While some might have been fans of Harry Connick Jr's music, starring in the romantic Texas drama Hope Floats with Sandra Bullock opened him up to an entirely new audience. He became the Hollywood heartthrob we didn't know we needed and was literally the perfect choice to play former beauty queen Birdee Pruitt's love interest, Justin Matisse. Though the film received some criticism for being too melodramatic following its release date in 1998, it has gone on to become a beloved classic. Not to mention it's a love story set in the dreamy small town of Smithville, Texas with a soundtrack that included a Garth Brooks cover of "To Make You Feel My Love." What more could you ask for?
The legendary Gena Rowlands co-stars as Birdee's mother, Ramona Calvert, who would love nothing more than to see her daughter get together with Justin following her traumatic breakup with her husband Bill (Michael Paré) who left his wife for her best friend Connie (Rosanna Arquette). And she had to find out on a TV show! It's hard to believe that anyone else was initially considered to play Birdee's former high school classmate Justin, but that's just the way the business works. Connick Jr even had incredible onscreen chemistry with the young Mae Whitman who played Birdee's daughter Bernice. But according to the actor, there were others seriously being considered by Bullock, who executive produced the film with her production company Fortis Films.
"I really wanted to do this part," Connick Jr explained on The Graham Norton Show.
"It was between me and some other guy. The part that I was playing, he was a guy from Texas, he was like a real cowboy. There may not seem like a lot of distinction to ya'll between Texas and Louisiana but where I'm from there's a big difference."
Apparently, Bullock told the actor that the guy she was considering for the role was an actual cowboy from Texas so Connick Jr was fairly confident he wouldn't get the part. Bullock even admitted that when she first heard he was auditioning for the role of Justin, she didn't think he would be right.
"To be completely honest when they said that you were coming in I was like ugh please this is not Justin...the crooner is not going to cut it," she explained years later on Connick Jr's talk show.
But apparently, when it came down to the final three actors testing for the role on a soundstage in Austin, Connick Jr just embodied the character from the moment he walked in the door. He even showed off his singing skills just to do anything he could to get a leg up. But he was still worried the actual cowboy had beat him to the role.
After the tests in Austin, it was time to fly back to Los Angeles. Connick Jr was going to take a commercial flight back but Bullock invited him to ride in her private plane that was being provided by the studio. Of course, once on the plane, he started asking questions about the other guy who Bullock said was "just what we're looking for." But then something strange happened. She started unbuttoning her shirt during their conversation which really threw off Connick Jr.
"What was really weird is that her father was actually on the flight too and I'm like, 'This is as freaky as it gets, I mean your dad is right there and you're taking your clothes off in front of me on a private plane, like maybe I don't want to work with you after all!'" Connick Jr recalled on The Graham Norton Show.
But after she raised up her shirt a bit she had a special message written on her stomach — "You got the part." Talk about an interesting way to find out you landed a role!
Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker directed the film and both actors reflected back on their time filming in Smithville as completely "magical." To really bring the whole thing full circle, at the end of their conversation on his talk show, Connick Jr opened up his shirt where he had written a note for Bullock on his chest — "Dear Sandy, thank you so much for being the very first guest on my first show, I love you." Could their friendship be any cuter?!
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