Greta Garbo initially requested that Laurence Olivier play the lead, Don Antonio, since she was impressed by his performance in Westward Passage. In July 1933, the press announced that Olivier would take the part. However, when they did the rehearsals in August, Garbo and Olivier had no chemistry, and he was released, although MGM Studios honored his negotiated salary of $1,500 a week for four weeks minimum. Garbo requested that John Gilbert be cast in the role instead.
Lawrence Grant is in studio records/casting call lists as a cast member, but he did not appear or was not identifiable in the movie. C. Henry Gordon was announced as a cast member, and Edward Cooper was listed as a cast member in a contemporary Hollywood Reporter news item, but neither appeared to be in the film. However, recognition of actors was difficult because of period makeup.
Queen Christina and The Painted Veil, which were both huge hits in Europe (making twice their budget in the UK alone), were underwhelming US successes.
For the famous closing shot of Greta Garbo at the prow of the ship, director Rouben Mamoulian had wanted the camera to begin with a long shot, and then, in one unbroken take, gradually dolly in on a two-thirds close-up of Garbo's face, holding on her at the end of the shot. Unfortunately, with the camera's 48mm lens that close to the human face, pores tend to resemble craters on the surface of the moon. Borrowing on aspects of the magic lantern, Mamoulian devised a large, ruler-shaped, glass filter strip that was clear at one end, becoming increasingly more diffused along its length. With this glass filter mounted in front of the lens, as the camera moved in on Garbo, the glass strip was gradually drawn through the filter holder, beginning with the clear end, and ending with the diffused end (close-up), softening Garbo's facial features with more flattering results
Since John Gilbert was falling out of favor with the majors as a leading man, Greta Garbo was doing him a big favor by requesting him as the male lead. Unfortunately, the film did not help to re-establish Gilbert, and soon after he dropped out of pictures altogether.
The scene where Christina goes around the room at the inn, remember the night she spent with her lover, was choreographed so meticulously that Greta Garbo performed the scene to a metronome.