say the wrong thing

We’ve Been Mispronouncing Lloyd Dobler’s Name From Say Anything This Whole Time

Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

For the 30th anniversary of Say Anything, stars John Cusack and Ione Skye joined director Cameron Crowe and producer James L. Brooks for a showing of the teen classic at the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday, celebrating the timelessness of Lloyd Dobler and his romance with valedictorian Diane Court. The screening itself, which Crowe introduced by thanking at least a dozen people involved in the making of the film, featured fans singing along to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and even snapping pictures of the famous boom-box scene as if they were at a concert.

In a panel moderated by New York film critic David Edelstein, Crowe, Skye, and Brooks appeared onstage while a vaping Cusack joined via webcam from the set of his latest project. (Luckily, there were no technical difficulties, unless you count the sighting of Cusack’s assistant as she crawled on the floor, hoping to not be seen, to shut the door to his room.) Instead of recounting on-set hijinks or repeating their most-quoted lines, the quartet focused on the creation of the script and characters, marveling at how everything came together so perfectly to make a nearly flawless film. Emphasis on nearly. As Crowe admitted during the panel, there were a few aspects of the film that were not meant to be: Dick Van Dyke didn’t get the part he wanted, the “I Don’t Want to Sell Anything” speech was actually a series of mistakes, and — most shockingly — Lloyd Dobler’s name wasn’t actually supposed to be Lloyd Dawbler. That’s right, we (and John Cusack) have been mispronouncing it this whole time.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the Say Anything 30th-anniversary reunion:

Diane Is Based on Cameron Crowe, and Lloyd Is Based on His Old Neighbor

Asked by Edelstein if it was true that Diane Court was Crowe’s “alter ego,” the director responded, “Yeah. It began with the story of a golden girl and it grew from that. One of the warm feelings that happens watching this movie, I think about all the afternoons when I would come to Jim’s [James L. Brooks’s] office and we would talk about family things, and then I would say something like, ‘I had this conversation with my sister …’ And he’d say, ‘Buddy, why don’t you write that?’ It was kind of built from life. It grew to the celebration of the golden girl who was so brilliant but she was able to pick the one guy that knew her and knew how to honor her best. And that was how it started to grow, because I remember Jim did say, ‘Let’s create a hero for her that we haven’t seen yet.’”

The inspiration for his hero, oddly enough, came from a stranger, at a point when Crowe was “really stuck” trying to figure out the persona of his leading man. “I was really beating my head against the wall, trying to figure it out,” he said. “And there was this knock on the door and it was a guy who moved in next door and he said, ‘Hello, I’d like to meet you. I’d like to introduce myself. I am from Arkansas.’ And he wiped his hand off on his pant leg before he shook my hand, which I thought was amazing because he was nervous, but he didn’t want to show it. He just wanted to give me a clean hand. He said, ‘I am a kickboxer and it is the sport of the future. I’d like to share my story with you.’ […] And his father was being investigated by the IRS back in Arkansas. It was kind of like Kismet.”

Lloyd’s “Revolutionary” Optimism Is the Heart of the Movie

“We really connected on the idea that Lloyd could be a warrior for optimism,” Crowe said. “Optimism was his revolutionary act. And when we kind of landed on that, I could feel John just electrified into the idea.”

“Cameron and I talked about letting him have sort of a very intense kind of world view,” Cusack added later. “It’s not the absence of knowledge that makes something optimistic. There was that sense of people who knew the score, but they decided to open their arms.” In that way, Lloyd’s revolutionary optimism was a reaction to the specific times they were filming in. “It’s such a nice fever dream to look back on this one. In the ’80s, I did remember it being a kind of a savage time in a weird way. I remembered like Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan and they were talking about nuclear war, so I was into the Clash and this kind of world consciousness outside of yourself or having the weight of that. So it just sort of fell together.”

The Character’s Name Was Supposed to Be Pronounced “Dough-Bler”

“John just immediately started calling him Dobler and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s so much better than Doughbler,” remembered Crowe. “It sounds like a dog.’”

Dick Van Dyke and Richard Dreyfuss Were Considered for the Part of Mr. Court

“He came in and he was fragile and wanting to make sure that he was really in the running for the part,” Crowe recalled. “I got the feeling that he went up for a lot of meetings and so forth where people just wanted to meet Dick Van Dyke, so when he knew that we were seriously interested in talking about him, he got very excited. He did know that he was a little old for the part and that was something that he was smart enough and open enough to discuss in the room but was honored to come in. Richard Dreyfuss was somebody we had sent the script to early on and he sent back the message: ‘Great script. I want to play Lloyd.’”

Skye Got Her Part Thanks to Frank Zappa’s Daughter, Moon

“She said to me, ‘You have to meet Cameron Crowe. He’s doing a movie. I’ll invite him over,” Skye recalled of the meeting that took place at the Zappa’s house. “And then of course I had to audition, and I was sort of in heaven. I won the part, but Moon hooked us up at first, not hooked us up, but you know, she introduced us.”

“She did,” added Crowe. “She was rooting for Ione and arranged a kind of social afternoon, like, ‘Come see where Frank lives.’ It was an amazing thing and there was Ione in the kitchen, and I could see that Moon was just being a wonderful friend. It was a part that I think she would have loved to have had a shot at and she wanted it for Ione.”

Cusack Didn’t Want to Be in Another Teen Movie

Cusack had qualms about taking the role, so Crowe had to convince him to take the part. “It did take some doing because he knew about Fast Times at Ridgemont High and I think he didn’t want to do a teen movie,” Crowe said. “That’s why he doesn’t wear the mortarboard in the graduation scene. He said, ‘I’m not going to put that on anymore.’” Cusack only replied, “I remember.”

It was actually John Mahoney, who played Diane’s father, who got Cusack the script when they were working together on John Sayles’s baseball film Eight Men Out. “He said, ‘There’s this great thing that Cameron Crowe’s doing with Jim Brooks. I’m going to do it. It’s going to be great. And you’re going to do it,’” Cusack recalled. “I was like, ‘I don’t know, man. I’ll check it out.’ And John ended up being right. It’s a great, great thing to be a part of.”

The “I Don’t Want to Sell Anything” Dinner Speech Was a Combination of Improv and Outtakes

“There was a kind of straight-up version of that, where John is giving you our distillation of eight pages he had come in with that day,” Crowe said. “He mentioned Daniel Ellsberg and Reagan, and it was really striking that Lloyd had this thing, and you see it once when he says, ‘I don’t want to join that corporation’ — about the army. John was still kind of working his way through this speech, which is like brand-new on the day, and Richie [Marks, the film’s editor] started to guide us toward using some of the mistakes and the flubs, and those moments build the scene where Lloyd’s passion and nervousness just broke your heart. And that’s what’s in the movie.”

We’ve Been Mispronouncing Lloyd Dobler’s Name All Along