11 Surprising Facts About In the Line of Fire

Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

In 1993, after more than a decade of moving from the hands of one producer to another, Jeff Maguire’s script for In the Line of Fire finally made its way to the big screen. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the film starred John Malkovich, Renee Russo, and Clint Eastwood as a longtime Secret Service agent still harboring guilt about not being able to protect JFK—and ready to make sure another presidential assassination doesn’t happen on his watch. The cat-and-mouse game ended up earning more than $100 million at the box office, making it the seventh highest grossing film of the year. To celebrate the political thriller’s 25th anniversary, here are 11 things you might not have known about In the Line of Fire.

1. THE SCRIPT MADE THE ROUNDS.

Clint Eastwood in 'In the Line of Fire' (1993)
Columbia Pictures

Jeff Maguire wrote the script for In the Line of Fire more than 10 years before it would ever hit the big screen—and his lack of success getting a script produced in the interim had put him and his wife in a precarious financial situation. With mounting credit card bills, overdue rent, and a phone that was about to be disconnected, Maguire and his wife were just getting ready to give up on Los Angeles and move toward a quieter life in New Hampshire when he got a call that Rob Reiner’s Castle Rock Entertainment had purchased the script for a cool $1 million.

“That day we traded in a blouse I got my wife for her birthday so we could go out and celebrate," Maguire told The New York Times of how the couple found the cash to celebrate his success. The hard work—and waiting—paid off: Less than a year after almost giving up on the Hollywood dream, Maguire earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

2. THE IDEA WAS PARTLY INSPIRED BY A MEETING WITH LYNDON B. JOHNSON.

The idea to write a script about a Secret Service agent was suggested to Maguire by producer Jeff Apple, who had long dreamed of making a political thriller when, as a child, he had the chance to meet Lyndon B. Johnson but was equally impressed by the security detail that surrounded the then-Vice President.

3. AT ONE POINT, ROBERT REDFORD WAS ATTACHED TO STAR.

Though Clint Eastwood will forever be associated with the role of ultra-dedicated Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, he was hardly the first choice for the role. As the script made its way around Hollywood over the years, a number of other actors were either attached to or offered the project, including Robert Redford. Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, James Caan, Tommy Lee Jones, and Val Kilmer were among the other names wanted for the role of Horrigan.

4. ONE STUDIO WANTED IT TO BE REWRITTEN FOR TOM CRUISE.

Though Maguire was anxious to get the script sold, he had a very clear vision for the story and wasn’t willing to compromise on certain points—even if it meant passing up a big payday. When the higher-ups at Imagine, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s company, expressed interest in purchasing the script if Maguire would rewrite the lead so that a younger actor like Tom Cruise, who was in his late 20s at the time, could play it, the struggling scribe flat-out refused. Making the character younger would mean that he’d have to toss out the JFK subplot, which was a deal-breaker for Maguire.

5. ROBERT DE NIRO WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE ROLE OF MITCH LEARY.

John Malkovich turned in a creepy and memorable performance as Mitch Leary, In the Line of Fire’s would-be presidential assassin. But like Eastwood, Malkovich wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice for the role. That honor belonged to Robert De Niro, who eventually had to pass on the project due to scheduling conflicts with A Bronx Tale. Jack Nicholson and Robert Duvall were also reportedly in contention for the part.

6. FRANK HORRIGAN WAS INSPIRED BY ONE OF JFK’S SECRET SERVICE AGENTS.

Though the movie is a work of fiction, main character Frank Horrigan was partly inspired by Clint Hill, one of John F. Kennedy’s Secret Service agents who was on duty the day the 35th president was assassinated in Dallas. In 1975, Hill sat down for an emotional interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, where he broke down and admitted that he felt responsible for what had happened that terrible day.

“I still feel today a sense of failure and responsibility because that was our job: to keep the president safe, to protect him at all costs,” Hill said. “And on that particular day, we were unable to do that.” Much of Horrigan’s desire to right that wrong came from Hill’s interview.

7. THE SECRET SERVICE OFFERED THEIR FULL COOPERATION—WHICH WAS A FIRST FOR THE AGENCY.

In the Line of Fire holds the distinction of being the first movie that received the Secret Service’s full cooperation in getting the film made. “They didn't agree to help us because they thought the film would portray them in a heroic light—Clint plays a pretty flawed character, and John [Malkovich]'s character makes some very negative points about the Secret Service,” director Wolfgang Petersen told the Los Angeles Times. “I think the Secret Service was interested in the possibility of their world being accurately portrayed in a Hollywood film for the first time. They didn't want us to make a commercial for them, they just wanted it to be real, and though they had no creative control, they made many suggestions we happily accepted.”

8. WOLFGANG PETERSEN WAS A LITTLE INTIMIDATED BY CLINT EASTWOOD.

Though he was already a highly acclaimed director with two Oscar nominations on his resume (for writing and directing 1981’s Das Boot), Petersen admitted that the idea of directing a Hollywood icon like Eastwood was a slightly terrifying prospect.

"I must admit, I was initially a bit intimidated at the prospect of directing Clint, but any fears I had disappeared after our first meeting, and once we started shooting he never challenged my direction," Petersen told the Los Angeles Times. “At the beginning he told me, 'I won't interfere, but if you want my advice I'll be there for you—otherwise I'll leave you alone.' I took up his offer and consulted him a lot.”

9. DROPPING EASTWOOD INTO HISTORIC MOMENTS COST A PRETTY PENNY.

In order to create as realistic a portrait as possible of Eastwood’s history with the Secret Service Agency, the filmmakers implemented some state-of-the-art computer effects to swap out the faces of real agents with the actor’s to show him being part of key events with Bill Clinton and George Bush. But as the JFK plotline was so integral to Horrigan’s character, it was important to Petersen that the audience be able to witness that as well, which became their biggest challenge, as Eastwood would have been 30 years younger. The solution? Drop footage of Eastwood from the original Dirty Harry into archival footage of JFK’s motorcade. It’s estimated that 10 percent of In the Line of Fire’s $40 million budget went to its digital effects.

10. JOHN MALKOVICH COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT ALL THE RUNNING.

When asked about the toughest part of playing the unhinged antagonist, Malkovich admitted that it was the physicality of the role. "The hardest thing about this part was all the running I had to do,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I hate running and don't intend to do it again for a long time. I didn't train for the running scenes either—I just put down my cigarettes for a minute and ran."

11. IT COULD BE TURNED INTO A TV SERIES … MAYBE.

Frank Horrigan could rise again. In 2015, Deadline reported that In the Line of Fire was being turned into a television series at ABC. There’s been no update since on any casting or a release date, so it very well could be a stalled project. But you never know.

Josh Trank Wouldn't Mind Erasing Fantastic Four From Film History

Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It’s not every day that you hear a director talking about wanting to completely erase one of their projects from film history. But when the topic of the 2015 box office bomb Fantastic Four comes up, director Josh Trank isn't mincing words. The director tweeted that he would “gladly” donate to a GoFundMe page to have his failed adaptation erased from the cinematic history books.

It's no secret that Fantastic Four is a sore subject for Trank. The production was plagued with rumors that there was a bit of friction on set, particularly between the director and star Miles Teller. Even once the film had wrapped, reports about the troubled production plagued Trank, and eventually led to him parting ways with Disney, for whom he was supposedly developing a standalone Boba Fett movie. (It didn't help that Fantastic Four tanked at the box office and even won a Razzie for Worst Picture).

The topic of starting a GoFundMe page for the film started after Trank responded to fans rallying for a page to get the rat at the end of Martin Scorsese's The Departed digitally erased. When asked if he would support a page to get rid of Fantastic Four, Trank seemed to oblige (though he has since deleted the tweet).


It’s no secret the previous Fantastic Four movies have had little success, but now that Disney and Fox are joining forces, the series could be entering into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe now these superheroes will finally get the movie they deserve.

Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The theater owners and exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in February 1989 had a lot to look forward to. In an attempt to stir their interest in upcoming studio releases, major distributors were showing off stars and footage: Paramount led with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Columbia had Ghostbusters II. But it was Warner Bros. that caused the biggest stir.

In addition to Lethal Weapon 2, the studio had Tim Burton’s Batman, a straight-faced adaptation of the comic, and Michael Keaton—who slipped into a screening of some early footage—was no longer being derided as a poor casting choice. Then, in the midst of all this star power, the studio brought out a 35-year-old actor-writer-director with a shock of orange hair and an Australian accent.

The man had never appeared in a feature film before, much less starred in one, but Warner was gambling that his forthcoming comedy about a Tasmanian Albert Einstein who invents rock music and runs into Thomas Edison would be a hit. It had already become the sixth highest-grossing film in Australia's history, besting both E.T. and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

The man’s real name was Greg Pead, but Warner Bros. introduced him as Yahoo Serious, Hollywood’s next big comedy attraction.

 

To understand Warner’s appetite for an unproven commodity like Yahoo Serious, it helps to recall the peculiar preoccupation American popular culture had with Australians in the 1980s. Energizer had created a hit ad campaign with Mark “Jacko” Jackson, a pro football player who aggressively promoted their batteries in a series of ads; meanwhile, Paul Hogan parlayed his fish-out-of-water comedy, Crocodile Dundee, into the second highest-grossing film of 1986. (Serious would later bristle at comparisons to Hogan, whom he referred to as a “marketing guy” who sold cigarettes on Australian television.)

Born in Cardiff, Australia on July 27, 1953, Serious grew up in rural bush country and mounted car tires at a garage in order to pay his way through the National Art School. When he was expelled for illustrating the school's facade with satirical jokes that the faculty didn’t find particularly funny, Serious moved on to direct Coaltown, a documentary about the coal mining industry, and pursued painting.

Serious would later recall that the desire for a larger audience led him away from art and into feature filmmaking. ''It hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” Serious told The New York Times in 1989. “I remember having a cup of coffee and I went, 'Well, look, there is a giant canvas in every little town everywhere around the world. And on this giant canvas there are 24 frames of image on that screen every second and it's the most wonderful living art form.'” It was around this same time, in 1980, that Serious changed his name.

To get a feel for the language of film, Serious sat through repeated viewings of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove; he aspired to have the kind of total autonomy over his movies that directors like Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin enjoyed.

In 1983, Serious was traveling along the Amazon River when he spotted someone wearing a T-shirt depicting Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. The image is now pervasive, appearing on posters and other merchandise, but it seemed unique to the performer, who was struck by the idea that Einstein was once young and never took himself too seriously. And the concept for Young Einstein was born.

 

Serious's idea, which transplanted Einstein to Tasmania and imagined encounters with Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, and the atomic bomb, took years to assemble. He borrowed camera equipment and sold his car to help finance the film; he shot an eight-minute trailer that convinced investors he was capable of making a feature. His mother even cooked meals for the crew on set.

In order to maintain creative control, Serious gave up profit participation in Young Einstein, which he starred in, co-produced, co-wrote, and directed. When the film was released in Australia in 1988, it made an impressive $1.6 million at the box office and drew the attention of Warner Bros., which likely had visions of a Crocodile Dundee-esque hit. American press had a field day with Serious, who appeared on the cover of TIME and was given airtime on MTV.

Critics and audiences weren’t quite as enamored. The Orlando Sentinel suggested that "Tedious Oddball" would be a more appropriate name for the film's creator. In his one-star review, Roger Ebert wrote that, "Young Einstein is a one-joke movie, and I didn't laugh much the first time." In the U.S., Young Einstein grossed just over $11 million, a fairly weak showing for a summer comedy. It was bested in its opening weekend by both Ron Howard’s Parenthood and the Sylvester Stallone action-grunter Lock Up.

 

Although American distributors quickly cooled on Serious, Australia's enthusiasm for the filmmaker didn’t dampen. When Serious released 1993’s Reckless Kelly, a fictionalized account of outlaw Ned Kelly, it made $5.4 million in Australia—three times as much as Young Einstein. Serious took a seven-year sabbatical, then returned with 2000’s Mr. Accident, a slapstick comedy about an injury-prone man who tries to thwart a scheme to inject nicotine into eggs. Meeting a tepid critical and financial reception, it would be his third and (likely) final film.

At roughly the same time Mr. Accident was released, Serious took issue with upstart search engine Yahoo!, alleging the site was piggybacking on his popularity. He filed a lawsuit, which was quickly dropped when he failed to prove the URL had damaged him in any way.

Yahoo Serious attends an event
Paul McConnell, Getty Images

The amused headlines stemming from that incident were the last examples of Serious capturing attention in America. Having completed just three films, no other projects have come to fruition; Serious launched a website detailing some of his background and to air some of his Yahoo!-related grievances.

Now 65, Serious currently serves as founding director of the Kokoda Track Foundation, an Australian aid organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of Papua New Guineans. The board’s website lists him as Yahoo Serious, which is the name he claims that all of his family and friends have called him since he changed it in 1980.

“You can choose every aspect of your life,” Serious once said. “Why not your name?”

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