20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Say Anything…

When we think about 80s teen movies, usually the first filmmaker that comes to mind is John Hughes, but another figure had a significant, though less widely celebrated impact on the era: Cameron Crowe.

As the writer of 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Crowe helped set the tone for many of the high school movies that would follow. Later, Crowe would close out the 80s with his directorial debut, Say Anything…

While it didn’t arrive until the tail end of the 80s, Say Anything… is nonetheless one of the definitive high school movies of the decade, boasting one of the most iconic scenes in the history of big screen teen romance.

20. The writer of Empire Strikes Back was supposed to direct instead of Cameron Crowe

Whilst Say Anything… may seem like one of those intensely personal writer-director efforts that we tend not to see too many of these days, Cameron Crowe had not planned for it to be his directorial debut. Producer James L. Brooks came up with the basic premise, hired Crowe to write it, and originally Lawrence Kasdan was set to direct.

Once Brooks had conceived the film – more on that later – he had Crowe write a 90-page novella which would then form the backbone of the screenplay. The two had been introduced by a mutual friend, and were looking for an excuse to work together.

“We just started talking about life and love,” Crowe told Entertainment Weekly in 2002. These conversations went on for four years. And out of that came Say Anything…”

Originally, however, Crowe had no ambitions of sitting in the director’s chair. That job had gone to Lawrence Kasdan, the writer of The Empire Strikes Back and director of Body Heat, but on reading the script Kasdan dropped out, for all the right reasons.

“He said: ‘You are that main character. You should direct it,’” Crowe said. “It’s an autobiography, to a certain extent, except that John Cusack isn’t me. He isn’t anything like me.” 

19. Robert Downey Jr turned down the lead role

Before John Cusack was offered the lead role of Lloyd Dobler, Cameron Crowe approached one of the young actor’s contemporaries, a certain Robert Downey Jr – but Downey ultimately declined.

While Downey Jr will forever be known as Iron Man to noughties kids, he in fact had a prolific career as a member of the so-called Brat Pack, a group of actors who made their names starring in teen-focused high school dramedies such as The Breakfast Club.

For Downey Jr’s part, he had truly broken through with 1987’s Less Than Zero, showcasing a more substantive side to his acting that had been missing from comedies like Weird Science and The Pick-up Artist.

It’s not entirely clear why he turned down Say Anything…, but it’s fair to say he was busy: the actor starred in six movies in 1988 and 1989, the closest in style to Cameron Crowe’s film being Chances Are, though that film has a convoluted reincarnation twist.

This wasn’t the only notable 80s teen rom-com role which the future Avenger passed on – Downey also came close to playing Jon Cryer’s role in Pretty in Pink.

18. John Cusack came close to turning the part down

John Cusack spent most of the 80s doing teen comedies: Sixteen Candles, The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead and more besides. By the time Say Anything… was gearing up to go before cameras, the actor was already 23, way past high school.

John Mahoney, who would be cast as Diane’s father, Jim, and starred with Cusack in Eight Men Out, showed the young actor the script. “‘You’ve really got to read this,'” Mahoney said to Cusack, reminiscing to Entertainment Weekly. “He said, ‘No, I’m sick and tired of playing high school kids in love.’ I said, ‘No, John, it’s so much more than that.'”

Meanwhile, Crowe and Brooks were auditioning for the role, and nearly cast Christian Slater in the part – but Crowe was fixated on getting John Cusack.  Said producer Polly Platt (EW), “‘If you want him, you should go get him. Fly to Chicago and talk him into it.'”

So Crowe did, and over dinner convinced Cusack that Lloyd was far more than just another lovesick teen wearing a mortarboard; in particular, Cusack was attracted to the character’s leftie politics.

Cusack ultimately changed his mind once he read Crowe’s script and loved it. The actor remarked at the time, “I realised I would never be 20 again so I might as well cap off that phase of my career on a positive note.”

17. Jennifer Connelly and Elizabeth Shue were considered for the female lead

For the female lead of Diane – the academic achiever caught in a whirlwind romance with comparative layabout Lloyd – a number of notable young actresses of the period were contenders.

While Crowe had always wanted John Cusack for Lloyd, finding the right fit for Diane proved more difficult.

“Jennifer Connelly was the runner-up to Ione Skye,” Crowe said. “She was brilliant; she had all the languages… Elisabeth Shue did an amazing version of the graduation speech. But there was something haunting about Ione in River’s Edge.”

It was Skye’s chemistry with Cusack in test shoots that convinced Crowe he had his leads. Interestingly, Skye has since admitted that she shared very little in common with her character.

Skye underachieved at school, and grew up with her mother and an absent father (the opposite of Diane).

16. John Cusack took up kickboxing for real after the movie

Lloyd Dobler makes a point of telling everyone that he practices kickboxing, declaring it the “sport of the future” – and it seems Cusack came to share his character’s enthusiasm, as after being introduced to it for the movie the actor continued to train thereafter.

The kickboxing was a coincidental inclusion in the film, but one that really made the character tick. Crowe became neighbours with “this gangly guy from Alabama named Lowell Marchant.”

“He knocked on the door and said, ‘Hello, I’d like to introduce myself … Are you aware of kickboxing? It is now a major sport covered by ESPN.'”

Cusack really did become addicted to the sport, and would later show off his moves in films such as Grosse Point Blank and Con Air.

Fans of old school straight-to-video action movies might recognise the man Lloyd spars with in the movie: it’s Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, a martial artist who would go on to star in many low-budget beat-’em-up movies.

15. The film helped launch The Simpsons

If you feel like the name James L Brooks is familiar, there’s a good reason for it: he’s the creator of TV’s longest-running animated comedy.

You might know that The Simpsons got its start as a series of short sketches on The Tracey Ullman Show (which, unsurprisingly, Brooks also had a hand in) before becoming its own beast in 1989.

Say, 1989, isn’t that also the year Say Anything… hit cinemas? Yes, Brooks clearly had a very busy year, and he was keen to make sure both of his major projects got the reception they deserved.

As a result, an early Simpsons short preceded screenings of Say Anything…, and was also included on the movie’s VHS releases.

Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, even filmed a cameo for the Say Anything… party scene, though it was later cut.

14. The famous boombox scene almost used a totally different song

The key scene everyone remembers from Say Anything… sees Cusack’s Lloyd, recently dumped by Skye’s Diane at the behest of her father, hold up a boombox outside her house playing the Peter Gabriel track In Your Eyes.

However, as iconic as this moment has become, it could have been very different, as Crowe didn’t always have that track in mind.

In Cameron Crowe’s original script, the song was To Be a Lover by Billy Idol; and as originally shot, it was Turn the Other Way by Fishbone. Crowe also asked Elvis Costello to provide a song for the scene, but Costello declined.

“[The boom-box scene] was the last thing shot on the last day with the last moment of sunlight,” Crowe has said. “John felt that Lloyd was kowtowing too much by holding up the boombox, and that it was too subservient a move.”

“I wanted to just have the boombox be on top of the car and him sitting on the roof,” said Cusack. “So I finally did it, but I did it without a look of longing and adoration and love. It was a different kind of feel than either one of us had originally planned.”

13. The boombox scene was actually shot miles away from Ione Skye’s window

Lloyd’s grand romantic gesture (which, as has been widely remarked in recent years, comes off quite stalker-ish today) feels a little different when you learn that, in truth, Cusack and Skye’s shots were filmed entirely separately, and brought together via the wonder of editing.

Lloyd’s car isn’t actually parked outside the Court house, but in a North Hollywood park miles away.

“It was a place across the street from a 7-Eleven on Lankershim in the Valley,” Crowe has admitted. Of course, while the film is set in Seattle, all of the major scenes took were shot in Los Angeles.

This includes Diane’s house, which is at 140 South Norton Avenue, Windsor Square, and was used in the film for some interior shots as well.

Remarkably, the house has remained almost entirely unchanged since its starring role in 1989, either deliberately or because redecorating is a real hassle.

12. There was almost a TV spin-off of the film

In 2014, plans were announced for a Say Anything… TV series, which would pick up with the characters a decade after the events of the film. However, Cameron Crowe had not been consulted, and when he publicly voiced his opposition to the idea, it was scrapped.

The show, which would have aired on NBC, had enlisted writer Justin Adler and producer Aaron Kaplan to make the idea a reality.

That is until Crowe vehemently objected to the plans. “I have no involvement… except in trying to stop it,” the writer-director dramatically announced on Twitter.

Learning that Crowe had never been consulted, Adler and Kaplan dropped out, and within only a few hours of the series being announced, it was dead in the water.

Crowe and Cusack have both hinted over the years that they might be interested in making a sequel of some sort, but this would seem to be nothing but an idea at this point.

11. Golden Globe winner Eric Stoltz acted as a production assistant on the film, fetching coffee for the stars

In the mid-80s, everything was going right for Eric Stoltz. He won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Rocky Dennis in Mask, and was cast as Marty McFly in Back to the Future (before being unceremoniously replaced). By 1989, however, Stoltz was taking a more experimental approach in his career.

Stoltz and Crowe had become friends – after all, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was the debut film for both of them – and as such the young actor signed up to do “grunt work” on Crowe’s latest picture. As production assistant, the award-winning actor ferried coffee around the set to the film’s stars.

“It was really one of the greater experiences of my career,” said Stoltz. “They [the actors] thought it was a trick somehow. They thought I was Cameron’s spy.”

Stoltz’s grunt work didn’t go unrewarded, however: he has a minor appearance in the film during the party scene, in which he is nominated as the ‘key master’, to stop those who’ve had a few too many attempting to drive home.

“I still have people come up to me at parties and hand me their keys,” Stoltz said in a 2007 interview with Movie Hole.

10. Peter Gabriel initially denied Crowe the right to use the song

As one of the biggest artists of the 80s, Peter Gabriel was in high demand. Not only that, but the use of pop songs in films was becoming more and more common. Both of these combined meant that Gabriel was swamped with offers for the rights to In Your Eyes.

Once Crowe had finally settled on the song choice, he sent an early cut of the film to Gabriel, hoping that he’d be able to use his work. Unfortunately, there was something of a mix-up.

Crowe called Gabriel while he was recording in Germany, anxious to secure the rights as soon as possible. But Gabriel’s response was disheartening: “I can’t let you use the song. I hope you understand,” he said, according to Crowe.

“I was just about to hang up,” Crowe recalls, “and I said, ‘Can you just tell me why?’ He said, ‘Well, I just didn’t think it worked when he took the overdose.'”

Gabriel had confused Crowe’s project for another tape he’d been sent: Wired, the critically panned biopic of comedian John Belushi. Realising his mistake, Gabriel signed off on Crowe’s use of the song.

9. Crowe based Diane Court on his own mother

Basing the young love interest of your film on your own mother certainly makes for some juicy armchair psychology, but Cameron Crowe had other things in mind (we hope) when penning Say Anything…

Crowe ostensibly based Diane’s qualities as an overachieving high school student on his mother (in fact, Crowe’s mother graduated early due to her academic accolades).

The writer-director has been candid about his difficulties writing a strong female lead, and in particular finding a complement to the intense relationship between Diane and her father – after all, Diane has spent years taking college classes over summer and working at her dad’s retirement home rather than making friends.

What a coincidence, therefore, that Lloyd is somewhat based on Crowe, with Lloyd ‘stealing’ Diane from the film’s father figure.

Stop us if we’re going too far into Sigmund Freud territory here, but it all seems just a little too coincidental.

8. Ione Skye had a real crush on John Cusack

Nowadays, John Cusack looks like a wax model whose maker couldn’t choose between Jonathan Pryce and Edward Norton, but back in the day he was a real teen heartthrob, largely due to his performance in Say Anything…

And we’ve learned that not even Ione Skye, a Hollywood star in her own right, was immune to Cusack’s roguish charm, especially during the driving scene.

“It was easy to pretend to fall in love with John Cusack,” Skye told Entertainment Weekly. “…in real life I had a crush on John.”

Skye is quick to add that “we never hooked up,” but the audio commentary for the film tells a slightly different story.

So intense was the chemistry between the two leads, Skye admits, that had they both been single they probably would have gone home together after filming the stick shift scene.

7. John Cusack gave his character a mysterious scar

It’s almost impossible to notice in the film, but John Cusack made an important character choice for Say Anything…: he insisted on Lloyd having a scar.

Located on his right eyebrow, the scar is apparently part of Lloyd’s backstory: that another child threw a rock at him when he was young.

A generous mind might read this as a symbol of Lloyd’s determination and tenacity, and something that reinforces his attempts to be a tough guy (linking to the kickboxing).

On the other hand, it might just be a pointless quirk that the cast and crew went along with. Cusack is known for being stubborn and controversial, albeit with a view to improving Hollywood.

“We could argue now that we don’t have a functioning democracy,” he told The Guardian in 2014. “I know that this [iPhone] can be turned into a microphone and they can be taping our conversations right now. It’s not that I’m paranoid. I know it.”

6. Pearl Jam’s rhythm guitarist stars

Say Anything… is full of cameos, such as writer-director Cameron Crowe walking around with his wife at the mall. But some cameos are worth more than others, especially when they involve Pearl Jam.

Pearl Jam, of course, are the legendary 90s rock band known for hits like Black and Just Breathe, but they haven’t been around as long as you might expect. The band formed in 1990, and Say Anything… released in 1989.

This meant the stars aligned for a genuine cameo that suddenly took on far more value once the movie found its audience on home video. Pearl Jam rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard plays the taxi driver ferrying Diane Court to graduation.

What’s unfortunate is that Gossard’s character spends the duration of the trip flirting with Diane – who, we must emphasise, has only just completed high school.

Cameron Crowe has since remained a big fan of the band, interviewing them on their 20th anniversary.

5. The movie shares two stars with TV sitcom Frasier

Say Anything… casts John Mahoney as Jim, Diane’s over-protective father who is secretly embezzling funds from the retirement home he manages. Four years later, Mahoney would play a somewhat nicer dad role on the small screen, in celebrated Cheers spin-off Frasier.

It’s ironic that one of Mahoney’s best known film roles was a character who – in Mahoney’s own words – is “so remorselessly amoral,” yet his most famous TV role verges on a unifying America’s Dad figure.

Crowe was interested in Mahoney because he was “disarmingly charming” at the audition, the perfect cover for the character’s revelation as a criminal.

Nor is Mahoney the only Frasier actor in Say Anything… as the film also features Bebe Neuwirth, who plays high school guidance counsellor Mrs Evans, but is better known for playing Frasier Crane’s wife Lilith in both Cheers and Frasier.

Mahoney died in 2018 at age 77 due to complications from throat cancer, leaving behind a storied filmography that also includes the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink.

4. Crowe was concerned about comparisons to Pretty in Pink

Crowe’s career as a filmmaker, certainly in the early days, seemed to circle around the success stories of John Hughes, the decade’s preeminent teen angst director. In particular, while writing and auditioning for Say Anything…, Crowe was concerned about comparisons to Pretty in Pink.

That film, which had premiered in 1986, similarly features a high schooler who lives with her father and struggles with romantic pressure at high school.

“A lot of people,” Crowe has said, “even actors coming up for the part, wanted to know, ‘Why does the father have to be guilty?’ The answer was, without the father being guilty it’s Pretty in Pink.”

Pretty in Pink was a success, grossing $40.4 million on a budget of approximately $9 million. Say Anything… made a comparatively modest profit, though both have become cult classics.

For what it’s worth, Say Anything… hit number 11 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of best high school movies in 2006, with Pretty in Pink coming in at a paltry number 26. Guilty dads are the best dads!

3. John Cusack once recreated the boombox scene at a Peter Gabriel concert

Having his music featured in such a classic movie scene has clearly done wonders for Peter Gabriel’s street cred, and when performing at the Hollywood Bowl in 2012, the ex-Genesis singer surprised the audience by having John Cusack join him onstage.

As In Your Eyes began, Cusack crept onto the stage carrying a boombox, handed it to Gabriel, and bowed down before him, allowing Gabriel to steal his move and hold the device up overhead.

Cameron Crowe was also in the audience, and tweeted his approval: “Peter Gabriel and John Cusack on stage together at the Hollywood Bowl tonight. Won’t forget that… ever.”

In response, a fan tweeted that he “would have killed to see that! Literally killed a person!” No word on whether said fan is in custody.

At the end of the evening, John Cusack took to Twitter to nudge his fans to follow Crowe and “occasionally suggest [they] work together again,” so watch this space!

2. Jim Court is based on director Paul Mazursky

It’s not exactly flattering to have an embezzling crook based directly on you, but that’s the case for renowned film director Paul Mazursky.

The idea for Say Anything… originated with James L Brooks observing an interaction between a man and his daughter while walking in Central Park.

“He had this terrifying thought,” producer Polly Platt recalls. “‘What if a father had done something really terrible, committed a crime?’ He wanted to make a movie about that.”

It turns out that the figure in question was Paul Mazursky, the famed director of An Unmarried Woman, who received five Academy Award nominations in the course of his career.

It’s unclear whether Mazursky ever discovered that this probably anodyne reaction inspired a character who was incarcerated, but we’re legally obligated to mention that Mazursky probably was not a criminal.

1. There was a real Corey, and she really was obsessed with a Joe

One of the minor – but integral – roles in Say Anything… is Corey. Often acting as the voice of reason for Lloyd, his conscience, Corey also has one notable quirk: she’s obsessed with her ex-boyfriend.

Much as Cameron Crowe drew on his real-life relatives and associates to inspire the characters in his film, so too is Corey Flood based on a real-life Corey, who was also obsessed with her ex-boyfriend.

“There was a girl I knew from Philadelphia named Corey,” Crowe said, “who I named the Lili Taylor character after. She had this stormy affair with a real guy named Joe.”

“She was always talking about this guy and she sent me a tape that had a whole bunch of songs and she said, ‘A lot of them are about Joe.'”

Lili Taylor actually ended up meeting the real-life Corey a few years later. We regret to report that she’s still obsessed with Joe.