"Thinking about it as fairytale, thinking about it as metaphor, in a sense she's going into her own mind. She's opening up her own head and in her own head all these things come down." ~ Director Steven Shainberg on the Fur
In 1958, in New York City, the upper class Diane Arbus is a frustrated and lonely woman with a conventional marriage with two daughters. Her husband is a photographer sponsored by the wealthy parents of Diane, and she works as his assistant. When Lionel Sweeney, a mysterious man with hypertrichosis (a.k.a. werewolf syndrome, a disease that causes excessive body hair), comes to live in the apartment in the upper floor, Diane feels a great attraction for him and is introduced to the world of freaks and marginalized people.
MGM origionaly optioned the biography upon which this film is based (Arbus by Patricia Bosworth) in 1984 as a possible starring vehicle for Diane Keaton.
Robert Downey Jr. has a previous connection to the Arbus family. His father, filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. made Greaser's Palace starring Diane Arbus' ex-husband Allan, with young Robert in a small part.
Downey's character Lionel was made up for the film. The director Steven Shainberg wanted to make the movie about the relationship between Diane and a single photographic subject. He decided to make Lionel suffer from hypertrichosis to draw a connection between her father who was a furrier spending his day—in her mind, possibly—killing beautiful animals to make coats. It was his way to make a crazy mysterious unconscious connection between the woman who becomes Diane Arbus and that little girl.
Well known designer Chip Kidd created the poster for this film.
Diane Arbus: I want to take a portrait of you and your wife.
Lionel Sweeney: I don't have a wife.
Diane Arbus: Then I want to take a portrait of you. Just you.
Lionel Sweeney: Why do you want to take a portrait of someone you've never seen, Diane?
Diane Arbus: What is it?
Lionel Sweeney: Well, every month or so I'm able to breathe about five percent less. My lungs are disintegrating. It's getting harder and harder for me to breathe... deeply. In a matter of months, I'll drown without even swimming, because there'll be nothing left... of my lungs.
Diane Arbus: You're not dying.
Lionel Sweeney: Yes, I am.
Diane Arbus: No, you're not.