In 1997, visionary director Luc Besson unleashed his sci-fi opus The Fifth Element on the world. It was a daunting project and the most expensive European film ever made at the time of its release, costing approximately $90 million. Much like the rest of Besson’s work, however, it polarized both critics and fans.
Chatting to Deadline, Besson admitted that he never thought the film would be so divisive. “The response in the U.S. was, at the time, very deceptive for me. The film was probably [too ahead of its time]. The film did $70 million [at the] box office. We opened at number one, but I went to a couple of cities in the middle of America where I saw people leaving in the middle of the screening, saying, ‘What the f**k is this thing?'”
Over time, though, the film garnered cult classic status and is now deservedly remembered as a crucial piece of sci-fi cinema history. Naturally, a lot happened behind the scenes to make this project come to fruition and most people only know half the story of how The Fifth Element came to be.
We aim to change this by uncovering the 15 Crazy Things Fans Didn’t Know About The Fifth Element.
15. It Ruined Luc Besson’s Marriage
So, get this: Besson cast his then-wife, Maïwenn Le Besco, as Diva Plavalaguna after the original actress dropped out of the production. Le Besco really did him a solid there because it would’ve been a headache to find another actress in such a short time.
His thank you was to leave her during the shoot and shack up with the leading lady, Milla Jovovich. All those hours of practicing the “Divine Language” must’ve brought Besson and Jovovich closer, as he completely forgot about his nuptials and wife.
Besson and Jovovich were married in 1997 but divorced two years later. Jovovich then showed her affinity for directors by starting a relationship with Paul W.S. Anderson after the two worked together on Resident Evil. Moral of the story: if your husband is the director in a film starring Jovovich, keep a close eye on him.
14. Bruce Willis Took A Reduced Salary
While Bruce Willis wasn’t the first choice for Korben Dallas, he ended up being the perfect choice at the end of the day. Still, if it wasn’t for Willis taking less than he normally charges, we might’ve seen someone else in the leading role.
Besson thought he’d have to settle for a cheaper leading man, but in a conversation with Willis, the actor told him that if he liked the script, they’d figure something out. Two hours later, Willis said he was in, revealing that sometimes he just does movies because they’re fun.
Ultimately, Willis took a reduced salary up front and a percentage of the film’s profits. Considering The Fifth Element made over $263 million at the global box office, the actor’s gamble paid off rather handsomely for him.
13. Prince Was Meant To Star In The Movie
Before Chris Tucker took the role of Ruby Rhod, Luc Besson had someone else in mind for the part: the late Prince. After Prince passed away in 2016, Besson tweeted a tribute including a sketch of Prince as Ruby done by Jean-Paul Gaultier, and revealed that scheduling conflicts prevented the musician from taking the role.
According to Gaultier, though, Prince turned down the role because it seemed “too effeminate.” Additionally, there was a bit a language mix-up as the musician misconstrued Gaultier’s “faux cul” for something far more crude.
“I could see that something had just happened, but I didn’t know what, only that he had indicated to his bodyguard that he wanted to leave right then and there,” Gaultier said. “Later, Luc told me that Prince had been very surprised and amused by my presentation.”
12. The Hall Explosion Was The Largest Indoor Explosion Ever Filmed At The Time
The Fifth Element was a film of many firsts. Not only did it break financial records at the time, but it also achieved numerous cinematic milestones. One of the major ones involved an action scene that could’ve gone terribly wrong.
There’s a moment in the film where an explosion engulfs the Fhloston main hall in flames. While this might seem relatively trivial in a sci-fi action affair, it’s important here because it was the largest indoor explosion ever filmed at the time. No CGI, folks – it was all real.
It was a risky scene and the resulting fire almost got out of control, too, but it was pulled off with aplomb and action movie junkies and pyromaniacs are undoubtedly happy that it turned out so incredibly.
11. Besson Wrote The Story In High School
While most projects get fast-tracked rather quickly, The Fifth Element was a long time in the making. As Luc Besson told Nerdist, he started to write the story when he was 16 years old and then shot it much later in his life.
“When I started to write at 16 it was more like a novel,” he said. “It was not a film in my head. I never thought about making a film of it. So, it was a novel for a long time and then, at a certain point, 10 years later, I said, ‘You know what? I would love to make a film of that.’ But I started changing a lot of things because a novel is really different.”
10. Gary Oldman Hates It
Gary Oldman’s role as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg is one of the most fondly remembered performances from the movie, because it’s Gary freakin’ Oldman. That said, the actor isn’t a big fan of the movie.
Chatting about why he took the role in a video interview, Oldman was blunt about the situation: “I’d directed a film and Luc Besson was one of the producers, and had initially helped me with raising financing, and I was singing for my supper. He called, said ‘I need you to do a movie.’ I didn’t read the script. It was a favor.”
When it was pointed out to him that it’s become a cult classic, he responded, “I know! That’s the wacky world we live in.”
9. Mel Gibson Was Asked To Be Korben Dallas
It’s difficult to imagine anyone else but Bruce Willis in the role of Korben Dallas, but he wasn’t Luc Besson’s first choice. In fact, the director’s initial pick was a famous action star from down under.
In a Reddit AMA promoting Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Besson opened up about the actor whom he originally had in mind: “I had asked Mel Gibson first because he had his office next to mine at Warner Brothers. He peeked into my office every morning to tell me that he was thinking about it. After three months, he passed. But we became friends. Bruce was the only other choice I had in my mind.”
8. Jean-Paul Gaultier Designed The Costumes
For a futuristic sci-fi movie, it’s necessary to get the costumes right. You want it to look revolutionary and extravagant and not like something out of The Jetsons. Luc Besson recognized the need for this and sought out the services of the one and only Jean-Paul Gaultier.
Gaultier had been a fan of Besson’s earlier works, telling Vogue, “[Luc] is very hands-on with excellent taste for sets and costumes. I love the collaborations in the movies or dance as they are a bit of fresh air for me. I try to do Gaultier, but in the service of the story and the director.”
7. The ‘Divine Language’ Is A Fictional Language Of 400 Words
According to the film, the “Divine Language” is one of the earliest languages devised in the galaxy. It consisted of at least 400 words and Leeloo was able to speak it from inception, suggesting it’s hardwired in her DNA.
In the real world, though, this language doesn’t exist and was designed by Luc Besson with assistance from Milla Jovovich. The actress, who was already fluent in four languages at the time, was able to give her input and pick it up in no time.
Reportedly, Jovovich and Besson would write each other letters and attempt to converse in this new language while filming the movie. By the end of the production, they were able to hold an entire conversation in this fictional language. Now, that’s impressive.
6. Besson Enlisted French Comic Book Artists To Design His Universe
In case you didn’t know, Luc Besson is a huge fan of comic books. In fact, it was his work on The Fifth Element that opened the doors for him to work on Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets years later.
For production design duties on The Fifth Element, Besson recruited French comic book artists Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Jean-Claude Mézières, since it was their comics that had inspired the director. It’s fair to say that it was a stroke of genius as the film’s universe dazzled the audience.
Interestingly enough, Mézières was a co-creator of Valerian and Laureline and even asked Besson, “Why are you doing this s***** movie? Why you don’t do Valerian?” While the director initially thought it impossible, he eventually found a way and made the movie.
5. Elizabeth Berkley Auditioned For The Part Of Leeloo
The role of Leeloo was a coveted one at the time, with reportedly 200-300 actresses auditioning for the part. Finally, Besson settled on Milla Jovovich because he believed she possessed a look that could be from the past or the future, and he liked that about her.
One of the other actresses who auditioned for the role was Elizabeth Berkley. According to an interview with Movieline, she claimed to have come close to snagging the role, too. “I got very close to getting cast on The Fifth Element, and Luc Besson couldn’t have been more supportive.”
Unfortunately, Berkley couldn’t quite shake off the bad press from Showgirls and many studios were reluctant to cast her. To her credit, she said she’s grateful to the directors who still met with her after that film.
4. Ruby Rhod Was Originally Meant To Be Loc Rhod
Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod was one of the standout characters of the movie – mostly because of Tucker’s performance and ability to turn any line into comedy gold.
In a Reddit AMA, Tucker revealed that Bruce Willis gave him a serious case of the nerves. “Bruce Willis came up to me on the first day of shooting, looked at my outfit and said, ‘Do you know this could ruin your career?’ Then Luc Besson yelled action before I had a chance to quit, and I’m so glad he did,” he said.
However, Ruby almost had a different name. The character’s name was originally Loc Rhod, and the name actually appears in the original script and novelization. Even so, it appears as if it was only a name change and not a whole new characterization.
3. Milla Jovovich Ended Up Wearing A Wig
Hollywood is all about magic. At times, actors don’t even have a strand of hair in real life but have luscious locks on the big screen. In the case of Milla Jovovich, she’s fortunate enough to still have all her own hair (and certainly more than her co-star Bruce Willis has right now).
While making the movie, though, it was decided to dye Jovovich’s hair from her natural brown color to orange. As anyone with dark hair who has dyed it to a lighter color can attest to, this requires a lot of maintenance due to the fading of color and showing of roots.
2. An Artificial Leg Was Used For Leeloo’s High Kicks
CGI has been around for some time now, and even The Fifth Element made use of it. It was used for creating things that were too difficult to replicate and not dumb things like removing a mustache (we’re looking at you, Warner Bros.). That said, the movie still employed many practical effects to add to the realism – namely an artificial leg.
When you sign an actor up for a movie, you have to accept that they can’t do it all. In Milla Jovovich’s case, she just couldn’t execute a perfect high kick – no matter how many hours of martial arts she put in to get it right.
1. The Composer Wrote An Impossible Musical Piece
Much like the movie’s tone, the music was grandiose with French composer Éric Serra responsible for the lavish score. However, even his compositions proved to be a bit too ambitious for Albanian soprano Inva Mula, who provided the singing voice for Diva Plavalaguna in the film.
When Serra showed Mula the sheet music for the “Diva Dance”, she reportedly smiled and told him that some of the notes written weren’t humanly possible since the human voice can’t change notes that fast.
In order to make his piece of music come to life, though, she performed the notes in isolation and it was pieced together digitally later on. In fact, there are a few instances where you can hear the spikes in the Diva’s vocal tones in the film.
Do you know any other interesting things about The Fifth Element? Let us know in the comments section!
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