Consider this to have been a 'definitive role' for Whitaker. In a manner similar to his preparation for Bird, he again immersed himself in his character's world; he studied Eastern philosophy and meditated for long hours 'to hone his inner spiritual hitman'.
Jarmusch has told interviewers that he developed the title character with Whitaker in mind; the New York Times review of the film observed that 'It's hard to think of another actor who could play a cold-blooded killer with such warmth and humanity.'
The film has been interpreted by critics as an homage to Le Samouraï, a 1967 crime-drama by Jean-Pierre Melville starring Alain Delon. That movie opens with a quote from an invented Book of Bushido and features a meditative, loner hero, Jef Costello. In the same manner that Ghost Dog has an electronic "key" to break into luxury cars, Costello has a huge ring of keys that enable him to steal any Citroën DS. The endings share a key similarity. Moreover, the peculiar relationship between the heroes of both movies and birds, as companions and danger advisers, is another common theme.