‘When Harry Met Sally’ director on film’s 30th anniversary–and that orgasm scene
LOS ANGELES—It’s been almost 30 years since Meg Ryan’s unforgettable orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally.” So when we recently interviewed that movie’s director, Rob Reiner, we pounced on the chance to talk to him about its milestone next year.
“First, I have to say it’s not only the 30th anniversary of ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ but it’s also my 30th anniversary with my wife, Michelle,” said Rob, who also directed “A Few Good Men,” “The Princess Bride” and “Stand By Me.”
“The film originally had a different ending,” said Rob, who is also an actor, and the ex-husband of actress-director Penny Marshall. “Before I met Michelle, I never had Harry and Sally getting back together because I didn’t know how that could happen. I couldn’t see myself ever being with anybody, and I was making such a mess of every relationship I was in. But then, we changed the ending because of that (Michelle came into his life).”
Indeed. The movie’s original ending had Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg) drifting apart, then they meet by coincidence on the street years later, chat and update each other about their lives, then walk away separately. But that all changed when Rob met Michelle, a photographer, while he was directing “When Harry …”
Not only did Rob change the film’s ending to a happy one. He married Michelle, with whom he has three children.
The actor-director, who won two best supporting actor Emmys for his portrayal of Michael Stivic in the iconic TV sitcom, “All in the Family,” gladly talked about the memorable line dished by his mom, the late Estelle Reiner, in that deli scene in “When Harry …”
“I’ll have what she’s having,” delivered by Estelle’s character after witnessing Meg’s orgasm (her character was faking it to prove that men cannot tell the difference), is regarded among cinema’s classic punchlines. The quip is listed on American Film Institute’s 100 most memorable movie quotes.
“‘I’ll have what she’s having’ is the funniest line ever in any film that I’ve ever done,” acknowledged Rob, the son of Carl Reiner, whose own career as a comedian, actor, director and writer spans many decades. “It was written by Billy Crystal (he contributed the line; the late Nora Ephron wrote the screenplay), and my mother delivered it. I love the fact that it is among the top-rated lines of all time. You have Clark Gable, who said ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,’ and Humphrey Bogart’s ‘This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’ Estelle Reiner is in there with those people.”
“Shock and Awe,” Rob’s latest directing feature, stars him, Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Jessica Biel, Milla Jovovich and Tommy Lee Jones in the drama about a group of Knight Ridder newspaper reporters covering George Bush’s 2003 Iraq invasion. They are skeptical about the president’s claim that Saddam Hussein has “weapons of mass destruction.” It’s a timely story in this era when US President Trump has labeled journalists as the “enemy of the people.”
Asked about the power of film or television to reform society, Rob, an outspoken critic of Trump, answered, “I don’t think a single movie or television show is going to make that change. The only thing the arts can do, whether it’s movies or TV, is a docudrama because it has certain elements to it. You can add to the dialogue. You can be a part of the conversation.
“I’m sure there is more than one, but I can only point to one film that I know that directly changed something in America. That was a movie a long time ago, called ‘I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.’ It was a movie with Paul Muni. They instituted prison reform because of that film.
“This is really minor, but the documentary ‘The Jinx’ caused Robert Durst, who (allegedly) killed these people, to now be on trial for murdering Susan Berman. Because he said, ‘Killed them all,’ off-camera, but on tape.”
On what he read and influenced him as a kid, Rob replied with a laugh, “Mad Magazine.”
Then, he talked about the importance of newspapers in his growing-up years. “That was the way you got your news. What was interesting to me was The New York Times. In New York, we also had a bunch of tabloids like the Herald Tribune. On television, the three networks would have 15 minutes (of news) every night. It was a big deal when Walter Cronkite went to a half hour because networks were going to lose money. It was like a loss leader, and they felt like it was a public service that they were running. And they weren’t going to make money from it.
“Then, ‘60 Minutes’ came on the air in 1968 and, all of a sudden, it’s a profit center, a moneymaker. So, it changes the way people look at news and the way news is packaged and delivered. But it’s interesting that people talk about movies on journalism. The best one to me is ‘All the President’s Men,’ because it’s about the taking down of a president and the power of one newspaper, particularly The Washington Post. But others played a part, too.
“But to me, it’s not so much about the press or the newspapers. It’s about, what did the news media do? The Boston Globe unleashed the whole thing about the horrible things (sexual abuse scandal involving priests) that were going on in the Catholic Church.
“Then, this one (‘Shock and Awe’) is about trying to get the truth out and fail. It’s more of a cautionary tale than a big success story like, ‘Yeah, they stopped the war!’ They didn’t do it, but it’s a cautionary tale. So to me, it’s not so much about newspapers as it is about what the power of the press is. And the press is different now, with social media and it’s all this stuff. As citizens, we have to work harder to find the truth, which is weed through the garbage and find the truth. And it’s harder. Now, it’s just blanket intentional lies.”
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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