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13 Things You Still Don’t Know About ‘The Fifth Element,’ Even After Watching It 500 Times On Cable

Two decades after it was released in theaters, it goes without saying that The Fifth Element is one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made. It’s funny, the colors pop, and the action jumps off the screen, but even if you’ve seen this movie 500 times there are a lot of things you didn’t know about The Fifth Element.

For instance, Luc Besson started writing the film when he was a teenager, and at one point it was actually three movies and hundreds of pages long. He wisely found a way to cut down some of the more unnecessary scenes in order to deliver the riveting quote machine that is The Fifth Element. Including pre-production, the filming of The Fifth Element took about 10 months, and the cast and crew grew incredibly close during the year they spent together, which lead to some predictably salacious behind-the-scenes stories.

Even if you think you know all of the facts about The Fifth Element, it’s likely there are still a few pieces of trivia that you don’t know. Stay green, and read on to learn about the behind-the-scenes insanity of The Fifth Element.

Milla Jovovich And Luc Besson Hooked Up During Filming

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Even though Luc Besson started out on The Fifth Element married to Maïwenn, the actress and singer who played Diva Plavalaguna, throughout pre-production and filming he started an affair with his lead actress, Milla Jovovich. While the duo was secretive about their on-set romance, the cast and crew knew that something was up.

In a 20-year retrospective of the film, Bruce Willis — who played Korben Dallas — told Entertainment Weekly: “…the real romance was between Luc and Milla. By the time I had gotten to Paris they were already kind of smitten with each other.” The two married seven months after the movie premiered.

The Diva Scene Was Almost Destroyed At LAX

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Many of the biggest scenes in the scenes in the Fifth Element were filmed with multiple cameras at different angles, in an attempt to capture true emotion. One of the biggest and most complicated of all was the appearance of the Diva, but that scene almost had to be reshot thanks to a mishap at LAX.

The film’s associate producer, John Amicarella, experienced a Hollywood nightmare after he had the negatives flown to Los Angeles so he could have it transferred. He said that one day he got a call and was told to come down to the airport, and that’s when his life flashed in front of his eyes.

“We were escorted into a little room where they brought multiple trashcans of negative that had fallen out of the airplane onto to the tarmac and had been run over by a forklift. That was the diva scene — like,  one of the money shots. It was the one thing you absolutely did not want to have happen.”

Luckily, the editors were able to salvage the footage and the audience never knew that they were watching roadkill.

Prince Was Supposed To Be In The Movie, Along With Some Other Major Stars

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Initially, The Fifth Element was meant to be director Luc Besson’s follow up to his 1990 film Nikita, and at the time he was in talks with some huge names to appear in the film. According to an exhibit of costume designer and artist Jean-Paul Gaultier’s original illustrations and notes for his work on the film, Prince was meant to play the part of Ruby Rhod — which was eventually immortalized by Chris Tucker — but the pop star felt that the character was “too effeminate.” He also got off to a rocky start with Gaultier himself.

Gaultier’s notes also reveal that Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson were originally meant to star in the film, but when the money never came together they eventually backed out. The designer claims he actually met Prince while the star was still considering the role, but because of Gaultier’s less-than-stellar handle on the English language, he may have scared Prince away from saying yes. Gaultier recalled:

“Luc told me that Prince had been very surprised and amused — by my presentation, but that he found the costumes a bit too effeminate. And, most importantly, he had thought he heard “F*ck you, f*ck you!” when I was saying in my terrible English accent ‘faux cul, faux cul’ [fake ass]!”

Luc Besson Wrote The Fifth Element When He Was A Teenager

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Besson is one of the most creative writers and directors on the planet, so it shouldn’t be a surprise he was writing sweeping sci-fi stories about love when he was 16. It is, however, a bit shocking he was able to craft a three-movie epic before actually bringing it to life decades later. He told Entertainment Weekly: “At 16 I wrote three stories. I wrote 200 pages, and it was bad. I wrote 200 more, it was still bad.”

Besson credits his creativity with living in the middle of nowhere in France as a teenager, and only having his imagination to keep him company. When it came time to actually craft the script for The Fifth Element, veteran screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen (The Karate Kid) was brought on to make sense of what a teenage Besson wrote. When they first started Kamen said that “It just made no sense.” But in the end they had “a 180-page script or something, a crazy, endless thing.”

Leeloo Needed A Wig When Her Hair Started Falling Out

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

According to an interview Milla Jovovich did with Into the Gloss, an accident with the hairdressers early on into filming caused extreme hair loss, and a wig had to be crafted to maintain Leeloo’s flaming orange locks. Jovovich recalled:

“My hair grows so fast, so every week they’d have to redo my roots. And, at one point, I think the hairdressers went out for a cigarette and left me sitting in the chair cooking underneath the hat and I felt my hair getting hot, but I was like, ‘They must know what they’re doing.’ Finally, I said, ‘Oh, girls!’ and they went, Gasp! I guess they had forgotten about me and when they took the thing off, my hair was just falling out in clumps and I was pulling it out and pulling it out and they had to make a complete wig. So, in the movie when you see Leeloo clean and dry at the apartment on the computer eating chicken, I’ve got a wig on pretty much from that point onward—we only got a few weeks of shooting in with the haircut, and thank God we got the beginning, which is glorious.”

 

The Film Was Inspired By French Comics

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Luc Besson’s initial influences for The Fifth Element came from the world of French science fiction and fantasy comic books, like Jean-Claude Mézieres’ seminal series Valérian and Laureline (which would also go on to inspire many visuals for Star Wars as well as a mostly terrible movie adaptaion) and Métal Hurlant, otherwise known as Heavy Metal, by the legendary artist Moebius (Jean Giraud).

After the film was released, Moebius attempted to sue Besson, but the case was thrown out after it was revealed Besson actually hired the artist to work on the film.

 

 

 

The Language Leeloo Speaks Has An Actual Dictionary

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Throughout the first half of the movie, Jovovich’s character Leeloo is speaking what sounds like gibberish, but it turns out Besson was just as particular about the fake alien language as he was about the rest of the movie.

Besson said he “wrote a dictionary with 500 words” for Jovovich, and that they were the only two people who spoke it on set. He also felt that if they were to give Leeloo subtitles, it would diminish her character, so he left what she was saying up to interpretation and imagination.

 

It Was The Most Expensive Movie Filmed Outside The US

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

While filming The Fifth Element, Luc Besson was dealing with the burgeoning world of CGI, allowing himself to be playful on a film that needed a lot of visual effects. Because he followed his wanderlust (all the way to Europe), Besson ended up going tens of millions of dollars over budget — cementing The Fifth Element‘s place among the most expensive films made until The Intouchables in 2011.

Even though he was hemorrhaging money while filming, Besson somehow got away with not having to show his producers dailies. Luckily, The Fifth Element ended up making $263.9 million, more than double the cost of production.

Milla Jovovich Almost Didn’t Play Leeloo

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

It seems impossible that The Fifth Element could exist without Milla Jovovich. Her orange hair and deadpan delivery absolutely make the film, but when she first met Besson, he didn’t see anything special about her. He claims that at her first audition, “she was overdressed and over-made-up and very, very nervous.”

However, that’s not how Jovovich sees it. She told Entertainment Weekly: “I thought I did great!  But, you know I had on, like, green eyeshadow, white patent-leather platforms, my little minidress. I was 18 and just thought I was the coolest thing in the world.”

Besson saw her again by chance a few months later by the pool at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. She was just in jeans and a t-shirt without any makeup, and he rushed put her on tape right then. The rest is history.

The Actors Playing The Mondoshawans (And Possibly The Mangalores) Had To Work Blind

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Almost everything in The Fifth Element is a practical effect, including the mechanical bodies of the Mondoshawans. As amazing as they looked, the actors inside couldn’t really see out of the prosthetics. The crew had to rig tiny TV monitors into their masks, so they could see where they were going.

Nick Dudman, the creature design supervisor, later said that aside from the Mondoshawans, the Mangalores (the dog-like mercenaries) also had “a camera, a monitor, and a TV screen inside” their suits that were outfitted with headsets, so crew members could tell them when to move and when to stop before they fell off the set. It’s unclear if he was confusing the Mondoshawans with the Mangalores, or if both sets of species required remote assistance.

The Diva Performance Was Pretty Much Improvised

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

One of the craziest things about The Fifth Element is how much Luc Besson left up to chance. It’s one thing to improv on a small film like Léon: The Professional, but this was a $63 million sci-fi epic. According to first AD Chris Carreras, the entire diva scene was filmed like an actual concert.

“The curtain came up, and that was it. It was a bit jaw-dropping, I have to say — the first moment when that voice comes out, that first note. I’d not seen the outfit or the choreography [together]. And to witness it for the first time was absolute goosebumps.”

 

Everyone Thought Bruce Willis Was Going To Be A Handful

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

When The Fifth Element was being filmed in the mid-’90s, neither Milla Jovovich or Chris Tucker were major stars, so Bruce Willis was really the only super famous actor on set, aside from Gary Oldman (and the two barely share any screen time).

According to Charlie Creed-Miles, who plays David in the film, everyone thought Bruce Willis was going to be a nightmare when he came to set. It didn’t help matters that the cast and crew received a lecture a day before the star arrived in France. Creed-Miles explained:

“They said Bruce Willis is coming in tomorrow and it’s very important that everyone observes these rules: No-one is allowed to look him in the eye or initiate a conversation with him unless he speaks to you first.”

The lecture was all for naught, however, because Bruce Willis turned out to be a delight to  work with. After shooting wrapped, he even threw a party for everyone at the house he’d been staying at and played jazz for the crew.

Luc Besson Was Super Hands-On During Filming

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

According to cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, Besson always controls every aspect of a film that he’s working on, especially the camera work. Arbogast told Hero Magazine:

“Luc makes his movies in a very personal way, he’s already got a solid vision in mind. He clearly knows what he wants and how to obtain it on the screen and secondly because he is extremely precise – Luc is doing all the framing himself, for example. It’s only him behind the camera.”

It’s not out of the question for a director to most of their own camera work, but it’s not exactly business as usual for a big picture like this. To hear Arbogast tell it, he mostly worked as a liaison between Besson and the crew so Besson could spend more time working with the actors.

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