‘Sometimes You Gotta Say…’: 40 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Risky Business’ on Its 40th Anniversary

In many ways, Risky Business was Home Alone before Home Alone, only with horny teenagers, sex workers and a lot more “What the fuck?”s going around. The 1983 teen sex comedy stood out like no other of its time thanks to its moody tone and acerbic dialogue. Roger Ebert, who gave it four stars, summed it up perfectly, writing, “Risky Business is a movie about male adolescent guilt. In other words, it’s a comedy. It’s funny because it deals with subjects that are so touchy, so fraught with emotional pain, that unless we laugh, there’s hardly any way we can deal with them — especially if we are now, or ever were, a teenage boy.”

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For Risky Business’ 40th anniversary, we’ve gathered 40 bits of trivia about making the film that led to practically every comedian lampooning Tom Cruise’s dance moves…

It Was Cruise’s Idea to Do That Famous Dance Scene in His Socks

“I kept falling,” Cruise once explained to Oprah about bopping to “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” without those socks on. “So I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to put on my socks.’ I got on the floor. I literally waxed the floor on my hands and knees to get it prepped.”

Tangerine Dream Originally Provided a Way Different Movie Score

The German electro band provided the film’s iconic score, but their first attempt was quite different from the ethereal motif we eventually got. “Initially, we sent some film to Tangerine Dream in Germany, and they came back with their first pass, and it was clear they were trying to write music to a typical teen movie,” writer and director Paul Brickman remembers. “The chord changes were like ’50s and ’60s teenage rock. I remember going, ‘Oh, man. Do we start looking for new composers, or do we stick with these guys?’ That’s when we — the music supervisor, producer Jon Avnet and I — got on a plane and went to Berlin. We hung out in Tangerine Dream’s studio for 10 days and knocked out the score with them.”

“I’ve played piano my whole life, so I have some musical background,” Brickman continued. “We were very fortunate because the guys in Tangerine Dream were great collaborators. They had strange working hours. They owned and worked in an old church. We’d start work around dinner time and work through the night every night.”

Curtis Armstrong Kept a Journal While Making the Movie

The actor who played Joel’s buddy, Miles — the one who teaches him that sometimes you just have to say, “What the fuck?” — said that he’d always thought of himself as a stage actor. Making a movie felt like such a foreign concept to him that Armstrong kept a journal “so that, in the future, I could remember what making a movie was like,” he once quipped during an interview. The actor would, of course, go on to make the Revenge of the Nerds movies as well as a string of other feature films and shows.

Warner Bros. Reportedly Wanted More Sex in the Party Scene

According to Armstrong, the studio told Brickman that there had to be more sex in the “brothel “scene. “They were adamant that the party scene needed a lot more,” Armstrong wrote. “Here was this long sequence, packed with hookers and horny high-school boys, and not a single bare breast was revealed. Brickman ignored them. ‘You can call off your dogs,’ Paul joked to studio executives after a highly successful test screening.”

Warner Bros. Didn’t Think the Script Was Funny Enough

Brickman originally had a deal with Warner Bros. to write and direct the screenplay, but the studio thought it was too dry of a script for a teen comedy. “I couldn’t believe no one wanted it,” Avnet once told Variety, explaining that he and his partner Steve Tisch subsequently signed on to the project. Together with Brickman, they tried to shop the script all over Hollywood, but folks were apparently hard-up for comedies in the vein of Porky’s. David Geffen, however, eventually took on the production (after initially passing on it, too), with Warner Bros. set as the distributor.

It Launched the Geffen Film Company

The company that would give us classic hits like Beetlejuice, Interview with the Vampire and Beavis and Butt-Head Do America was founded in 1982. Their first movie, Personal Best, found critical success but underperformed at the box office. Risky Business, making 10 times its budget during its domestic release, helped the company later churn out a string of successful titles.

Tom Hanks Auditioned for the Lead Role

Yes, the man who would become “America’s Dad” auditioned for the character who exploits the sex trade to fix his dad’s banged-up Porsche. Hanks probably lost out on the role because he was in his late 20s, while Cruise was 19 when they shot the movie and turned 21 when it was released.

The Opening Shower Sequence Took 18 Hours to Film

Warner Bros.

On the movie’s commentary track, the filmmakers revealed that the shower dream sequence took a helluva long time to shoot, joking that the “poor girl (Francine Locke) looked like a raisin by the time this scene was over.”

It Was Megan Mullally’s First On-Screen Appearance

In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, you can spot Mullally’s first feature film appearance as a call girl in the background of the house party sequence.

The Movie’s Original Title

The working title for Risky Business was White Boys Off the Lake. “I think the studio rejected that because it sounded like an Off-Broadway play,” Brickman has explained. “So we started doing word association to come up with a new title.”

David Geffen Had Two Requests Before Taking On the Movie

Geffen initially passed on Risky Business, mainly due to the fact that the character of Lana was first written as a 16-year-old. He told Brickman that he’d only do the movie if they made Lana older and cast an actress who was clearly 21. 

The Alternate Intro of Cruise’s Dance Scene

Before deciding to sport some socks and slide into that dance scene, Cruise apparently tried all sorts of intros, many of which made Brickman laugh. At one point, according to the director, Cruise entered the scene by jumping from a trampoline off-screen and trying to stick the landing “like a gymnast.”

Bronson Pinchot Said That Cruise Kept Making Homophobic Comments on Set

The actor who played Joel’s buddy, Barry, was clearly not a fan of Cruise from the get-go, saying he was kind of boring and pretty intense. “Tom had picked up this knack of calling everyone by their character names because that would probably make your performance better, and I don’t agree with that,” Pinchot told The A.V. Club. “I think that acting is acting, and the rest of the time, you should be you, but he called us all by our character names. He was tense and made constant, constant unrelated homophobic comments, like, ‘You want some ice cream, in case there are no gay people there?’ I mean, his lingo was larded with the most… there was no basis for it. It was like, ‘It’s a nice day; I’m glad there are no gay people standing here.’ Very, very strange.”

Rebecca De Mornay Found Lana Relatable

“I understood the part of Lana so well,” De Mornay told The Wrap about her character. “I’ve lived by myself as a young 19-year-old in London, fending for myself. (I’ve) gone through a lot in my life in terms of upheaval and family stuff, and suddenly there was a part that just fit me like a glove that I knew. I wanted to maintain her dignity, regardless if she’s having sex for money. She maintained some source of integrity and soul. I wanted to present the underdog who was reduced to having to be a prostitute, exploited in our capitalist system, trying to get by as best she could without the cushion of having a family of money and connections.”

Cruise’s Auditions Didn’t Go All That Smoothly

“Originally, Paul had seen Taps and said, ‘This guy for Joel? This guy is a killer! Let him do Amityville III!’” Cruise once told Cameron Crowe in an interview, referring to his murderous character in the 1981 thriller. “Somehow, my agent, without me knowing, arranged to have me just drop by the office to say hello. So I went in wearing a jean jacket, my tooth was chipped, my hair was greasy. I was pumped up and talking in an Oklahoma accent, ‘Hey, how y’all doing?’ Paul just sat there, looking at me. He said, ‘Let’s just read a little bit.’ I’m not a very good cold reader. What I do is start with a line and go off and ad-lib and kind of find my way down the script. I started reading the thing, and they were ready to say, ‘Okay, thank you.’ I didn’t know. I cut them off and said, ‘Let me try it this way.’ I started from the top again, and I did it another way, and we ended up reading through half the script. It was fun; we were all laughing.”

Cruise added that his callback audition with De Mornay also didn’t go so well but that he talked to the director “for a long time” about what he wanted to do with the character, and Brickman gave him his shot. 

Joe Pantoliano Was Going Through a Rough Time When He Got the Audition Call

The actor who played Guido said his mother had just died, and he was moving between his home in California and New Jersey, where he was filming Eddie and the Cruisers, when his agent called him up. He went for the audition, but when the callback came, he didn’t want to go back because things were too frenetic. He felt like he was starting to play the same character repeatedly but ended up doing the movie anyway.

Filming in Chicago, Brickman’s Hometown

Brickman grew up in Highland Park on the city’s North Shore, and many of the locations in the film are personally significant to him. “The exterior of Joel’s house is three minutes from the house where I grew up,” Brickman revealed. “Shelton’s Ravinia Grill, where Joel and his friends talk about their futures, is where I used to hang out after walking home from school in the eighth grade. We’d go there and throw French fries at each other. Part of the car chase sequence with Guido, the killer pimp, goes by the Highland Park Movie Theater where I saw movies as a kid.”

Brickman Gave Cruise the Chance to Choose a Different Dance Song

Cruise told Crowe that Brickman had picked Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” but that he also told the actor he was free to suggest a song. Cruise said he went “through tape after tape” but that, in the end, “nothing beat Bob Seger.”

Sean Penn Occasionally Hung Out on Set

Penn had befriended Cruise while the two of them were shooting Taps, and he’d pop in on the set of Risky Business whenever he wasn’t busy filming Bad Boys. Penn also ended up in the movie as the guy next to Cruise in the Porsche as it backs out of the garage. The stall was unintentional, as Cruise said Penn distracted him with laughter.

subtitle]The Marketing Department Wasn’t Sure How to Promote the Movie

“I remember the first poster was a cartoon Joel with all these buxom bikini girls in bed with him and money raining down,” Brickman said, adding that the marketing department found it tough to promote his unconventional teen sex comedy. The final poster, of course, went with the somewhat darker tone of the movie.

Warner Bros.

Cruise Lost Some Weight to Play Joel

While Cruise got slightly buff for his role in Taps, the actor said he lost around 14 pounds in five weeks to play the lean babyface high schooler in Risky Business. “Joel’s a very vulnerable person,” Cruise explained. “I didn’t want any physical defenses up for him. No muscle armor at all.”

The Practical Effect in the Poker Scene

Warner Bros.

Brickman said that not only was the poker scene the first to be filmed (making it his first directed scene ever), but he also stood outside the frame, blowing smoke into the shot.

The Movie Made Brickman Ditch Hollywood

The director said he did not care for all the attention he received following the movie’s box-office success and turned down scripts like Forrest Gump and Rain Man. “The success of Risky Business was strange because I had Hollywood coming at me full throttle,” he remembers. “I found it very uncomfortable. I moved out of L.A. immediately. Studio heads sent me wine goblets and food baskets. And people threw material at me right and left and lined up to meet me. It gets uncomfortable. Some people like the visibility. I don’t. I’m more from the J.D. Salinger school.”

Cruise’s Take on the Movie

“It’s about today’s capitalistic society,” Cruise mused when he was asked what he thought the movie tried to get at. “Do the means justify the ends? Do you want to help people, or do you just want to make money? Joel is questioning all of that. So am I… I’m not saying I’m some erudite political figure, but it bothers me. At least I’m asking the question. The movie is Joel’s exploration of society, how he gets sucked into this wild capitalistic ride.” 

The Affair That Caused Some Behind the Scenes Drama

According to Armstrong’s extracts from his Risky Business journal (published in his memoir, Revenge of the Nerd), Cruise and De Mornay’s relationship had started during the movie’s filming, even though they only made things official after it was released. At the time of filming, however, De Mornay was still dating Harry Dean Stanton, and his occasional presence on set made things somewhat uncomfortable. “It’s no secret that Tom engaged in an intense affair during the shooting with De Mornay,” Armstrong noted. “Their romance was some time aborning. Part of the delay was caused by the presence of Harry Dean Stanton, who was involved with Rebecca. I suspect that most of Harry Dean’s great qualities were lost on Tom, who, I think, was beginning to regard him as a guest overstaying his welcome.” 

The Movie’s Soundtrack Was a Surprise Hit (For David Geffen)

While Avnet and Brickman loved the movie’s soundtrack and wanted to release it themselves, Geffen (who was also head of Geffen Records) wasn’t a fan and didn’t want to put it out as an album. The soundtrack was only released abroad through Tangerine Dream’s record company, Virgin Records, and it was such a hit that it was pirated in the U.S., where it eventually became a best-selling album. The Geffen Film Company ended up never making a dime from it.

The Original Ending

Initially, Risky Business would end with Joel not going to Princeton, not getting the girl and breaking his mom’s crystal egg. Neither Geffen nor the movie’s test audiences liked the ending, but Brickman persisted, saying that he’d shoot an alternate ending if they’d allow him to test out both. The happy ending tested higher, much to Brickman’s dismay. “I felt the whole film was compromised by this cheesy happy ending,” he explains. “I came very close to walking off the film. Some critics picked up on what they saw there (in the ending) as phony, and what can you say? You’re a smart critic.” 

No one except Brickman wanted to release his original ending on DVD, so he did it himself.

Brickman Wanted to Write a Teen Comedy That Teens Hadn’t Seen Before

“I wanted to do a film for young people that was very stylized in a way that I hadn’t seen before,” the writer and director once explained to Salon. “I wanted to make the film that, if I were in high school, I would’ve wanted to see. I was writing it in the time just after Reagan had taken office, and everyone wanted to be a little capitalist, get their MBAs, and wear power suspenders. I thought, ‘That’s all dandy, but life is more complex and darker than that. It’s tough out there. Capitalism takes its toll on a lot of people.’”

The MTV Movie Awards’ Les Grossman/’Risky Business’ Dance Scene Crossover

In 2010, the MTV Awards did a bunch of short films featuring Cruise as his infamous Tropic Thunder character inserting himself as the producer of the show and everything else — including the dance scene of his younger self in Risky Business.

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