Here’s The Real Tuna About “My Cousin Vinny”

Many people will encounter a situation in life where they felt like an absolute fish out of water, but the 1992 film My Cousin Vinny takes the concept to a new and hilarious level. The film has become a classic in the law genre, with unforgettable performances by Joe Pesci and Ralph Macchio, and an Oscar-winning performance by Marisa Tomei.

My Cousin Vinny is such a classic now that it’s almost impossible to imagine the film going any other way, but there were a lot of choices made behind-the-scenes that could have drastically changed the movie. Screenwriter and co-producer Dale Launer revealed these previously unknown facts about My Cousin Vinny that will make the movie even more unforgettable.

Pesci Based “Vinny” On Real People He Grew Up With

Pesci, Macchio and Whitfield in 1992 My Cousin Vinny
Photo Credit: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)
Photo Credit: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

In a 1992 interview, Pesci explained that there were a lot of people similar to the character he played in the film. Pesci grew up in Belleville, New Jersey, a city with an intensely diverse population. Many of his inspirations lived close to him throughout his childhood or were from the surrounding smaller neighborhoods.

When preparing for the role, he took a bunch of the people he’d met and put them together to create the “Vinny” we see on-screen.

The Movie Was Inspired By An Interaction Dale Launer Had In The 70s

joe pesci my cousin vinny
Photo Credit: Instagram / @moviesiloved
Photo Credit: Instagram / @moviesiloved

Screenwriter Dale Launer told the American Bar Association that the idea for My Cousin Vinny came to him in the early ‘70s when he ran into a guy who was waiting for his bar exam results.

During the conversation, Launer asked the aspiring lawyer what he would do if he failed. The young man responded that he would simply re-write until he passed and explained the most times someone had failed was 13 before passing. Hooked on the idea of what the lawyer who had failed the bar exam 13 times would be like, Launer created Vinny.

The “Yutes” Scene Was Inspired By The Director’s Inability To Understand Pesci

fred gwynne as the judge in my cousin vinny
Photo Credit: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images
Photo Credit: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

The conversation between Vinny and Judge Chamberlain Haller about “two yutes” is one of the “most quoted pieces of dialogue from the film” according to director Jonathan Lynn. It was inspired by a conversation between Lynn and Pesci while they were preparing for filming.

Lynn recalled that Pesci said “something about ‘these two yutes’ who were on trial” and Lynn was taken aback. Immediately following their exchange, Lynn decided that Vinny had to have the same interaction with the judge on screen.

Vinny Was Supposed To Be Dyslexic

my cousin vinny scene in a bar joe pesci
Photo Credit: Instagram / @moviesiloved
Photo Credit: Instagram / @moviesiloved

After the film was released, Launer let interviewers in on a little writing secret after the film was made: Vinny was supposed to be dyslexic. Launer said he didn’t want to suggest that Vinny was a dopey or slow character so he added in a line that Vinny was dyslexic to explain why it took Vinny five times to pass the bar exam.

The only problem was that Lynn wasn’t sure how to portray a dyslexic character, so he cut the detail out from the movie.

The Movie Was A Very Realistic Representation Of The Legal System

my cousin vinny courtroom scene
Photo Credit: Instagram / @moviesiloved
Photo Credit: Instagram / @moviesiloved

Since Lynn has a law degree from Cambridge University, the director felt it was his duty to accurately portray the legal system because he knows so much about it.

Even though the movie is a comedy, Lynn made sure to use his law knowledge so that everything you see onscreen in the court scenes could very well take place in real life. His attention to detail paid off and the American Bar Association ranked the comedy No. 3 on its list of the 25 Greatest Legal Movies.

Sac-O-Suds Is A Real Convenience Store You Can Visit In Georgia

sac o suds two yutes can of tuna
Photo Credit: Instagram / @dillonshand
Photo Credit: Instagram / @dillonshand

Even though the film is set in Alabama, much of the production and shooting went on in Georgia and many of the landmarks featured in the film are still standing today. That includes the little hole-in-the-wall convenience store Sac-O-Suds.

The store sells more than cans of tuna. After being renovated and reopened, the store now sells memorabilia from the movie, convenience and hunting gear, and even has a restaurant inside.

The Studio Initially Wanted To Cut Tomei’s Character

marisa tomei as mona lisa testifying in court
Photo Credit: Reddit
Photo Credit: Reddit

In 2007, Launer revealed that the studio had wanted to get rid of Marisa Tomei’s character, Mona Lisa Vito. In order to keep her in the script, Launer added a scene—at the studio president’s request—which shows her complaining about Vinny not giving her enough attention.

Unwilling to compromise her character, Launer ensured that, despite her complaining, Tomei’s character would be apologetic and remain humorous throughout her disputes with Vinny. Thank goodness they kept her character in because Mona Lisa Vito’s “biological clock” rant is known as one of the best scenes of the film.

There Were Rumors That Marisa Tomei Didn’t Actually Win Her Oscar

marisa tomei gene hackman oscars
Photo Credit: Steve Starr/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Steve Starr/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Long before the Moonlight vs. La La Land blunder at the 2017 Oscars, Marisa Tomei was subjected to her own share of Academy Award controversy. There are some people who still believe rumors that she didn’t actually win. They believe that Jack Palance, the announcer for the award, wasn’t 100% there mentally with he read out Tomei as the winner for Best Supporting Actress.

The rumor has since been debunked, and Tomei even made a joke about it when she hosted Saturday Night Live.

There’s A Plot Hole In Mona Lisa’s Final Speech Which Still Bother’s Launer To This Day

pesci and tomei my cousin vinny
Photo Credit: Instagram / @moviesiloved
Photo Credit: Instagram / @moviesiloved

Vinny’s case is won by Mona Lisa’s pivotal declaration that there were only two cars in the 1960s made with independent rear suspension. Launer later admits this isn’t true, and that the small plothole bothered him for 25 years. There were actually three cars made like that: the Corvette, the Pontiac Tempest, and finally, the Chevy Corvair.

People often say “you’re always your own worst critic,” and that couldn’t be truer for screenwriter Dale Launer.

Will Smith Was Considered For The Role Of Stan Rothenstein

mitchell whitfield as stan rothenstein
Photo Credit: Tumblr
Photo Credit: Tumblr

Mitchell Whitfield would go on to play the iconic Stan Rothenstein, but the actor wasn’t the only choice for the role. When he heard that My Cousin Vinny screen tests were being held in New York City, Whitfield flew back to audition and found out that Will Smith had also thrown his hat in and was being considered for the role.

Whitfield’s audition clearly blew the directors away and landed him the part that made his name in Hollywood.

Launer Based Mona Lisa Vito On Jersey Girls He Met While Travelling Abroad

mona lisa vito marisa tomei my cousin vinny
Photo Credit: Instagram / @momoknowsblog
Photo Credit: Instagram / @momoknowsblog

Jersey stereotypes, widely popularized in television shows like Jersey Shore, are pretty common now, but that wasn’t always the case. Screenwriter Dale Launer was raised in Los Angeles, but he never met a Jersey girl until he came across a group of them while traveling abroad in France.

He had been backpacking through Europe when he met some travelers from Jersey, and was shocked to find they swam with jewelry, makeup, and well-done hair. He was especially shocked by how differently they spoke to him. They must’ve made quite an impression considering they helped inspire Mona Lisa Vito.

Tomei’s iconic Biological Clock Jumpsuit Didn’t Come From The Costume Department

marisa tomei jumpsuit my cousin vinny
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Even though Mona Lisa Vito is known for her big hair and her Jersey flair, there is one thing that pops into everyone’s mind when they recall the character—that floral jumpsuit.

The one-piece, skin-tight, open-backed, straight from that old couch in your living room jumpsuit surprisingly didn’t come from the costume department, but from the closet of director Jonathon Lynn’s assistant. She probably wore it just to run errands on the weekend and then it ended up in a blockbuster.

Everything Outside The Courtroom Was Filmed On Location, Including The Prison

my cousin vinny three men courtroom scene
Photo Credit: Instagram
Photo Credit: Instagram

Shooting on-site poses many more problems than shooting on set, such as the difficulty involved in controlling the environment, but Lynn ambitiously worked to capture all of the scenes apart from the courtroom on-location.

They even shot for several days in the wing dedicated to solitary confinement in a state prison in Georgia. It took forty minutes to get from the outside to the shooting location inside, with real prisoners shouting at them throughout their entire journey.

Robert DeNiro Was Wanted For The Lead Role Of Vinny

robert de niro joe pesci 1994
Photo Credit: Catherine McGann/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Catherine McGann/Getty Images

After the script was completed, the casting was the next priority. Launer met with Fox’s president, vice-president, and CEO to talk about potential actors. Launer suggested Robert De Niro for the role of Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, but the president was not excited about that choice, stating that De Niro wasn’t funny and that his movies don’t make money.

Ironically, De Niro’s comedies make him the most money out of the films he works on, and Launer jokes now that he feels “vindicated.”

Tomei Is From Brooklyn, But She Didn’t Have The Classic Accent Because Of Her Mom

tomei and pesci posing for photo
Photo Credit: Instagram / @dreams_hollywood_
Photo Credit: Instagram / @dreams_hollywood_

Despite being born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Tomei didn’t have the classic “Nuw Yawkher” accent that Mona Lisa Vito is known for. The reason is something many kids have to deal with: her mother correcting her speech.

Tomei told interviewers that because her mother was an English teacher, “she was on my butt about that kind of thing and correcting my speech from a young age.” Though, because of the movie, Tomei says she still sounds a little more Brooklyn than she used to, no doubt to her mother’s chagrin.

Lisa Gaye Inspired Tomei’s Character

my cousin vinny marisa tomei mona lisa
Photo Credit: Instagram / @thinkingboutgws
Photo Credit: Instagram / @thinkingboutgws

In part, Launer based the role of Mona Lisa Vito on ‘50s and 60’s actress Lisa Gaye, who was known for her beauty and prolific work in Hollywood. When it came to casting, Lynn said a talent agency put just about every actress they represented up for part except Tomei. Every actress the agency offered was wrong for the role, and many turned it down, claiming it wasn’t a big enough gig.

In the end, Lynn knew Tomei was the perfect choice based on the way she delivered one line in the first scene they shot with her.

The Prison Guards Weren’t Actors

my cousin vinny joe pesci prison scene
Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube

Since the movie was filmed in a real state prison, that meant the guards that milled around in the prison scene were real working guards. It makes complete sense considering there were also actual prisoners featured in the movie.

The real-life guards were featured in two scenes that they also used real prisoners: when Stan and Bill are brought into the prison, and when they play basketball. We’re curious if their spots as extras counted as community service.

The Screech Owl Wasn’t A Prop

my cousin vinny screech owl not a prop
Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube

Pesci has zero luck with sleeping-in during the entire movie. One of the funniest running gags of the film is the fact that the world is determined to stopping Pesci from getting the shut-eye he wants.

He gets woken up by a steam whistle, pigs, and that iconic screeching white owl. Audiences thought the bird was a dummy since for the shot, it looked right at Vinny and then at the camera, but it was just a well-trained bird.

The Director Laughed So Hard During One Scene He Had To Hide Behind A Camera

my cousin vinny courtroom scene with joe pesci
Photo Credit: Instagram
Photo Credit: Instagram

Sometimes working with friends can be a little distracting—something director Jonathon Lynn knows all too well. When casting for the role of John Gibbons, the original defense counsel, Lynn chose his old friend and actor Austin Pendelton.

The results were as you might expect working with a close friend. Lynn was laughing so hard during Pendleton’s opening speech that he had to duck behind the camera and try not to make a noise.

There Was Almost A Sequel

my cousin vinny movie poster
Photo Credit: Instagram
Photo Credit: Instagram

Since the movie was well-received by audiences and critics alike, there was talk of producing a sequel, however, at the time Marisa Tomei wasn’t on board.

Of course, they couldn’t do the sequel without the iconic Mona Lisa Vito, so the talks never moved into production. Many years later Tomei changed her mind, but producers and writers felt that too much time had passed since the original and it wouldn’t do well at the box office. It’s a shame really, because apparently Vinny may have gone to Europe.