Behind The Scenes Stories From The Making Of 'Se7en'

The making of Se7en was fortunately not as intense as what ended up on screen, although it was certainly eventful. Released in 1995, the film is widely considered to be one of the best, most harrowing pictures ever made about the quest for a serial slayer. In fact, it's so relentlessly dark and cynical that it makes The Silence of the Lambs feel like a Disney movie in comparison. 

The story, of course, is about two detectives, Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman), on the search for a psychopath whose crimes have been inspired by the seven deadly sins. Although very little violence occurs onscreen, the graphic aftermath of the killings is just as jarring today as it was decades. That's because director David Fincher made every effort to create a pervasive sense of dread, the likes of which few films accomplished before or since. 

A lot went into creating that vibe and making the movie unforgettable. These Se7en behind-the-scenes stories will reveal the actors who almost snagged the lead roles, the struggles of the performers who played the victims, the way the filmmakers took every precaution to make sure their challenging story wasn't compromised, and much more. 

Photo: New Line Cinema

  • Brad Pitt Insisted On The Uncompromising Ending

    Studios have a long history of softening edgy movies because they fear audiences will reject anything too unpleasant or challenging. Given that Se7en is continually disturbing, Brad Pitt knew that was a real possibility before he even signed on. He consequently told the studio he would only agree to make the movie if the climactic scene in which Mills is given his wife's head in a box was contractually required to remain in the film.

    A similar problem reared its head when the movie was finished. The studio felt it would be more "heroic" if Mills didn't dispatch John Doe in retaliation, thereby giving him a win, and suggested ending it a tiny bit sooner. Again, Pitt pulled the star card, reminding studio executives that it was in his contract for this moment to remain in the film as well.

  • John C. McGinley's Reaction To "Sloth" Was Totally Real

    Of all the shocks in Se7en, the "Sloth" one is arguably the most potent. Mills and Somerset enter a bedroom where they find an emaciated body. The victim, according to photos found nearby, has been strapped to the bed for about a year. As SWAT team leader California (played by John C. McGinley) leans in, the body abruptly coughs, revealing that the man is actually still alive. California jumps backward in shocked surprise.

    Actor Michael Reid Mackay plays the "Sloth" victim, and he was fitted with prosthetics and makeup for the scene, a process which took up to 14 hours. According to him, the sequence was shot multiple times, but the first take - in which he legitimately startled McGinley, who didn't know what was coming - is the one used in the movie. 

  • Brad Pitt's Injury Was Worked Into The Movie's Plot

    What do you do when one of your big stars seriously hurts himself on the set of your movie? Work the injury into the story, of course. That's what happened with Pitt, who slipped on a wet car hood while filming a chase scene, putting his arm through the windshield. The accident severed a tendon in his hand, requiring several stitches. 

    This set off a panic, as shutting down production while he healed would have been costly. Scenes taking place before the one in which Pitt got hurt had not yet been filmed, so, for continuity reasons, it was decided to alter the script so that Mills breaks his arm after a scuffle with Doe and for pre-scuffle scenes, Pitt's hurt arm was hidden off-camera. This allowed Pitt to wear a cast and continue filming. 

  • John Doe's Notebooks Horrified Kinko's Employees

    No one who has seen Se7en could forget the hideous images that fill up John Doe's notebooks. Of course, when the audience sees them, we know they're part of a movie about a serial slayer. The folks at a local Kinko's copy shop, who weren't aware of their intended purpose, got a genuine shock from the imagery on display in Doe's elaborate diaries.

    After gathering all the disturbing photos and endless notes, the art department took them to a Kinko's to have them copied onto special pieces of plastic so that overlays could be placed on top of them. Employees there didn't know the gruesome pictures were meant for a major motion picture and were completely horrified by what they saw. 

  • The Studio Accidentally Sent David Fincher The Wrong Script

    Se7en would not be quite the harrowing movie it became had a silly slip-up not occurred. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation director Jeremiah Chechik was originally slated to direct the film. He requested screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker eliminate the now-famous "head in a box" ending. 

    When Chechik ended up departing the production, David Fincher was courted as a potential replacement. New Line Cinema accidentally sent him Walker's original draft. Upon realizing their mistake, they then sent the softened version Chechik had ordered. Fincher replied that he had no interest in making that version of the screenplay, but he would definitely be interested in making the version with the shocking finale. 

  • The Original Ending Was Even Bleaker

    It's hard to believe that the ending to Se7en could have been even bleaker than it already is, but it nearly was. The version screened for test audiences ended just as Mills shoots John Doe, followed by 10 seconds of black screen and silence. Fincher wanted that moment to resonate uncomfortably with viewers, and to also cue them that the movie was over.

    During that test screening, however, the projectionist threw the house lights on immediately, meaning the audience didn't get those 10 seconds to fully digest the implications of what they'd just seen. That led them to overwhelmingly reject the ending on their post-screening comment cards. At the studio's request, Fincher added a short coda to the movie that eliminated the abruptness of the conclusion, giving viewers a minute to breathe as Somerset quotes Ernest Hemingway.