Skip to main content

In 1989, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal starred in When Harry Met Sally, a movie that became an icon of cinematic history. A number of lines from the film have been quoted so many times that they’ve become part of pop culture. It turns out that the actors came up with several of these lines. And in one scene, Ryan struggled to keep from laughing at Crystal’s antics.

The magic of ‘When Harry Met Sally’

The movie’s premise is simple: Harry and Sally met just after graduating from college. Harry informs her that men and women can’t be friends “because the sex part always gets in the way.” The movie follows their relationship for over a decade.

Whether the question of friendship between men and women is answered or not, viewers watched the two go back and forth between not speaking and being close to each other. They’re shown spending time together in a museum in one scene, sharing a charming moment of banter. In the scene, Harry faked a funny accent while Sally tried to copy him. 

According to Ms. Mojo, that scene was made up on the spot. Crystal started to improvise, and for a moment, Ryan wasn’t sure what to do. There’s a moment when you can see her glance off-camera at the director, Rob Reiner. He indicated that she should carry on with what was happening, creating an adorable scene.

Meg Ryan’s thoughts on her famous movie with Billy Crystal

meg ryan billy crystal
(L-R) Special Guests Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal attend The 30th Anniversary Screening of “When Harry Met Sally…” Opening Night at the 2019 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival on April 11, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for TCM)

When Harry Met Sally became a massive hit. It’s still beloved by audiences more than three decades later. But Ryan doesn’t take much credit for its success. The chemistry between the stars is one of the things that makes the movie special, but Ryan insists that it wasn’t hard to create. 

“It’s the kind of music Billy and I knew how to play together,” she explained during a 2019 reunion for its 30th anniversary (via Harper’s Bazaar). She also mentioned the famous scene where she loudly faked an orgasm in a crowded diner. Again, she insisted that her contribution was pretty straightforward.

“The comedy of Sally is so behavioral. It’s not so much talking, it’s doing, so it was very logical. It wasn’t hard to do.”

Other improvised moments

The scene in the museum isn’t the only improvised moment in the movie. The filmmakers gave the stars a lot of leeway for creativity with the script. This resulted in some of the memorable moments that made the movie famous. 

For instance, the actors were originally just supposed to talk about orgasms in the diner scene. But Ryan came up with the idea of faking one in a crowded place. And the quip following her performance, “I’ll have what she’s having,” came straight from Crystal’s mind. 

Another part, when Sally and Harry are playing a game with their friends — including Carrie Fisher’s Marie — was almost entirely improvised. Ryan’s drawing was her best attempt at demonstrating “baby talk,” but the guess was instead “baby fish mouth.”

Crystal also came up with an important line at the movie’s end when Harry declares his love for Sally. “I love the way your nose crinkles” wasn’t originally in the script. 

The magic of When Harry Met Sally is something that doesn’t happen often. Perhaps part of that is what ad-libbing added to the story. The actors’ personalities shined through, and audiences couldn’t get enough.