20 Things You Never Knew About True Lies
Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest movie stars of the 80s and 90s, starring in a string of hugely successful films including Conan the Barbarian, the Terminator movies and lighter films like Twins and Kindergarten Cop.
True Lies saw Schwarzenegger pair up again with Terminator director James Cameron and saw the Austrian Oak take on a somewhat different role. Schwarzenegger plays a secret agent trying to balance his dangerous line of work with a normal family life – whilst his wife, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, thinks he’s simply a salesman.
True Lies has been a beloved action comedy classic for over 25 years – but did you know the following fascinating facts about the movie?
20. Arnold Schwarzenegger struggled with the dance scene
As we all know, Arnold Schwarzenegger has long been used to performing big stunts and action sequences.
However, the actor admits that he wasn’t quite so at-ease on the dance floor.
Schwarzenegger revealed that the biggest challenge for him in True Lies came when he had to dance the tango.
He took dance lessons in an effort to prepare for the part, and was determined to nail the routine.
In fact, it took over 6 months of practice before he had perfected the dance.
Schwarzenegger said his aim was to be as proficient at the Tango as Al Pacino was in Scent of a Woman.
19. It was a remake of a French film from 1991
You probably know that True Lies was a huge blockbuster success – but did you know that it’s also a remake?
The film was based on 1991 French comedy thriller La Totale! directed by Claude Zidi.
Schwarzenegger was shown this film by his brother-in-law, and was immediately struck by the concept.
The actor then showed La Totale! to his friend James Cameron, suggesting it would make for a great project.
- Credit: Lightstorm/20th Century Fox
Cameron was inspired by Schwarzenegger’s enthusiasm for the story as a character piece as well as an action extravaganza.
The rest is history; True Lies became the third (and to date final) collaboration of Schwarzenegger and Cameron, after the first two Terminator movies.
18. The part of Helen was written specifically for Jamie Lee Curtis
James Cameron had first met Curtis on the set of 1991 cop thriller Blue Steel, directed by Cameron’s then-wife Kathryn Bigelow.
Cameron was immediately keen to work with the actress, and wrote the part of Helen Trasker in True Lies with her in mind.
However, Arnold Schwarzenegger was not so keen on the idea of Curtis playing Helen at first.
Out of respect for Schwarzenegger, Cameron agreed to audition other actresses in consideration for the role.
However, after seeing countless prospective Helens, he soon realised that no one could compare to Curtis.
Finally, Schwarzenegger agreed to Curtis’ casting, and soon realised he was wrong to have doubted her suitability for the part.
17. It was briefly the most expensive film ever made, until Waterworld
James Cameron may have started out with low-budget movies Piranha 2 and The Terminator, but he soon went up in the world.
In fact, the filmmaker has broken records with his movie budgets on several occasions.
The Abyss cost $90 million; Terminator 2 was around $94 million; and True Lies cost a full $100 million.
This made True Lies the most expensive film of all time on release – but this record was quickly shattered.
1995’s Waterworld quickly overtook True Lies with a final budget of $175 million – but Cameron would again break this record soon thereafter.
The filmmaker’s 1997 mega-hit Titanic cost an eye-watering $200 million to produce; so it was a good job it wound up being the first movie to earn over $1 billion at the box office.
16. Tom Arnold only auditioned so he could meet Schwarzenegger and James Cameron
True Lies co-stars comedian and actor Tom Arnold as Albert Gibson, partner of Schwarzenegger’s Harry Trasker.
However, Arnold admits he initially thought he had no chance of being cast in the movie.
He only decided to audition so that he could meet Cameron and Schwarzenegger, as he was a huge fan of both men.
Arnold performed some scenes for Cameron alongside Schwarzenegger, and the director was immediately impressed.
- Credit: Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Executives at studio 20th Century Fox were at first reluctant to cast Arnold, whose infamous media war with ex-wife Roseanne Barr had led to his less than stellar reputation.
However, Cameron threatened to take the film elsewhere if he wasn’t allowed to cast who he wanted, and the studio eventually relented.
15. James Cameron hired extra writers specifically for the film’s jokes
- Credit: Lightstorm/20th Century Fox
Typically, James Cameron tends to write the screenplays for his movies all on his own.
However, when it came to True Lies, Cameron felt a little out of his element when it came to the comedy elements.
To this end, he hired a team of writers to help inject more humour into the script.
However, the work of these writers still didn’t prove to be good enough for notorious perfectionist Cameron.
Eventually, the filmmaker decided to give comedy another shot and rewrite the script from scratch himself.
In the end, Cameron kept only two pieces of dialogue from the earlier drafts, one of which was Schwarzenegger’s famous one-liner “you’re fired!”
14. Curtis wore her own underwear for the notorious dance scene
Like any major motion picture, True Lies had a large and well-financed costume department.
You might assume, then, that everything the actors wear in the movie was provided for them.
However, it seems Jamie Lee Curtis preferred to take a degree of personal control over her wardrobe.
One of the most memorable scenes in True Lies sees Curtis perform a sensual dance in her underwear.
This, you’d think, would be a good opportunity for a big name lingerie brand to get some product placement on screen.
However, you’d be wrong, as the bra and panties Curtis wears in the scene were in fact her own.
13. Curtis’ fall in the dance scene was intentional – but Schwarzenegger’s surprised reaction is real
One highlight of the iconic True Lies dance scene is that it allows Curtis to show off her comedic skills, as well as her sex appeal.
There is one moment when Curtis’ Helen leans back holding onto a bed post – and accidentally falls over.
This feels so natural, that many viewers have assumed it was a genuine slip-up which they decided to keep in.
However, this pratfall was actually pre-planned between Curtis and Cameron during the rehearsals.
One aspect of this moment is entirely genuine, however, and that’s Schwarzenegger’s reaction.
Curtis and Cameron did not inform Schwarzenegger that she was going to fall, and he was legitimately surprised and concerned.
12. Schwarzenegger agreed to break his contract by having Jamie Lee Curtis’ name above the title alongside his
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s contract dictated that the credits for True Lies would put his name above the title – and his name only.
Jamie Lee Curtis signed on to appear alongside Schwarzenegger on the understanding that he alone would receive top billing.
However, after editing on the film, both Schwarzenegger and James Cameron saw that it was really a “domestic epic, a film about marriage.”
Cameron felt it was fitting to have Curtis’ name above the title as well, and Schwarzenegger immediately agreed.
According to Curtis, in the world of show business, “the credit is a coveted, negotiable commodity,” and she was impressed by Schwarzenegger’s generosity.
Even so, this didn’t change the fact that a lot of the film’s marketing focused primarily on Schwarzenegger, sidelining Curtis.
11. The striptease scene was criticised for being misogynistic
The striptease scene is one of the most memorable of the film, yet was accused by some of being degrading to the character of Helen.
James Cameron, whose other films have been noted for their feminist overtones, has defended the scene against any such allegations.
- Credit:Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage/Getty
The writer-director has also pointed out that Jamie Lee Curtis had a heavy input in how the scene was staged.
In Cameron’s original script, the plan was for the character to perform the dance completely naked in the dark, with only her silhouette visible.
- Credit: Associated Press
Curtis suggested instead that she keep her underwear on and that the room should be completely lit, and Cameron ultimately agreed.
Cameron has said that most criticism for the scene came from men, whilst female viewers generally found the scene empowering and liberating.
10. Sequel plans were scrapped after 9/11
True Lies was a big hit, making almost $390 million worldwide, making it the third highest-grossing film of 1994.
Initially, there had been plans to bring the cast back together for a sequel – but this ultimately failed to come together.
Firstly, Cameron followed True Lies with Titanic – which, following a troubled production, became the biggest box office hit of all time.
This put True Lies 2 on the back burner for a while. Initially, the sequel was earmarked to hit cinemas in 2002.
However, after the earth-shattering events of September 11th 2001, the project was scrapped altogether.
Like the 1994 original, True Lies 2 would have seen our heroes do battle with Middle Eastern terrorists; and as Cameron explained, “in this day and age, terrorism just isn’t funny anymore.”
9. There’s a TV spin-off in the works
Although a big screen sequel to True Lies has yet to materialise, there has been some movement on the franchise.
For over a decade, there has been talk of the film potentially being adapted into a TV series.
Word on this first broke in 2010, with James Cameron himself poised to serve as executive producer.
However, despite occasional reports on the project, it was stuck in development hell until February 2021.
A pilot episode has now been ordered for a True Lies TV show, with McG directing and Cameron producing.
Cameron has done some TV work in the past, producing sci-fi series Dark Angel, which helped launch the career of Jessica Alba.
8. Eliza Dushku was abused on the set
True Lies may have been a professional highlight for most of the people involved, but sadly the film has a darker legacy as well.
True Lies co-stars a twelve-year-old Eliza Dushku (who later found fame on TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in the role of Dana, Harry and Helen’s daughter.
- Credit: David Shankbone
This was Dushku’s third film appearance, but what should have been a great experience for the child actress proved to be a nightmare.
In 2018, in the wake of the Me Too movement, Dushku revealed that during production on True Lies she was assaulted by the film’s stunt director, Joel Kramer.
Tom, you bet your ass all of us would have done something. I’m shocked and saddened for Eliza but I am also proud of her – beyond being a great talent and an amazing woman, she is so courageous. https://t.co/EJJbkdior2
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) January 16, 2018
She detailed how Kramer groomed her for several months prior, gaining the trust of both her and her parents.
After releasing this statement, Dushku was inundated with support from her former co-stars, all of whom tweeted their respect and admiration for her bravery in coming forwards.
7. Dushku says her abuser went on to deliberately injure her during a dangerous stunt sequence
The Eliza Dushku story only gets more unpleasant, as her ordeal on set didn’t end there.
After the young actress was assaulted by stunt co-ordinator Joel Kramer, she bravely confided in an adult friend on the set.
- Credit: Getty Images
This friend then confronted Kramer over the allegations, which the abuser denied. (He continues to deny the allegations today.)
Shortly after, Dushku was injured during a stunt sequence and broke her ribs; something which she claims was no accident.
- Credit: Associated Press
This happened whilst shooting the finale, when Dushku was in a harness suspended from the top of a 25 story office building.
Kramer was responsible for rigging up the harness and wires, meaning he literally had Dushku’s life in his hands.
6. Shooting the film took far longer than expected
It’s not uncommon for big budget action movies to fall behind schedule, but True Lies took this to another level.
Production on the action comedy took a lot longer than was anticipated, meaning it monopolised the schedules of all involved.
Tia Carrere’s initial contract was for just seven weeks work, but she wound up being there for the full seven months of filming.
In fact, the filming went on for so long that Bill Paxton was able to shoot another movie during breaks between filming.
Paxton wasn’t the only one with other commitments, and director Cameron was not in the industry’s good books.
He was frequently contacted by actress Roseanne Barr, who insisted that he allow her soon-to-be ex-husband Tom Arnold to return to the set of Roseanne.
5. Tom Arnold has been friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron ever since
As we’ve already mentioned, Tom Arnold’s auditions scenes took place opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Director James Cameron saw real chemistry between the two in the screen tests, and was determined to have the pair work together on the film.
When Arnold heard how Cameron had gone to bat for him, he expressed his gratitude over how he was willing to take a chance on him.
The actor became good friends with both Schwarzenegger and Cameron after the film had wrapped.
Our movie True Lies premiered 25 years ago. Last night was the 25th birthday party I’ve gone to for my ageless partner/hero/friend Arnold Schwarzenegger. Happy Birthday Buddy! pic.twitter.com/iroOVYohjc
— Tom Arnold (@TomArnold) July 28, 2019
We can all agree that Cameron made a wise decision, as it’s hard to imagine True Lies without this double act.
Tom Arnold went on to co-star in several more action movies, including Exit Wounds with Steven Seagal, and Cradle 2 the Grave with Jet Li.
4. The producers paid over $100,000 to borrow the Harrier Jump Jets from the US military
True Lies is a high-octane action comedy set in the world of international espionage.
As writer-director James Cameron is a stickler for detail, he wanted to make the action scenes as authentic as possible.
To this end, the production forked out for the use of three Marine Harrier Jump Jets, along with their pilots.
The US government commanded a fee of $100,736 for their efforts, working out at about $2,410 per hour!
The military air crafts which we see in the movie are McDonnel Douglas AV-8B Harriers.
These were used in real life by the Marine Attack Squadron 223 (VMA-223), which is nicknamed ‘The Bulldogs’.
3. Most of the key cast members called the film a career highlight
- Credit: Gage Skidmore
Jamie Lee Curtis hadn’t done any large scale action movies before taking the female lead in True Lies.
It proved to be a major career highlight for the actress, who has declared the film to be “without question, the greatest experience of my professional life so far.”
- Credit: Getty Images
Nor was Curtis the only cast member to feel so passionate about their time on True Lies.
According to Schwarzenegger, he was equally as enamoured, calling it “the film I was made for.”
- Credit: Shutterstock
Supporting actress Tia Carrere felt similarly, naming her role Juno Skinner as her personal all-time favourite.
Carrere (otherwise best known for the Wayne’s World movies) felt this way largely because it was one of the few times she “got to be a villain.”
2. Tom Arnold’s ex-wife really did take the ice cube trays
During the film, Tom Arnold’s character tells a story of how his wife left him and took everything, even the ice cube trays from the freezer.
Reportedly, this actually happened to Tom Arnold during his separation from Roseanne Barr.
- Credit: Kypros/Getty Images
The pair were working through their divorce at the time of filming, and apparently Arnold was not shy of bearing all the grizzly details.
Arnold shared the story with Cameron whilst on set, and the director found the anecdote hilarious.
- Credit: Jefferson Graham/USA Today
The writer-director was himself not long since divorced from his own third wife, director Kathryn Bigelow.
Cameron has since been married two more time: to his Terminator leading lady Linda Hamilton, and finally to current wife Suzy Amis Cameron.
1. Schwarzenegger had a close dice with death on the set
Making action movies can be a tricky business, and many actors have quite literally risked their lives for their art.
This is none so more true than when working with live animals, especially horses, who are notoriously unpredictable.
During filming the horseback chase scene, Schwarzenegger’s horse got spooked, and started to buck.
Schwarzenegger managed to slide off the horse just in the nick of time, but this was unfortunately right next to a 30-foot drop.
Of course, the stunt supervisors were watching closely, and acted fast to pull the actor to safety.