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Story Notes for Man on Fire

Weeknights during prime time on AMC, you can catch Story Notes — real time trivia and facts about your favorite movies! Below is the online version of the Story Notes for Man on Fire.

Biographical Notes
Director Tony Scott was originally planning to make this movie in the ’80s but made Top Gun (1986) instead.

Christopher Walken was in Envy with Jack Black and Ben Stiller the same time this movie came out.

Co-writer Brian Helgeland also co-wrote Mystic River (2001), one of director Tony Scott’s favorite movies.

Dakota Fanning went on to star in War of the Worlds (2005) the next year.

Denzel Washington complained of feeling bored with acting before taking on the role of Creasy.

Denzel Washington took his first acting class as a journalism major. (He needed an easy A.)

Denzel Washington went on to star in director Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu (2006) two years after this.

Tony Scott worked on a lot of TV commercials.

Giancarlo Giannini stars in the original version of Swept Away (1974).

Gustavo Sánchez Parra (The Voice) is in The Legend of Zorro (2005).

Man on Fire was Denzel Washington’s best opening at the time and his sixth movie in a row to open at No. 1.

Radha Mitchell is from Melbourne, Australia.

Radha Mitchell is named after the Hindu goddess of love. Radha Mitchell was raised Hindu.

Washington got his sixth Oscar nomination for playing a conflicted alcoholic in 2012’s Flight.

Casting Notes
2004 was a busy year for Radha Mitchell. She was also in Melinda and Melinda and Finding Neverland.

Angelina Peláez (Sister Anna) was a mother superior at a church before she became an actress.

Charles Paraventi is in City of God (2002). Tony Scott liked him so much he flew him in from Brazil.

Christopher Walken is also an Oscar-winner — for The Deerhunter (1978)

This is the second of five movies Denzel Washington and Tony Scott did together. Their first is Crimson Tide (1995).

Christopher Walken was initially offered Mickey Rourke’s role, but he wanted to play Creasy’s friend.

Denzel Washington had recently won a Best Actor Oscar for Training Day (2001).

Director Tony Scott cast Dakota Fanning (age nine here) after seeing her in I Am Sam (2001).

Director Tony Scott said Mickey Rourke was “so strange, so sweet, and so dark.”

Gene Hackman and Robert DeNiro were also considered for the role of Creasy.

Gero Camilo is in City of God (2002) and couldn’t speak any English.

Jesús Ochoa is in Quantum of Solace (2008) and Get the Gringo (2012).

Rachel Ticotin (Mariana) is in Total Recall (1990) and Con Air (1997).

Mickey Rourke’s role was part of a comeback that led to an Oscar nod for The Wrestler (2008).

Director Tony Scott grew up watching Giancarlo Giannini in Italian movies. Giannini is in Hannibal (2001), directed by Tony’s brother Ridley Scott.

Crew Notes
Cinematographer Paul Cameron worked with Tony Scott and Denzel Washington on Déjà Vu (2006).

César Charlone, the cinematographer for that movie, worked as a camera operator on Man on Fire.

Editor Christian Wagner worked with director Tony Scott on eight movies, starting with Revenge (1990).

Supervising sound mixer Kevin O’Connell is known as “the Susan Lucci of the Oscars.” As of 2013, he’s got 20 nominations and zero wins.

Location Notes
Scott changed the setting from Italy (in the book) to Mexico, where kidnapping is a major issue.

The scenes at Pita’s school were shot at a convent nearly identical to one Tony Scott visited in Milan. He’d gone there to scout locations for this movie. Scott: “It felt like déjà vu.”

Love Note
Marc Anthony married Jennifer Lopez the year this movie came out. He was dating Jennifer Lopez during the filming of this movie.

Music Notes
They used the song “Blue Bayou” by Linda Ronstadt (1977) because it was mentioned in the book.

The film soundtrack features “Claire de Lune” by Claude Debussy (1890), “Una Palabra” by Carlos Varela (2000), and “Juice” by Growling Mad Scientists (2002).

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams and Scott collaborated on ten movies, starting with Revenge (1990).

The film soundtrack features “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot by Puccini, 1926. Luciano Pavarotti sings it.

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams won a 2005 BMI Film Music Award for Man on Fire.

Pop-Culture Notes
Critics compared Man on Fire to Charles Bronson’s Death Wish (1974).

Man on Fire opened after a slew of revenge movies: Walking Tall, Kill Bill Vol. 2, and The Punisher.

Press Notes

Chicago-Sun Times
: “The Walken mystique is that he’s a character actor with one character: himself.”

Denzel Washington was named People‘s Sexiest Man Alive ten years before this movie.

Richard Roeper: “I’m recommending Man on Fire for that bold style…and the great performances.”

Variety: “Denzel Washington again rewardingly explores his unsavory side in Man on Fire.”

Washington Post: “Man on Fire operates on the universal level of pure, vicarious fantasy.”

Prop Note
Dakota Fanning wrote everything in the diary herself.

Quote Notes
Denzel Washington on the title of the movie: “Fire is being alive again. She rekindles the flame in this man’s life.”

Director Tony Scott: “The violence [isn’t] gratuitous… I’m always thinking if anybody touched my kids, what would I do?”

Scott: “Creasy’s got good instincts, his life has been about being in dangerous situations.”

Scott: ”[Mexico City is] a real wild place, and you can feel that tension on the streets.”

Scott: “Giancarlo loves women, as did this character.”

Scott: “Giancarlo uses props better than anyone I know.”

Scott: “I thought the original film never did the novel justice.”

Scott called Jesús Ochoa (Fuentes) the “Robert De Niro of Mexico.”

Scott studied to be a painter in college. He said he continued “to function in film as a painter.”

Scott wanted people to experience this movie like “a jigsaw puzzle.”

Radha Mitchell: “When you work with [Denzel], you feel your own performance is being lifted up.”

Radha Mitchell was excited to play a character who “got to wear expensive clothes every day.”

Scott: “We found role models for all our characters in the real-live world of Mexico City.”

Washington: If you live your life by committee, then that’s stupidity. “You can’t make a movie by committee, either.”

Radha Mitchell says she was intimidated when she first met Dakota Fanning. Mitchell: “I want to meet her when she’s 25. I think she’s going to knock everybody out.”

Denzel Washington on what the movie taught him: “You’re never too far gone. You’re never too lost. There are angels out there… There could be one right beside you if you just open your eyes.”

Script Notes
A deleted scene showed Samuel cutting off his lawyer’s head with the sword.

Director Scott shot an alternate ending where Creasy blows himself up at Daniel’s compound.

Scott decided to make Pita a swimmer after watching his nieces at a meet.

It’s left unclear as what Creasy’s past is, but director Tony Scott says he killed a lot of people in U.S. special ops.

Pita’s kidnapping is based on a real girl. Her family thought she was dead for three days.

Pita is forced to take piano lessons because director Tony Scott’s parents forced him to.

The Arizmendi brothers were kidnappers known for cutting off ears.

The character Mariana and Manzano sound similar because they have a reciprocal relationship.

The filmmakers were inspired by Santería, a religion that mixes Roman Catholicism with voodoo.

The kidnappers are modeled after the Arizmendi gang, who made $300 million in ransom in six years.

A deleted scene shows Creasy and Rayburn describing their long history together. Tony Scott: “In the end, you don’t need it. I love to keep an audience working for their information.”

Set Notes
Dakota Fanning couldn’t burp on cue. That sound was added in later.

Dakota Fanning gave Denzel Washington a gift in real life: a scarf she knitted for his wife.

While filming in Mexico City, the police told director Tony Scott his crew was targeted for kidnapping. Several crew members were robbed at gunpoint.

Dakota Fanning practiced swimming eight hours a week for this role.

Dakota Fanning took competitive swimming class to prepare for this role.

Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning bonded on set by playing table tennis.

Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning were in synch with the amount of improvising on set.

Denzel Washington called Tony Scott’s multiple-camera setup “the vomit cam.”

Denzel Washington spent ten days with advanced weapons training specialists to prepare for this role.

Denzel Washington spoke to a lot of bodyguards to prepare for his role.

Denzel Washington stayed in character whenever he was on set.

Denzel Washington was in talks to start work on directing his next movie while working on this movie.

Denzel Washington worked with a voice coach for three months to learn American-accented Spanish.

Denzel Washington would sometimes quiz Dakota Fanning on state capitals between takes.

Scott said Mexico City was the third main character in the movie. Subtitles are the fourth.

During filming, Radha Mitchell’s driver was held at gunpoint. She wasn’t with him at the time.

Fanning learned Spanish for this movie while filming Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat (2003).

Mexico City’s police chief Marcelo Ebrand helped with the movie and hoped it’d shine a light on kidnapping.

Most of the scenes between Denzel Washington and Christopher Walken were completely improvised.

Radha Mitchell said she missed having bodyguards after returning to L.A.

The filmmakers were inspired by City of God (2002) for the gritty visual style of this movie.

The movie was shot in five months in Mexico City.

The production hired 70 local actors and 11,000 extras during more than three months of filming.

Tony Scott had Marc Anthony look at a photo of his real daughter to get him more emotional.

Washington kept a low profile in Mexico. He was surrounded by bodyguards at all times.

Washington was so impressed with Fanning’s acting that he’d watch her and forget he was in the scene.

While filming this movie, several crew members were robbed at gunpoint.

Source Notes
Man on Fire (2004) is based on the 1980 bestselling novel by A.J. Quinnell.

Fuentes was based on a real person who was head of the anti-kidnapping squad in Mexico.

Symbolism Note
St. Jude is often shown in paintings with fire around his head.

Trivia Notes
A study found that 83% of Mexico City residents don’t feel safe because of the high crime rate.

Because of police corruption, only one in every five crimes in Mexico City gets reported.

Bodyguards in Mexico are trained to kill but not to take a bullet for their clients.

Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott worked together nine years earlier on Crimson Tide (1995).

Juarez was considered the “Murder Capital of the World,” with the murder rate peaking in 2010.

Reforma was founded in 1993. It’s the second-most widely circulated newspaper in Mexico. Their reporters wear bulletproof vests because of widespread violence against the media.

Kidnapping is the second-biggest crime in Latin America, after drugs.

La Hermandad is a real organization of corrupt cops.

Mexican kidnapping rings have four cells: the kidnappers, the guardians, the lawyers, and the boss.

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