The hand that is seen with the BB lodged between its knuckles is not Ben Stiller's, but Andrew Wilson's, Owen and Luke's brother. When they were children, Owen fired a BB gun at Andrew's hand and the BB has been there ever since.
Gene Hackman mentioned in interviews that he was somewhat hesitant to accept the part, as he felt that he himself had been insensitive to his own family at different points in his life. He asked them if they would find him playing this character uncomfortable for their own sakes. They all agreed he should accept the part.
The original hawk used to play Mordecai was kidnapped during shooting and held for ransom. Production could not wait for him to be returned. The bird that appears later in the movie has more white feathers because it's a different bird.
Although the exteriors were largely shot in New York City, Wes Anderson intentionally avoided virtually all shots of skyscrapers, or other distinctive New York City landmarks. When Royal and Pagoda are talking in Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan, Anderson intentionally had Kumar Pallana stand directly in front of the Statue of Liberty so it wouldn't show up in the shot.
Throughout the movie, everyone wears the same clothing (or some variation of the same clothing). All of the clothing is also from the 1970s. For example, Richie wears a Fila tennis shirt and headband made famous by Björn Borg around 1976. Wes Anderson did this intentionally, so that it would appear that the Tenenbaums are trapped in the era of their heyday, while time moves on (the gravestone at the end reads 2001). Much of the setting, including the use of gypsy cabs and Green Line buses, are also in keeping with this theme.
Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, and Owen Wilson all turned down parts in Ocean's Eleven (2001) to appear in this film.
Jackson Browne, who wrote and played guitar on the song "These Days" used in the film, forgot he had given permission for the song to be used until he saw the film. He described this in an interview, "I forgot that I'd licensed them to use this song. And this is one of those things that comes to you in the mail and you don't know what they're talking about and you simply give them their permission. You're sitting in the movie theater and there's this great moment when Gwyneth Paltrow is coming out of a bus or something like that. I'm thinking to myself, I used to play the guitar just like that. And then the voice comes on and it's Nico singing "These Days", which I played on."
According to Anjelica Huston, she, Bill Murray and a few other cast members tried remaining protective of Wes Anderson, and his working with Gene Hackman. Hackman can be tough to work with, and according to Anderson, there were moments where Gene could be difficult with him. Huston said that Murray even showed up on his day off to watch over Anderson, during his time working with Hackman.
Wes Anderson and Andrew Wilson provided the voices for the commentators during Richie Tenenbaum's tennis match. Many viewers thought it was a cameo from Jason Schwartzman, star of Anderson's previous film, Rushmore (1998). Also, the Wilson brothers all have similar sounding voices, therefore many people think that it is Owen Wilson providing the voice of the second commentator. Anderson also played bass on the reggae music in the initial sequence.
The scene where Richie (Luke Wilson) punches the glass in Mordecai's pen was unscripted, this was improvised by Wilson on the spot, and the scene quickly cuts to Richie and Ralleigh (Bill Murray) talking up close, this is because when Wilson punched the glass, co-Writer and Director Wes Anderson thought he seriously hurt himself.
The brand of cigarettes Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) smokes throughout the movie were only sold in Ireland, and were discontinued in the 1970s. According to Wes Anderson in the DVD insert (detailing all of the setting and props and the reasons why he used them), this was intentional, because of the 1970s theme, and to make Margot's secret smoking habit just a little stranger.
DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (Wes Anderson): (Kumar Pallana): Anderson has given Kumar Pallana (Pagoda) a part in each of his movies (with the exception of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)). Pallana used to work at Anderson's favorite coffee shop in Dallas, Texas.
The idea of Margot losing part of her finger was originally written for the character of Margaret Yang in Rushmore (1998).
Anjelica Huston and Gene Hackman turned down their roles until additional scenes providing more character depth were written specifically for them.
DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (Wes Anderson): (underwater shot): In every Wes Anderson film there is a shot of one or more of the characters underwater. One person is added for each film. In Bottle Rocket (1996), we have one character, Anthony underwater. In Rushmore (1998), we have a shot with two characters underwater. Then in this movie, there are three people underwater. This movie also stresses the number three. When the on-screen novel reads, "3", it cuts to Richie, and the narrator says, that Richie had fed his bird three sardines. Then next we see Richie on the roof reading "3 Plays".
Etheline Tenenbaum is loosely based on Wes Anderson's own mother Ann Burroughs, who, after divorcing his father, became an archaeologist. Burroughs' actual glasses are worn by Etheline.
Danny Glover's look in the film was modelled after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. This was Wes Anderson's idea, after Glover, who knows Annan personally, introduced Anderson to him at a U.N. event.
Gene Hackman, knowing that he was near the end of his career, signed on to this movie under the agreed promise from Wes Anderson that it would be a fun and relaxing experience. This did not transpire and led to Hackman becoming frustrated and verbally abusing Anderson on-set over trivial matters. Such was the extent of his frustration that cast members became angered and felt that what Hackman was doing amounted to bullying, leading to Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelica Houston avoiding Hackman on-set. Bill Murray saw this happening and decided to intervene, calling Hackman out on his verbal abuse of Anderson and choosing to come to work on his days off as a show of solidarity with Anderson.
The monster-masked men paintings in Eli's apartment are attributed to Mexican artist Miguel Calderón and were part of his 1998 exhibit "Aggressively Mediocre/Mentally Challenged/Fantasy Island (circle one)", though they were not actually painted by him. Calderón took photographs of his friends posed on motorcycles and, after deciding the photographs were not realistic, hired a portrait painter to reproduce them on canvas.
DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (Wes Anderson): (Peanuts): According to Anderson on the DVD commentary, Buckley the beagle is a tribute to Snoopy. The Vince Guaraldi Trio song "Christmastime is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) recurs as Margot's theme.
Although "Archer Avenue" is fictional, the "Tenenbaum house" did exist as a practical location, at 144th street and Convent Avenue in the Hamilton Heights section of Harlem, New York. For the film shoot, the Production Designers rented, and completely redecorated the house. The scenes in the kitchen, however, were shot in another house, next door.
Ben Stiller asked co-Writer and Director Wes Anderson why his character and his sons wore red track suits. Anderson replied that because Chas was so obsessed with safety after the death of his wife, red would make everyone easier to see in case of an emergency. Anderson later admitted on the DVD audio commentary that he had no real reason behind the costumes, he just always imagined those characters in red Adidas track suits.
The Wilsons' mother, Laura Wilson, worked closely with Photographer Richard Avedon. Laura documented Avedon's "In the American West" series project. The photo clipping of Eli Cash, sent to Etheline, copies a famous portrait from the Avedon series, of a young man holding a disemboweled snake. For the Wilson brothers, this is somewhat of an inside family joke.
Inside the board game closet, when Chas (Ben Stiller) yells at Royal (Gene Hackman), you can see a green Monopoly house at the end of the light pull chain.
When Bill Murray asks for a cigarette, says "au revoir" (goodbye), and leaves by the end of the movie, it mirrors (smoking aside) the concession speech of French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, when he lost the 1981 French Presidential election.
Wes Anderson often uses songs from The Rolling Stones in his films. The '"Between the Buttons" album released in 1967, can be seen in young Margot's hands, and years later when Margot and Richie talk inside Richie's tent (when the songs "She Smiled Sweetly" and "Ruby Tuesday" from the album play).
The shot of Charlie Rose fondling Margot was heavily referenced following 2017 revelations of Charlie Rose's alleged sexual assaults.
Margot is said to keep a secret studio under the name Helen Scott, named for one of François Truffaut's closest American friends and confidants.
Wes Anderson imagined the story that would later become "The Royal Tennenbaums", while listening to Ravel's "String Quartet in F", performed by the Britten Quartet.
Many of the characters in the film were directly or indirectly based on members of the Karnas family, Director of Photography Robert D. Yeoman's brother-in-law's family.
Director Trademark: (in-camera speed change) The shot where Margot steps off the Green Line bus, changes from normal speed to slow-motion.
The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Anjelica Huston; and five Oscar nominees: Owen Wilson, Alec Baldwin, Seymour Cassel, Bill Murray, and Wes Anderson.
The ship "Queen Helena", on which Richie travels back home (seen in the background of the scene at the Royal Arctic Lines terminal where he meets Margot), is really the famous liner Queen Elizabeth 2 (or QE2).
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
The name "Ari" is taken from the nickname of musician Nico's son. Nico also has two songs on the film's soundtrack.
The building next to the Tenenbaum house has a plaque that says it is an Ambassador's residence. It is never stated what country the Ambassador represents, but the flag outside appears to be a color-swapped version of the flag of North Korea, with the red and blue parts reversed.
"The Peter Bradley Show" is a parody of the long-running interview show Charlie Rose (1991), which has been produced in the studios of the New York City PBS affiliate Thirteen/WNET since 1991, and has been distributed to PBS stations nationwide since 1993.
Scenes aboard the ocean liner, in which Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) resides, were filmed aboard the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy training vessel "Kings Pointer", based in Kings Point, Long Island, New York.
"Sweet Afton" was Margot's brand of cigarettes. British American Tobacco ceased production of Sweet Aftons in 2011.
Inside the board game closet, to the right of Royal Tenenbaum there is a game from Israel called "Li Buba" meaning "a doll for me".