The Usual Suspects set Hollywood on fire when it was released in 1995. It quickly became a modern classic, winning Oscars and taking its place in the pop culture.
The movie boasts one of the most infamous twist endings of all time, in addition to a slew of other iconic moments. It's lines have also become quoted over and over again by fans over the years.
The Usual Suspects also did wonders for the careers of its cast and crew. Actors like Kevin Spacey and Benicio del Toro saw big career boosts after the movie's initial release.
Director Bryan Singer went on to steer the X-Men franchise, and writer Christopher McQuarrie (the movie's second Oscar winner, aside from Kevin Spacey) has become an in-demand writer/director, guiding the Mission Impossible movies, as well as other Tom Cruise projects.
For all of the movie’s onscreen drama and intrigue, a lot also went on behind the scenes. The set saw its share of police raids, on-set injuries, and mystery.
As such, the making of The Usual Suspects presented several challenges, with many of the movie’s key elements coming together through unexpected, unconventional ways.
With that said, here are the 17 Behind-The-Scenes Secrets About The Usual Suspects.
17 Kevin Spacey’s Behavior Almost Caused The Set To Be Shut Down
Kevin Spacey may not have been The Usual Suspect’s biggest star when it was made, but he is the actor who got the biggest boost from the film.
It netted him his first Oscar and he went on to become one of Hollywood’s most respected and in-demand actors (until allegations of misconduct wrecked his career).
However, his Suspects costar suggested that Spacey’s misconduct might have also affected the shooting of The Usual Suspects.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Gabriel Byrne said that the set had to be shut down for two days because of Spacey. While they didn’t know it at the time, he later found out Spacey’s predatory behavior had been the cause.
While Spacey didn’t comment, director Bryan Singer flat out denied this claim. Shortly thereafter, allegations of misconduct against Singer resurfaced as well, leading many to side with Byrne’s account.
16 The ATF Shut Down The Set
For a movie about criminals, it’s only fitting that law enforcement would get involved in the making of The Usual Suspects. In fact, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives almost changed the ending of the entire movie.
According to The Guardian, the filming of the climax at the docks was shut down when police received an anonymous call that stated that the ship on which much of the action took place was harboring illicit substances.
As a result, the shoot was shut down while the ATF raided the boat. This was enough for the movie crew to think that the whole shoot was ruined and that the script would have to be changed.
However, a late night call from the producers to the city’s mayor saved the scene and kept the story intact.
15 Redfoot Was Almost Played By A Much Bigger Actor
Redfoot is not one of the script’s biggest movers. He’s the criminal liaison who is instrumental in getting the titular group another job. He doesn’t have a lot of screentime, he doesn’t have a showy role or a juicy monologue, and he’s not even a usual suspect.
Despite these factors, though, the studio toyed with the idea of casting a big name. According People’s 20 year anniversary retrospective, the production considered taking the role in a very different direction.
Oscar winning actors such as Al Pacino, Jeff Bridges, Tommy Lee Jones, Christopher Walken, James Spader, and Charlie Sheen were considered. Johnny Cash was also a possibility at one point.
This means that a minimal role could have been played by an Oscar winner (Pacino, Jones, and Walken had already won by this point), a comedic actor, or even one of the Men in Black.
In a more conventional move, the producers went with actor Peter Greene who, at the time, was fresh off memorable appearances in Pulp Fiction and The Mask.
14 Peter Greene Caused Some Pain On Set
Even though Peter Greene didn't play one of the main characters, he still managed to make an impression on the set, usually by accidentally hurting the other actors.
On the DVD commentary, Singer and McQuarrie had only nice things to say about Greene, despite his reputation for playing insane roles.
Still, a couple of on-set blunders had very real effects. During one scene, Redfoot handed Verbal a bag, but during the shoot, Greene accidentally hit Spacey’s in the nether region with the bag.
In another scene, which Singer recounted at a 20th anniversary screening, Greene accidentally flicked a cigarette into Stephen Baldwin’s eye. In the script, the cigarette was supposed to hit the actor’s chest.
According to Singer, “[Greene] was mortified; he thought he had blinded him. But I had two cameras going so I was able to use it.”
Baldwin was nonplussed, asking Singer, “Did you get it? Because I just experienced it. So if you got it, please use it!'”
13 The Famous Ending Only Happened In Post-Production
The montage that ends The Usual Suspects is probably the most famous moment in the entire movie. Much of the film’s enduring legacy comes down to the reveal.
Detective Kujan studies the board as Verbal Kint’s limp disappears before our eyes. It’s one of the most famous twists in movie history, and it all depends on the way in which the reveal unfolds.
However, it wasn’t originally in the script. In fact, it wasn’t even in the first edit.
Speaking to The Guardian, Singer said “during the big reveal… You finally understood that Kevin…was Söze – but you didn’t feel it viscerally.”
Singer then ordered the editor to go back and find clips and audio that point to the reveal then cut them into a montage. The last-minute addition has become the movie’s most imitated, emulated, and parodied moment.
12 The Title Was Inspired By A Movie... And A Spy Magazine
As a title, The Usual Suspects is ideal for a twisty mystery thriller. It’s concise, catchy, and piques audience interest. However, many fans don't know that it’s actually a line from one of the most celebrated movies in history: Casablanca.
In Casablanca, Claude Rains’ character says the phrase at the end after a Nazi is shot, telling the police to “round up the usual suspects.” Still, Casablanca wasn’t exactly where Singer and co. took the title.
McQuarrie got the title from an article in Spy magazine titled, you guessed it: “The Usual Suspects.” However, the name for the article was originally inspired by Casablanca.
While the phrase itself wasn’t one of Casablanca’s most famous lines, “the usual suspects” became more widespread in the '90s, possibly because of the movie.
11 Gabriel Byrne Dropped Out Of The Movie
It may be hard to believe now, but when The Usual Suspects was made, the cast was relatively unknown.
Chazz Palminteri and Pete Postlethwaite had both recently been nominated for Oscars, but it was Gabriel Byrne who had the most buzz coming into the project, having recently appeared in the Coen Bros.’ Miller’s Crossing.
Byrne actually turned down the role twice. First, he was skeptical that the filmmakers could pull off the complex structure. After Singer reassured him, Byrne dropped out again, this time for personal reasons.
Bryne was going for a divorce and didn’t want to be away from his family for long periods of time. The filmmakers accommodated him by switching some of the scenes to Los Angeles.
Because of this, Bryne decided to rejoin the team.
10 Kevin Spacey Offered To Do The Movie Before There Was A Script
The Usual Suspects was made outside of the studio system that dominated Hollywood at the time, but it found an early patron in Kevin Spacey.
Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie had one movie under their belt-- the Sundance favorite Public Access. Spacey sought it out at the festival and was so impressed that he approached the filmmakers and offered his services for whatever they did next.
Spacey did follow through on his offer, but when he read the script, it wasn’t clear which character he was playing.
According to People, even though the role of Verbal Kint was written for him, he was interested in playing Detective Kujan or Dean Keaton.
While those characters would be played by Chazz Palminteri and Gabriel Byrne, respectively, it was the character of Verbal who has made the biggest cultural impression.
9 Benicio del Toro Made His Character Difficult To Understand On Purpose
Benicio del Toro makes interesting choices. He gained a ton of weight for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, won an Oscar for a role spoken mostly in a foreign language (a rare feat), tried (and failed) to kickstart a franchise with The Wolfman, and found a place in the MCU as the Collector.
One of his more interesting choices was his decision to make Fred Fenster, his character in The Usual Suspects, very difficult to understand.
He speaks low and mumbles constantly. When other characters said that they couldn't understand Fenster in the movie, those moments were unscripted reactions to del Toro’s performance.
During filming, del Toro realized that his character’s sole purpose in the movie was to pass awat first. None of his lines drove the plot, so del Toro asked Singer for permission “to do something with it.”
As a result, del Toro mumbled every line.
8 Almost Everyone Thought They Were Keyser Soze
The Usual Suspects is known for its complex, labyrinthine structure, so it’s not much of a surprise that the making of it had its fair share of mystery. In fact, Kevin Spacey was quite candid about the confusion on the set.
Talking to The Evening Standard, Spacey said that Bryan Singer let each cast member think that they were Keyser Soze. As a result, most of the cast was in the dark as to who was the true Soze and how the movie would end.
Things went a bit further than mere confusion, however. Spacey elaborated, saying that Gabriel Byrne was so surprised by the reveal after the first screening that he confronted Singer in the parking lot afterwards, visibly arguing that he was Keyser Soze.
7 Kevin Spacey Glued His Fingers Together For The Role
In the movie, Roger “Verbal” Kint has cerebral palsy, a condition characterized by motor impairment. In order to give a more accurate representation, Spacey attempted to change his appearance and movements.
According to Robin Tamblyn’s book Looking Closer: Kevin Spacey, the First 50 Years, Spacey filed down his shoes in order to create the illusion that he was limping.
He also glued his fingers together to complete the effect.
The results paid off. In the eyes of many critics, Spacey walked off with the movie. He won several critics’ awards for the performance, and the physical transformation most likely didn’t hurt his chances with the Oscars, which have a long history of rewarding such performances.
Spacey is known for such tactics, as he donned heavy prosthetics that made him almost unrecognizable for All the Money in the World. However, he was later edited out of the movie due to his allegations.
6 Some Of It Was Improvised
Christopher McQuarrie’s script is one of the most lauded aspects of the movie, but the actors had opportunities to improvise as well. There’s Kevin Pollak’s true-to-life reaction to Benicio del Toro’s mumbling, and then there’s the cast.
According to Gabriel Byrne, both Kevin Spacey and Kevin Pollack were accomplished impressionists. Byrne described them on set as “acting the goat every day. They’re brilliant impressionists and duelling away, hogging the limelight.”
Even Stephen Baldwin “was a rampant eccentric, a hilarious nutjob.”
Another improvised element was the hostility between the characters played by Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Pollack. Both have since suggested that it was method acting that turned into bullying, though Pollack avoided the topic during his Reddit AMA.
He stated: “When I met Stephen Baldwin, he was wearing leather pants. He hadn't arrived on a motorcycle... or a horse. He was just wearing leather pants.”
5 Keyser Soze's Name Was Inspired By Christopher McQuarrie’s Old Boss
Keyser Soze is one of the movie's most enduring aspects. The film spends its entire runtime building him up, and despite the big reveal, debates continue over whether Verbal is actually Keyser Soze or just another of the movie's many red herrings.
Regardless of his identity, though, the roots of the character are surprisingly diverse.
The name comes from writer Christopher McQuarrie’s old boss, Kayser Sume. McQuarrie thought that the name would be a good fit for a movie villain.
It was changed to Keyser Soze, though, because his boss didn’t want his name to be associated with a ruthless and violent criminal mastermind. It also provided the movie with one of its most subtle hints-- “soze” in Turkish is akin to “talks too much.”
Another vastly different inspiration was criminal John List. List took the lives of his family, disappeared, and started a new life, evading capture for 18 years. This gruesome crime was the inspiration for the flashback during which Soze takes the lives his own family rather than give in to the demands of his rivals.
4 It Was Based On A Visual Concept
For a movie known for its intricate plot and winding structure, the origins of The Usual Suspects are surprisingly simple.
The movie's name was chosen because McQuarrie thought it sounded cool. McQuarrie chose the central character’s name because it seemed like a perfect name for a villain.
The whole idea for the movie also came about in a similar way.
McQuarrie thought that the image of five criminals in a lineup would make a cool movie poster.
From that came the idea of the five criminals who meet in a lineup to do a job. This was followed by McQuarrie’s epiphany with the bulletin board.
The visual concept served as the inspiration for one of the most enduring movies of the '90s, but it persisted long after the film went to home video.
Bryan Singer even used the idea for the logo of his production company Bad Hat Harry, meaning that audiences have been reminded of The Usual Suspects every time they sat down to watch an X-Men movie.
3 Some Of It Was Filmed In The Bryan Singer's Back Yard
The movie's climax at the shipyard was fraught with difficulties, and several changes had to be made even after the ATF raid.
According to John Ottman, who composed the score for The Usual Suspects and helped edit the movie, they had to be flexible with filming locations.
After removing a plot device that had Byrne’s character set a bomb on the ship towards the end of the movie, the filmmakers still had to find a way for the ship to explode.
The filmmakers recreated the deck of a ship in Singer’s backyard, while Ottman and Singer doubled for Keaton and Soze. In the final cut, it’s Ottman’s gloved hand dropping a cigarette and Singer’s boot stepping on it.
Another small, but chilling moment was also shot in Singer’s backyard. The havoc of the final climax is brought home by a close-up of a skull and bones on the pier, which Singer’s backyard doubled for.
2 Christopher McQuarrie Was Inspired By His Old Job
Keyser Soze isn’t the only name that McQuarrie took from his day job. In fact, the characters Fred Fenster, Dave Kujan, and Jeff Rabin (played by Benicio del Toro, Chazz Palminteri, and Dan Hedaya, respectively) were named after McQuarrie’s coworkers at the law firm where he worked.
The whole premise of the movie was similarly inspired.
In an interview with Cinetropolis, McQuarrie described the inspiration. He was staring at a bulletin board and started to dream up a story using the company names and locations on the board before realizing that his character could do the same.
As McQuarrie said, “The story really came together much in the way Verbal made it up. I just was pulling ideas from my environment.”
At that time, McQuarrie was about 50 pages into the script. His bulletin board moment provided an angle that helped distinguish the movie from a sea of other gritty crime thrillers that came out in the '90s.
1 The Iconic Lineup Scene Was Caused By One Actors
The lineup scene is one of the movie's most important moments. It’s one of the most memorable scenes, as well as one that the whole plot hinges on. However, the final result is very different from what was written in the script.
In the scene, the titular suspects giggle incessantly as they struggle to say a sentence while in a police lineup. It was written as a tense moment, but on the day of shooting, the actors couldn't stay serious, even after director Bryan Singer angrily told them off.
Aside from the onset joking, much of the commotion was caused by Benecio del Toro, who flatulated in almost every take, cracking the other actors up.
The final result, though unexpected, added some much-needed levity to a very serious script and helped propel the plot forward.
Years later, Singer would say that they never got a serious take.
Can you think of any other behind the scenes secrets about The Usual Suspects? Sound off in the comments!