Gary Oldman met with Tony Scott about the project, and told him he hadn't had a chance to read the script he'd been sent, then asked Scott what his part would be like. Scott told him "You're playing a white guy who thinks he's black, and you're a killer pimp." Oldman laughed and immediately accepted the role.
Although this movie was not directed by Quentin Tarantino, it is still considered part of the Tarantino universe. The two key pieces of evidence, is Lee Donowitz being the grandson of Sergeant Donnie Donowitz from Inglourious Basterds (2009), this being confirmed by Tarantino. The second piece of evidence, is the fact that Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs (1992) mentioned working with a girl named "Alabama".
In the diner scene, when Clarence (Christian Slater) asks Alabama (Patricia Arquette) what her turn-offs are, she replies "Persians" in the finished film. Being turned off by her character appearing racist in that scene, Arquette name-dropped a different ethnicity, race, or nationality for each take that was shot. She said she wanted to be equally offensive to all people.
The genesis of the film began with a fifty page script by Roger Avary titled "The Open Road". Avary described the plot as being about "an odd couple relationship between an uptight business man and an out-of-control hitchhiker who travel into a Hellish midwestern town together." When he had trouble finishing it, he asked his friend and fellow Video Archives clerk, Quentin Tarantino, to give it a shot. After several weeks, Quentin handed him over five hundred hand-written pages of, what Avary described as "the Bible of pop culture". Roger typed and edited the behemoth, working with Quentin on further story ideas. According to a Film Threat article from 1994, the final script was a combination of this movie and Natural Born Killers (1994). Reportedly, it followed Quentin's original Natural Born Killers script until after the prison riot. After escaping, Mickey and Mallory decide to find and kill the screenwriter who wrote the glitzy Hollywood movie about their exploits. The writer goes on the run, and True Romance was the movie he writes while trying to evade the two psychotic killers. It was told in trademark Tarantino chapter fashion, out of chronological order. When it became obvious that the miniseries-length script would never sell, they split the two stories into separate movies.
Quentin Tarantino named the Sicilian scene as one of his proudest moments. "I had heard that whole speech about the Sicilians a long time ago, from a black guy living in my house. One day I was talking with a friend who was Sicilian and I just started telling that speech. And I thought: 'Wow, that is a great scene, I gotta remember that'."
Gary Oldman had his Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) wigmaker work on Drexl's dreadlock wig, and he sported one of his eyes from the same movie. His seventy-year-old mother was on set each day and he would solicit her opinions on his performance.
According to Director Tony Scott, Val Kilmer had originally wanted to play the character of Clarence. Kilmer spent eight hours in make-up being transformed into Elvis Presley. Fortunately, he was only required for two days of filming. The character is called Mentor in the closing credits, so as not to face any litigation from the Presley estate.
Quentin Tarantino chose the name Alabama as an homage to Pam Grier, who was Alabama in Women in Cages (1971). The original script even had Clarence mention that the name sounded like a Pam Grier character.
As a temporary music track, Film Editor Tony Ciccone put "Outshined" by Soundgarden in the scene where stoner Brad Pitt gives directions to the henchman. The result was such a hit at test screenings, that a good portion of the music budget went for obtaining rights to use the hit song in the final film.
On the first day of shooting, it became clear that Christian Slater and Director Tony Scott had different ideas on how to play Clarence, so Scott gave Slater a copy of Taxi Driver (1976) and told him to watch it as homework.
The scene on the roller coaster was filmed over two days. Michael Rapaport unfortunately has a fear of roller coasters, and suffers from acute motion sickness, facts which no one knew during the first day's filming. By the second day, the crew was prepared for this, and they gave him something to calm his nerves. As a result, one can easily tell from cut to cut on which day a particular moment was filmed by watching his face in the background. His expression goes back and forth from apprehensive and nauseous (the first day) to bland and oblivious of his surroundings (the second day).
The sunglasses, Christian Slater wears throughout the movie, can also be seen being worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003). She takes them from Buck after she wakes from her coma, and wears them to shield her eyes from the florescent hospital lights.
The character of Blue Lou Boyle was originally a speaking part (with Robert De Niro as the definite favorite), but many cuts were made to Quentin Tarantino's script, including a scene featuring him. Instead, he's briefly mentioned as Vincent Coccotti's (Christopher Walken's) associate.
According to Gary Oldman, "...it's a collaborative thing, and you work with the costume designer and the director. In the case of True Romance, I was already working on a film and had no way of meeting Tony Scott. I met him once at the interview. And he said, "I cannot tell you what the story is." He said, "I'm no good at that." He said, "The character, he's a white guy, thinks he's black, and he's a pimp." And I said, "I'll do it." And we shook hands and I hadn't even read the script. And then over the course of working on it, I had this idea about the dreadlocks and a scar, and teeth and all of that, and I would just write to Tony, "What about this? What about that?" And on the first day of shooting, that's when he saw it all put together. So yeah, I'm thinking and I'm thinking about those details.
In a 2008 Maxim article, it is revealed that the character of Lee Donowitz, played by Saul Rubinek, was envisioned as a portrayal of Producer Joel Silver by Director Tony Scott. The two had just worked together on The Last Boy Scout (1991). Scott hated working with Silver during the making of that film, and they both had problems with Bruce Willis. Silver even called the making of The Last Boy Scout (1991) to be "one of the three worst experiences in my life". When Scott told Rubinek that he "got Joel exactly right" during his audition, Rubinek had no idea who Joel Silver even was. In the article, Scott is quoted as saying: "The Hollywood satire is affectionate, but Joel didn't talk to me for a long time after that."
Kevin Corrigan's character is listed as "Marvin", but he is never referred to by that name in the film. In one scene, Frankie calls him "Mad Dog". This was an ad-lib by Frank Adonis, who felt that Corrigan bore a resemblance to an Irish mob hitman named Mad Dog Coll.
The trivia section, in the DVD special features, reports that Quentin Tarantino sold this script for about ten thousand dollars. With this money, he purchased the red Chevy Chevelle convertible that Vincent Vega drives in Pulp Fiction (1994).
Harvey Weinstein thought that Christian Slater was too good-looking to play Clarence, and told Warner Brothers that he would rather have someone like Steve Buscemi play the part. Warner Brothers immediately fired him for this request, so Harvey went up to Quentin Tarantino and told him that they're going to be partners and not associate with Warner Brothers after this film.
In the original script, Clarence Worley wrote the screenplay for Natural Born Killers (1994) while travelling cross-country with Alabama. But the script ended up being over five hundred pages long, so Quentin Tarantino decided to split it up into separate movies.
During his stay in a squalid hotel without a phone, James Gandolfini rarely used the shower. After he noticed Christopher Walken decline earplugs for the scene where Dennis Hopper gets shot, Gandolfini decided to do the same. He couldn't hear for three days.
Clarence offers to show Alabama Spider-Man #1 at the comic book store. He probably was referring to Amazing Spider-Man #1 published in 1963, one of the most sought-after modern superhero comic books. The value is extremely dependent on condition, but as of 2009, even a well-worn issue would bring at least one thousand dollars, and a perfect pristine copy, might sell at auction for close to one hundred thousand dollars.
In a deleted scene, Vincenzo Coccotti says to his men, "Oh children, someone is sticking a red hot poker up my asshole, and what I don't know is whose name's on the handle". This is a line from Reservoir Dogs (1992), also by Quentin Tarantino.
Early versions of the script set the mood with a couple of quotes after the title page. The first: "His films are a desperate cry from the heart of a grotesque fast food culture." -French critics on the films of Roger Corman. The second: "... Beyond all the naiveté and stupidity, beyond the vulgarity inherent in the amount of money involved, beyond all this, a certain grandeur had rooted itself into the scheme, and I could still spy a reckless and artistic splendor to the way we had carried it out." -Clifford Irving on the Howard Hughes hoax.
The comic book that Clarence shows Alabama is "Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos" #18. In this issue, Nick has gotten a ring for his sweetheart (Pamela Hawley), that he keeps on a chain around his neck. Later in the story, he gets in a fight with a Nazi, and the ring falls overboard, but Fury dives into the ocean to retrieve it. What Clarence doesn't tell Alabama, is that when Fury returns to give the ring to his love, he finds she's been killed. On a side note, Samuel L. Jackson (who appears as Big Don) played Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At one point during the coke deal scene, Lee Donowitz asks why Alabama looks beat up. Dick Ritchie says it happened when she was playing basketball. This causes Elliot Blitzer to burst out laughing inappropriately, with everyone around him wondering why. The same exact occurrence happens in Inglorious Basterds, when it is revealed to Hans Landa that Bridget Von Hammersmark broke her leg while mountain climbing. Both scripts were written by Tarantino.
Another link between this movie and others in the Tarantinoverse is the phrase "Diddled-eyed Joe to a damned-if-I-know". It's used in this movie, spoken by Drexl and Reservoir Dogs (1992), where Holdaway used the phrase with Mr. Orange.
Michael Rapaport was originally cast in the role of Marvin. But the casting director later thought Rapaport was right for the role of Dick Ritchie. Dick Ritchie was originally written as an African-American in the script.
One of the original directors set up to do this was B-movie veteran William Lustig. But Tarantino turned him down because he did not believe he could do like Jonathan Demme (who went from B-movies to "regular" feature movies).
The title and plot are a play on the titles of romance comic books with their overwrought love stories, very popular in earlier decades, such as "True Life Secrets", "True Stories of Romance", "Romance Tales", "Untamed Love", and "Strange Love".
A draft was written when William Lustig was attached as director, where most of the interior scenes where moved outside, including Cliff Worley's confrontation with Vincenzo Coccotti, and the whole Clarence/Drexl fight. "You go inside, you die!" he reportedly told the writers. After he left, the scenes were moved back inside.
In the infamous "Sicilian's being Spawned by the Moors" scene, Mr. Worley starts this dialogue with Vincenzo Coccotti to anger him because he knew it was true, and he knew there wasn't any other way out except torture, so he pushed the Sicilian gangster over the edge to avoid it.
Upon hearing that his friend Dick auditioned for a part in the new T.J. Hooker series, Clarence (Christian Slater) says how cool it would be to actually be playing across from Captain Kirk himself. Christian Slater missed that opportunity when he had about five lines in a cameo appearance in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). But his lines were with Captain Sulu, not Captain Kirk.
In the scene when Clarence (Christian Slater) meets Lee (Saul Rubinek), they are discussing Lee's fictional movie "Coming Home in a Body Bag". Clarence mentions that after Apocalypse Now (1979), he thinks it's the best Vietnam movie ever. Dennis Hopper, who played Clarence's father, appeared in Apocalypse Now (1979).
While "interrogating" Mr. Worley in his trailer, Coccotti and his crew casually leave their fingerprints all over the crime scene. Coccotti also leaves behind a cigarette butt and a wad of gum, both of which could have been forensically tested for DNA.
The film stars three actors who have been in Batman films: Christopher Walken was in Batman Returns (1992), Val Kilmer was in Batman Forever (1995) and Gary Oldman was in Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
During the scene on the roller coaster, Clarence used the phrase ''Riddle me this, Batman'' while speaking to Elliot. Val Kilmer, who played a version of Elvis that speaks to Clarence, played Batman in Batman Forever (1995) and battled against The Riddler.
When Cody Nicholson (Tom Sizemore) and Nicky Dimes (Chris Penn) are talking with Police Captain Quiggle (Ed Lauter), after Elliot Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot) was caught with the cocaine, during their conversation, Nicholson mentions a Roman gladiator. Director Tony Scott's brother Ridley directed Gladiator (2000), about a Roman gladiator.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Following the "eggplant scene", Dennis Hopper was concerned about being "shot" by Christopher Walken with the prop gun so close against his head for fear of being burned by the barrel. Director Tony Scott assured him the gun was one hundred percent safe, and even tested it by having the prop man fire it against his (Scott's) own forehead. But upon firing the prop gun, the barrel extended about a third of an inch and Scott ended up on the floor with blood pouring from the wound.
Quentin Tarantino's original ending had Clarence dying in the gun battle, leaving Alabama a widow. Tarantino said that he intended Alabama to turn to crime and join with Mr. White, a character from Reservoir Dogs (1992) (which he wrote and directed). In a flashback scene in Reservoir Dogs (1992), Mr. White is asked about "Alabama".
There are two versions of cop Nicky Dimes' death during the hotel suite shoot-out. In one of them, Dimes executes Boris for Boris' murder of Cody Nicholson, but is then shot and killed by one of the mobsters right before that mobster also dies. In the other version, Dimes still executes Boris, but is then shot and killed by Alabama, because she thinks he shot and killed Clarence (who is badly wounded, but alive). Both versions have been used during the film's extensive cable television airings.
Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Walken only appear in one scene each, while Gary Oldman and Val Kilmer (whose face is never clearly shown) are in only two. The characters Blue Lou Boyle and Clarence's boss are never seen.