Unless you’ve been living under a rock for about thirty years, chances are you know about Scarface. Even if you’re the type of person who absolutely hates violent films, even if gritty flicks about drug kingpins filled with swearing and blood isn’t quite your scene, chances are you’ve seen the film that catapulted Al Pacino to super stardom at least once. After all, it’s a cinematic legend and one of the greats.
Year after year, Scarface holds up and remains fresh because of how it tells the story and how Pacino brings the character of Tony Montana to life. While other 80s movies have gotten completely forgotten, Scarface remains a hugely popular film that has an impact on tons of people – rappers in particular have been inspired by the Pacino flick.
However, even if you’re the most devoted Scarface fan, someone who has seen the film more times than they can imagine, we bet that there are a few things you don’t know about the classic flick. From some little known incidents that occurred during production to some secrets about the cast and individuals responsible for making things happen behind the scene, there’s plenty to learn about the film.
Here are 15 things you might not know about Scarface.
15. It’s A Remake (Kind Of)
Over the years since it was released, Scarface has become an absolutely iconic movie. However, it’s not exactly an original – it’s a loose remake of a 1932 movie that was also, interestingly, titled Scarface. The producer of the modern version, Martin Bregman, allegedly stumbled across the 1930s flick following an American immigrant gangster when he was watching television late at night and decided the concept could easily be reworked and modernized for audiences in the 1980s. Don’t worry though, they didn’t just rip off the original idea – the modern version was actually dedicated to the original Scarface’s director and screenwriter, Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht. Classy move, fellas – it’s fine to get inspiration from other flicks, you just need to make sure everyone knows you weren’t the first to come up with the idea. However, in Hollywood, ideas are about as fresh as day old bagels. Regardless, people will eat them anyway.
14. The Screenwriter Had A Cocaine Addiction
Wondering how hard it was for screenwriter Oliver Stone to get into the mind of someone whose life revolved around cocaine, like Tony’s did? Well, turns out the story line hit a little closer to home for Stone than you may have thought – like, really close. It turns out that, at the time he was writing Scarface, Oliver Stone himself was actually dealing with his own cocaine habit. He actually took on the screenplay as a way to get out of his destructive habits, and moved to Paris, far from his dealer and anyone he could have reached out to for the drug, and proceeded to essentially sequester himself and put together the script. So, if you’ve ever questioned how someone could write about the world of drugs without really experiencing it, just know that Stone had a lot of real life experience to back up his screenwriting skills in this case.
13. Tony Is Only Called “Scarface” Once – And Not Even In English
When it comes to thinking up the titles for feature films, it can often be a bit puzzling to see what choices studios go with. Sometimes, it’s a title that absolutely makes sense, and other times, it’s something that seems completely out of left field. With a movie titled Scarface, you’d likely assume in your first viewing that Tony’s nickname was Scarface, and essentially expect him to be called that throughout the film. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. It turns out that in the entire film, Tony is actually only referred to as “Scarface” once — and it’s not even in English! The movie’s title comes from one moment where the Colombian gangster by the name of Hector threatens Tony with the chainsaw (yep, that scene) and calls him “cara cicatriz,” which in Spanish, literally translates to “scar face.” Hey, it’s a cool title – we don’t blame them with picking that over potentially calling the serious, violent flick Yayo.
12. Pacino’s Performance Was Inspired By Meryl Streep
When it comes to the inspiration behind a tough cocaine kingpin like Tony Montana, you’d likely assume that Al Pacino got inspiration from other tough guys in the cinematic world – robbers and bandits and criminals from Hollywood classics. Well… not exactly. It turns out that, when he was trying to wrap his head around the tough role, he actually turned to none other than Meryl Streep for inspiration. Streep, who had recently tackled a tough role as a holocaust survivor in Sophie’s Choice, and Pacino was deeply impressed by Streep’s commitment to acknowledging the tiniest details about playing someone who is from another country and a totally unique world. So, when it came to figuring out how he’d take Tony Montana from the screenplay to the screen, he used Streep’s example and paid particular attention to all the details that truly make the character. Hey, we don’t blame Pacino – we have a feeling that a lot of actors and actresses have been inspired by the iconic Meryl Streep.
11. Al Pacino Got His Hand Stuck To A Gun Barrel
Okay, so the cast of Scarface weren’t exactly in the middle of gang warfare and shoot outs in real life – it was, after all, just a movie. However, that doesn’t mean that the job of playing such a violent character comes with absolutely zero risk. Al Pacino got injured by a gun on set – although thankfully, not as badly as that statement would imply. No, he didn’t get shot by some clumsy stunt double. While he was rehearsing for a gunfight, he accidentally grabbed the barrel of a prop gun that he had been using to fire several rounds. After being used so recently, the barrel of the gun was burning hot – and it promptly scorched Pacino’s hand. The burn was so severe that he actually had to take two weeks off before stepping back into the action. It’s not exactly what you think of when you think of a gun-inflicted wound, but hey – it probably still hurt.
10. The Chainsaw Scene Was Based On A Real Life Situation
After watching the gruesome chainsaw scene in the film, you likely comforted yourself with the thought that it was just amplified for the big screen, that something so awful could never have happened in real life, right? Well, we hate to break it to you, but it turns out that scene was actually based on a real life situation. Oliver Stone, the screenwriter, spent some time with Miami law enforcement and the DEA doing some research for the film to ensure he got the right vibe. While doing that research, he stumbled across a case where the head of a drug smuggling ring, Marie Tabraue, dismembered someone with a chainsaw and burned his body because he found out that the individual was an informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Crazy! It just goes to show that often the most insane things can’t be made up – they’re taken from real life with all its insanity.
9. There Was Some Serious Ratings Drama
We know, we know – a movie as violent as Scarface having ratings drama? It’s almost expected. However, the real story is actually pretty interesting. After the film was ready, director Brian De Palma submitted it to the Motion Picture Association of America for a rating, and they gave the gruesome flick an X rating – which means that a ton of theatres could refuse to screen it on the basis of the rating. De Palma went back, making some tweaks and trying to earn an R rating, but was not successful. So, he brought out the big guns, and De Palma and producer Martin Bregman set up a hearing with the MPAA where they brought in a panel of experts who were able to state that the film – although violent – was an accurate portrayal of the drug underworld and should be seen by audiences. The MPAA finally relented and gave the final edited version an R rating – although they still wouldn’t let the original X rated version show. So, De Palma decided to go rogue and release the first version in cinemas.
8. To This Day, No One Knows What Pacino Was Snorting
When it comes to portraying substances on screen, there’s a lot of trickery that goes on. Blood needs to look like real blood, beverages are often not what they say they are, and you need to make the audience believe they’re actually looking at the real thing and not a cleverly crafted substitute. So, when it came down to showing the cocaine that Pacino was snorting throughout the movie, there was an issue – they were originally going to use dried milk, but Brian De Palma didn’t think it looked good on camera. So, he used something else in place of the dried milk. Innocuous enough, right? Well… decades later, De Palma has still always refused to reveal what he used as the prop because he didn’t want to destroy the illusion. We can’t help but wonder why on earth he’d be so secretive about it – and what on earth Pacino was snorting in all those scenes!
7. Tony Montana Was Named After A Football Player
When it comes to thinking up a name for such a memorable main character, Oliver Stone likely deliberated for quite awhile. Do you come up with something that references a legendary real life criminal? Do you come up with a name that seems like it’d be a fit for the drug world? Do you reference another cinematic criminal, or even a criminal from literature? At the end of the day, Oliver Stone went an entirely different route and actually named Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favourite football player. That’s right – the cocaine kingpin got his name from an all-American quarterback. While it may not have been every writer’s first choice, it was definitely an interesting direction to go in, and there’s no doubt that Tony Montana became a legendary name. Now, we just wonder what Joe Montana’s thoughts are on the interesting tribute to himself – it’s not exactly the kind of character you might want associated with you.
6. There Were Only Two Actual Cubans On The Cast
Despite the film being set in Miami in a world filled with Cuban influences, there weren’t actually many Cubans on the cast – in fact, there were only two on the whole cast, surprisingly enough. They were Steven Bauer, who played Manny Ribera, was the only Cuban in the main cast of the film, and Angel Salazar, who played Chi-Chi was the other Cuban in the cast. The director and some of the other cast members would often find themselves chatting with Bauer or Salazar about Cuban culture, and checking to make sure their portrayal was accurate for someone with an inside perspective – they wanted to make the characterization realistic and not a caricature of what an outside might think Cuban culture is like. The cast definitely makes it believable on screen, so all those questions that Pacino and the cast likely asked Bauer and Salazar were probably good ones! When in doubt, it’s always best to get an expert opinion on something.
5. The Guns Had Some Camera-Friendly Adjustments
When you see all those crazy battles captured on screen, you likely find yourself asking how on earth they managed to choreograph and film such a high-intensity thing and make it look so realistic. Well, that’s where technology came in (and no, we’re not talking about CGI, this was before all that stuff came into popularity). Instead, one of the special effects coordinators on the film, Stan Parks, hooked a synchronizer up to a gun. The resulting weapon would not fire until the camera shutter was open – which mean that the camera was able to capture the flash of the gunfire perfectly. So yes, it likely took a lot of planning to figure out exactly who would go where in a fight scene and how many times the gun would fire, but the camera guys were helped out a lot by the inventive thinking of Stan Parks, the man with the synchronizer.
4. Pacino Totally Got In Character
There are a few notorious method actors in Hollywood, past and present, and they inhabit the characters they’re playing on a whole different level than an average actor. It’s usually not the most comfortable process, and it adds a whole new element of difficulty to playing an already tough character, but it’s what they feel best serves the film. When it came time to play kingpin Tony Montana on the big screen, Pacino wanted to immerse himself in the Spanish language to believably play someone with Montana’s background. So, he asked the director of photography, John Alonzo, to only speak to him in Spanish so that he could work on picking up the language and making sure his accent was spot on. It likely resulted in a few communication issues between the two from time to time, but there’s no doubt that it was effective – Pacino’s resulting performance is fantastic.
3. There Are Over 200 F-Bombs
Anyone who has watched Scarface knows that it isn’t just the violence that led to the film getting an R rating – there is also a ton of swearing. Like, an insane amount. So, it probably doesn’t exactly come as a surprise that in the film, there are over 200 occurrences of the F-word. The exact number varies, with some sources saying it is used 218 times, others 226 times – the point is, there’s about one F-bomb per minute in this film, which is almost impressive. Hey, when you’re making a film about a cocaine kingpin, it only makes sense that the language wouldn’t be G-Rated. However, thanks to the language, even in a world where violence is more and more common in films and video games, you’re probably not likely to let your kid watch Scarface until they’re a lot older – that’s a lot of F-bombs, even for a teenager.
2. Pacino Created One Of The Slang Terms In The Film
When it comes to actors improvising on set and deviating from the screenwriter’s dialogue, that’s generally a practice limited to comedy writers. After all, sometimes a skilled actor who is used to improvising can come up with something absolutely hilarious off the cuff, something that might work even better for the scene than what the writer had originally penned. However, when it comes to more serious dramatic films, actors often tend to stick to the script a little bit more and focus on honouring the intensity of the scene rather than changing the dialogue. Pacino did manage to get a little creative with one bit of dialogue, though. Early during the filming of Scarface, Pacino improvised and called cocaine “yayo.” It wasn’t slang he picked up on the streets – it was just something he thought up. Brian De Palma liked the term so much that he decided to use it throughout the film.
1. It Wasn’t Actually Shot In Miami
Miami is an integral role within the film – it almost serves as another character supporting all the skilled actors. However, if you thought the film was actually shot in Miami, you’d be wrong. You see, the Miami Tourism Board decided that having a film like Scarface shot in their fair city would be a bad idea – it presented a negative portrayal of the city’s Cuban community, and they also feared that seeing such a violent flick set in the city would discourage tourists from coming and send them to another sunny locale. So, Scarface went where a huge majority of films go to get filmed – the bright lights of Hollywood. Unless you were a lifelong Miami resident who knew the city’s every nook and cranny, most people would never notice it wasn’t actually filmed in Miami – that’s what all the behind the scenes staff responsible for scouting locations and putting together sets is for!