In 1995, author Alice Hoffman published a book called Practical Magic. It was the story of two witches, Gillian and Sally Owens, who are fighting to break a family curse that puts any of the men they love in great peril. The book also contained their two witch aunts, who engage in various sorts of wicked shenanigans and spell-castings. The novel was a best seller, appreciated by readers for its rich story, appealing characters, and alluring subject matter.
October 1998 saw the film adaptation released to theaters. Practical Magic had a stellar cast, with Sandra Bullock playing Sally, Nicole Kidman portraying Gillian, and Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing as the aunts. Aidan Quinn and Goran Visnjic co-starred, as did two young actresses who would later become significantly more famous -- Camilla Belle and Evan Rachel Wood. Behind the camera was former actor Griffin Dunne, making his second turn as a feature director. Warner Bros. Pictures positioned Practical Magic as one of its big fall movies.
It's hard to believe that twenty years have gone by since the film came out. The intervening two decades have seen it accumulate a rabid fan base that just keeps on growing, thanks to frequent airings on cable TV. Newcomers discover the picture's charms all the time. If you're a fan, we think you'll be fascinated by some of the backstage stories from the production. They involve a real witch, a fake building that fooled a major star, an exorcism, and a whole lot more.
Here are 20 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of Practical Magic.
20 The production was cursed by a real witch
The making of Practical Magic got eerie when director Griffin Dunne hired a real witch to serve as a consultant. In return for her services, she was paid a fee and put up in a nice hotel. Dunne told Vulture that the witch surprised him with a phone call in which she inexplicably demanded a percentage of the film's profits and an additional $250,000 payment.
The producers obviously wouldn't agree to this, so the witch said she was going to put a curse on both the movie and its director. She later left Dunne a voicemail in which she threatened "a land of curses," then began speaking in tongues. The woman also attempted to sue Warner Bros. Unnerved, the studio paid her to go away.
19 Sandra Bullock made it because Speed 2 bombed
A big hit can change the course of an actor's career. So can a big bomb. In 1997, Sandra Bullock starred in Speed 2: Cruise Control, the sequel to her breakthrough hit from a couple years prior. Co-star Keanu Reeves opted not to return, which was the first strike for the movie. Setting it on a cruise ship instead of a racing bus was the second strike.
The picture tanked, earning $48 million domestically, as opposed to the original's $121 million.
During the press junket for Practical Magic, Bullock told reporters that the failure of Speed 2 convinced her to stop trying to make blockbusters and focus instead on interesting projects that helped her stretch as an actress. The romantic drama Hope Floats was her first film under this new professional ethic. Practical Magic was the second.
18 Nicole Kidman hurt herself for her art
Like all the best actors, Nicole Kidman is willing to suffer for her art. If that means risking giving herself a concussion because doing so will provide a scene with some extra punch, so be it. That's just what she did for Practical Magic.
Griffin Dunne reflected back on the production to Yahoo! Entertainment, remembering the exorcism scene that serves as the climax to the movie. Kidman wanted to bang her head on the floor as Gillian is violently propelled backwards by a witchy force field. "We weren’t sure where she was going to land, so rubber panels, rubber wood strips were laid out," Dunne said. "And I just remember her, take after take, slamming her head. She looked totally possessed."
17 Barbra Streisand tried to buy the Owens mansion
Everyone who sees Practical Magic talks about the gorgeous Victorian mansion where the Owens sisters live. It's such a wonderfully atmospheric place that you get one look at it and immediately want to move in. At least, that's how Barbra Streisand felt after seeing the movie. She called the home's designers because she really wanted to buy it.
There was just one small hitch -- the mansion wasn't real.
It was what they call an "architectural shell" that contained only the parts that would be seen on camera. The inside was empty. All of the mansion's interiors were constructed on a studio set in the middle of Hollywood. Since the shell was torn down as soon as filming completed, there was literally nothing for Streisand to purchase.
16 The stars really got tipsy for one scene
When you think of Practical Magic, what's the first scene that comes to mind? For most people, it's probably the light-hearted moment in which Sally, Gillian, and the aunts drink "midnight margaritas" and dance around the kitchen to the sounds of Harry Nilsson's song "Coconut".
There wasn't as much acting going on as you might think, though. Griffin Dunne told Yahoo! Entertainment that Kidman, Bullock, Wiest, and Channing really did become slightly inebriated during the sequence, as did the rest of the crew. "We all drank tequila and shot that scene — thank God the DP [director of photography] didn’t have any — but we shot it and they all went nuts, and we all danced around," he recalled.
15 Real witches think it's great
Film critics weren't terribly impressed by Practical Magic, as evidenced by its 20% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What about real witches, though? To find out what they thought, Vulture assembled a coven of actual witches and interviewed them about the movie. The women were incredibly enthusiastic, with two of them cheering the fact that the men in the story are "accessories" and "on the sidelines," while the females are front and center.
One of them cited the aunts as being positive role models for actual witches.
Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, asked a Wiccan to assess Practical Magic. She liked that it captured "the real flavor of a love spell," but added that the slaughtering of doves is not something that's done in real life.
14 How Aidan Quinn got his role
Aidan Quinn plays Gary Hallet, the investigator who shows up to question Sally and Gillian about the disappearance of "Transylvanian cowboy" Jimmy. He ends up falling for Sally in the process. Quinn had already made a name for himself as a leading man, thanks to movies like Benny & Joon and Desperately Seeking Susan.
Denise Di Novi, Practical Magic's producer, told the Chicago Tribune that she had a very specific reason for wanting to cast the actor in the role. Namely, he had the same qualities as a certain Hollywood legend. "We wanted a Gary Cooper kind of guy -- quiet, taciturn," she said, referring to the star of High Noon and Meet John Doe. "He radiates goodness, but he's manly too."
13 The composer's score was thrown out at the last minute
There's plenty of drama onscreen in Practical Magic, but there was some off-camera, too. Michael Nyman is an acclaimed composer who has been nominated for three Golden Globes and over a dozen other awards. He was hired by Griffin Dunne to write the film's orchestral score, which he told Soundtrack.net was "the best score I think I've ever written for a film that engaged me not at all."
Nyman has reason to be angry.
When Dunne turned his cut in to Warner Bros. Pictures, the studio executives felt it had some significant problems -- and the music was one of them. They ordered Dunne to dump Nyman's work. Another well-known composer, Alan Silvestri, was brought in to quickly compose a new score.
12 It wasn't easy to build the mansion
San Juan Island, where parts of Practical Magic were filmed, did not possess a big beautiful mansion of the sort required by the story. That meant a fake one had to be designed and built. Such things happen all the time on movie sets, but a little delicacy was required here.
The production crew found a bare piece of land that would be a perfect location. The only hitch was that this land had a rich Native history. The local authorities wouldn't allow the filmmakers to dig into the soil for that reason. To circumvent the issue, they agreed to build the mansion atop a platform so the soil would not be damaged. They also had to tear it down the moment it was no longer needed.
11 The Failed TV Spinoffs
Considering Practical Magic's popularity has grown in the twenty years since its release, you might find it odd that there's never been any kind of sequel or reboot. This is not for lack of trying. In 2003, CBS began developing a television spinoff. The show was to be an hour-long drama focusing on the Owens sisters. Sandra Bullock and Denise Di Novi were on board as producers.
Despite that star power, the program never got beyond the development stage.
Another attempt was made in 2010, when ABC Family announced that it was working on a TV reboot. Once again, though, the project never came to fruition.
10 The film has a celebrity fan who might want to star in the prequel
Practical Magic has a celebrity fan in Jenna Dewan. The actress gave an interview to SheKnows in which she talked about her extreme love for it. "Practical Magic is one of my favorite movies," she said. "I think that’s kind of one of the best movies ever made. It’s one I put on when I need to make my day a little better or cheer myself up. It's such a great movie."
Dewan also said she'd be up to star in any new version that gets made, and an opportunity certainly exists for her. Alice Hoffman, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based, released a Practical Magic prequel in 2017. Entitled The Rules of Magic, the story follows the aunts, Franny and Jet, as children. It came twenty-two years after her original.
9 Aunt Frances almost looked very different
Many movies start off with certain casting ideas, only to find them changed as production grows closer. Practical Magic is no different. In his book Independent Ed, actor Edward Burns reveals that he was approached to play one of the two main male characters -- he doesn't specify which -- but turned it down.
A juicier piece of never-was casting can be found when we look at the roles of the aunts. In 1998, the Hollywood trade publication Variety announced that Dianne Wiest and Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave were in negotiations to portray Jet and Frances. Wiest did indeed end up signing on to the project.
Redgrave apparently couldn't get a deal worked out.
Stockard Channing took the role instead.
8 The Stevie Nicks/witch connection
The producers of Practical Magic wanted a couple of new songs for the film and its accompanying soundtrack album, so they turned to former Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks. She contributed two tunes, "Crystal" and "If You Ever Did Believe", the latter of which was considered the official theme song.
Nicks was approached for two reasons. First, she's a great singer. The second, less obvious reason is a big in-joke. Back in the '80s, a rumor was widely circulated that Nicks was, like the movie's characters, a witch. This came about because of her penchant for wearing shawls and long, flowing dresses, as well as her ethereal lyrics. The singer has always denied these allegations, yet clearly had a sense of humor about them.
7 The Kevin Costner competition
Denise Di Novi has a reputation for being one of the best producers in Hollywood, having worked on notable films including Heathers and Edward Scissorhands. One of the things her coworkers admire about her is that she's very hands-on.
During the making of Practical Magic, Di Novi wanted to present for a difficult week of shooting that involved Bullock and Kidman filming at night in the rain.
It was the first week of production on another picture she was making -- the Kevin Costner romantic drama Message in a Bottle.
She wanted to be there for that, too. Di Novi therefore jetted back and forth between Washington and Los Angeles in order to be present on both sets. "I napped on the planes," she told the Globe and Mail.
6 The director has gained clout from his daughters' friends
Practical Magic was not director Griffin Dunne's first film. He made the Meg Ryan/Matthew Broderick romantic-comedy Addicted to Love right before. However, it was the movie that earned him some clout from his child's friends.
Dunne told Vulture that when his daughter was in her late teens, her friends began to discover Practical Magic on home video, and they fell in madly love with it. He would often hear them quoting lines of dialogue. In fact, they adored it so much that they "would freak out when they found out that her father directed the movie," he said. Dunne added that, over the years, he has watched his film's reputation "grow and grow, and it’s been very touching and unexpected."
5 The stars had a recent red carpet reunion
Fans of Practical Magic got a great big surprise when they tuned in to the Academy Awards this past March. There was a surprise reunion between the two stars. Sandra Bullock was in the middle of giving a red carpet interview as part of ABC's pre-show coverage. She was answering a question when Nicole Kidman wandered over and joined her.
The two engaged in jovial banter, with Bullock joking that her former co-star "always butts into my stuff."
The actresses then reminisced about the movie. Kidman revealed that she'd recently shown it to her children and, referring to Bullock, said, "this is a woman I love."
4 The Washington locals were not happy about the production
Some scenes in Practical Magic were filmed inside a studio set. Others were filmed on location in the state of Washington. You'd think the residents of small towns would be thrilled to have a major Hollywood movie crew come to their communities. Many were, but some weren't.
A few of the locals saw a negative impact. The need to park production vehicles in the downtown district of Friday Harbor took away available parking for the citizens, while also delaying a project to improve the storm drains. This led to contentious negotiations between the town council and representatives from Warner Bros. Meanwhile, over in Coupesville, some people felt the need to close certain streets during filming was hurting local businesses by making it harder for patrons to reach them.
3 The director had to have an exorcism
Having an unpleasant encounter with the witch who was hired to be a consultant on Practical Magic unnerved Griffin Dunne. After all, she hadn't just placed a curse on the movie, she placed one on him personally.
To make sure he wasn't negatively impacted by any black magic, he decided to get an exorcism.
Dunne told Vulture that it was "a very simple, New Agey ceremony" entailing "mostly chants and smoke and [stuff] like that." When asked why he sought the exorcism, the director replied, "If you’re a person with any kind of spiritual sensibility or if you believe in a kind of higher power, you’re open to beliefs in many things. But with that open-mindedness comes risk." He added that, for his own peace of mind, the ceremony was worth the hundred bucks he paid.
2 It under-performed at the box office
Because of its popularity, there's a widespread assumption that Practical Magic was a box office hit. The truth is a little more complicated than that. The movie did open at #1 on its debut weekend in October 1998, pulling in $13.1 million. It only had slight drops in subsequent weekends.
October is not traditionally a busy time at cinemas, though, as it falls after the lucrative summer movie season and before the hectic holiday movie season. For that reason, Practical Magic earned a total of just $46.6 million domestically. That number was a disappointment considering the $75 million budget. Not even an additional $22 million from foreign markets could push it into profitability. It wasn't until hitting home video and cable that the movie truly found its audience.
1 There are significant changes from the book
We've all had the experience of reading a good book and thinking that it would make a great movie. Translating a work from the page to the screen is difficult, though. Books have time to go into more detail, whereas movies have to maintain a reasonable length. Therefore, things need to be condensed, altered, or even chopped out altogether. Practical Magic has quite a few differences from its source material.
The movie plays up the aunts, who are only a small part of Alice Hoffman's novel, and downplays Sally's teenage children, who are more central.
Jimmy -- Gillian's abusive boyfriend who gets magically eliminated by the sisters -- is a more fully-developed character on the page, as well. In the movie's favor, it added the "midnight margarita" scene.
What's your favorite part of Practical Magic? Tell us what you think in the comments.