Run, Forrest, run! Few films have stitched themselves into American memory as dearly as 1994’s Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Sally Field, Robin Wright and Mykelti Williamson. Based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom, Forrest Gump was a box office and awards juggernaut, winning six Oscars (including best picture and a second best actor award in a row for Hanks after his 1993 win for Philadelphia). It spawned a crop of Americana-style sayings, including the oft-quoted observation that life is like a box of chocolates (you know the rest).
Now, get ready for our special screening of Forrest Gump, hosted by castmember Gary Sinise, as part of the AARP Celebrates You! Festival (go here to register) — on Thursday, March 24, at 8 p.m. ET — by getting behind the scenes with some remarkable trivia about this time-honored film. Because you never know what you’re gonna get!
Tom Hanks wasn’t anyone’s first choice for the role
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, but novelist Winston Groom imagined John Goodman in the title role (that may have had something to do with the fact that in the novel, Forrest is 6 foot 6 and weighs 240 pounds). Director Robert Zemeckis is said to have wanted Bill Paxton, whom the studios turned down as not having enough star power, or Harry Anderson, who was unavailable due to being attached to a television series. Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and John Travolta are all said to have turned down the role as well.
Neither was Robin Wright as Forrest’s forever love, Jenny Curran
Jodie Foster, Nicole Kidman and Demi Moore were all considered for the role before Wright, who snagged Golden Globe and SAG nominations for her portrayal, went on to play high-profile characters in film and television (The Princess Bride, House of Cards) and directed her first feature film in 2021 (Land). Forrest Gump “was one of the most incredible experiences of my career for sure,” she told Bustle in 2021. “It’s such a beautiful movie without being overly sentimental. We had no idea that it would be the success that it became while we were shooting it. Just to be able to get to play a character over the course of almost 20 years — everything that Jenny went through with Forrest. Tom [Hanks] and I had such a great time laughing every day. I feel so blessed and honored to have been in such an iconic film.”
Dave Chappelle turned down the role of Forrest’s friend Bubba Blue
The comedian-actor didn’t think the movie would do well and passed on the role but has since expressed regret about his decision (and four years later got to costar with Hanks, this time in You’ve Got Mail). Ice Cube also passed on the part, as did David Alan Grier. While it’s said that Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence were also considered for the role, Mykelti Williamson was cast as Bubba and will be forever loved for his emotional performance.
Tom Hanks’ brother did some of that running in the movie
Jim Hanks, himself an actor and filmmaker, doubled for his older brother on set, including in numerous sequences featuring Forrest’s high-knee, arm-pumping run. According to Jim, “Tom had other doubles but they couldn’t do the run. That’s a stupid Hanks thing.” (Jim has also done voice substitution work for his brother, including as Toy Story’s Sheriff Woody in video games and talking toys.)
And his daughter was in it, too!
Keep an eye out for a surly redheaded girl in the bus scene, when young Forrest can’t find a place to sit (until Jenny invites him to sit next to her). That’s Hanks’ daughter, Elizabeth. And while you’re at it, note that one of the little boys who won’t let young Forrest sit next to him is Robert Zemeckis’ son, Alexander.
Speaking of kids, this young actor got his first close-up in Forrest Gump
Haley Joel Osment was spotted by Zemeckis in a Pizza Hut TV ad and cast as Forrest’s son (also named Forrest!) in his first film role. Five years later, he’d become an international sensation (and be nominated for an Oscar) for his work as the little boy who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense.
A famous magician got involved in special effects
Ricky Jay, a master of illusions, designed a wheelchair that hid actor Gary Sinise’s legs so his character, Lt. Dan Taylor, would appear to have lost both legs to amputation below the knee. The wheelchair had a hidden platform for the actor’s legs, but it required considerable contortions that Sinise could endure only for about 10 minutes at a time. (Digital special effects were employed in other scenes to erase Sinise’s legs.) “When you see Gary Sinise with his legs off,” Zemeckis told the Los Angeles Times in 1994, “even though it’s flawless, you say, ‘How do you do that?’ Then hopefully you accept it as just another film illusion.”
South Carolina stood in for Vietnam
Two lush, palm-studded islands — Fripp Island and Hunting Island State Park — just off the South Carolina coast were used for the film’s Vietnam scenes (although additional palmetto trees were brought in to fill in the tropical background). Many other scenes from the film were shot in and around Beaufort, South Carolina, where the crew was based for five months. (Look for Bubba’s mother, who was played by Marlena Smalls, a Gullah historian, speaker and singer, and note that the church scene features Smalls’ group, the Hallelujah Singers, which continues to perform in the Low Country.)
Tom Hanks ad-libbed one of the film’s most memorable lines
When Bubba says to Forrest, “My given name is Benjamin Buford Blue, but people call me ‘Bubba,’” Hanks went off script and said, “My name is Forrest Gump. People call me ‘Forrest Gump.’” Zemeckis loved it, kept it in the film, and the rest is quotable history.
Join today and save 43% off the standard annual rate. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.
When the film changes time periods, Forrest is always first shown wearing a blue checkered shirt
Keep your eyes peeled for this symbolic choice to mark time transitions in the film.
That famous bench wasn’t a real park bench
While there are indeed park benches in Chippewa Square, the shady historic spot in Savannah, Georgia, where the movie’s famous bench scenes are filmed, there wasn’t one where the director needed it to be — facing outward near the sidewalk to allow Tom Hanks to wait for the bus. A fiberglass prop bench did the job, and it now resides in the Savannah History Museum. The Chippewa Square spot where the bench stood in the film is now a garden, but that doesn’t keep Forrest Gump fans from snapping photos nearby.
Lieutenant Dan’s necklace has deep significance to Gary Sinise
Sinise’s Lieutenant Dan can be seen wearing a rosary that includes a Saint Christopher medal with the inscription, “Protect Us In Combat.” That same rosary, dog tags and all, was worn by Sinise’s brother-in-law, Jack Treese, who served as a medic in the Vietnam War. Sinise, whose family has a history of military service, has been an ardent supporter of veterans’ causes throughout his life and career, including founding the Lt. Dan Band, which plays at military bases around the world, and the Gary Sinise Foundation, which raises funds for wounded veterans, first responders and their families. He was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008 for his humanitarian work.
Kurt Russell has a cameo that’ll have you all shook up
While actor Peter Dobson played a not-yet-famous Elvis Presley as a lodger in the Gump household in a brief scene with young Forrest, the voice belongs to none other than actor Kurt Russell. Why? Russell, who was uncredited in the film, had played Presley already in a 1979 biopic directed by John Carpenter titled, appropriately enough, Elvis.
Tom Hanks may be the nicest guy in Hollywood, but even he draws the (chocolate) line
On a segment of Inside the Actors Studio, interviewer James Lipton coaxed Hanks into uttering the “Life is like a box of chocolates” line, which Hanks followed by comparing that to asking Robert De Niro to repeat his oft-quoted “Are you talking to me?” lines from Taxi Driver (Lipton tried to get De Niro to do it but failed). Since then, Hanks has made clear he’s not going to utter the chocolate line for anyone again.
Tracey Minkin is an award-winning writer, the travel editor at Coastal Living, and a regular contributor to Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Southern Living and Veranda.