'When Harry Met Sally' Screening Kicks Off TCM Film Festival

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal - 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival Opening Night Gala April 11, 2019- Getty-H 2019
Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic

Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal and director Rob Reiner discussed an iconic scene and the film's 30th anniversary.

When Harry Met Sally stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal reunited with director Rob Reiner on Thursday night at the TCL Chinese Theatre, kicking off the 10th annual TCM Classic Film Festival with a special screening of the Nora Ephron-penned 1989 romantic comedy.

Onstage with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, the trio recounted memorable moments from set, including the origin of the iconic scene in which Ryan’s Sally demonstrates to Crystal’s Harry that women can believably fake an orgasm by feigning one in the middle of Katz’s Delicatessen.

“The idea was to have something women know but men don’t know,” said Reiner onstage, and recalled landing on the premise of faking orgasms with Ephron. “And then Meg said ‘I’ll do it, I’ll actually act it out, we don’t have to talk about it.'”

“The comedy of Sally is so behavioral, it’s all doing, so it was very logical,” said Ryan.

“Then I said, they’re in a restaurant! Something big! Someplace! And then we’ll cut to a woman who’ll say, 'I’ll have what she’s having,’” added Crystal. Estelle Reiner, the director’s mother, was cast to say the line.

“Meg says I’ll do it, but what she didn’t realize was that she’d have to do it in front of all these strangers,” said Reiner.

“Everyone at Katz’s deli!” said Ryan with a laugh. After a few less-than-perfect takes, Reiner needed to give a demonstration, taking Ryan’s seat across from Crystal and giving his own version of the faux climax.

“He proceeded to have an orgasm like Mighty Joe Young,” said Crystal. But there was a bigger issue to contend with. After his performance, Reiner leaned over to Crystal, embarrassed.

“I said, 'Billy, I just had an orgasm in front of my mom,'” said Reiner.

Though the comedy is new by Turner Classic Movies standards it’s celebrating its 30th anniversary this year Mankiewicz said it is still entirely deserving of the “classic” label.

“It’s very much in line with the great comedies of Hollywood’s golden age, this is a natural successor to the Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn comedies,” Mankiewicz told The Hollywood Reporter.

Ryan credited the film’s impact to Ephron’s sharp writing, which was influenced by classic romantic comedies. “I remember reading the script in like 40 minutes. It’s a fast, funny, hilarious read and there’s a type of music to it, and looking back it’s a type of music that Billy and I somehow knew how to play together, and Rob and Nora knew how to play together,” she said.

“This would be a movie that would be very hard to make today, I mean who would take a risk on two people basically talking throughout the whole movie," added Crystal.

As TCM celebrates its 25th year, the network is centering its four-day film festival around the theme of love, both of the movies and at the movies.

The festival will continue through the weekend at several historic venues, including the Egyptian Theatre and the Legion Theater, featuring new restorations and discussions of Hollywood’s most memorable love stories. Billy Crystal will be honored with a hand and footprint ceremony in the Chinese Theatre courtyard Friday.