Tom Hanks Was Almost Harry in “When Harry Met Sally” and It’s Blowing Our Minds

Not to disparage “When Harry Met Sally” (I think it’s a perfect movie, romcom royalty and all the laurels), but the thought of having Tom Hanks play Harry in “When Harry Met Sally” is wrecking my brain. Mind you, this is before “Joe Vs. The Volcano,” and even though the duo have arguably one of the most successful runs in Romantic Comedies, adding “When Harry Met Sally” to that portfolio may have been too much for this timeline. No disrespect to Billy Crystal, who was brilliant as Harry.

An actor’s job is to inhabit the mindset of a character, often characters who are completely different from themselves. Tom Hanks is quite different from Forrest Gump or Elvis’ Colonel Tom Parker, for instance, but he still managed to imbue those characters with humanity and make them believable. (Your mileage may vary.) But the one thing he can’t do—or perhaps more accurately, refused to do—is pretend like he’s unhappily divorced when he was actually pretty stoked about the end of his marriage.

“People probably don’t know this, but Tom was offered When Harry Met Sally and he turned it down because he was going through a divorce and he was very happy to be not married,” Hanks’ current wife, Rita Wilson, dished on the “Table for Two With Bruce Bozzi” podcast (via Today). “And so he could not understand that a person going through a divorce would have anything other than just like, ‘I’m so happy.’”

Hanks was apparently over the moon to be ending his relationship with Samantha Lewes around the time of “When Harry Met Sally,” whereas the character of Harry gets pretty bummed out about the dissolution of his own marriage in the movie. Speaking with Variety for the 30th anniversary of the film in 2019, director Rob Reiner said that Albert Brooks and Hanks were in the mix to play the role. If Hanks had been less excited about his split, he would have logged three iconic Nora Ephron-penned romantic comedy collaborations with the film’s other star, Meg Ryan.

Instead, it would eventually go to Billy Crystal, of whom Reiner “had no reservations” about playing Harry. He did, however, have another concern: “The fear I had was, ‘What if you would [work] with a friend and it doesn’t work out, are we going to destroy a friendship?” he told Variety. Luckily, that fear didn’t come to pass. “It turned out way better than anything I could have imagined because not only was he great in the part, it made our friendship better.” And Hanks got to enjoy being happily divorced—it’s a win-win-win.

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