We like these calm little moments before an article. It reminds us of Beethoven. Can you hear it?
Honestly? Us neither, but we've managed to crowbar one of the coolest lines in movie history into our intro, and that's good enough for us. Enjoy.
Europeans might be surprised to learn that the movie was released in the States under the name The Professional, not Léon. The original US version had the nods to romance between Léon and Mathilda removed after they tested badly in American screenings.
The original script had a darker ending. After Stansfield shoots Léon, Mathilda performs the grenade ring trick, not the hitman. It was changed by Luc Besson, fearing that the audience would not accept Mathilda's transformation from innocent girl to grenade-rigged killer.
Luc Besson always meant for Jean Reno to play Léon, but the "Fact Track" on the Deluxe Edition DVD reveals Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves were both very interested in the part. Keanu appeared in Speed that same year.
The movie inspired a Bollywood version called Bichoo. This YouTube clip plays the climactic end, side-by-side, so you can see the stark similarities in the films.
Natalie Portman was 11 when cast from a group of more than 2000 hopefuls. She was originally turned down by the casting director because she was too young, but was called back when the search expanded. She performed the scene where Mathilda laments the loss of her brother. Besson was so impressed at the emotion, he gave her the role. You can see some of her audition (but annoyingly not that moment) here.
Liv Tyler was considered for the part of Mathilda but, at age 15, was deemed too old. Tyler appeared in Silent Fall (pictured) the same year.
Besson got the idea for Léon while working on his previous movie, La Femme Nikita. In that film, Victor the Cleaner (played by Reno), appears to deal with the aftermath of assassin Nikita's botched mission. Realising the character was underused, Besson decided to create a story that focused on him. Their dress sense is basically identical (see Victor the Cleaner, pictured) and Léon's working title was The Cleaner. In fact, the music in the American trailer for The Professional is the theme from La Femme Nikita.
The Chelsea hotel in New York was used for the interior shots for Léon and Mathilda's apartment building. In the past it has been the home of numerous writers, musicians, artists and actors, including Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, Janis Joplin, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Russell Brand. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying at the Chelsea, and poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso chose it as a place for philosophical exchange. It is also known as the place where Dylan Thomas was staying when he died of pneumonia and where Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, was found stabbed to death.
During the filming involving masses of police cars on the street, a man ran from a store he had just robbed. Spotting the cops he thought the game was up and duly handed himself in to a group of uniformed extras.
The scene in which Stansfield talks about his appreciation of Beethoven to Mathilda's father was completely improvised by Oldman. The scene was filmed several times, with Oldman giving a different improvised story on each take. Oldman portrayed Beethoven in Immortal Beloved (pictured) the same year, so no wonder the composer was at the forefront of his mind.
Speaking of improvising, Oldman's iconic screamed line "EVERYONE!!!" was improvised to make director Luc Besson laugh. "In previous takes, I'd just gone, "Bring me everyone," in a regular voice." He told Playboy. "But then I cued the sound guy to slip off his headphones, and I shouted as loud as I could."
Oh and you know when Oldman smells Mathilda's dad, uncomfortably close up? Yeah, also improvised.
According to Luc Besson's first draft of the script, Léon's full name is Leone Montana.
When Mathilda and Léon flee to a hotel they check in under the name MacGuffin. This is a movie term coined by Alfred Hitchcock for a trivial element in a movie which serves no other purpose than to drive the plot forwards.
Natalie Portman's parents were understandably not so cool about the smoking scenes. They worked out a contract with Besson which had strict mandates; there could only be five smoking scenes in the film, Portman would never be seen to inhale or exhale smoke, and Mathilda would give up during the course of the film. All of these mandates were adhered to.
Keith A. Glascoe, who played the enormous Benny, later became a member of the New York Fire Department, Ladder Company 21, in Hells Kitchen. Tragically and courageously he died in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.