John Travolta was the studio’s original choice to play the title character in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump. Travolta declined and the role was next offered to both Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, both of whom also said no. Sean Penn claims he was Paramount’s second choice after Travolta; he said no, too. Paramount soon had to “settle for” Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks to take over the lead. Hanks decided to accept the role after reading the script for a hour and half, on the condition that the film be historically accurate.
The female lead role of Jenny, Forrest’s love interest, was offered to Jodie Foster, Nicole Kidman and Demi Moore, each of whom gave it a thumbs down. The lesser-known Robin Wright finally was decided upon to play Forrest’s “best girl.”
The director’s hat was offered to both Terry Gilliam, who turned it down, and Barry Sonnefeld, who was interested, but chose to go with directing Addams Family Values instead. In their wake, Robert Zemeckis took over the director’s helm.
Both Ice-T and Dave Chappelle were similarly offered the role of Forrest’s best pal, “Bubba” Buford. Ice-T didn’t want to play a character with a disability and Chappelle, who later regretted his decision, “figured the movie would bomb.” And one sort of sees Chappelle’s reasoning, after all, one would logically assume that a movie starting out with so many turn-downs and rejected offers wouldn’t fare all that well at the box office.
But made on a $55 million dollar budget, Forrest Gump would ultimately rake in almost $700 million bucks at the worldwide box office- that besides becoming one of the most popular and beloved movies of all-time.
Filmed between August and December of 1993, Forrest Gump was shot entirely on location, mainly in North and South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. The film’s Vietnam scenes were filmed in South Carolina.
Tom Hanks signed on to do the film without taking a salary. Instead, Hanks chose to receive a percentage of the film’s box office, a shrewd decision which was to pocket him $40 million dollars (director Zemeckis was to profit similarly from the same deal).
The movie was based on Winston Groom’s 1986 novel of the same name. A marginally-known novel that had sold a paltry 30,000 copies in hardback, after the movie’s success, Forrest Gump -the novel- sold 1.6 million copies in paperback.
The cinema character Forrest Gump was a bit different than the character portrayed in Groom’s novel. In the novel, Gump’s adventures include being an astronaut, playing chess, meeting Raquel Welch, and confronting cannibals- none of which are included in the movie. Also, in the novel, Forrest is 6′ 6″ and weighs 240 pounds. Winston Groom’s own personal choice to play Forrest was John Goodman.
Hanks based his speech pattern in the film on a 12-year-old boy named Michael Connor Humphries, who played Forrest as a child. Besides his thick Southern drawl, Michael had a propensity to over-pronounce and stress the S’s in his speech. Originally, Zemeckis had said, “We’ve got a problem here. We have to get the kid to talk like you.” It was Tom Hanks’s decision to reverse the effect and have him imitate the kid. Tom was to make several cassettes of his conversations with Michael and study them to get the speech patterns just right. (Incidentally, Michael is a real-life war veteran, having served proudly in Afghanistan.)
Forrest Gump was filled with special effects and then-amazing but now-all-too-common CGI effects. Gary Sinese played Forrest’s commanding officer Lieutenant Dan in the film. CGI effects were later to be used to erase out Sinese’s legs, which were covered by special blue socks during filming, and later to simulate his amputee state in the finished film. Mykelti Williamson played Forrest’s best pal “Bubba” Buford in the film- his protruding lower lip was simulated by an attachment he wore throughout filming.
All of the ping-pong scenes in the film were filmed without a ping-pong ball, the ball later was drawn in using CGI. The scene where Forrest receives the Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson was actually film of LBJ presenting the Medal of Freedom to Sammy Davis Jr. in 1968, with Tom effected in, replacing Sammy in the scene.
A few Hanks family members were hired for roles too- Tom’s kid brother Jim was Tom’s running stand-in, he doubled his older brother in the long shots of all the scenes of Forrest running. Elizabeth Hanks, Tom’s daughter, was the mean girl who refused young Forrest a seat on the school bus.
Sally Field, just ten years Hanks’ senior, was hired to play Forrest’s mother. Ironically, Sally was Tom’s love interest just a few years earlier in 1988’s Punchline. She describes Mrs. Gump as “a woman who loves her son unconditionally.”
Sally’s line (quoted also by Tom in the film) “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get” was later to be selected as number 40 quote on AFFI’s list of “100 years- 100 movie quotes.” (Tom was to later say that he received countless boxes of chocolates in the mail after the film’s release.)
Tom Hanks’ big catchphrase “My name is Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump” was an ad-lib by Tom which director Zemeckis loved and was kept in the final cut.
Robin Wright proved to be a big-time trouper, as her scene where she sings a song naked but for her guitar, was filmed over a 24-hour-long shoot. At the time, Robin was fighting a cold, but she staunchly stayed in front of the cameras (breaking for meals and an occasional break) for the full day so the scene could be just right.
The crowd in Forrest’s famous speech in Washington DC, where the microphone is cut, was actually made up of actors from a Maryland renaissance festival chosen by casting director Ellen Lewis because it would be a good source of actors having long hair. The hugeness of the crowd was a simulated CGI effect.
So what did Forrest actually say to the crowd in his speech, which we couldn’t hear him say in the movie? (drum roll) “Sometimes when people go to Vietnam, they go home to their mamas without any legs. Sometimes they don’t go home at all. That’s a bad thing. That’s all I have to say about that.”
Forrest Gump was released on July 6, 1994, and was, as we already know, a huge smash at the box office. It was the top grossing movie in North America for 1994. Most reviews were good, and the film was definitely “critic-proof,” but there were a few clinkers in the mix.
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At the Academy Awards ceremonies the following year, Forrest Gump received a slew of Oscars, including Tom Hanks’ second year in a row Best Actor trophy (he joined Spencer Tracy as the only actor ever to accomplish this feat), Bob Zemeckis’s first Best Director award, a Best Original Screenplay for Eric Roth, as well as a Best Picture Oscar for the film itself.
The Forrest Gump soundtrack album was released and sold 12 million copies. Every song used in Forrest Gump was an American song recorded by an American artist. This was important to Bob Zemeckis, who said, “Forrest wouldn’t buy anything that wasn’t American.”
After the film’s success, it was interpreted to have political messages, but according to its star, these are not valid. Tom Hanks: “This film is non-political and thus non-judgmental.”
Oh yes, the white feather. Of all the famous CGI and special effects in Forrest Gump, the most legendary is perhaps the white feather, which floats into the camera at the film’s conclusion. What was the significance of the white feather?
Again, according to Tom Hanks: “Our destiny is only defined by how we deal with the change elements to our life and that’s kind of the embodiment of the feather as it comes in. Here is this thing that can land anywhere and it lands at your feet. It has theological implications that are huge.”
In the years since Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks has adamantly refused to film a sequel. (A sequel to the novel was written by Winston Groom called Gump & Co. The novel’s opening line is “Don’t never let anybody make a movie of your life’s story.”) In 2001, Eric Roth did write a sequel screenplay for a possible future film. But after September 11th, Hanks, Zemeckis and Roth all agreed that the story was “no longer relevant.”