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