Will Ferrell’s entire role was cut out!
When Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion was released in April 1997, it didn’t set the world on fire. It had complimentary reviews, but it opened behind Volcano and only went on to earn $29 million. In the 20 years since its release, this left-of-center comedy about two rudderless best friends who concoct a little yellow lie in hopes of impressing the clique that made their teen years a living hell has finally found its niche. But it was a long road to achieving cult status. In honor of the film’s anniversary, director David Mirkin looks back on the cameos that sadly had to be cut, the frustrating studio notes, and the major script changes that all worked in tandem to make Romy and Michele as popular as they are today.
Toni Collette could have played Romy.
While Lisa Kudrow was a shoo-in to play Michele Weinberger (she originated the role in screenwriter Robin Schiff’s play Ladies Room), Mira Sorvino wasn’t the first performer to take an interest in playing Romy White. “Early on, I actually explored and did some stuff with Lisa and the wonderful Toni Collette, who was coming off of Muriel's Wedding, which I loved,” Mirkin told BuzzFeed News. “Toni ultimately decided not to go ahead — nothing was official and you'd have to ask her, but I think she was a little concerned with the accent. Just nailing the nature of a Valley-ish girl accent at that point.” Luckily for Mirkin, he found the perfect Romy in Sorvino, who was hot off her Academy Award win for Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite.
Extensive rehearsals turned strangers into best friends.
While Mirkin already knew Kudrow and quickly bonded with Sorvino during a pre-hiring lunch, as he recalls it, the two women who would be playing lifelong best friends in a matter of weeks were complete strangers at the start of the project. Thankfully Mirkin always relies on a lengthy rehearsal process, so the two actors quickly bonded.
“You try to create a friendship and a trust so anyone can do anything or say anything and feel completely trusted and free to try to experiment,” he said of the rehearsal process, which in this case lasted two weeks and included “confessional therapy sessions where we just start talking like friends.” He continued, “That creates a situation where the actors bond with each other. I wanted them to become real friends, and that happened. Lisa and Mira became real friends before we ever started shooting, and that was important to me to see onscreen. If two people really like each other and really hang with each other, there's all kinds of unconscious and subtle ways they interact that increase everything in terms of the relationship.”
Romy and Michele weren’t always secret style icons.
According to Mirkin, Schiff’s original script didn’t end with Romy and Michele getting their own boutique — in fact, fashion wasn’t even a factor. “The movie was in development hell for five years before I came on,” he said. “The script wasn't ready to go, it had no ending. Romy and Michelle didn't have a boutique at the end, they only flew away with Sandy [Alan Cumming], so there was really no point to it all.”
The key in driving home how exceptional Romy and Michele’s homemade clothes were lay in an unlikely ally: Lisa Luder, their former tormentor, played by Elaine Hendrix. In one high school flashback, Lisa is seen going against her elite “A-Group” by saying Romy and Michele’s clothes were kind of nice — a sentiment she echoes years later at the reunion, after it’s revealed she is now working for Vogue magazine. “I needed to add all that in for this to work as a story, that these girls had some sort of value and that value was in how they made their own clothes and how they had a great eye for that.”