Here Are 20 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About the Gangster Classic, ‘Scarface’

It’s the ultimate film about the villain we all came to idolize. Few films have managed to make immorality look quite as suave and sophisticated as the infamous Scarface. Al Pacino’s performance as Cuban kingpin Tony Montana is nothing short of one of the most iconic film roles of all time. And, like him, we can’t get enough!

Scarface devotees, the world is still yours! Here’s a special peek into the personalities, trials, tribulations, and perils involved in creating this cinematic masterpiece. Relive your favorite moments and learn how it all came to be. And most importantly of all: “Say hello to my little friend!”

In honor of this tremendous milestone here are the 20Things You Didn’t Know About Scarface.

The Film Is Now A Classic

The 1983 film Scarface was written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palma. The movie centers on Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban refugee who moves to Miami, Fla., in the 1980s and becomes a powerful drug lord. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Steven Bauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer also starred in the film, which made $44 million at the box office. The film, which received mixed reviews upon release, was a remake of a 1932 movie of the same name and similar premise. Today, Scarface is one of Hollywood’s most iconic films, just as Al Capone is one of history’s most iconic gangsters.

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.

Not Really Scarface?

This next one is rather surprising. The name of the film Scarface and the villain it stands for represents to its world of viewers the ultimate example of cheering for a bad guy. But how many times is Tony Montana actually referred to by the notorious moniker? Trick question! The answer is zero…in English, that is. But in a split second of the chainsaw scene, brutal Colombian dealer Hector the Toad taunts a tied-up Tony, calling him “cara cicatriz” — Scarface. Oliver Stone snuck this Easter egg into the script, to the delight of Spanish speakers.

Wife Of Brian

Elvira Hancock was by no means a role model for women (or anyone, for that matter), and yet we were tantalized by her icy charm. There was thick competition between Hollywood’s leading beauties to play this Jezebel. But Scarface director Brian De Palma had a bold idea. He’d met his wife Nancy Allen when she’d played the school bully in his 1976 horror classic Carrie, and set his sights on her to play Elvira. When he cast Michelle Pfeiffer instead, Allen was not pleased. Just months after the film’s release, the couple parted ways.

Ratings War

Even in comparison with today’s films, Scarface‘s violence and the body count is admittedly intense. And lest we forget, its plot flaunts and centers around ridiculously exorbitant substance abuse. Receiving an X rating meant disaster; the film’s showings would be greatly restricted. Something had to be done. Brian De Palma and Martin Bergmann petitioned the MPAA numerous times and presented several edited versions of Scarface. After a tense hearing, they were granted an R rating. Once acquired, De Palma decided to trick studio execs and release the original cut anyway! Sneaky — and we’re grateful for it.

No Pink Ladies

We all loved Grease, but there’s no tiptoeing around it: Grease 2 was a flop. And because Michelle Pfeiffer was known in Hollywood almost exclusively because of her leading role in that film, she very nearly wasn’t cast as Elvira Hancock in Scarface. Al Pacino wanted Glenn Close to play Elvira. Geena Davis, Sharon Stone, Sigourney Weaver, and Carrie Fisher all auditioned. But when Michelle Pfeiffer finally tried out, Grease 2‘s reputation made Pacino and director Brian De Palma hesitate. Producer Martin Bregman had to step in to convince them to take her!

How The Real Scarface Got His Nickname

Al Capone received his famous nickname after getting into a fight in 1917. Capone insulted a woman at the Harvard Inn in Brooklyn, NY, and her brother slashed Capone’s face as retribution, giving him several scars. Capone was embarrassed by the deformity and often tried to hide the scars when he was being photographed. He also claimed he received them during the war even though he never served in the military. When Capone became a famous mobster, the press started calling him Scarface, which he hated. His criminal colleagues called him “Big Fellow,” while friends called him “Snorky,” another word for “spiffy.”

How Tony Montana Got His Name

Tony Montana’s name came from the screenwriter’s love of professional sports. Oliver Stone was a huge San Francisco 49ers fan, so he decided to name the titular character in his movie after his favorite football star, Joe Montana. Joe Montana won four Super Bowls and was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player three times (the first one to ever do so). In the film, Tony is called “Scarface” only one time — and not in English. When Tony is threatened with a chainsaw by Colombian gangster Hector, the rival calls him “cara cicatriz” in Spanish, which means Scarface.

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 as Tony’s did? Well, turns out the storyline 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.

Al Pacino Got His Hand Stuck To A Gun Barrel

Okay, so the cast of Scarface wasn’t exactly in the middle of gang warfare and shootouts 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 risks. Al Pacino got injured by a gun on set – although thankfully, not as bad 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.

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 the 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.

Object Of Desire

Remember that scene when Tony and Manny are sitting on the beach in Miami enjoying tropical cocktails and discussing off-color methods to pick up girls? They can’t see the face of the first girl they examine. But if they had, they definitely would have thought twice before ogling her. Director Brian De Palma has revealed that the curly-haired beauty who whisks past them in a hot pink bikini is none other than actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio — Tony’s kid sister Gina. Sure, it’s foreshadowing, but it’s an uncomfortable realization.

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!

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 outsider 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.

Mamma Mia!

Scarface is famous in part for having a particularly ‘colorful’ vocabulary. Though many films have since surpassed it, for its time, Scarface was pretty shocking for its f-bomb count, dropped over 200 times. And actor F. Murray Abraham’s polite Italian mother was having none of it. Josephine Stello was one of fourteen children, born into a family of Italian immigrants. After finally seeing a screening of the film, she passed a message to her son, intended for a fellow Italian: tell your friend Al Pacino to watch his language, it makes Italians look bad!

He’s A Maniac

He’d already directed comedies, political thrillers, Greek tragedies, and plenty of horrors. And in 1983, virtuoso Brian De Palma was poised to venture into a very different realm: dancing! Because Scarface‘s writer had been fired, De Palma had quit and signed onto Flashdance. But there was a big problem. Replacement director Sidney Lumet quarreled with production about the film’s tone because he wanted it to be a critique of US immigration policy. Lumet dropped out. But his excellent script changes were enticing enough that De Palma decided to ditch Flashdance and come back. He wouldn’t regret it.

Not Your Average Research Project

It was famed director Sidney Lumet’s adjustments to Scarface’s original screenplay that gave the film its shape. He insisted on making the film contemporary, and its characters Cubans. To learn about their subjects would require research from writer Oliver Stone — and not all of it savory. Together with producer Martin Bregman, Stone was granted permission to criminal records from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Florida. Stone then traveled to the Caribbean and South America to get an insider’s view of the drug trade, in the belly of the beast. We’re glad he came home safely!

Robert De Niro Turned Down The Role Of Tony Montana.

Al Pacino’s passion for Scarface dates back to its very inception. It was Pacino who saw the 1932 original at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles, and subsequently contacted producer/agent Martin Bregman with the idea of a remake. From there, the duo met with Universal Studios, who expressed hesitancy towards one core selling point: Pacino himself. The future Oscar winner had every intention of playing the title role, but in a move not dissimilar to his tenure on The Godfather (1972), the studio simply didn’t see it.

Universal would offer the part to Pacino’s Godfather Part II (1974) co-star Robert De Niro, who quickly turned it down to star in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983). Pacino was rightfully restored as Tony Montana in the wake of this rejection, and the rabid actor would go on to deliver one of his most iconic performances. Admittedly, watching De Niro shovel through mounds of cocaine while copping a Cuban accent sounds pretty incredible, but there’s no denying Pacino was the right Scarface for the job.

Pacino Improvised The Drug Slang “YAYO.”

A slang term for cocaine, ‘yayo,’ was often used in the Cuban community to avoid suspicion from the police. As such, the colloquial word went unforeseen by Stone and De Palma, who made no such note of it on the written page. Pacino came across the word while honing his Cuban accent, and chose to whip it out during Tony’s first deal with Omar Suárez (F. Murray Abraham). Caught aback by the unfamiliar slang, De Palma took an immense liking to the term and integrated it into the rest of the script. A little cultural authenticity never hurt, especially when dabbling in such a distinct sector of Central American crime.

Unsurprisingly, the term ‘yayo’ would soon find it’s way into popular culture, with particularly avid use in the hip hop community. Post Scarface, every rapper, from The Notorious B.I.G. and Nas to Raekwon and G-Unit’s Tony Yayo, has adopted it into the grab bag of street vernacular. Given this deep-seated influence, it’s any wonder Universal attempted to re-release the film with a rap soundtrack in 2003. De Palma, steadfast in his Moroder soundtrack, refused.

Steven Spielberg Handled One Of The Cameras In The Final Shootout.

Oliver Stone may have criticized “Spielberg for his view of exceptionalism,” but the director’s working relationship with Brian De Palma has always been strong. Both Steven Spielberg and De Palma hail from the 70s school of Movie Brats, a group of filmmaking friends that also included Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola. The iconic crew would often visit one another on set, share the same hub of actors (Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro), and slyly leave their two cents within each film.

As the culprit this time around, Spielberg visited the set during Scarface’s climactic shootout, and De Palma thought the Jaws director should also get in on the action. Strapped up with a camera, Spielberg actually films the sequence opener, a low angle shot of the Colombians infiltrating the house. It’s onscreen for barely five seconds, with nothing to suggest the hand of one of the world’s most famous directors, but the tidbit remains a fun addition to an already iconic finale.