She should have stayed in the booth! Back in 1995, Sandra Bullock’s career was just kicking into high gear. After breaking out in 1994’s smash hit Speed, her next role—in the romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping—helped establish her as the kind of leading lady who didn’t need the distraction of big-time action to be compelling. The sweet and satisfying Christmas-set romance turns 20 years old this week, and in celebration of that anniversary, here are some bits of trivia you won’t want to sleep on.
1. JULIA ROBERTS TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF LUCY MODERATZ.
Roberts was already flying high from the major success of Pretty Woman five years earlier, so the actress seemed like a solid pick for another charming romantic comedy about two very different people brought together by unexpected circumstances. Fortunately for Bullock, she turned down the role.
2. SANDRA BULLOCK WAS THE FIRST CAST MEMBER TO JOIN.
Part of Bullock’s appeal to the production team? A little film she had done earlier for Roger Birnbaum, a former Fox president who produced While You Were Sleeping, called Love Potion #9, which helped assure Birnbaum she was ready for the kind of larger part that the film required from her.
3. THAT PAPERBOY FAIL ONLY LOOKS FUNNY.
4. THE FIRST SCENE SHOT FOR THE FILM DIDN’T INVOLVE THE CALLAGHANS AT ALL.
It’s actually the scene that puts everything in motion: Lucy’s boss Jerry (Jason Bernard) asking her to work on Christmas Day. The scene was shot along the banks of the Chicago River, complete with hot dog vendor.
5. BEN FOLDS REFERENCES THE FILM IN HIS SONG “FROM ABOVE.”
The song chronicles a long string of missed connections between two unnamed people who are destined to be together. One of those misses? A 6:30 screening of While You Were Sleeping (in Folds’ created lore, the female half of the story sat just behind the male at the theater, neither one of them the wiser).
6. ONLY A FEW OF THE HOSPITAL SCENES WERE FILMED AT AN ACTUAL HOSPITAL.
The film’s hospital scenes were set at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (a real hospital in Chicago), but the necessary sets were rebuilt for ease of filming; the movie shot almost three weeks of just hospital-set bits alone.
7. THE CALLAGHANS’ HOUSE IS REAL.
Unlike the hospital, every scene that takes place in the Callaghan family abode was lensed on location at a charming turn-of-the-century house in suburban La Grange, Illinois.
8. THE FILM WAS THE DEBUT PROJECT OF SCREENWRITING TEAM DANIEL G. SULLIVAN AND FREDERIC LEBOW.
9. THE FIRST VERSION OF THE FILM REVERSED THE ROLES.
Sullivan and Lebow’s original vision for the film involved a man—a New York City fish salesman, for some reason—who spots a lovely Scandinavian woman in the streets. Before he can introduce himself, she is hit by a newspaper truck and ends up in a coma. The sexes were eventually reversed (and the inciting accident was obviously changed) when it was suggested to Sullivan and Lebow that a man following a woman seemed “too predatory.”
10. THE CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY GRANTED THE FILM SPECIAL ACCESS.
So much of While You Were Sleeping takes place at Lucy’s place of employment—a Chicago train station—that the film required not only the use of the station and its tracks, but use of them during daylight hours (as Lucy spies Peter when he’s on his way to work in the mornings). Although the CTA had never shut down one of their stations for a film project during the day, they made an exception for While You Were Sleeping.
11. THE TRAIN SCENES ALONE TOOK FOUR WEEKEND SHOOTS.
The CTA shut down the Randolph and Wabash station four weekends in a row for filming. In order to film the scene where Lucy jumps down on to the tracks to save Peter, they moved to the Sedgewick station for just one day, which conveniently enough includes one section of rail without any live currents, which was much safer for everyone involved!
Lots of other Chicago-based films have shot there, too, including Meet the Parents and The Lake House (the latter of which also starred Bullock).
13. THE FILM EARNED BULLOCK HER FIRST GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATION.
Bullock’s role in While You Were Sleeping earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. Although she lost out on that particular award, she took the statue home in 2010 for her role in The Blind Side (she was nominated twice that year, earning a second nod for The Proposal).
14. THE FILM EARNED MORE THAN 10 TIMES ITS BUDGET BACK.
While You Were Sleeping made a giant splash at the box office, making more than $180 million in worldwide returns, the vast majority of which was pure profit, as the film was made for a surprisingly slim $17 million.
15. IT’S STILL ONE OF BULLOCK’S HIGHEST-GROSSING FILMS.
Even after 20 years and lots of other successes, the film is still Bullock’s ninth highest-grossing feature film (domestically), just behind Two Weeks Notice and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
16. THE FILM WAS A BIG DEPARTURE FOR ITS DIRECTOR.
Jon Turteltaub helmed the film, and it certainly was a change for the filmmaker; he had previously directed pictures like 3 Ninjas and Cool Runnings, which certainly helps account for the high level of humor in the film (even with no ninjas or bobsled teams).
17. JOHN TRAVOLTA’S SISTER MARGARET APPEARS IN THE MOVIE.
She plays the nurse who admits Peter into the hospital.
18. JOHN CUSACK’S FATHER, DICK, ALSO APPEARS IN THE FILM.
He plays Dr. Rubin. (The elder Cusack got started on his film career later in life, and his small turn in While You Were Sleeping was only his eighth movie credit.)
19. IN POLAND, THE FILM IS KNOWN AS JA CIE KOCHAM, A TY SPISZ.
Loosely translated, that means “I love you and you sleep.” (Most other countries had an easier time translating the title a touch more literally, including Germany, Spain, and Italy.)
20. THE FILM KNOCKED BAD BOYS OUT OF THE TOP SPOT AT THE BOX OFFICE.
Michael Bay’s Bad Boys (the director’s first feature, and a surprise hit) had been in theaters for just two weeks when While You Were Sleeping debuted, but it had handily won the top spot at the box office both weekends. When the rom-com came on the scene, not only did it best the action-comedy, it made $2 million more than it while screening in 700 fewer theaters.