Five years after Sleepless in Seattle (1993), the unstoppable rom-com trio of Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Nora Ephron joined forces again for You've Got Mail. In the triumvirate's second project, Hanks played Joe Fox, founder of a mega-bookstore chain, who has an online romance (in the nascent days of the Internet) with Kathleen Kelly (Ryan), the owner of a small children's bookshop. It doesn't take long for the pair to learn that online romances can be much easier than real-life ones.
1. IT WAS BASED ON A 1936 HUNGARIAN PLAY.
Parfumerie was written by Miklós László. It's about two bickering co-workers at a Budapest gift shop who don't realize they're pen pals. It was adapted for the screen twice before You've Got Mail: once as The Shop Around the Corner (1940) starring James Stewart, and again as the musical In the Good Old Summertime (1949) starring Judy Garland.
Producer Julie Durk got the idea to remake The Shop Around the Corner after watching the movie in 1992. Durk told producer Lauren Shuler Donner, who then optioned the rights. Years later, Donner came up with the idea to have the remake involve the Internet, and the wheels were set in motion.
2. MEG RYAN DIDN'T HAVE A COMPUTER BEFORE MAKING THE MOVIE.
"I got my first computer when I did that movie," Ryan told Vanity Fair. "I think that the company gave us a computer."
3. DABNEY COLEMAN HAD NO IDEA WHAT BEING "ONLINE" MEANT.
Dabney Coleman played Tom Hanks' father, Nelson Fox. In 2010, Coleman recalled his experience auditioning for the film: "At the interview, I walked in and Nora Ephron, who wrote and directed that, said … Uh … I still can’t think of it now. What do you say … ? What is the expression? Is it, 'Are you online?' Meaning, 'Do you use a computer?' What do you call it? Does that make sense to you? Is there such an expression? Meaning, 'Do you have a website, and do you use a computer?' Anyway, whatever it was, I said, 'I don’t even know what that means.' And they all laughed. And that was well into the computer age. I still only use the computer for e-mail—and to bet on sports. That’s it."
4. NORA EPHRON WANTED TO SET THE FILM ON NEW YORK CITY'S UPPER WEST SIDE BECAUSE IT FEELS LIKE A SMALL VILLAGE.
According to Shuler Donner, Ephron—who directed, co-wrote, and produced the film—saw the Upper West Side as a small community in the same way that the village in The Shop Around the Corner was a small community. "To establish this, Nora showed scenes at the beginning of the film of bread being dropped off outside these closed little stores to make the audience feel like they were in a village even though they were in a metropolis like New York."
5. BARNES & NOBLE DECLINED INVOLVEMENT.
Producers originally asked Barnes & Noble if they could make one of their stores into a Fox Books location. When they said no, they used the Barneys that had just closed on Seventh Avenue and West 17th Street in Chelsea. (Earlier this year, Barneys made a triumphant return to the location.)
6. FOX BOOKS WAS TOO REALISTIC.
Production designer Dan Davis and his crew did such a good job making the fake bookstore that passersby asked them when it was going to open.
7. KATHLEEN'S SHOP AROUND THE CORNER WAS A CHEESE AND ANTIQUE SHOP.
8. RYAN WORKED AT A REAL BOOKSTORE TO PREP FOR THE ROLE.
Ryan and Heather Burns, who played Ryan's employee Christina, spent one week working at Books of Wonder, a children's bookstore in Manhattan, to get into their characters for the movie. (Books of Wonder is still around by the way.)
9. THE OPENING CREDITS WERE SUPPOSED TO FEATURE AN ANIMATED VERSION OF PIET MONDRIAN'S BROADWAY BOOGIE-WOOGIE.
Piet Mondrian's 1943 painting, Broadway Boogie-Woogie—a representation of New York City—was a huge inspiration to Ephron. But when animator Mirko Ilić and his staff animated Mondrian's painting, Ephron wanted something more "realistic or romantic." So they photographed all of the buildings along Broadway on the Upper West Side, from 72nd Street to the brownstone where the film begins, as a guide for the computer graphic animation. At one point there was a fear that the audience would get motion sickness, because there was a lot of ground to cover.
10. IT'S THE FIRST FILM ALLOWED TO SHOOT IN ZABAR'S.
You've Got Mail has the distinction of being the first film to be allowed to film inside the classic grocery store on Broadway and West 80th Street.
11. THE PASSAGE OF TIME WAS MADE CLEAR IN THE BACKGROUND OF THE MOVIE.
"The extra who is playing the florist [in the beginning of the film] is pregnant," Ephron pointed out on the DVD commentary. "We put a little pad in her tummy. And one of the things you will see later in the movie is when Meg is buying flowers at that florist, there’s a little sign in the window that says, 'It’s a girl.'"
12. TOM HANKS WAS ALLOWED TO AD LIB.
When Joe carried balloons and a goldfish and accidentally slammed the balloons into the door, Hanks came up with the line, "good thing it wasn't the fish." Improvisation was also welcomed in the scene when the bookstore employees talked about the positives of online dating and cybersex.
13. MICHAEL PALIN WAS CUT FROM THE MOVIE.
Michael Palin spent a week portraying William Spungen, an author friend of Kathleen's, who was based on Thomas Pynchon. But the scenes didn't really fit in with the rest of the movie. According to Palin, the character was a villain with "no redeeming moral virtues."
14. HEATHER BURNS WAS AGAINST HANKS AND RYAN GETTING TOGETHER IN THE END.
"I was young and really idealistic, and I got a little mad that she ends up with the guy who's putting her out of business," Burns recalled about where her thinking was while shooting her first feature movie. "And Nora said to me, 'Heather, the older you get, you're gonna realize that things change and there's not very much that you can do about it. And the city changes, and that's just the way it is.' And as I have gotten older, I realized she was right."
15. ALL OF JOE AND KATHLEEN'S EMAILS WERE PUT ON THE MOVIE'S OFFICIAL WEBSITE, WHICH WARNER BROS. HAS KEPT ACTIVE.
In other words, you can still read the emails today, without having to use any of your hacking skills.