Director Shares Rare Photos, Talks about Film Secrets

“Serendipity”It is one those movies that existed before the rest of the world realized how extraordinary it was.

The film was a romantic comedy set during holiday time in New York City. It starred John Cusack as well as Kate Beckinsale. It followed two star-crossed friends, Jonathan and Sara. They risked their relationships to try and find each other again. It appeared to be another studio hit for Harvey Weinstein and Miramax Films’ thriving indie juggernaut Miramax Films.

However, the September 11th attacks 2001 took place.

Suddenly, director Peter Chelsom — whose only real challenge during filming was figuring out a way to make his stars look like they were on wintery New York City streets during July — had a major issue on his hands.

The movie was not only one of the first movies to open in theaters immediately after the cataclysmic disaster, but Weinstein demanded Chelsom delete the Twin Towers in a scene from the movie’s skyline.


It was a film that did moderately well at box office, earning $77.5 million worldwide on a $28million budget. As the years passed, more people have seen it on DVD and many cable broadcasts. “Serendipity”This rom-com has been a classic.

Cusack and Beckinsale have a great chemistry. The cast also includes Molly Shannon and John Corbett. Eugene Levy is also part of the wonderful supporting cast. Expertly paired to an acoustic heavy soundtrack featuring the likes Nick Drake, David Gray, and more “Serendipity” captures a simpler time in the world and a fantastical version of New York City — no, you can’t see the stars at night when you are in Manhattan and there’s definitely no clock above Bloomingdale’s.

Insider spoke with Chelsom to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film. She discussed Jennifer Aniston’s decision to not be the main character in the movie, how she helped Levy through a difficult first day and still regrets having to remove the Twin Towers from the movie.

Insider was also provided exclusively by Chelsom with black-and white photos that he took on-set.

Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack eating at Serendipity 3

Kate Beckinsale & John Cusack “Serendipity.”

Miramax Films

He said that Chelsom was saved by ‘Serendipity.

The best thing about this movie? It’s a fairytale. This New York City doesn’t exist. Bloomingdales clock is the only one that counts. If you’re not in Manhattan, you can’t see any stars. You will never hear the bells that Jonathan sounds at the end. Was that not? “other”Big Apple, a mission of yours?

This is something I do with all of my films. It’s a reality that I need to understand in order to be able play with it. It’s a movie. It is not a documentary. This is especially true with “Serendipity.”We were filming about a world we hope could exist. There is no clock. Yes, it’s impossible to see the stars. All of that is true. It transports you in a way that allows you to escape even more.

It was your third film at Miramax. How did you get involved in this project?

“When I did it”The Mighty“This was the previous to” “Serendipity,”Miramax signed me to a two-picture agreement. This means you pay a pre-agreed amount and you will be expected to make a second film. Harvey used it to his advantage.

What happened to me was that I went and made “Town and County” [for New Line Cinema]. It was the best three years of my entire life. Harvey arrived with me after I finished that movie. “Serendipity.”I will never forget the day I was at my house reading the script. Although I didn’t really like it as I didn’t want Miramax to make another film, it totally seduced me. I also wanted to ride the horse again because I knew it was my destiny. “Town and Country” It was going to be a disaster

So I took “Serendipity”To save my career.

Kate Beckinsale in a dark sweater

Kate Beckinsale’s review of the set “Serendipity.”

Peter Chelsom/

Kate Beckinsale was originally written in American.

Did John Cusack or Kate Beckinsale have any connection when you became involved?

No. John was immediately on my mind, [the actor]Had actually offered me “Grosse Pointe Blank“, and I turned it down. 

It’s not so!What!

Jason, you don’t know how many great films I have turned down. I am such an idiot. It was something I regretted, but John quickly decided to do it. He was the first to arrive. After that, I saw many people to play Sara. 

And Sara’s original role was American?

It is correct. Kate Beckinsale was there and did her first American accent reading. It was great. While her accent is great, for me, it’s more satisfying to have people come closer to my home. To get the best access to Kate, and to make it more personal, I decided to go British. She read the scene again in her British accent, and it was fantastic. This was the decision that I made at that audition. It felt right. 

jennifer aniston friends season two

Jennifer Aniston “Friends.”


Jennifer Aniston declined the lead role because she felt like she was doing a romcom every week on Friends.

You mentioned that you saw many people in search of Sara. Before you met Kate, what other stars were close?

One person who was extremely close was Carla Gugino(“Spy Kids”Thank you. Her audition was amazing. She was cast in my film years later.(*)Claire Forlani”The Space Between Us.” () came close and I distinctly remember Jennifer Aniston coming in to meet us. “Mallrats”I can still remember her saying, “When she came in, she said.

her being on “I do a romantic comedy once a week,”At the time, she was clearly busy and didn’t want to make it a priority. While she had not made an offer to meet with me, she did so in good faith. We would have offered her a deal if she desired.”Friends”
Harvey Weinstein attending a movie premiere in 2001.

Harvey Weinstein in a navy blue suit

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty
Harvey Weinstein wanted a new ending that featured Eugene Levy

It’s interesting to note that the movie’s first three scenes were reshots. The original DVD release includes deleted scenes. One is from the original movie’s beginning. It shows Jonathan and Sara getting together. I was shocked because that’s the great thing about this movie. 

Yes, I agree. It was the right choice to remove that. We didn’t know what the film was about or what serendipity meant, so Kate gave the best definition.

That was something we needed to hear early in the film. “a fortunate accident.”Harvey, as you know, was a well-known person.

Because he loved to edit movies after directors gave them back, this is one of his few movies where he would like to add a scene. “Harvey Scissorhands”
John Cusack and Jeremy Piven on the set of

Jeremy Piven and John Cusack looking concerned

Peter Chelsom/

Harvey wanted more

Yes. My cut was approximately 88 minutes long and I said: “Serendipity?”

Harvey however wanted to see a scene at the end of Bloomingdale’s.”Harvey, this movie is a lot of smoke and mirrors, if you play this too long it won’t sustain.”Eugene Levy is here.

Right. Everyone groaned when they had to do the reshoot. John and Kate were reluctant. It was basically like:

Harvey was correct. Harvey probably wanted Eugene Levy back at the ending because he proved so popular in the screenings. “Look, we have to shoot this because I’m being asked to.”
Eugene Levy

Eugene Levy in a brown suit

Miramax Films
Chelsom explained that Levy was trying too funny and had a difficult first day.

How was it to work with Eugene Levy. He can steal the movie if he gets too excited with the laughs. 

Yes. He was very nervous when he first arrived at the station. John kept looking at me as if I was a sham.

Eugene was exaggerating it. I’m more interested and invested in something very real, the result of which is hilarious, than people acting funny.”Oh God, what are we going to do?”Eugene’s first day at Bloomingdale’s was all about Eugene and he was pushing too hard the comedy. We took a short break and I pulled him aside, saying:

Eugene understood this perfectly, as do most good actors. We did the scene over again, and it was fantastic. “Relax, the laughs will come by virtue of the situation, don’t push it.”

Molly Shannon, Kate Beckinsale and Molly Shannon on the set

Molly Shannon and Kate Beckinsale in coats

Peter Chelsom/


The Line”chase me”Eugene’s characters say to Jonathan “Eugene” when he can’t locate Sara’s name in a receipt. He didn’t think this joke would work. We break for lunch the first day and then we return to the scene in which John Cusack wears the blue velvet suit. Eugene claims that he cannot find his name and John says he looks like an illusionist. Eugene says to me,

I replied, “What do I do after saying that?”Eugene looked like this “Touch him gently on the shoulder and say ‘chase me’ and you run behind the counter.”And I said: “No, seriously, what do I do?”

John Cusack said then, “You do exactly that.”Eugene said then, “That is the most bizarre note any director has given any actor.”So they’re not interested and I said, “Two hours ago you told me not to be over the top.”Naturally, the crew laughed. “Look, we’ll get the crew in to watch the rehearsals if they laugh it’s in the movie, if they don’t laugh it’s not in the movie.”Weinstein demanded the digital removal of the Twin Towers from a movie shot following the attacks of September 11, 2001

A month before

9/11 is declared. This movie is famous for its shot of the Twin Towers in the background before it was released. Is that what led to this?”Serendipity”Two issues arose: When do we open the movie? and when to take out the Twin Towers. Personally, I regret taking down the Twin Towers. They were visible in a helicopter photo I had taken. It appeared halfway through the movie. This shot is over New York, and you can see the Twin Towers from the distance in the mist. CGI-wise, taking them out was a good idea. It was a mad scramble to get it out.

Harvey wanted the Twin Towers to be destroyed. It was impossible to negotiate. Although he may have been right at that time, it was not the whole picture. It was a difficult decision for me. It was a mistake that we made. It was a love note to New York, and I would have loved it if they had stayed. Harvey was not open to the idea.

Because I am an obsessive perfectionist when it comes to film technicalities, I was able to supervise the digital process for erasing the towers.


[Regarding the Twin Towers being taken out of the movie, Weinstein told Insider in a statement through his spokesperson, Juda Engelmayer: “Peter Chelsom made his best movies working for me and everybody agreed that taking out the Twin Towers around 9/11 was the right idea and the most respectful thing to do.”]
Kate Beckinsale, John Cusack and the

Kate Beckinsale in an all white suit, John Cusack in a black suit

premiere in 2001.
J. Vespa/WireImage/Getty
Chelsom indicated that he and his cast were ‘apprehensive about having the movie premiere after 9/11.

Was it a high-energy event?

It was the premiere of the movie after 9/11. We all almost held our breath in the intense emotion. It was a great experience that we all laughed again. It was truly a magical night. 

But, before that, did the cast and you agree it was a good idea?

It was obvious that I was nervous. John and Kate were anxious about their appearance on the red carpet dressed up in a smile and with lots of makeup. While it all seemed insensitive, it turned out to be a true joy. It is possible to live and laugh. 

Did you ever feel like Harvey was mad that Kate wasn’t dressing up enough? Since then, she has stated that Harvey had criticized her for not being more revealing for the premiere.

That’s all I can remember. I’m now looking at the beautiful all-white pantsuit she wore. Because she looks very dressed up, it never crossed my mind. She does it every day. Harvey wasn’t justified in saying that she should have dressed more. This is something I will confirm. However, I do recall her being worried. Everyone was unsure if this was good taste. 

Miramax Films

Kate Beckinsale in a blue top, John Cusack in a brown jacket

Chelsom stated that he has been close to working again with Cusack, Beckinsale in a romcom.

Why don’t you think this movie became the beloved romcom it is until it was released on DVD and cable?

It opened very well and exceeded all expectations. It wasn’t a $100-million rom-com like, say

It was still a good product in the overall scheme of things. But it wasn’t great. Maybe it was the timing at which it was released. It’s been crazy. I recently made a film in Italy. “You’ve Got Mail.” — over there all they want to talk about is “Security”It just seems like it will keep growing. “Serendipity.”
Kate Beckinsale plays Sara, running frantically through New York City at night.

Kate Beckinsale running by cars

Peter Chelsom/

But why is this movie so important?

It is the balance between man and woman. Mirror problems are when they marry the perfect partner only to find out that they don’t have it. There were a lot of films in the early 2000s — and I said this back then — they were sexist. This frat boy idea is really bad. In act two, he hits the fan and then in act three he apologizes to the beautiful blonde. This was the lazy nature of romantic comedies in 2000s.

This was the peak. “Serendipity”I don’t believe there should ever be one.

Have you ever attempted to write a different romcom with John and Kate than the one that was in the sequel?”Serendipity”It has been discussed and I would love to do it. Although we have been close to it a few times, I was able to make a film with them, but nothing has happened recently. Yes, there shouldn’t be a sequel.

We could work together again. “Serendipity.”This interview has been edited to be more concise.

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