Here are 10 trivia facts about Gran Torino from 2008, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are hundreds of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.
1. The lead role is the only “known” actor in the film.
Although some actors in the movie are seasoned professionals either on TV or in film, most are not. The Asian roles are almost all played by first-time movie actors. Only Clint Eastwood can be considered a “household name.”
2. It is set in a suburb of a major American city.
The film is set in Highland Park, however, the filming locations included many cities in Michigan: Detroit, Grand Rapids, Grosse Pointe, Royal Oak — and the bar scene with Father Janovich was shot in Center Line. MI.
3. One of the themes is Culture Clash.
The star, Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski, an aging Korean War vet, is in the throws of unwanted change as he sees his beloved Highland Park, Michigan neighborhood disintegrate. From older white neighbors moving out as new Asian families move in — from his wife’s recent death and his indifference to his children — to his unwanted encounters with religion — ethnicity and diversity are embraced by very few characters in the film — it is a series of adversarial behaviors with specific struggles… but the film’s redemption comes from the knowledge that with friendship and understanding can come change.
In an interview filmed at the film’s premiere, Eastwood speaking from director’s viewpoint, was forthcoming about Gran Torino when he said, “I enjoy being politically incorrect because I think political correctness is kind of boring. I mean it’s kind of… You talk to people who are walking around on eggshells all the time and it’s kind of boring… Yeah. That’s kind of what this story’s about, an old dog learning new tricks. And that’s why you have to have him on one polar opposite to take him on the journey.”
The story, based on the theme of change through understanding, would be nothing without the undisciplined gang culture’s key element to the story. From the taunting and violence within the Hmong community to the attitudes of “toughs” on the street. Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) playing Trey, has a scene where he is trying to protect Thao’s sister Sue from local corner hoods, but he can not succeed against the machine.
5. One of the scenes is filmed in a barbershop.
John Carroll Lynch as the local barber is one of Kowalski’s links to his past. In an effort to take his young Hmong neighbor (believably played by Bee Vang) under his wing, Eastwood acts out an old-fashioned charade with his barber friend to show his idea of how Americans behave toward one another. One of the beauties of Gran Torino is its ablity to be as funny as it is moving.
6. The entire movie was filmed in just about a month.
According to Gran Torino’s agenda, it was scheduled to shoot in 35 days but actually wrapped in 33 days. This is not unual for Clint Eastwood, whose movies generally finish according to schedule. In a 2010 interview with famed movie critic Richard Schickel, who knows Eastwood’s track record, said, “Normally being on set with Clint is very pleasant, but he gets angry when people waste his time. He’s a frugal guy by nature; it’s the way he was raised. And it’s why he makes his movies on time and on budget”
7. The film’s director appears in the movie.
Clint Eastwood has acted in 24 theatrical movies that he directed, four of which garnered multiple Oscar nominations — and two took home Academy Awards for both Best Director and Best Picture: Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004). Coincidentally, he was also nominated for Best Actor in both films.
8. This was the biggest box-office success for this director.
Although Clint Eastwood has had many financially successful movies, none have come close to this one. Not accounting for inflation, Gran Torino’s box office was higher than other Eastwood movie ever, both in the US and in the UK.
9. A car plays an important role in the movie.
The 1972 Gran Torino in Walt’s garage was a car that he helped build in his days at The Ford Motor Company. During the movie, gang pressure forces Bee Vang’s character Thao, to steal the car but gets caught. This seemingly senseless action is actually the catalyst that brings these two diverse personalties together. By film’s end, he shocks his family by leaving his prized possession to his Hmong neighbor Thao, whose well-being he has learned very much to care about — and by giving his life to save him.
10. The main character dies in the film.
Walt’s death is deliberate. Earlier in the film, Kowalski is seen coughing up blood and viewers get to see his hospital admission forms, suggesting that he, a habitual smoker, has lung cancer. Knowing that gang violence will take Thao’s life if he does not protect him, Kowalski forces the gang outside of their house by speaking loudly, getting the attention of the neighbors. As Walt goes to light his cigarette, gang members assume he is reaching for a gun and mow him down with automatic weapons. Walt’s lifeless hand is seen holding a cigarette lighter as the police arrive, arresting the gang members and taking evidence from all of the witnesses.
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More interesting stuff…
As the closing credits roll, Thao is seen in the car driving along the highway with Kowalski’s yellow lab Daisy at his side, knowing Walt would be proud. The sound comes up and we hear Clint singing the theme song, Gran Torino, for which he wrote the music. Actually, the official credits for the song are: “Gran Torino” – Written by Clint Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, Michael Stevens, and Kyle Eastwood (Clint’s son). The movie soundtrack lists Jamie Cullum as singing the song, which he does after Clint’s rendition.
Clint’s name is not listed in the credits as singing the theme from Gran Torino — officially listed, it is “vocals by Jamie Cullum and Don Runner”… but it didn’t take much digging to discover that Runner was Clint’s mother’s maiden name. Can we assume that Don Runner is an alias for Clint Eastwood?
Gran Torino is not the first time audiences get to hear Clint sing — he also sang in Paint Your Wagon (1969), Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), Kelly’s Heroes (1970), The Beguiled (1971), Bronco Billy (1980), Any Which Way You Can (1980), Honkytonk Man (1982), and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in 1997.
Now, see one of Clint Eastwood’s greatest efforts in the theatrical trailer for Gran Torino (2008):