Released in 2002, One Hour Photo follows a photo lab technician, Sy Parrish, as he struggles with loneliness and obsession. He’s been printing the Yorkin family’s photos for years and he’s begun to feel like a part of the family. Unfortunately, the Yorkins don’t feel the same way about “Sy the Photo Guy.”
This gritty and uncomfortable thriller stars comedy legend Robin Williams in a role that felt made for him. Though it wasn’t what his fans would have expected from the man, he did well as Sy Parrish, the deranged and obsessive stalker. Read on for a sneak peak behind the scenes of One Hour Photo, from how Robin Williams prepared for the role, to what it was like on set. But be aware, spoilers lie ahead.
Preparing for the Role
1. Writer/director Mark Romanek originally wanted Jack Nicholson in the lead role, but when Nicholson read the script he turned it down for seeming too close to his role as Jack Torrance in The Shining.
2. Robin Williams trained for two-and-a-half days on an Agfa MSC 101-D development machine for the role. His voiceover line in the film is a direct nod to this experience: “They actually believe that any idiot that attends a two-day seminar can master the art of making beautiful prints in less than an hour.”
3. Robin Williams had notoriously thick body hair, which didn’t fit the aesthetic of the character of Sy. He had to shave large portions of his back, chest, and arms for the role.
4. In addition to shaved body hair, Robin Williams dyed his hair blond for the role of Sy Parrish.
5. The film was potentially going to be very different. Robin Williams was cast as Bill Owens, the manager of SavMart. But when he read the script, he asked to play Sy Parrish instead and Gary Cole got the role of the manager.
6. Gary Cole accepted the role as the SavMart manager Bill Owens because he always wanted to work with Robin Williams. It turned out to be a good choice as he’s said it was a great experience.
7. Does the last name Parrish sound familiar? Playing Sy Parrish in One Hour Photo isn’t the first time Robin Williams has played a character with this last name. He also played Alan Parrish in Jumanji (1995).
Behind the Scenes
8. One Hour Photo was going to have a very different soundtrack. Trent Reznor created an entire score for the film, but the director decided not to use it. In the end, Reznor used some of the music for his band Nine Inch Nails’ record Still.
9. When Robin Williams’ character Sy is being booked at the beginning of the movie, the stats list him as being 5’9″ when the actor was 5’7″ in real life.
10. Robin Williams was well-known for playing practical jokes on the set of his movies. For One Hour Photo, he entered the doorway of a chase scene completely naked.
11. Though the tone of One Hour Photo is incredibly dark, that didn’t prevent Robin Williams from lightening the mood. The actor would play off scenes in a comedic way in between takes, breaking up some of the tension on set.
12. Many characters are named after famous photographers. Yoshi Araki, who works with Sy at the photo lab, is named after Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. The detective’s on Sy’s case, Van Der Zee and Outerbridge, are named after famous American photographers James Van Der Zee and Paul Outerbridge. Other famous photographers who got this treatment in the film include Nancy Burson, Ellen von Unwerth, and Aaron Siskind.
13. The Neon Genesis Evangelion action figure that Sy tries to give to young Jake was actually from Robin Williams’ personal collection. The actor was a big fan of the Japanese anime and wanted it incorporated into the movie in some way.
14. It took writer/director Mark Romanek 30 tries before he found a fortune cookie that fit the scene when the Yorkin family are eating Chinese food. The fortune? “Someone wants you to be happy.”
15. The name of the hotel in the final scenes is a nod to a pioneer in high-speed photography. The Edgerton hotel was named after Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton who created high speed stroboscopic flash, which was used to catch the first clear images of bullets in flight.
16. One of the creepier details is the photo wall that Sy makes of a lifetime of photos of the Yorkin family. Eagle-eyed viewers have counted the images and found that the movie starts with 854 photos. As Sy adds new ones to the wall throughout the film, it ends with 862.
17. When Nina Yorkin mentions that her husband wants to get her a digital camera, Sy responds, “Oh no, don’t do that! I’d… I’d be out of a job.” In 2002 when the movie came out, photography was going through a major transition from film to digital and most photo labs would close in the following years.
18. In the theatrical release of One Hour Photo, the opening scene features a voiceover of Robin Williams talking about the skill involved in printing pictures. In an earlier version of the film, this was instead a monologue about the red eye effect in film.
19. In the final cut of the film, the pictures that Sy took at the hotel were revealed to be bland shots of hotel furnishings. In an earlier edit, the detectives look over the actual pictures of Maya and Will posed by Sy. The current version of the film leaves it up to the audience to decide whether or not he actually took the pictures.
20. A director’s cut exists of the movie, making many scenes much longer and with more dialog. This includes more monologues from Sy and the beginning police station footage moving to the end. While they showed the extended cut at Sundance Film Festival, there is currently no commercial copy available to fans.
Reception and Reviews
21. Known almost entirely for his comedic work, Robin Williams was concerned that the audience might find it difficult to accept his role in this dark thriller. Luckily, he overheard viewers after the film released in Sundance saying that they quickly forgot it was Robin Williams in the role–something he was proud of.
22. One Hour Photo was a commercial success. It had an estimated $12 million budget and made roughly $32 million in the US and Canada and $52 million worldwide.
23. One Hour Photo was nominated for several awards and won a few. Mark Romanek won for Best Breakthrough Filmmaker from the Online Film Critics Society and Robin Williams won for Best Actor at the Saturn Awards.
24. The film currently has an 81% Rotten Tomatoes rating and an audience score of 65%.