David Lean cast Julie Christie as Lara after seeing her in Billy Liar (which also featured Tom Courtenay), and on the recommendation of John Ford, who had directed her in Young Cassidy.

David Lean wanted Audrey Hepburn to play Tonya, but was so impressed by Geraldine Chaplin's audition that he cast her on the spot.

David Lean's first choice for the title role was Peter O'Toole who declined, citing the grueling experience of having made Lawrence of Arabia with Lean. This created a rift between the two that was never fully healed. Dirk Bogarde and Max von Sydow were considered for the title role but was never actually offered the part before Lean offered the role to Omar Sharif.

Ingrid Pitt appears throughout this film in five different uncredited bit roles.

Rita Tushingham filmed her part in two weeks.

Rod Steiger was on set filming for 12 months.

Alec Guinness and David Lean quarreled frequently on the set of this film. According to Guinness, Lean was "acting the part of a super-star director" and frequently insulted Guinness's performance and him personally. This caused a rift to develop between the two and they would not work again until A Passage to India almost twenty years later.

William Hartnell and T.P. McKenna were both offered parts.

Carlo Ponti wanted to shoot the film in the Soviet Union, but the government refused his requests. David Lean visited Yugoslavia and the Scandinavian countries in search of locations. Both areas were too cold and the bureaucracy in Yugoslavia was too prohibitive. In the end, the majority of the film was shot in Spain.

Omar Sharif asked David Lean to consider him for the role of Pavel Antipov (Pasha) and was surprised when Lean instead offered him the title role.

Yvette Mimieux and Jane Fonda were rejected for the part of Lara.

A ten-acre replica of Moscow was built in Canillas, a suburb of Madrid. It included a cobbled 800-yard street with trolley cars, a train viaduct, a replica of the Kremlin and 60 shops and houses circling a giant plaza.

According to Freddie Young, before he reluctantly agreed to take the director of photography job following an exhausting collaboration on Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean had a major falling-out with the previous director of photography, Nicolas Roeg, over creative differences. After Young took over, an additional two weeks of photography was required to re-shoot the scenes that Roeg had shot.

After a month went by with Marlon Brando failing to respond to David Lean's written inquiry into whether he wanted to play Viktor Komarovsky, he offered the part to James Mason, who accepted. Lean, who had wanted to cast Brando as Lawrence of Arabia and offered him roles in Ryan's Daughter and his unmade "Nostromo", decided on Mason as he did not want an actor to overpower the character of Yuri Zhivago. Mason eventually dropped out and Rod Steiger accepted the role. Steiger eventually would be involved in the filming of "Dr. Zhivago" for the better part of a year, which may have been a reason that both Brando and Mason shunned the role.

Although this was a large epic on the scale of David Lean's previous film Lawrence of Arabia, it was not shot in Super Panavision or other large film format. It was shot in standard 35mm Panavision anamorphic. The 70mm prints were blow-ups from the 35mm negative.

Among its highly diverse international cast, this film contains almost zero Russian actors or even actors of Russian heritage.

Hungarian actress, Lili MurĂ¡ti, was seriously injured in the scene where she runs along side of the train and grabs Zhivago's (Omar Sharif) hand to be hauled aboard. But a miscalculation was made. Sharif had been instructed to grab and hold on to Murati's hand. "She started panicking", said Ernest Day, who was watching it all through the camera, "but he didn't understand her. She was trying to make him let go, and when she did finally wrench her hand away she stumbled and disappeared out of the viewfinder". Murati had bunched up as she had fallen so the train wheels had not severed her limbs. She was also wearing thick clothes, which protected her further. Her stumble can be clearly seen in the finished film.

In an interview years after making the film, Rod Steiger said he was almost the only American among so many great British actors. "All I wanted to do was not embarrass myself."

In the scene where Julie Christie slaps Rod Steiger, Steiger slaps her back. Steiger slapping her back was not in the script or discussed during filming, Steiger did it only during filming and the stunned reaction of Christie was genuine. When Rod Steiger kisses Julie Christie for the first time, her struggling and surprise is genuine because Steiger deliberately French kissed her, sticking his tongue into her mouth.

Most of the exteriors were completely built inside as well to serve as interiors.