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LEON THE PROFESSIONAL 1994
t’s movie time, and on this occasion we will remember a controversial 1994 film starring Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and an unknown girl, back in the day, Natalie Portman. So be comfortable, prepare your glass of milk, and do not forget to take your little plant out for a little sunshine, because we’ll talk about the curiosities and the controversial context of the movie “Leon: the professional.”
This film’s idea and Leon’s character is basically recycled, in the sense that it already existed, Luc Besson began to develop ‘Leon: The Professional’ while working on his previous and successful French film ‘Nikita’, which later would be produced as a north-American TV. But in ‘Nikita’, Jean Reno made the role of Victor the cleaner, an assassin for hire.
After seeing the potential that this character had, Luc Besson decided make a spin-off story in which he develops this character’s story, which is the one presented in the movie ‘Leon: The Professional’.
It only took him 30 days to write the script and the film was recorded in only 3 months, since he would be busy in his highest production film ‘The Fifth Element’. Thus, this film was, in essence a recess from filming for this director, something to pass time, but it turned out so successful, it ended up becoming a cult movie.
some even consider it superior to ‘The Fifth Element’.
A curious fact is that Leon’s full name is: Leone Montana, this as a reference to Tony Montana, the main character from the movie ‘Scarface’.
Also, a thief had stormed a store during filming, and for misfortune, he crossed the filming set, the actors were disguised as policemen which confused the thief and thought they were real policemen, term surrendering to the actors, thinking that they were real cops.
The thing is that, usually in those days, it was not required to ask permission to film on a location as they do today, by which they close entire sections of streets to shoot a film, and most of the scenes in this movie were not done this way. They would storm in a location and decided to shoot there and did so, which is why you may see various scenes in the film in which pedestrians can be seen in the background, which curious eyes, watching the cameras rolling in.
Gary Oldman is an excellent actor, who loves to take up bad guy roles and likes to improvise in his scenes, as in the part in which Norman Stansfield interrogates Mathilda’s father, he comes very close to actor Michael Badalucco to sniff him, he had no idea that Gary Oldman would do that so you can see his startled face with discomfort of having no idea of what was going on because the scene was improvised, in his reaction he was genuinely intimidated by the actor.
And how can one not feel can intimidated? With such tremendous performance of Gary Oldman, in this film, he owns his role quite perfectly.
Natalie Portman was just eleven years old when she got the role for this feel, and in her audition the girl was accompanied by her mother, in which Luc Besson made her cry and laugh only to see her go thru the various facets of the emotions he required for the role and in the end she turned out to be the right fit for Mathilda.
There was an scene in the film, written by Luc Besson himself, in which Leon entered accidently into the bathroom when Mathilda was bathing. Natalie Portman’s parents were always present in the filming of every scene, so they didn’t allow Besson to shoot it. Luc respected the decision and the scene was withdrawn. Perhaps there’s something weird going on with Luc and the lolitas, or maybe it is the style of the French cinema of those days, in which they sexualize kids a lot, and let us remember the film ‘Taxi driver’ in which young Jodie Foster was only thirteen years old and she has the role of a prostitute, and just like this one there are many other examples such as in the in the French cinema in which there is even nudity. Not so long ago, in 2011, the French film ‘My Little Princess’ came out, in which they depicted a controversial story of Violetta Giurgiu and her mother, who forced her to pose for her modeling photoshoots.
Back to the film, ‘Leon: The Professional’ is a mutilated film. There are many scenes that were censured for stepping out of line, but when it was aired in Los Angeles, California, it was shown in is full uncensored version, included an scene where Mathilda asked Leon to be her lover.
The audience got very uncomfortable and started chuckling nervously and the projection was cancelled and received terrible reviews. So, producer Patrice Ledoux and Luc Besson decided to cut out many scenes before the premiere. One of these many scenes includes one where Mathilda interprets Madonna and Marilyn Monroe, and of course, the scene where Leon and Mathilda become lovers.
The scene where Norman Stansfield talks of Beethoven to Mathilda’s father is totally improvised by Gary Oldman, the scene was repeated 3 times and each time he said something different: in one take he spoke of cars, about the house decoration in another and in the last he chose music, which stuck with the film.
The actor that had the role of Benny, one of Norman’s henchmen, Keith A. Glascoe, who after a few years of bad luck in the filming industry, became a fireman of the New York firefighters department, who sadly, among his mates, died in the twin towers terrorist attack when he was helping out and was stuck in one of the towers when they collapsed.
Natalie Portman’s parents were extremely worried about the scenes where Mathilda had to smoke, so they worked out a contract with Luc Besson in which they wrote that there would be only five scenes where the actress would smoke a cigarette.
The interiors of the apartments were locally recorded in Paris and for the exterior scenes they went to record in New York.
In an interview in 2005, Natalie Portman commented the anecdote of the scene where Mathilda finds her parents dead. It was her first emotional scene and it was impossible for her to cry however the director LucBesson solved it with peppermint oil, the actress says it was so painful that since then she had no problem performing the emotional scenes in that film, so that we saw a Mathilda with puffy eyes due to the ardor that the peppermint oil produced to her.
Actress Liv Tyler was going to play the role of Mathilda, but director Luc Besson, did consider her too old for the role, being only 15 years old. But also Christina Ricci was one of the young ladies which auditioned for the role and did not get it; Natalie portman defeated more than 2000 girls in the casting.
Actress Maïwenn Le Besco, claims that a part of the romantic storic of Leon and Mathilda is based on her love affair with the director LucBesson, Maïwenn who played the role of the blonde prostitute in this film had met director LucBesson when he was 11, At age 15 he married director LucBesson, who was 32 years old.
The role of Leon was already from the beginning for Jean Reno, but Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves were very interested on it.
And according to the actor, Jean Reno decided to play Leon a little silly with Mathilda, Let’s remember that he did not even know how to read and write, then even though Leon is a cold-blooded killer, this situation would make Mathilda take control in some scenes, and even be a bit manipulative.
An agreement had been signed for Luc Besson to write a sequel in which Mathilda would follow in the footsteps of Leon, Only that they would have to wait a few years for Natalie Portman to be a little older, the film was going to be directed by Olivier Megaton. But Luc Besson abandoned Gaumont Film Company, to create his own film company called EuropaCorp, so that Gaumont Film Company kept the rights of Leon the professional and do not intend to release them so far since it is expecting a good monetary proposal. For this reason, because he could not use the character of Mathilda, LucBesson based on that character to create the film “La Colombiana”, Which is the closest idea to what Mathilda would become into.
Something curious was to pay attention to the products in the stores, the brands and the different ads that you could find in the street like: Juanita fashion, imagine a fashion Juanita for ladies and gentlemen, says the poster.
And well, being curious about the places where this movie was filmed, the most of them correspond to Manhattan. Until some years ago the little store where Leon and Mathilda go to buy their groceries and especially the cartons of milk, still existed, It was next to the apartment, but today there is no longer the store, the department continues to operate, is an old and cheap apartment.
The old Tony’s Italian place today is just an empty lot and little else, the other streets are almost completely the same.
The drug that Norman Stansfield ingests and shows us in a green and yellow capsule is Librium, which has properties of sedation, anxiolysis and muscle relaxation.
An indie rock band called Alt-J, launched in 2012 the theme of Mathilda, inspired by this movie, currently, the theme exceeds 25 million of views on youtube.
But not only that, in Korea the K-pop singer and comedian Park MyungSoo, made a musical theme inspired by Leon and Mathilda, the theme is simply called “Leon” and among its letters it tells the story of these 2 characters.
The code that Leon gives Matilda to knock on the door when she returns from buying the milk is 2 knocks, then a knock and then 2 knocks, 212, which is the telephone code of the city of Manhattan, place where a part of the story takes place.
When Norman Stansfield’s mobsters are looking for the drug at Mathilda’s house, one of them, curiously the one wearing dreadlocks finds a reggae album from Burning Spear, With the song of Marcus the Children of 1978. This for sure is an easter egg, as this actor named WilliOneBlood, who performed the role of this mobster, is a renowned reggae singer.
In the original script Mathilda and Leon would die, after Norman Stansfield shoots to lion in the back, Mathilda would realize the trick of the ring that Leon taught to her, which was to detonate a grenade, in that way Mathilda would revenge the death of lion and her brother, who was assassinated by Norman Stansfield.
But fearing that the audience would not accept the cruel ending for the girl, director LucBesson, changed the script so that Mathilda would not die in the final scene.
In this film we see several scenes of how Leon takes care of his plant, but what does it mean? In the film, Leon says that he likes his plant because it looks like him, “It has no roots” so it can be anywhere without caring anything more than itself.
In the end, Mathilda takes the plant to a green court in the school where it will be cared, planting it as a symbol and memory of Leon, who at last will be able to take root, as he wished. However, the critics of New York Times, came with their know-it-all vibes and destroyed this beautiful end, and I regret to destroy it for you too, since the Leon plant is a Chinese plant called, Aglaonema of tropical climate, which can not Survive in cold climates outdoors, so the plant sown by Mathilda would die in the first winter, critics of New York Times called this as “Misplaced Poetry”.
Mistakes, goofs and fun facts in the recording of the movie Leon the professional.
In the scene where Leon Shoots the wall to create an escape route. Several brands disappear or are found differently when changing the shot.
In the scene where the mobster sees the vinyl record, put his gun with the peephole in the direction of the camera, when a change of shot is made, now the gun has changed position, it makes another change of shot and the weapon Change position for the third time.
When Mathilda hides the cigarette, you can see that it is almost finished, however when Leon leaves and mathilda takes the cigarette to smoke, it is now completely new.
There is a small detail with the grenade that fires the SWAT team at the hotel. Since it says the word Ilum and the pomegranate is white, that kind of grenades are lighting and they are not explosive as shown in the film.
When Leon, gets them to release Mathilda, tells him to go for the ax, when Mathilda opens the glass door to take the ax reflects and can see the cameraman.