Casting the role of Ada was a difficult process. Sigourney Weaver was Campion's first choice, but she turned down the role because she was taking a break from film at the time. Jennifer Jason Leigh was also considered but she couldn't meet with Campion to read the script because she was committed to shooting the film Rush. Isabelle Huppert met with Jane Campion and had vintage period-style photographs taken of her as Ada, and later said she regretted not fighting for the role as Hunter did.
The casting for Flora occurred after Hunter had been selected for the part. They did a series of open auditions for girls age 9 to 13, focusing on girls who were small enough to be believable as Ada's daughter (as Holly Hunter is a relatively short 157cm / 5' 2" tall). Anna Paquin ended up winning the role of Flora over 5,000 other girls.
Alidtair Fox has argued that The Piano was significantly influenced by Jane Mander's The Story of a New Zealand River. Robert Macklin, an associate editor with The Canberra Times newspaper, has also written about the similarities. The film also serves as a retelling of the fairytale "Bluebeard", which is hinted at further in the inclusion of "Bluebeard" as a piece of the Christmas pageant.
In July 2013, Campion revealed that she originally intended for the main character to drown in the sea after going overboard after her piano.
Production on the film started in April 1992, filming began on 11 May 1992 and lasted until July of 1992, and production officially ended on 22 December 1992.