Here’s where the race was run, the tears were shed, and a child was left behind. We take a fresh look at five unforgettable locations from Oscar-winning films.
The Dakota + New York City
Characters in the movie call it the Bramford. But the apartment building in 1968’s horror masterpiece is really the Dakota, erected in the 1880s. ”It’s spooky, and that’s the element we needed,” says director Roman Polanski. Though the interiors where Mia Farrow suffered as pregnant Rosemary and Best Supporting Actress Ruth Gordon kibitzed as her creepy neighbor were created on L.A. soundstages, exteriors were shot in ’67 on the streets and sidewalk?the exact location where John Lennon was murdered 13 years later. ”In those times, it was so easy to film in New York,” says Polanski. ”Now it’s a nightmare. Every city. There are just too many people.”
Million Dollar Baby
The Quality Cafe + Los Angeles
”We shot a lot on location in downtown Los Angeles. And I remember this one like it was yesterday,” says the Best Picture winner’s Oscar-winning star Hilary Swank. ”I remember going into the diner, sitting there with Morgan Freeman, and watching him. With such ease and grace, he’d flow from speaking to me, just Morgan to Hilary, to. . .all of a sudden, the cameras were rolling and he was doing the scene. I just listened to him. I wanted to mop it all up. I was like a sponge.” The cast and crew spent only one evening shooting in the retro eatery, but to this day, says Swank, ”the smell of red vinyl takes me back to that space, that moment in time. Thinking about that space now is fun. You know, life is quick. It goes by in pictures like that. Little snippets.”
Chariots of Fire
Eton College + Windsor, England
Though much of Chariots takes place at Cambridge University, none of it was filmed there. ”They wouldn’t allow us,” says Hugh Hudson, director of the 1981 Best Picture winner. ”Cambridge is very elitist. They like choirs, theater, and literature, but movies are a bit beneath them.” (The university may have bristled at the film’s suggestion that anti-Semitism was common there in the 1920s.) Hudson’s alma mater Eton College, however, welcomed the production. And one beautiful morning in the School Yard, they shot the scene where Nigel Havers and Ben Cross race around the periphery. Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Fry, and Hugh Laurie were among the hundreds of extras. ”They were all students who were interested in the arts,” says Hudson. ”So they came along. It was their first Oscar-winning-movie appearance.”
The Grand Prospect Hall + Brooklyn, N.Y.
”My dad wasn’t young at the time, and he wasn’t well, but he was in great form,” says Best Supporting Actress winner Anjelica Huston of the late John Huston, who directed her in Prizzi’s Honor. ”We got along famously.” It was a different story for her character Maerose. She enjoyed no such bond with her gangster dad, who humiliated her at her sister’s wedding. To shoot that scene, Huston had to remain in tears for most of the day. A quick glance across the set gave her all the weepy inspiration she needed. ”There was latticework between two areas in the ballroom. I remember seeing my then boyfriend Jack Nicholson perfectly framed in one oval and my father in another,” she laughs. ”The oddness of the coupling, and the fact that [such awkwardness] was my fate at the time I had a good cry about that!”
Little Miss Sunshine
The Freeway Chevron + Newhall, Calif.
”We needed a gas station with an incline because at the end of the scene, the family releases the parking brake and the broken-down van rolls forward,” recalls codirector Jonathan Dayton of the Best Original Screenplay winner. ”We looked all over. Finally we found one that was perfect, but they turned us down because we show the station selling porn mags. The corporate offices didn’t want to suggest that.” Then, adds cohelmer Valerie Faris, ”we found this place, which had just the slightest incline. We tried to emphasize it by tilting the camera a little bit.” Their trick worked. And it worked again for the punchline moment, in which the VW speeds back into the station, barely slowing down to pick up a left-behind Abigail Breslin. ”She had to run and jump in the car,” laughs Dayton. ”That was no small feat.”