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The Real Reason Tom Hanks Turned Down When Harry Met Sally

Throughout his celebrated, decades-long career in Hollywood, Tom Hanks has worn many hats. He is a two-time Academy Award winner and one of the most respected actors in the game. He's also a venerated writer, director, and producer with an impressive list of credits. And yes, for the better part of his professional life, he's been one of the cinema's more unconventional romantic leads, winning the hearts of movie fans with films like "Splash," "You've Got Mail," "Big," and genre staple "Sleepless in Seattle."

It seems Hanks had the chance to add another legendary rom-com to his resume in the late 1980s, as he was reportedly offered the lead role in Rob Reiner's "When Harry Met Sally." Penned by Hank's "Sleepless in Seattle" director Nora Ephron, the film eventually starred Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in the titular leads and would define the genre for an entire generation of movie lovers upon release.

As for Hanks' near-casting, his current wife, Rita Wilson, claimed on the Table for Two podcast he passed on the project largely because of his own divorce from his first wife, Samantha Lewes. "People probably don't know this, but Tom was offered 'When Harry Met Sally,'" Wilson said, adding, "and he turned it down because he was going through a divorce and he was very happy to be not married." Thus, the iconic role of Harry Burns ultimately fell to another unconventional leading man in Crystal. 

It's all but impossible to imagine anyone but Billy Crystal starring in When Harry Met Sally

Rita Wilson further elaborated that Tom Hanks' joy over the end of his first marriage essentially made it impossible for him to comprehend the anguish Harry Burns feels over his divorce in "When Harry Met Sally," stating, "So he [Hanks] could not understand that a person going through a divorce would have anything other than just like, 'I'm so happy.'" Given that Wilson and Hanks have now been married for more than two decades, one might imagine his views on divorce have changed a bit. Nonetheless, it seems they did influence his career choices in the late-1980s.

While Hanks and Meg Ryan would embark on one of the more fruitful big-screen collaborations a year after the release of "When Harry Met Sally" (via 1990 cult hit "Joe vs. The Volcano"), it may have worked out for the best that he passed on the film, as Harry feels tailor-made for Billy Crystal. So much so that it's nearly impossible to imagine any actor — even one of Hanks' esteem — carrying the role of the nervy, intensely opinionated, and disarmingly charming Harry any better. Regarding his chemistry with Ryan, it's torrid enough to question why the two never re-teamed on the big screen.

As for Hanks, his and Ryan's collaboration may have gotten off to a bumpy start, but the pair positively set the screen ablaze when they re-teamed for 1993's "Sleepless in Seattle." While they haven't worked together since 1998's "You've Got Mail," Hanks and Ryan remain one of the modern era's best-loved screen pairings.