Skip to main content

Sister Act became an unlikely hit and cult classic. For starters, the film’s plot was unheard of: A Las Vegas showgirl witnessed a murder and under witness protection agrees to pose as a nun where she then revamps the church’s choir. The story didn’t exactly sound like it would be a blockbuster. Due to the great music, humor and Whoopi Goldberg as its starting character, Sister Act surprised all and grossed over $140 million domestically and another $92 million aboard. 

Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act
Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act 1992 | Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

A musical of the same name would debut in 2005 garnering Tony Award nominations. Goldberg starred in the first production in London in 2009 and recently announced that she’d be rejoining the show for another run. Theater buffs and fans of the show are thrilled. 

While we wait in anticipation of the EGOT’s winner return to the stage, here are four behind the scenes secrets that shaped the original film. 

Bette Midler was supposed to play the lead role but declined

Bette Midler
Bette Midler 1975 | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine Sister Act without Goldberg but the movie almost happened with another talented singer and actress in her place. Bette Midler was approached to play the lead role of the film. The movie’s producer, Scott Rudin, thought Midler would be the perfect choice and convinced Midler the same. At the time, Midler had a production deal with Disney, the media company that was distributing Sister Act, so the stars seemed to align. But Midler had a change of heart. In a 2010 interview with Metro UK, Midler explained why she dropped out of the film. “I said, ‘My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple,'” she said. “I don’t know where I got that from. Why would I say such a thing? So Whoopi [Goldberg] did it instead and, of course, she made a fortune.”

Whoopi Goldberg agreed to replace Midler under one condition

Whoopi Goldberg Sister Act
Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, 1992 | Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Goldberg agreed to play the role but insisted the character’s name be changed. The original name of the main character was Terri Van Cartier. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick wrote a personal essay for The New Yorker in 2009 ahead of the London premiere and spoke on the sudden change. “She’d always wanted to play someone named Deloris,” Rudnick wrote about Goldberg. Looking back, the name change was worth it!

Whoopi Goldberg refused to do interviews to promote ‘Sister Act’

Whoopi Goldberg on The View
Whoopi Goldberg | Lou Rocco/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

There were several issues that the actors experienced during production. Rudnick’s script underwent major changes after the simple name change of Goldberg’s character. Disney wasn’t sold on the script as he wrote it and as a result, multiple rewrites were requested. Rudnick felt that the original tone of the script was altered completely. Much of his satire that he incorporated into the script was replaced with Disney family-friendly lingo. Frustrated, he asked for his name to be removed from the project completely but after pleas from the studio, he agreed to stay on under an alias. The script was incomplete when filming began, leaving Whoopi and the rest of the cast uncertain day to day. Goldberg complained to the studio throughout production about how unorganized things were. Despite the challenges, filming occurred per the schedule. Goldberg was left with such a horrible impression from her experience filming the movie that she refused to do press to promote the film. 

‘Sister Act’ and the sequel made Whoopi Goldberg the highest-paid actress in Hollywood at the time

Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act 2
Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act 2 1993| Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

After the success of Sister Act, Goldberg put her differences aside with Disney and production in order to create the sequel, Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit. As an appreciation of gratitude for her amazing work in the original, Disney paid Goldberg a salary that was equivalent to the first film’s entire budget – an unprecedented $7 million. At the time, her salary made her the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. 

Goldberg’s revival in the live musical will run in London from July 29-August 30, 2020.