6 Things You Might Not Know About the Making of "Donnie Darko"

Monday, 12 December 2016 - 4:51PM
Monday, 12 December 2016 - 4:51PM
6 Things You Might Not Know About the Making of "Donnie Darko"
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The beloved cult classic Donnie Darko is about to be restored and re-released in 4k, and then will come out once again in UK theaters for its 15th anniversary. In honor of that special occasion, which is coming up on December 16, here are six little-known facts about the production of the sci-fi adolescent anthem:

Christopher Nolan is the reason the film was picked up


Donnie Darko was first screened at Sundance in 2001, but was considered to be a "problem child" by studios. It dabbled in too many genres and was generally too weird to have an obvious marketing strategy built in, and was expected to go straight-to-video or be picked up for straight-to-cable by Starz. But then, its fate changed when none other than Christopher Nolan convinced his studio to take a chance on it, as they had with fellow timey-wimey film Memento. Unfortunately, its weirdness and the timing (it came out shortly after 9/11) made it bomb at the box office, but it went on to become a modern classic when it was released on DVD.

Lots of future A-listers almost played Donnie


Before relative unknown Jake Gyllenhaal snagged the role, several high-profile actors were asked to play Donnie. Frequent Wes Anderson collaborator Jason Schwartzman was interested, but had too many scheduling conflicts. Vince Vaughan was heavily wooed for the role, but he was well into his twenties and didn't think he could convincingly play a high schooler. Mark Wahlberg was in the running, but rumor has it he would only play the part with a lisp. Luckily, Gyllenhaal was perfect for the role anyway, and we can't imagine anyone else in the iconic role.

It's "based on a true story"


No, there has never been an adolescent boy who saved the world through time travel and demonic bunnies (that we know of). But according to director Richard Kelly, he got the idea for the film from a random news story:

Opening quote
I remembered a news story I'd read as a kid: about a huge chunk of ice that fell from the wing of a jet and hit a boy's bedroom, but he wasn't there and escaped being killed," he told The Guardian. "That gave me the seed of an idea.
Closing quote


But Grandma Death was actually real


But Roberta Sparrow, the science teacher, was truly based on a real person (although she presumably never wrote a book about time travel):

Opening quote
Grandma Death, the old lady, was a real person and self-help lessons were actually on my school curriculum. It was meant to be an amusing and poignant recollection of suburban America in the Reagan era.
Closing quote


That school entrance scene is even more epic than you think it is


Kelly also discussed the making of the school entrance scene, which seemed to serve as a proof-of-concept for Kelly's unique vision:

Opening quote
Shooting Donnie's grand entrance to high school took most of a day. It was a lengthy scene that followed characters down corridors to the sound of Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears. The production manager and line manager were furious. They saw it as an indulgent music video sequence that had no dialogue and didn't advance the story. Plus we still didn't have the rights for the song, which I'd choreographed all the action to. But when they saw the finished sequence, they said: "OK, we were wrong."
Closing quote


"Cellar door" is from a J.R.R. Tolkien essay


On the DVD commentary, Kelly attributes the "cellar door" quotation to Edgar Allan Poe, but it actually comes from Lord of the Rings writer J.R.R. Tolkien, and his essay called "English and Welsh":

Opening quote
"Most English-speaking people . . . will admit that cellar door is 'beautiful', especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful."
Closing quote
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