Loaded Guns, Improv, and Passed-up Parts: 13 Facts About Martin Scorsese’s ‘TAXI DRIVER’

Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER is nothing short of one of the most spectacular and influential films of the last half-century. Not only did it announce its director and star, Robert DeNiro, as brand new names on the A-list, it also introduced the anti-hero to popular culture in a way it had yet to be, spawning a thousand imitators over the next four decades.

In honor of the film’s 40th anniversary and ahead of its re-release into theaters, we thought we’d hit you up with some of the juicier trivia tidbits behind the scenes to show you just how much went into making one of your favorite films, and what a different film it could have been.

Martin Scorsese was not the first director attached to the film, that would be Brian DePalma, but he departed the picture shortly into the pre-production period.
The TAXI DRIVER script by Paul Schrader was written in only ten days. While writing, Schrader is said to have kept a loaded gun on his desk “for motivation and inspiration.” Furthermore, when writing, Schrader was envisioning Jeff Bridges as Travis Bickle. To this date, Bridges and Scorsese have never worked together.

Written for Jeff Bridges, Scorsese originally offered the role to Dustin Hoffman, who passed because he thought the director “was crazy” and at the time there was no complete script. Naturally, Hoffman has since reversed this notion and regrets his decision. To this date, Hoffman and Scorsese have never worked together.

Al Pacino turned down TAXI DRIVER’s lead role as well. He also turned down the role DeNiro would take in GOODFELLAS. To this date, Pacino and Scorsese have never worked together, though the actor is tentatively cast to appear in the director’s upcoming film THE IRISHMAN, alongside DeNiro.

In between being cast as Travis Bickle and starting production of the film, DeNiro won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in THE GODFATHER II. Producers were so terrified this win would cause DeNIro to renegotiate his original fee for TAXI DRIVER, $35,000, that they almost shut down production until Bobby D convinced them he would honor his original contract, costing himself $465,000. To this date, DeNiro and Scorsese have worked together eight times, nine if you count the short film/commercial THE AUDITION they made with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in 2015, ten if you count THE IRISHMAN.

DeNiro worked as a taxi driver for a month before production started, often driving 15 hours a day around New York City. Despite being an Academy Award winner, DeNiro has said he was still relatively unknown at the time, and thus was only recognized once the entire month. This is his actual hack license:

Legendary composer Bernard Hermann, who started his career with CITIZEN KANE and scored such films as PSYCHO and VERTIGO for Alfred Hitchcock, had his last studio session on Christmas Eve 1975 working on TAXI DRIVER. He died several hours later. The film is dedicated to him.

Harvey Keitel was originally cast as the campaign manager Albert Brooks ended up playing. After reading the script, Keitel lobbied to be recast as the pimp, despite the fact that the pimp was written as black, younger, and only had five lines. Several other characters in the script were also originally black, but as these characters were all of an undesirable nature, Scorsese changed them because he didn’t want the picture to veer towards implied racism.

Jodie Foster, who was a mere 12 years old when cast as a prostitute, had to have her 19-year old sister Connie act as her body double during more explicit scenes. This is them:

Other actresses who screentested for the role of Iris the prostitute include Michelle Pfeiffer, Bo Derek, Rosanna Arquette, Kim Cattral, Geena Davis, Kim Basinger, Brooke Shields, and Carrie Fisher. Melanie Griffith was offered the role first, (when it was still to be directed by Brian DePalma) but her mother, the actress Tippi Hedren, thought it too risqué and violent and made her turn it down. Linda Blair was cast in the role but replaced by Foster, who beat out four other finalists: Mariel Hemingway, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Heather Locklear, and Kristy MacNicol.

Conspiracy theorist and Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone has a solid case for himself as a visual inspiration for Travis Bickle. At the time the project was being developed, Stone was a student of Scorsese’s at the NYU film school. Furthermore, Stone, a Vietnam veteran, was driving a cab at the time and was usually dressed in his olive army coat while on duty. This is him at that time period:

Meryl Streep turned down the role of “Betsy” that went to Cybil Shepherd. So did Glenn Close, Sigourney Weaver, and Susan Sarandon. Producer Julia Phillips, up to production, still preferred Farrah Fawcett over Shepherd. While on-set, Shepherd had a hard time with her performance and often had to be fed lines offscreen by Scorsese. Needless to say, she wasn’t the favorite co-star of perfectionist Robert DeNiro.

And last but not least, of course you already know that the infamous “You Talking To Me?” scene was shot on a break when DeNiro was improvising and Scorsese left the camera running. What you might not know is what the script actually said for that scene – just, “Travis looks in the mirror” – and what DeNiro was riffing on: Marlon Brando’s performance in John Huston’s 1967 film REFLECTIONS ON A GOLDEN EYE, in which his character mouths words at a mirror. Furthermore, the technique of repeating the same line with different inflections was one DeNiro learned from his acting coach Stella Adler.

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TAXI DRIVER was released on February 8th, 1976, and currently hold a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which means one of you assholes is lying. This is the definition of 100% film. If you haven’t seen it lately, see it now on the largest screen you can find. And yes, I’m talking to you.