You've Got Mail: About The Production

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"You've Got Mail" began with executive producer Julie Durk, who, after watching the classic film "The Shop Around the Corner," thought it would be a great movie to remake. She brought it to the attention of producer Lauren Shuler Donner, who optioned the rights from Turner Pictures, which owned the film.

Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron, who have built an enviable reputation as both storytellers and filmmakers, were next approached about writing and directing the project. The Ephrons were longtime fans of "The Shop Around the Corner," and immediately embraced the idea of updating and remaking the story.

It was Lauren Shuler Donner's idea to set the film in the world of the Internet. In the original film, James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan correspond by writing letters. Shuler Donner felt that the modern version of anonymous correspondence is the instantaneous "cyber post office" of e-mail.

"The Internet affords you a great candor and intimacy," says Lauren Shuler Donner. "You can't be embarrassed because you don't know the person. I think that, being on the Internet, one may expose oneself further and faster in a relationship than one would normally in a face-to-face situation."

There are very clear rules that most people follow on the Internet. As Nora Ephron says, "You don't tell who you are. It's very much about safety and about being free to say whatever you want to, without ever thinking that you're going to be faced with the fact that the person wears really ugly shoes or whatever your nightmare may be.

"The Internet looks infinite," continues Ephron. "But, like a great big city, it's really a series of villages, full of people who care about similar things connecting with one another."

This sentiment echoes Ephron's view of New York City, and specifically the Upper West Side community where the movie is set. The Upper West Side is a self-contained, distinct and real neighborhood, filled with both enduring landmarks and noisy construction: small shops that have been there for decades, where the owners know their customers by name; restaurants where people become regulars over time; parks where children greet one another on their daily excursions; all set side-by-side with new apartment buildings and businesses that compete for space and attention. The neighborhood is active and organic, evolving and growing, yet retaining its singular flavor, style and pace. It's both small town and big city, familiar and forbidding, endearing and overwhelming.

No one knows this world better than its longtime residents, Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron. They have sought to reveal their special neighborhood in all its multi-textured glory.

Delia Ephron was inspired to recreate the warmth of the specialty shop in the original movie, where the employees formed a sort of family, by setting the story around two very different bookstores. "Bookstores have become more than just stores to buy books -- they are places where people browse and drink coffee and meet and stay for hours," she explains.

The two bookstores in "You've Got Mail" are quite dissimilar: The Shop Around the Corner is a small, beloved children's bookstore that has been an integral part of the neighborhood for two generations. Fox Books is the latest branch of a giant chain of bookstores. The small store caters to its young clientele with a knowledgeable, book-loving staff and intimate story hours, often presided over by the shop owner. The chain, with its caf_, infinitely larger stock and discounted prices, appeals to a much larger crowd composed of all ages, who are interested in relaxing and socializing amid the stacks of books and racks of magazines.

Production designer Dan Davis felt that filming in existing sites in New York City, rather than on a soundstage, would more fully bring the unique flavor of New York to the story; it was an idea that the filmmakers enthusiastically embraced. The two bookstores were actually created on the streets of Manhattan. The Fox Books facade, in fact, appeared so authentic during its construction that passers-by regularly asked the production crew when the new bookstore would be opening. Casting

The filmmakers of "You've Got Mail" knew immediately the identities of the actors they wanted for their lead characters. The project became an exciting reality when two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks and critical and popular favorite Meg Ryan agreed to play the roles of Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly.

Nora Ephron is thrilled to be working with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for the second time. "I always have both of them in mind. It's very hard if you write a comedy to not think about both of them, because they are so good. And it's a short list of people who can do comedy, much less do it well."

Ephron says there is a bonus to pairing them in a movie. "You know how often you see married couples who almost look as if they've cast each other? They kind of look as if they belong together. Tom and Meg look as if they belong together. That's the truth.

"Long before we started to remake 'The Shop Around The Corner,'" continues Ephron, "I had been saying that Tom Hanks is as close as there is to Jimmy Stewart and, of course, now he is playing the part that Jimmy Stewart once played. Tom has such charm; he is so irresistible that he can play a bad guy and you never once believe that he doesn't truly have a heart. I think Tom and Meg share something, which is that men and women love them in equal amounts."

Lauren Shuler Donner worked with Hanks on "Radio Flyer" and has an equal appreciation of the actor's appeal. "No matter what emotion he has to display, it's all there in his eyes. He brings intelligence, humor and romance to the part. He provides the unexpected; he brings wit and charm."

Tom Hanks explains that his character, although apparently in a "perfectly happy" relationship, "is looking for someone with whom the conversation is sincere and effortless. This is the reason my character reverts to the chat room as often as he can, because he's found this other person, this electronic e-mail pen pal, in whom the energies are so synchronous and the conversation just flows effortlessly."

Hanks relishes the opportunity to work with Meg Ryan again. "I just think we pick up right where we left off. I must say that the first time I sat down and talked to Meg is just like the last time I sat down and talked with Meg. In our actual working together day-to-day on the set, it's an unspoken thing between us... When it came time to do this, it was just a matter of a single phone call, a single conversation, and we were there. It's just very, very, very easy and I think our life, in real life, when we talk about our homes and our kids and whatnot is equal to our life at work. It's the same exact sort of speed."

Says Meg Ryan, "There is a real comfort level with Tom and Nora that makes working seem effortless."

Tom Hanks is not alone in his enthusiasm for Meg Ryan's contribution to the film. "Meg brings her incredible comic timing, her intelligence, her beauty and her romanticism," says Lauren Shuler Donner.

The list of Nora Ephron admirers increases with each movie she makes. "Nora has a great wit and charm," notes Lauren Shuler Donner, "and she brings her acute sense of comedy. She's terrific with performance and knows exactly what to say to incite the actor into going further with their character. And her sense of timing is amazing. She'll add a little twist, a gesture or pacing or a line that just takes the scene beyond what the normal director would do."

Ephron, an acknowledged expert on the nuances of contemporary romantic comedy, enjoys finding the conflicts that reveal her characters before they finally succumb to true love. She calls this the "'I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I love you' affliction. That's what 'When Harry Met Sally...' has, and it's certainly the backbone of the greatest romantic comedies, like 'It Happened One Night' and the original 'The Shop Around the Corner.'"

Lauren Shuler Donner echoes this sentiment: "I think for any good love story there has to be a reason why the lovers can't get together," she says. "In 'You've Got Mail,' there are two great reasons: one, they don't know each other, they are only exchanging words on the Internet, and two, in real life they hate each other. This gives the audience a wonderful sense of desire for the two people to be together."

Greg Kinnear was cast as Kathleen Kelly's live-in boyfriend, crusading journalist Frank Navasky. He says of their on-screen relationship, "Frank and Kathleen respect each other, and they've fallen into the kind of comfortable domestic routine that two busy people can sometimes mistake for love. But even though they're both nice people, the audience always understands that what they have isn't the kind of romance we all dream of finding. We want more for each of them."

Parker Posey portrays Joe Fox's girlfriend, successful editor Patricia Eden. Perhaps more than any other character in the film, Patricia Eden embodies the frenetic, competitive business attitude that most audiences associate with New Yorkers. And again, although Joe Fox seems very fond of Patricia, his affection stops short of the transforming enchantment of true love.

Posey, whose career to date has been characterized by memorable performances in a diverse group of independent films, now firmly steps into mainstream movie territory as a member of the "You've Got Mail" ensemble. She sums up her feelings about working with Nora Ephron: "She's just smart and funny and she gets it. Her writing is amazing, she's amazing."

Although Joe and Kathleen both work in the bookselling business, they occupy two different worlds, and these worlds are populated by two dissimilar groups of people. Says Nora Ephron, "Kathleen, who has no living family, has an acquired family of employees with whom she is very close, played by Steve Zahn, Jean Stapleton and Heather Burns. Through her relationship with them, we learn more about Kathleen."

"And Joe Fox comes from a wealthy, eccentric family where the men just keep getting involved with younger and younger women and then discarding them and moving on. Joe's surrounded by gracious but terribly cynical relatives, played by Dabney Coleman and John Randolph, among others. What you learn about Joe's life through these characters explains a lot why it's taken him so long to believe in love."

An appealing element of this story to the filmmakers is that Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly fall in love through their exchange of words. Says Ephron, "You always want to believe that you love the mind of the person that you're in love with as much as you love everything else about them. I loved that these two people each loved what the other person thought about things. The audience really hears the e-mail letters that the characters write to one another."

Delia Ephron adds, "This movie is a timeless love story, in the idea that two people who hate each other in life can fall madly in love with each under other circumstances, when their preconceptions aren't standing in their ways."

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