovations and a four-studio bidding war. In the end, Fox Searchlight Pictures emerged victorious—and it paid a pretty penny for the distribution rights. Little Miss Sunshine sold for $10.5 million, a record Sundance sum that was only surpassed this year when Fox Searchlight bought Nate Parker’s upcoming Nat Turner historical drama, The Birth of a Nation. Its price tag? $17.5 million.
13. GREG KINNEAR PLAYED GLOCKENSPIEL WITH THE MOVIE’S MUSICIANS.
Dayton and Faris asked the Denver-based band DeVotchKa to contribute 10 of the 14 tracks on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack. Each cast member received an iPod loaded with DeVotchKa albums during production, and Greg Kinnear apparently really dug their sound. The actor became such a fan that he visited the band in subsequent recording sessions. “He came by the studio a couple times while we were recording,” DeVotchKa frontman Nick Urata told Rolling Stone. “He even played some glockenspiel on a couple tracks.”
14. FOX SEARCHLIGHT HOSTED A SPECIAL SCREENING FOR VW BUS OWNERS.
In deference to the Hoovers’ canary-yellow Volkswagen bus, Fox Searchlight put together a screening at the Vineland Drive-In movie theater in City of Industry, California, especially for VW bus owners. By the looks of it, the cars were in slightly better shape than Richard and Cheryl’s.