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The Untold Truth Of 8 Mile

When the film "8 Mile" came out back in 2002, it made waves for multiple reasons. Firstly, it featured Eminem, a gigantic rapper who hadn't acted in anything other than music videos. And secondly, unlike with many musician-fronted films, "8 Mile" was actually really good. The film opened at #1, had a huge first weekend, and ended up grossing $243 million worldwide, per Box Office Mojo. Two decades later, we're still talking about it.

With an iconic lead single, "Lose Yourself," Eminem took over screens and radio stations at the same time after the movie's release. Reviews were good, but many falsely assumed that the film was a straight-up biopic. In fact, though "8 Mile" was a bona fide box office hit, few people know the behind-the-scenes truth about the movie. From the original pick for director to what happened with the screenplay, here are some of the biggest untold truths about the film "8 Mile."

8 Mile isn't meant to be a true biopic

There are many similarities between Eminem's own life and the life of his "8 Mile" character, Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith Jr. This is because the script was developed with Eminem in mind and because he met with the scriptwriter Scott Silver while it was still being written, according to The Guardian. It all started when producer Brian Grazer had an idea for a hip-hop film. "I was looking to make a movie about hip-hop that, like 'Saturday Night Fever' did, really puts you in that world," Grazer told Rolling Stone in 2002. "I randomly saw Eminem on MTV, and in the span of six or seven seconds, he goes from this icy, urban, scary glare to this fluid, self-effacing, kind of fun character. I had to meet him."

Beyond that initial meeting with Silver, Eminem wasn't involved with the script, though Silver drew inspiration from the artist's life. The film is about an aspiring hip-hop star from Detroit, which mirror's Eminem's start. Like Eminem, B-Rabbit has a tumultuous home life and a strained relationship with his mother, but unlike the character he plays, Eminem was a short-order cook and not a factory worker. Certain characters are based on real people, such as Mekhi Phifer's Future, who's based upon Eminem's friend Proof, but others, like Brittany Murphy's character Alex, are purely fictional

Curtis Hanson wasn't the first choice for director

Curtis Hanson did a phenomenal job directing "8 Mile," but the late director wasn't the first choice for the gig. That isn't to say Hanson's resume wasn't stacked, as he'd already directed more than a dozen films before "8 Mile." These include some very good movies, such as "Wonder Boys," "L.A. Confidential," and "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle." Rumor has it that Eminem was actually a fan of the latter two movies, which Hanson has suggested might've been a push for him to sign on for "8 Mile" (via The Guardian).

According to Eminem's manager, Paul Rosenberg, who was a producer on the film, two other directors were considered before Hanson was given the job. The first was Quentin Tarantino, who Rosenberg suggests may have been a poor choice for the film. "Looking back, his movies are so stylized; I don't think that would've worked with this subject matter," he told Vibe in 2012. The other choice was Danny Boyle, who's since gone on to direct fare like "127 Hours" and "Slumdog Millionaire," for which he won an Oscar. "He had a cool take, really raw and aggressive," Rosenberg said to Vibe. "He came to Detroit, but Marshall didn't connect with him the way he did with Curtis Hanson so we didn't go with him."

Eminem wrote the lyrics to all raps in the movie

Though Eminem's involvement with the story was limited to a one-time meeting with screenwriter Scott Silver, he had an active role in developing the musical elements of the script. All of the battle scenes were written and planned out by Eminem, who also wrote the film's big anthem, "Lose Yourself." According to director Curtis Hanson, none of the raps were in the original script, and it was Eminem's job to flesh those out. "I say that it was a collaborative process because I used to talk to him throughout the rehearsal and filming period about what each battle should mean in turns of moving the story along and in thematic terms. He then went off and constructed those lyrics," Hanson told The Guardian.

Co-star Anthony Mackie hilariously once recounted how Eminem used elements of his own life story against him when it came time for their characters to battle. "He googles me and learns about me and all that stuff he basically makes fun of me as Papa Doc," Mackie said on The Rich Eisen Show. "And I'm like, 'Well, that's a little too personal there, Mr. Marshall. ... I grew up in a nice house, and yeah, my parents were nice to me, why are you poking fun of me? ... He literally walked over and said this gonna be dope." 

Lose Yourself was Eminem's first #1 hit and won an Oscar

Eminem was already a massive star when he made "8 Mile," but he'd shockingly never had a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "Without Me" peaked at #2, "Cleanin' Out My Closet" and "The Real Slim Shady" both hit #4, and other classics like "Stan" and "The Way I Am" didn't even crack the top 50. So it was a considerably big deal when "Lose Yourself," the lead song from the "8 Mile" soundtrack, made it all the way to #1. Per Billboard, the song spent 24 weeks on the chart, with half of those firmly planted at #1.

Beyond the charts, "Lose Yourself" was also a history-making track. Along with Luis Resto and Jeff Bass, Eminem won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, which marked the first time a rap number had ever won in the category (per Billboard). Eminem wasn't at the ceremony, but he did make a surprise appearance to perform the hit song at the Oscars in 2020, 17 years later. "I kinda figured maybe since I didn't get a chance to do it at the time, maybe it would be cool," Eminem told Variety after his 2020 performance.

8 Mile didn't originally have a title

For a long time, the "8 Mile" script and the movie itself were referred to as the "Untitled Detroit Production," inspired by its Motor City setting. "We were damn-near done shooting — maybe three weeks left — when Curtis [Hanson] approached us with '8 Mile,' based upon his experience of Detroit and what 8 Mile represented. We all quickly agreed," producer Paul Rosenberg told Vibe. It's hard to imagine the film under any other name, given how synonymous Eminem has become with "8 Mile" in the years since.

The title "8 Mile" is a reference to Eight Mile Road, which spans more than 20 miles and which historically served as a dividing line between different Michigan counties, per the Detroit Historical Society. "As the northern border to the city of Detroit, Eight Mile separates the city's predominately African-American urban core from the more white suburbs to the north," says the DHS website. "Although African-Americans live in communities north of Eight Mile, the sense of separation between the two areas still remains." Since 1993, the 8MBA (8 Mile Boulevard Association) has attempted to revitalize the strip and draw business to the area.

Eminem is in every scene

The success of "8 Mile" depended upon Eminem's ability to give a believable performance, given that he's in every scene of the film. And for both the rapper and director Curtis Hanson, it was important that he'd be playing a character and not Eminem. "Eminem being in it was potentially a liability from my point of view. Rather than insulting him, I think that this was a great comfort to him," Hanson told The Guardian. "What he expressed to me very clearly, almost in these words in fact, was that he had no interest in being in an Eminem movie. He didn't want to be in a movie that was a vanity project. ... He wanted to play a part in a really good movie."

Hanson later praised Eminem's acting in an interview with Rolling Stone, where he also noted that the rapper had to tap into the opposite of his music persona, "Slim Shady." Eminem's natural charisma was apparent on screen, but so too were some solid acting chops, and critics took notice. "Eminem holds the camera by natural right. His screen presence is electric. His sulk — hooded eyes that suddenly spark with danger — has an intensity to rival James Dean's," wrote critic Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. "And he reads lines with an offbeat freshness that makes his talk and his rap sound interchangeable. Just as it should be."

Some big stars were considered for Cheddar Bob

Eminem was always the first choice to play B-Rabbit in "8 Mile," which makes sense given that the film incorporates details from his life and was written with him in mind. Other actors had to audition for their roles, as is customary with most Hollywood productions. Rapper Proof, who was the basis for the character Future, per the Los Angeles Times, wasn't even cast as "himself" but in the minor role of Lil' Tic. 

In his book, "Yearbook," Seth Rogen recalled auditioning for the role of Cheddar Bob, and he said it was definitely his weirdest audition ever. Actors were asked to bring a friend to read with -– not standard protocol –- and when Rogen called up his buddy Jason Segel, they realized they were both up for the part. "I started laughing hysterically," Rogen said in the book. "And so did Jason. We literally couldn't make it through the auditions. As soon as one of us started the scene, the other would lose it. ... It was so silly, we couldn't finish." Needless to say, neither Segel nor Rogen got the part, and Evan Jones was cast as B-Rabbit's good friend.

Multiple people involved with the film have died

Even though "8 Mile" was made a couple of decades ago, it's surprising that a number of people involved with the film have died, given that most of them weren't especially old when they passed. The oldest was director Curtis Hanson, who suffered from frontotemporal dementia and died of natural causes at age 71 in 2016. "Curtis Hanson believed in me and our crazy idea to make a rap battle movie set in Detroit," Eminem told Billboard. "He basically made me into an actor for '8 Mile.' I'm lucky I got to know him."

While Hanson was 71 and ill at the time of his death, Brittany Murphy's untimely demise was much more shocking –- so much so that people are still talking about it. The actor died in 2009, reportedly of pneumonia with contributing factors like iron deficiency and prescription medications, but that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from suggesting something more sinister. Murphy was only 32 when she died, just a few years older than actor De'Angelo Wilson, who appeared as DJ Iz and died by suicide in 2008. Finally, rapper Proof –- Eminem's real-life friend who appeared in the role of Lil Tic but was the basis for the character Future –- died in a shootout in 2006 at the age of 32.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Eminem changed his appearance for the role

Eminem wasn't playing himself in "8 Mile," so he changed a couple of things about his appearance so that no one would be confused about that fact. First, at the urging of director Curtin Hanson, he dyed his hair back to his natural dark color. This was a contrast to the platinum blond look he'd been sporting for years. Eminem did go back to blond eventually, though he currently rocks dark hair and an equally dark beard.

In addition to changing his hair, Eminem put a lot of work into creating a buffer appearance for his starring role. As his manager and "8 Mile" producer Paul Rosenberg told Vibe, "Back then, Em was in his donuts-Taco Bell-Mountain Dew phase." But soon, he decided to start working out to lose some weight. Eminem himself has confirmed as much, and he once told Access Hollywood (via Rap Dirt) that he woke up at 4 AM while filming "8 Mile" in order to get fit. As he put it, "And I'm on the treadmill at 5:00 in the morning, and I'm working out, and I'm doing my sit-ups and working out and exercising and this and that."

Eminem struggled with pills during filming

Eminem might've given a stellar performance in "8 Mile," but it wasn't easy for the first-time thespian. Speaking with Rolling Stone, the rapper explained, "We were doing 16 hours on the set, and you had a certain window where you had to sleep. One day somebody gave me an Ambien, and it knocked me the f*** out. I was like, 'I need this all the time.'" As a result, Eminem struggled with addiction from 2002 to 2008 — specifically with Ambien, Vicodin, and Valium.

In the documentary "How to Make Money Selling Drugs," Eminem claims that other people tried to tell him he had a problem with pills, but he didn't see it at first. When he nearly died due to organ failure, that's when he said he called it quits, but he still feels the effects of those days. "I don't know if it sounds like I'm making excuses, but the absolute truth is a lot of my memory is gone," Eminem told Rolling Stone. "I don't know if you've ever taken Ambien, but it's kind of a memory-eraser. That s*** wiped out five years of my life. ... I saw myself doing this thing on BET recently, and I was like, 'When was that?'"

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The crew recreated a famous Detroit club

Tons of real-life Detroit locations were used in the shooting of "8 Mile," but there's one space that was actually a very well-made replica –- The Shelter. The Shelter is a legendary Detroit music venue, situated beneath St. Andrew's Hall in the city's Bricktown Historic District. Many notable acts have graced the club, and it's the place where a young Eminem started out, so it makes sense that it was used as the setting for "8 Mile's" rap battles. Only, it wasn't really.

Rather than use the actual venue, the production team created a look-a-like interior and exterior set for filming. "The outside — where Marshall walks off in the final scene — was a faux exterior created on the front of existing buildings," producer Paul Rosenberg told Vibe. "People drive around Detroit looking, but they're never going to find it." According to Rosenberg, the interior shots were also not filmed at the actual The Shelter but on a soundstage made to look like the darkened basement venue. 

Real Detroit locations were used in shooting

When it comes to "8 Mile" locations, many of the scenes were shot in real-life settings. This goes for not only the bigger scenes but also smaller ones. For example, when B-Rabbit walks to a bus stop after experiencing problems with his car, Eminem was at an actual Warren, Michigan, bus stop (per Curbed Detroit). The Penobscot Building — the gorgeous art deco structure where WJLB radio station is housed in the film — was actually home to that same radio station in real life. The then-abandoned, now-demolished Polynesian banquet hall/club Chin Tiki was used in the film as well.

Many of the real-life locations were given new names for their appearance in "8 Mile," according to Curbed. The 8 Mile Mobile Court where B-Rabbit lives with his sister, mother, and her boyfriend was an actual mobile home park, but it was named A&L Mobile Home Park. Similarly, B-Rabbit's workplace, New Detroit Stamping, was actually filmed at a plant, but the factory is named New Center Stamping. Even the scene where B-Rabbit and friends hit a giant cow head with a paintball gun utilized a real building, which once belonged to Ira Wilson & Sons Dairy.

Mekhi Phifer almost turned down his role

Mekhi Phifer did a phenomenal job playing Eminem's friend Future in "8 Mile." Phifer had already become somewhat of a household name due to his work in films such as "O," "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," and "Soul Food," but given that it was before his time on "ER," he wasn't a big enough star that passing on major films would've been an easy call. Still, Phifer told the BBC that while he'd said yes to 21 films in 8 years, he often said no to projects that came his way if they didn't feel right ... and that "8 Mile" at first didn't feel right despite its hype.

Phifer has said that he was unsure of how an Eminem-fronted project would work or if Eminem would be a good actor. "I just felt Hollywood was simply trying to capitalize on Eminem's popularity rather than really trying to stay true to the integrity of the things he's gone through," he told the BBC. "I didn't know how passionate he was about acting. So I didn't really know until I met him. I flew to Detroit and met him and loved the guy right off the top. Then we read together, and it just worked." In a 2020 interview with Hollywood Life, Phifer claimed that his upcoming start date on "ER" and the lack of a desire to fly so soon after the 9/11 attacks were other reasons for his reluctance.

Eminem was scared of a horse he had to film with

Given the things that he raps about and his overall persona, it's easy to imagine Eminem being afraid of nothing. But it turns out, the popular artist is just as human as the rest of us. In fact, Eminem has one fear that he's spoken about at length, as it came into play in the filming of "8 Mile," and that is his fear of horses. In the original script, Eminem had to get up close and personal with an equine, petting it and grabbing it by the reins, and though the scene wasn't in the final film, Eminem attempted to shoot it.

However, in his book, "The Way I Am," Eminem admitted that he fought to get the scene deleted because he didn't feel it made any sense. His character pets the horse because he's upset after a family dispute, but Eminem questioned why a horse would be in a junkyard to begin with — plus, he didn't want to pet it. "The horse was doing this crazy head-jerking movement, and I thought, any minute [it's] going to lift his head up and bust my f****** jaw and knock me the f*** out," Eminem wrote in the book. "Horses and me, we don't get on too well. ... If a horse dissed me, I wouldn't say anything back."