the green mileNo one was sure, when "The Green Mile" was released 15 years ago this week (on December 10, 1999), whether lightning could strike twice in the same spot for Frank Darabont. Sure, the writer/director's first Stephen King prison drama, 1994's "The Shawshank Redemption," had gone from commercial failure to beloved classic in five years. But another King prison tale, one that was three hours long and featured some horrific electric-chair executions, bizarre fantasy elements, and a trained mouse?

As it turned out, of course, "Green Mile" became a huge hit, earned four Oscar nominations, put another feather in star Tom Hanks's cap, and made a star of Michael Clarke Duncan, who played miracle-working, self-sacrificing inmate John Coffey. To this day, it remains the most beloved movie adapted from a King tale.

Still, as many times as you've seen it, there's plenty you may not know: how former ditch-digger Clarke got the star-making part, how they got the mouse to do all those tricks, and how one ungrateful star gave Hanks the ultimate insult. Read on to learn the secrets of filmdom's most famous death-row cell block.

1. Stephen King published the book serially, in six installments, in order to follow the example set by Charles Dickens. So he didn't envy Darabont's job of cramming all six parts into a single screenplay. The novelist compared the task to "stealing all the towels at a Holiday Inn and trying to cram them into one suitcase."

2. Many critics see John Coffey as an allegorical Christ figure (note the initials), but King has said he took the name from a professor he knew at Emerson College in Boston.

3. Before he landed the role of John Coffey, Michael Clarke Duncan had played bouncers and bodyguards in movies -- two jobs he had held in real life. He'd also worked as a ditch-digger in Chicago, with his co-workers kidding him about his Hollywood dreams, before he headed to Los Angeles in 1995. His big break had come with "Armageddon," where he befriended Bruce Willis. It was Willis who told him he had to read the "Green Mile" script. At the same time, Willis announced to Frank Darabont, "I've found your John Coffey."

4. John Coffey was supposed to be seven feet tall. In fact, Duncan was 6'5", the same height as co-star David Morse and two inches shorter than co-star James Cromwell. Forced perspective camera angles and other trickery were used to make him appear taller.

5. King told Darabont that the director's lead actor choice, Tom Hanks, was just who he'd envisioned playing Paul Edgecomb. The author also told Duncan on the set that he appeared just as he'd imagined John Coffey to look.

6. Hanks was to play the 108-year-old Paul Edgecomb, too, but old-age make-up tests were unconvincing. Instead, Darabont cast 82-year-old Dabbs Greer.

7. "Green Mile" was the last movie in the 65-year film and TV career of Greer, best known for playing the preacher on "Little House on the Prairie." He died in 2007.

8. Much of the film was shot on a Hollywood soundstage, on a set so confining (it was just 1,000 square feet) that Hanks likened shooting there to doing time in a real prison. Exterior shots were filmed later, outside Nashville.

9. Percy Wetmore was supposed to be just 21 years old. Doug Hutchinson, the baby-faced actor cast as Percy, was 39 at the time.

10. Though the book was set in 1932, the film moved the setting up to 1935, so that John Coffey could refer to having seen the movie "Top Hat."

11. During a visit to the set, King sat in Old Sparky. He did not enjoy it.

12. Of the extra weight he put on to play the prison guard, Hanks said, "I was completely unconcerned with my physical appearance. I didn't do any exercise, and I tried to stay as chunky as possible." Of course, shortly after completing the film, he had to lose an alarming amount of weight to play the stranded hero of "Cast Away."

13. Yes, Mr. Jingles was a trained mouse. In fact, he was about 30 trained mice.

14. To get the mouse to skitter across the floor in a particular direction, the trainers would place a red bowl of food where they wanted the mouse to go. This technique was also used to get the mouse to roll the spool.

15. For trickier scenes involving Mr. Jingles, the filmmakers used a combination of live mice, animatronics, and CGI, most notably, the sequence where John Coffey resuscitated the stomped-on mouse. The American Humane Association made sure that no real mice were harmed during the filming.

16. The mice were well-trained in all aspects but one. At one point, when Hanks was holding a mouse in his palm, the animal relieved itself all over the two-time Oscar-winner's hand.

17. At the end of the movie, Mr. Jingles is at least 64 years old, more than nine times as old as the longest-lived mouse on record.

18. "The Green Mile" marked the third time Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise had worked together, after "Forrest Gump" and "Apollo 13."

19. Thirty-two years before he served time in "Green Mile," Harry Dean Stanton had co-starred in another classic prison flick, "Cool Hand Luke."

20. The film went more than a month over schedule. At one point, Darabont was so frustrated that he reportedly picked up and hurled a doghouse. Still, when it was all over, he said, "If the choice was between directing this and skinny-dipping with Salma Hayek, I'd take this any old day."

21. The movie cost a reported $60 million to shoot.

22. It earned $136.8 million in North America and another $153.9 million overseas. To this day, it's the biggest domestic and international hit ever made from a Stephen King story.

23. "Green Mile" earned four Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (for Duncan), and Best Sound Mixing.

24. Responding to critics who complained about the movie's three-hours-and-change running time, Hanks said,"Hey, it's more movie for your dollar! It's like an extra inning. Wow! Now you can get a whole evening of entertainment!"

25. Mr. Jingles has his own Facebook page.

The Green Mile
R1999
Based on 36 critics

A guard (Tom Hanks) thinks an inmate (Michael Clarke Duncan) has a supernatural power to heal. Read More