2001’s Ocean’s Eleven manages to find the sweet spot, merging comedy and action for a star-studded heist film that certainly lives up to the legacy of the Frank Sinatra-lead original. In the modern version, it’s George Clooney leading a merry band of thieves, acrobats, and Matt Damon on a thrilling Vegas casino heist with director Steven Soderbergh creating a film that manages to be both stylish and fun.
As we look ahead to Ocean’s Eight, with Sandra Bullock taking the reins from Clooney as the group’s leader, and celebrate the 15th anniversary of Ocean’s Eleven‘s release, let’s take a look at some behind the scenes trivia.
There Were Some Early Casting Shuffles
It’s not uncommon for casting choices to change before (or sometimes even after) filming begins, and Ocean’s Eleven definitely had it’s fair share of shakeups. Soderbergh had initially hoped to cast Luke and Owen Wilson as Virgil and Turk Malloy, who would have been great as the trouble-starting brothers had they not committed to their friend and frequent collaborator Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums.
Early buzz also put Bruce Willis in the mix for a role, but it wasn’t meant to be. Willis only had good things to say about the project: “By the time I got to it, all the good stuff was done and I wanted to play one of the gang. I think I’d rather just go see it.”
He later had a hilarious cameo in Ocean’s Twelve.
Mark Wahlberg Needs To Chill Out
Additionally, Mark Wahlberg was initially offered the role of Linus Caldwell, which eventually went to Matt Damon. Wahlberg turned down the part (which eventually grew into a successful franchise) to do Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, which may not have been the best choice for his career at the time. However, Wahlberg was weirdly aggressive about turning down the part, even going as far as bad mouthing the series in an interview.
“People tell George Clooney it’s great, but we all know it sucked. I made two bad movies instead — Planet of the Apes and The Truth About Charlie — but doing that was better than sitting with Brad (Pitt) and George, telling the press how great everybody is! ‘We were in Europe, George was funny, then we had some wine …’ — that’s not for me. I do love those guys, but I had to step out on my own.”
What’s Going On With Don Cheadle?
Although Don Cheadle had a supporting role in all three of the Ocean’s films, it was a little awkward behind-the-scenes of Eleven, so much so that Cheadle wished to remain uncredited for his work, saying:
“With Ocean’s, there was some stuff that happened behind the scenes that I didn’t like how it went down, so I just said, ‘Take my name off it.'”
There are rumors that it was because Cheadle wanted above the title billing with Clooney, Pitt, and Damon, which was denied for the first film. However, they had worked out a deal by Twelve and Cheadle now only has great things to say about the experience, telling The Guardian:
“Oh, it’s embarrassing to get paid to do that movie. It’s true, it is fun. George [Clooney] bought everybody these beach cruiser bikes and we were riding around in our bikes and playing basketball at every break and we were in Las Vegas. It was crazy. It was ridiculous. I mean, I’m not giving the money back, but… (laughs)”
Everyone Took Pay Cuts (But It Worked Out)
When you assemble mega-watt talent like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Matt Damon, things are bound to get a little expensive. However, they were trying to keep the budget low, so the cast took a pay cut just so they could make the movie, with Clooney saying:
“We’re going to have a terrific cast, everybody working below rate.We said, if we all get paid, we can’t make the movie, so why don’t we all just take a big chunk of the backend, work cheap, and see if there’s any money at the end.”
Luckily, that gamble paid off, with the film grossing $450.7 million worldwide and spawning two very successful sequels.
George Clooney Knows How To Sweet Talk Julia Roberts Off-Screen Too
Clooney and Roberts have a pitch-perfect flirty rapport onscreen, and Clooney apparently knew how to push her buttons in real life as well. The two had surprisingly never met prior to filming, and Roberts was currently at the height of her fame and coming off of an Oscar win for Erin Brockovich, raking in $20 million per picture Clooney decided to get a little cheeky, sending her an offer that she easily could have refused. Clooney told Entertainment Weekly,
“Steven [Soderbergh] was doing Erin Brockovich with her at the time, so I sent the script to her with a 20 dollar bill. Inside I wrote, ‘I heard you’re getting 20 a picture.’ Then she said she’d do it.”
Luckily, that chemistry translated well onscreen, with Roberts matching him quip for quip as Ocean’s ex-wife, Tess.
The Cast Took Advantage Of Their Location After Hours
What happens in Vegas… well, you know. From the sound of things, the cast partied pretty hard in between filming, doing their fair share of gambling. With such unprecedented access to some of the most legendary casinos in the world, it almost would have been a waste if they hadn’t. Who won the most is up for dispute — Clooney says Damon was the ultimate winner, while Damon gives that title to Pitt — but it’s pretty clear who lost the most. Clooney became a figure of infamy when he lost 25 games of blackjack in a row.
Soderbergh Almost Went Old School
Steven Soderbergh has a reputation as an auteur director, and he almost brought some classic flair to the film. He had initially planned to shoot Ocean’s Eleven in black and white (which would have been so cool), but it would have elevated the cost so the idea never advanced. Soderbergh would eventually get his wish as the producer of the George Clooney-directed Good Night, And Good Luck, though.
Brad Pitt Really Was Always Eating
There is a large portion of the internet devoted to Brad Pitt eating in his films and Ocean’s Eleven is the prime example of that. Be it a snacking habit or a serious oral fixation, Pitt’s master of disguise, Rusty Ryan, is almost always munching away. Pitt even ate 40 shrimp while they were shooting Julia Roberts’ introduction scene. He probably regretted that acting choice later on that evening.
Clooney Mercilessly Pranked Pitt
George Clooney has a reputation as a prankster, and it seems that Pitt was the most common object of his shenanigans. While it was all in good fun, Clooney may have gone a little too far with his Ocean’s Eleven prank, telling Vanity Fair:
“I got a bumper sticker in the shape of a pot plant, that said, ‘F*ck cops,’ and I put that on the back of his car. Because there’s no way you’re not getting arrested with that.”
From the sound of things, he was only getting started, saying “But I am working on a prank that will end his career. If you take the time, if you’re willing to sit on one for a couple of years, and just plant the seed . . . there’s no rush.”