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"There isn't a director who wouldn't work with me again ... maybe a few producers ... they get the mouth."  -Russell Crowe
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

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In the age of email, letter writing is not the same as it used to be Ė but that doesnít mean the art is dead or that romance canít still flow through the linesÖ. The heart can still beat faster when Youíve Got Mail. Hereís what the filmmakers and stars of the film have to say.

It was producer Lauren Shuler Donnerís 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 candour and intimacy," she says. "You canít be embarrassed because you donít 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."

"The internet ... is really a series of villages"

There are very clear rules that most people follow on the Internet. As director Nora Ephron says, "You donít tell who you are. Itís very much about safety and about being free to say whatever you want to, without ever thinking that youíre 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, itís really a series of villages, full of people who care about similar things connecting with one another."

This sentiment echoes Ephronís 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. Itís both small town and big city, familiar and forbidding, endearing and overwhelming.

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

"Bookstores have become more than just stores to buy books"

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 Youíve Got Mail are quite dissimilar: The Shop Around the Corner is a small, beloved childrenís 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 cafť, 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.

The filmmakers always knew which actors they wanted for their lead characters: two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks and popular favorite Meg Ryan. 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. Itís very hard if you write a comedy to not think about both of them, because they are so good. And itís a short list of people who can do comedy, much less do it well."

"Tom and Meg look as if they belong together"

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 theyíve cast each other? They kind of look as if they belong together. Tom and Meg look as if they belong together. Thatís the truth.

"Long before we started to remake ĎThe Shop Around The Corner,í" 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 doesnít 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 actorís appeal. "No matter what emotion he has to display, itís 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 AOL chat room as often as he can, because heís found this other person, this electronic e-mail pen pal, in whom the energies are so synchronous and the conversation just flows effortlessly."

"itís an unspoken thing between us.."

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, itís 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. Itís 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. Itís the same exact sort of speed."

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 "ĎI hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I love youí affliction. Thatís what When Harry Met SallyÖ has, and itís 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 canít get together," she says. "In Youíve Got Mail, there are two great reasons: one, they donít 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."

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