According to TCM host Robert Osborne, "Mike Nichols wanted Doris Day for Mrs. Robinson, Robert Redford for Benjamin Braddock, and Gene Hackman for Mr. Robinson." But there were numerous actors considered or tested for, or who wanted, roles in the film.
Day turned down the offer because the nudity required by the role offended her. Nichols' actual first choice for Mrs. Robinson was French actor Jeanne Moreau. The idea behind this was that in the French culture, the "older" women tended to "train" the younger men in sexual matters. Joan Crawford inquired as to play the part, while Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn both wanted the role. Patricia Neal turned down the film as she had recently recovered from a stroke and did not feel ready to accept such a major role. Geraldine Page also turned it down. Other actors considered for the part included Claire Bloom, Angie Dickinson, Sophia Loren, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, Susan Hayward, Anouk Aimee, Jennifer Jones, Deborah Kerr, Eva Marie Saint, Rosalind Russell, Simone Signoret, Jean Simmons, Lana Turner, Eleanor Parker, Anne Baxter and Shelley Winters. Angela Lansbury also asked about playing the part. Ava Gardner sought the role of Mrs. Robinson, and reportedly called Nichols saying,"I want to see you! I want to talk about this Graduate thing!" Nichols did not seriously consider her for the role (he wanted a younger woman as Bancroft was 36 and Gardner was 45), but did end up visiting her hotel. He later recounted that "she sat at a little French desk with a telephone, she went through every movie star cliché. She said, 'All right, let's talk about your movie. First of all, I strip for nobody.'" Meanwhile, Natalie Wood turned down not only the role of Mrs. Robinson, but also that of Elaine.
For the character of Elaine, casting was also problematic. Patty Duke turned down the part as she did not want to work at the time. Faye Dunaway was also considered for Elaine, but had to turn it down, in favor of Bonnie and Clyde. Sally Field and Shirley MacLaine refused the role as well. Raquel Welch and Joan Collins both wanted the role, but did not succeed in getting it. Carroll Baker tested, but was said to have been too old to portray Anne Bancroft's daughter. Candice Bergen screen-tested as well, as did Goldie Hawn and Jane Fonda. Additionally, Ann-Margret, Elizabeth Ashley, Carol Lynley, Sue Lyon, Yvette Mimieux, Suzanne Pleshette, Lee Remick, Pamela Tiffin, Julie Christie, and Tuesday Weld were all on the director's shortlist before Katharine Ross was cast.
When Dustin Hoffman auditioned for the role of Benjamin, he was asked to perform a love scene with Ross. Hoffman had never done one during his acting classes and believed that, as he said later, "a girl like [Ross] would never go for a guy like me in a million years." Ross agreed, believing that Hoffman "look[ed] about 3 feet tall ... so unkempt. This is going to be a disaster." Producer Joseph E. Levine later admitted that he at first believed that Hoffman "was one of the messenger boys." Despite—or perhaps because of— Hoffman's awkwardness, Nichols chose him for the film. “As far as I’m concerned, Mike Nichols did a very courageous thing casting me in a part that I was not right for, meaning I was Jewish,” said Hoffman.“In fact, many of the reviews were very negative. It was kind of veiled anti-Semitism…. I was called ‘big-nosed’ in the reviews, ‘a nasal voice.’” Before Hoffman was cast, Robert Redford and Warren Beatty were among the top choices. Beatty turned the film down as he was occupied with Bonnie and Clyde. Redford tested for the part of Benjamin (with Candice Bergen as Elaine), but Nichols thought that Redford did not possess the underdog quality that Benjamin needed. When Mike Nichols talked with Redford, Redford asked what he meant. "Well, let's put it this way," said Nichols, "Have you ever struck out with a girl?" "What do you mean?" asked Redford. "That's precisely my point," said Nichols. Charles Grodin turned down the part, as the money was not right. Both Brandon deWilde and Michael Parks auditioned for the role. In addition, Keir Dullea, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford, George Hamilton, Albert Finney, Gene Wilder, Steve McQueen, Jack Nance, Anthony Perkins, Robert Wagner, and Jack Nicholson were all considered for the part of Benjamin. Burt Ward, who starred as Robin on the Batman television series, had to pass on the role as he was committed to filming the show, and the studio would not lend him anyway.
In the role of Mr. Robinson, Gene Hackman was originally cast, but just before filming began, the director decided he was too young and decided to replace him. Marlon Brando, Howard Duff, Brian Keith, George Peppard, Jack Palance, Frank Sinatra, Walter Matthau and Gregory Peck were all other choices for the role that Murray Hamilton eventually played. Susan Hayward was the first choice for Benjamin's mother, Mrs. Braddock, but the role was given to Elizabeth Wilson. And to play Mr. Braddock, Yul Brynner, Kirk Douglas, Jack Lemmon, Robert Mitchum, Karl Malden, Christopher Plummer and Ronald Reagan all came close to getting the role that ended up going to William Daniels.
There are considerable age discrepancies between the lead roles and the actors who portrayed them. Benjamin Braddock says, "I will be 21 next week "; at the time of filming, Dustin Hoffman was 29. Mrs. Robinson states, "Benjamin, I am twice your age." Anne Bancroft was 35, only six years older than Hoffman. Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine is 19 and was portrayed by Katharine Ross, who was 27 at the time. Elaine May, who portrayed Elaine's college roommate and delivered a note to Benjamin from Elaine, was 35 at the time and only seven months younger than Anne Bancroft.
Many of the exterior university campus shots of Berkeley were actually filmed on the brick campus of USC in Los Angeles. Other scenes were filmed on Durant Avenue and College Ave. across from the Unit One Dorms in the city of Berkeley, as well as on the Berkeley campus itself (shot remotely from Telegraph Avenue, as the university did not permit commercial filming at the time).
The Taft Hotel scenes were filmed at the Ambassador Hotel.
The church used for the wedding scene is actually the United Methodist Church in La Verne. In a commentary audio released with the 40th anniversary DVD, Hoffman revealed that he was uneasy about the scene in which he pounds on the church window, as the minister of the church had been watching the filming disapprovingly. The wedding scene was highly influenced by the ending of the 1924 comedy film Girl Shy starring Harold Lloyd, who also served as an advisor for the scene in The Graduate. The residences used for the Braddocks' house and the Robinsons' house were located on North Palm Drive in Beverly Hills. The scene with Benjamin and Elaine at night in his car at the drive-in restaurant was filmed in Westwood Village, Los Angeles.
The scenes of Benjamin driving to Berkeley on the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge were filmed on the top level of the bridge — leading into San Francisco — the opposite direction of Berkeley. In another scene as he drives south to Santa Barbara, his Alfa Romeo Spider is shown heading north through the Gaviota Tunnel, also the wrong direction.
The film boosted the profile of folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel. Originally, Nichols and O'Steen used their existing songs like "The Sound of Silence" merely as a pacing device for the editing until Nichols decided that substituting original music would not be effective and decided to include them on the soundtrack, an unusual move at that time.
According to a Variety article by Peter Bart in the 15 May 2005 issue, Lawrence Turman, his producer, then made a deal for Simon to write three new songs for the movie. By the time they had nearly finished editing the film, Simon had only written one new song. Nichols begged him for more, but Simon, who was touring constantly, told him he did not have the time. He did play him a few notes of a new song he had been working on; "It's not for the movie... it's a song about times past — about Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff." Nichols advised Simon, "It's now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs. Roosevelt."
On the strength of the hit single "Mrs. Robinson", the soundtrack album rose to the top of the charts in 1968 (knocking off The Beatles' White Album). However, the version that appears in the film is markedly different from the hit single version, which would not be issued until Simon and Garfunkel's next album, Bookends. The actual film version of "Mrs. Robinson" does appear on The Graduate soundtrack LP.
In addition to the Simon & Garfunkel songs, the film features an instrumental score by Dave Grusin.