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Rosie O'Donnell Recalls Forgetting Lines in Front of Nora Ephron While Filming Sleepless in Seattle

People logo People 8/27/2021 Ashley Boucher
Rosie O'Donnell wearing glasses: Bruce Glikas/WireImage Rosie O'Donnell © Provided by People Bruce Glikas/WireImage Rosie O'Donnell

Rosie O'Donnell is looking back on one of her most iconic roles: Meg Ryan's hilarious best friend Becky in Sleepless in Seattle — and how late writer-director Nora Ephron was a stickler when it came to performing the script word-for-word.

In an interview with Vulture, published Thursday, the 59-year-old actress shot down the notion that the famed filmmaker let actors change their lines if they weren't funny.

"I would have an argument with her about that if she were still around," O'Donnell said of Ephron, who died in 2012.

While the iconic line "I'll have what she's having" from Ephron's 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally… may have been improvised by Billy Crystal, O'Donnell had to stick to the text when it came to the Oscar-nominated screenplay of 1993's Sleepless in Seattle.

Meg Ryan sitting on a couch: shutterstock Rosie O'Donnell, Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle © Provided by People shutterstock Rosie O'Donnell, Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle

RELATED: The Cast of Sleepless in Seattle: Where Are They Now?

"I had this really long two-page scene that was cut down in the movie about [Becky's husband] Rick and how we got in the car and he hit the tree," O'Donnell recalled. "I'm doing this whole thing, and she yells, 'Cut! It was 'a tree,' not 'the tree.'' So I tried it two more times so I could get as close as I could, and it's not that I was rewriting — it was the longest speech I had ever said in a film in my career up to that point. She kept saying 'Cut' when I wouldn't get it right."

Rosie O'Donnell wearing glasses © Provided by People Rosie O'Donnell

O'Donnell, fresh off the success of her first-ever film A League of Their Own, explained that she needed the help of a crew member on set to successfully make it through her massive monologue.

a hand holding a group of people posing for the camera: shutterstock Rosie O'Donnell, Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle © Provided by People shutterstock Rosie O'Donnell, Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle

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"We broke for lunch and when I came back, one of the grips had taped the whole thing on his leg, away from where she could see," the former talk show host explained. "I sort of looked at his leg and read it. And she said, 'Cut! That was perfect!' And what was perfect were the words that she wrote."

When it came to working with Ephron, O'Donnell added that actors had to get every word right, down to the "a"s and "the"s.

"When people write and direct, it's their words. They're connected to them," O'Donnell said. "There were some performances where it was largely improvisation, like League of Their Own."

O'Donnell said that her most recent project was a very different experience from that of making Sleepless in Seattle: "The HBO one that I just did, I Know This Much Is True, we did 30 or 40 takes, some with the lines and some just made up — a different way of directing than Nora Ephron's, which was very clear and succinct and organized."

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