14 Faithful Facts About Sister Act
From The Sound of Music to Dead Man Walking, nuns have always had a place on the silver screen—but none of those movies have given personality to the women behind the habits quite like Sister Act. If Sister Mary Clarence and the sisters of St. Katherine's made your toes tap, here are 14 facts you'll give praise for.
1. DELORIS/SISTER MARY CLARENCE WAS PARTIALLY INSPIRED BY A REAL NUN.
As part of his research, screenwriter Paul Rudnick visited the Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut, to meet Mother Dolores Hart. Hart had been a Hollywood actress, singer, and dancer, starring in movies such as Where the Boys Are and King Creole. Though she left the industry to become a nun when she was just 24, she’s a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to this day.
2. BETTE MIDLER WAS ORIGINALLY ATTACHED TO STAR.
Though the Divine Miss M was originally onboard, she later backed out for reasons she came to regret: “I said: ‘My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple.’ I don’t know where I got that from. Why would I say such a thing? So Whoopi did it instead and, of course, she made a fortune.”
3. THE NAME OF THE MAIN CHARACTER WAS CHANGED WHEN MIDLER LEFT.
The original name of the singer-turned-sister was Terri Van Cartier. It was changed when Whoopi Goldberg was cast, because, according to Rudnick, “She’d always wanted to play someone named Deloris.”
4. CARRIE FISHER HELPED REWRITE THE SCRIPT.
When Midler backed out, script adjustments went far beyond a name change—but Disney only allowed writers two weeks to overhaul the script after the lead actress change. Additional writers were brought in to help doctor the script; in addition to Carrie Fisher, other contributors included Nancy Meyers and Robert Harling. Fisher, by the way, has a long history of fixing scripts—she also worked on last-minute rewrites to Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer.
5. THE WRITER “JOSEPH HOWARD” IS NOT A REAL PERSON.
By the time the movie was released, it had been rewritten so much that Rudnick didn’t consider it his work anymore. He suggested the work be credited under the name R. Chasuble after the priest in The Importance of Being Earnest. That was rejected, so Rudnick tried for “Screenplay by Goofy.” Another no-go. Finally, “Joseph Howard” was accepted. “It sounds like the name of someone who helped found the Mormon Church,” Rudnick later wrote.
6. KATHY NAJIMY BASED HER CHARACTER ON MARY HART.
Kathy Najimy wasn’t totally sure how she was going to portray such a bubbly, cheerful nun—until she happened to catch anchor Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight. “I turn on the TV. It's something with me and Sally Field running around, and they come back to Mary Hart, and she went, 'That Sally Field, ya gotta love her!’ And I said, 'Oh my God, that's my nun!'"
Najimy later sent Hart a bouquet of roses. “[But] I didn’t say why.”
7. SOME OF THE ACTRESSES GOT UP TO SOME MISCHIEF BETWEEN SCENES.
The production spent some time filming in a Reno casino, which the actresses loved. "That was great, because I love gambling,” Najimy said. “Wendy [Makkena, who plays Sister Mary Robert] smokes, and we'd sit at the 21 table in our nun outfits with drinks in front of us. That was hilarious."
8. NO, THAT’S NOT THE REAL ACTRESS SINGING SISTER MARY ROBERT’S PARTS.
One of the subplots of the movie is Deloris’ efforts to bring the timid Sister Mary Robert out of her shell. We eventually realize that the soft-spoken sister can really belt one out—but it’s not really actress Wendy Makkena singing. She was dubbed by singer Andrea Robinson. Whoopi, however, did her own singing.
9. ONE OF THE SCENES WAS CHANGED AT NAJIMY’S BEHEST.
There was originally a scene that called for Najimy’s character, Sister Mary Patrick, to protest against a pornographic bookstore. Najimy felt it encroached on her First Amendment rights and asked the director to come up with something different. Instead, Sister Mary Patrick ended up selling raffle tickets.
10. THE PRODUCTION WAS SUED FOR PLAGIARISM.
In 1993, Donna Douglas (better known as Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) filed a $200 million suit against Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, their production companies, Creative Artists Agency, Walt Disney Pictures, and more. Douglas had optioned a book called A Nun in the Closet, which they turned into a screenplay and submitted to the studio. They were turned down—and then Sister Act came out. The plaintiffs declined $1 million from Disney to settle, which was a mistake; eventually, the judge found in favor of Disney.
11. THEY WERE SUED AGAIN IN 2011.
This time, a nun by the name of Delois Blakely claimed that Disney and Sony Pictures sourced from her autobiography without permission. The filing stated that Blakely was a "young, Black, singing nun serving the street people and youths of Harlem," which was the focus of her 1987 book The Harlem Street Nun.
12. DESPITE APPEARANCES, THE CHURCH SCENES WERE SHOT IN AN UPPER-MIDDLE-CLASS NEIGHBORHOOD.
The church scenes were shot at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in San Francisco, which is in an affluent area of town. To make it look rundown, which was important to the plot, the street was dressed with trash and cars that appeared to be abandoned.
13. THE MOVIE WAS MADE INTO A MUSICAL.
Sister Act opened on Broadway in 2011 and received several Tony Award nominations that year. Unfortunately, it was often up against The Book of Mormon, which took the Tonys by storm. When the show went to London's West End, Whoopi Goldberg made a limited appeareance—but this time, she played Mother Superior.
14. A REMAKE IS IN THE WORKS.
Could there be more sister shenanigans on the way? Maybe. Variety reported that writers and producers had signed on for the remake. Whoopi might be up for it:
“I generally say no to that, because so many of the nuns have passed and it just wouldn’t feel right for me," she said on Watch What Happens Live. “I’m kind of old for it now. That’s not to say I wouldn’t do it, but it feels like there’s a new generation for Sister Act and so maybe I can be a nun now.”