Say Yes to These 14 Secrets About The Wedding Planner

We did all the work so you can relax and enjoy these secrets about The Wedding Planner, which turned Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez into Mr. and Mrs. Rom-Com.

By Natalie Finn Jan 26, 2022 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Jennifer Lopez is All Smiles While on Date With Ben Affleck

Twenty-one years later, we still have one question: Who plans the wedding planner's wedding?

Because while Mary knows more than anybody about throwing the nuptials of your dreams, would she really be able to enjoy her own big day while sweating all the little details herself?!

Anyway... on Jan. 26, 2001, The Wedding Planner waltzed into theaters, a glossy, charming, feel-good slice of cake that was met with mixed reviews—but which incidentally turned Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey into queen and king of the rom-com realm for the rest of the decade.

Lopez plays the enviably organized and polished Mary Fiore, who as the film's titular professional has it all figured out when it comes to other people's love, but who has yet to meet Mr. Right and is starting to wonder if she shouldn't just settle for Mr. He'll Do, as her doting Italian dad is hoping. (Yes, J.Lo is supposed to be Italian, as is Justin Chambers' accent.) Fireworks come along in the form of pediatrician Steve (McConaughey), who's perfect except for the fact that he's engaged to Fran (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) and Mary is planning their wedding.

How will it turn out? (Spoilers down the aisle.)

Jennifer Lopez's Best Roles

So maybe this movie wouldn't get made exactly in that way now. But, it was a confection of its time, and you can't fight that Lopez-McConaughey chemistry, so much so that you don't care who gets crushed in the making of their end-scene kiss. (Don't worry, Fran has cold feet anyway.)

And we're guessing that there are quite a few things you didn't know about the making of this film—which, like a wedding, had all kinds of behind-the-scenes moving parts that combined to form a magnificent whole.

But unlike a cocktail hour that drags on too long while you're starving and just want to cut into that filet of beef you picked for your entrée, we'll get right to it. Here are 14 secrets about The Wedding Planner:

A Very Long Engagement

First-time feature director Adam Shankman, working with a screenplay by Michael Ellis and Pamela Falk, revealed in a making-of featurette included in the DVD extras that it took years to get The Wedding Planner made, that they were turned down by several studios before Sony decided to go for it.

Ellis and Falk, a couple when they started writing the movie in 1995, were no longer romantic partners by the time the film got made, but they still saw it through together.

Background Noise

Shankman also shared that the title character was originally Armenian in the first iteration of the script, but international distributors told them that audiences wouldn't be interested. They agreed to her being Italian, however, and that's supposed to be Mary's background despite star Jennifer Lopez being of Puerto Rican descent.

The One That Got Away

Matthew McConaughey was a last-minute replacement for Brendan Fraser, who dropped out about four weeks before they were scheduled to start filming so that he could star in a remake of the deal-with-the-devil comedy Bedazzled being directed by Harold Ramis. Though it was no Groundhog Day, Bedazzled actually did similarly to The Wedding Planner at the box office, $90.4 million to $94.7 million. (And a few months later, The Mummy Returns, which came out in May 2001, made $443 million worldwide.)

Still, the switch caused a momentary crisis. "Adam drove to Matthew McConaughey's house and begged for him to do it, and he did," Ellis told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.

The Perfect Match

Lopez, a former In Living Color Fly Girl who made a massive splash with Selena, battled a snake in Anaconda and steamed up the screen with George Clooney in Out of Sight, wanted to do a romantic comedy—and she wanted to do this one.

"They're kinda hard to come by and hard to find, like good ones," she told E! News during The Wedding Planner press junket before the film opened Jan. 26, 2001 (three days after the release of her second album, J.Lo). "And when I read this one, I really liked it, so I was actively letting people know I wanted to do it." The then-31-year-old explained, "It's hard to really find ones that are interesting and have some substance to them, but are still light and funny and romantic and touching."

Asked if she identified with her character, Lopez said yes, though she was "not so much a workaholic or a control freak" like Mary, "but more of a perfectionist." And she definitely understood how difficult it was to balance an all-consuming career with having a life outside of work.

But Does He Drive a Lincoln?

When McConaughey was approached to play Lopez's leading man, he said he envisioned his character being named Steve. So, they named him Steve. (You can really picture him saying that, too, can't you?)

But he also told E! News back in 2001 that it was after spending five minutes with Lopez that he really knew he wanted to do the film. After meeting with Shankman at a Bennigan's in Tucson, Ariz.,, he drove to Las Vegas, where the singer-actress was, to meet her for the first time.

"There's a pace to romantic comedy. In five minutes, we already had nicknames, [we're] punching each other," he said, smiling. "I can't imagine doing a film like this and not liking my co-star, you know? That would really suck, to have to manufacture an attraction and a kindness." ("All of my relationships [on set] have been different but good, and positive," he assured when asked if there was, in fact, anyone he hadn't liked over the years.)

He had just finished a more intense project, in his case the "heavy duty responsibility, weight of the world on your shoulders, life and death" World War II-era action film U-571, and wanted something less weighty. 

"This is affairs of the heart," he said. "A nice change."

Tricks of the Trade

Lopez met with real wedding planners to get a feel for what their daily lives were actually like. "This one in particular I though was really great and organized—more like Mary than anybody else I had met—and she was very personalized with whatever she did," the actress told E! News. "But she also told me, to be a good wedding planner you have to be almost like a psychiatrist, you know, to everybody around you. Just work out the problems and make people make up because there are a lot of fights."

No Stable on the Block

Lopez took lessons in order to believably look as if she knew how to ride a horse.

"I grew up in the Bronx, and we hardly ever had horses," she told the Arizona Republic. "Actually, we never had any horses. It was a new thing for me. I had been on a horse once, but it was an old, old one and it barely moved. This time it was really hard. The pointing of your feet and the way you have to keep your knees...I thought it would just be like 'Giddyup!' Luckily, they had a stunt woman for the hard parts."

As she also told E! News, laughing, "It's so much harder than you think it is. You think you just get on the horse and ride it, and the horse is just not having you, you know what I mean?"

Lots of Time on the Floor

Lopez may have been a trained dancer, but they spent a lot of time rehearsing the ballroom scene—and not just because it takes two to tango. "Even though I'm a dancer, with the dialogue and the emotional beats, that scene was kind of tough," Lopez shared with E! News. Her co-star agreed, it wasn't easy dancing and conversing at the same time (though he graciously admitted that his partner picked up the steps way more quickly than he did).

McConaughey knew how to ride a horse—"if you've ridden before, you get back on it and after an hour, so, it's like riding a bike," he said—but he had to take lessons a few times a week for two months to prepare. "I like to dance, I have rhythm, but man, I do not know steps. I'm a very undisciplined dancer, and there's a discipline to the tango...And then on the day when you shoot it, you hope you can relax enough to act and forget where your feet are going, and you hope like hell that your feet end up in the right place."

And it was important to get all of it, the steps only being a fraction of it, just right. "That's the foreplay," McConaughey said, "that's the love scene in the film, our dance."

A Bridesmaid No More

Lopez wanted to do the movie so much, she agreed to be in it for less than $1 million—but it took Sony a couple of years to agree to Shankman's vision of having her star in the film. And by then, her price tag had understandably gone up.

"The studio made a big mistake," the director and choreographer, whose subsequent credits include A Walk to RememberHairspray and Rock of Ages, told the Arizona Republic. "They could have signed her a long time ago for much, much less. I told them, 'Look, her album is going to come out and she's going to be huge! You're going to be screwed!' They didn't listen to me and sure enough, they were screwed! On the 6 came out and it was a whole new world."

Lopez quipped, "The longer you wait, the more you're going to pay!" Insisting she was kidding, she added, "I worked just as hard back then as I do now. Money has nothing to do with it. It never did for me. I was always motivated by wanting to be an actress, wanting to sing and wanting to grow as an artist. Those were always and still are my motivating factors."

Easy, Breezy

Having just come off of making the sci-fi thriller The Cell, Lopez appreciated the vibe that came with shooting a lighthearted romp. 

"It was funny and we had fun going to work everyday, and there was a lot of laughter," she told E! News, "so it was really nice. Everybody was really cool who was involved with the project, and we had a good time."

After the Wedding...

After memorable turns through the 1990s in films such as Higher LearningBilly MadisonI Know What You Did Last Summer and House on Haunted HillThe Wedding Planner was Bridgette Wilson-Sampras' last big studio movie (though she appeared in five more films, including Buying the Cow with Ryan Reynolds and Shopgirl with Claire Danes and Steve Martin).

Her last credit was in 2008, so...what has the actress who promised Billy that "no milk will ever be our milk" been up to? Well, she added the hyphenate to her name in 2000, marrying tennis champ Pete Sampras—after an early loss at the Australian Open the next year, he was able to make it to The Wedding Planner premiere. 

Sampras retired in 2002, going out on top after winning the US Open, and the super-private couple devoted their time to raising sons Christian, 19, and Ryan, 16.

Food for Thought

Also ripped from the writers' personal experience, and a scene that they kept in every draft of the script: Steve only eating the brown M&M's because, as he tells Mary, "I figure they have less artificial coloring, because chocolate's already brown." (Sadly, that inspiring notion has been debunked.)

Ellis told Entertainment Weekly in 2017, "At the time, we were eating a lot of M&M's. Almost everything in the movie is [from our lives]. We were eating macaroni and cheese three times a day, and Massimo [Justin Chambers] does that in the movie. When I get full, I hike up my pant leg, and that's one of Steve's quirks that Fran complains about, so we really tried to pull as much as we could from what was going on with us at the time."

Added Shankman, "When I read it, I remember laughing about it because I already knew other people who do it, so there was something about it that seemed like an easy, tropey cliché to me, but it made total sense because it was a real thing, and it deserved its place in the sun. I always thought it was weird, and when I read it in the script, I thought okay, that's just crazy. [But the] moment is absurdly innocent."

The director also said that he thought the movie's most memorable line would be the one "where Jennifer says Matthew smells like grilled cheese sandwiches. That's so romantic and so sweet, but I never thought that the M&M's thing would ever stick." (Personally, we would've guessed the most-quoted line was going to be "there it is, a limestone penis" from their stroll through the statue garden. But don't mind us, we're 12.)

Happy to Dance With Her

"Quad threat" was the term McConaughey used to describe Lopez in a 2017 interview with Jess Cagle for Entertainment Weekly. "She knew all the beats and had it down...A hard worker, too, a very, very hard worker. Lopez shows up, she goes to work."

And the woman knows her angles. "I mean, have we ever seen a bad shot of her?" the Oscar winner added. "Bam...She knows where [the camera] is and owns it, I really like that about her."

Happily Ever After?

Speaking of the question of who plans the wedding for the planner... fans of the film weren't the only ones hoping for a sequel.

Ellis told Entertainment Weekly in 2019 that he had originally envisioned a trilogy (and a whole TV series) and the next installment had Mary going full bridezilla as she and BFF Penny (consummate cinematic best friend Judy Greer) planned her and Steve's wedding.

"The drama of it is she's become exactly the kind of thing she hated, and she takes a step back and figures out what's important to her," Ellis explained.

Meanwhile, there would be some "grit" between Mary and Steve, who might realize "they weren't looking at each other realistically" during the events of the first film. "There were some interesting romantic questions there." 

But what would a third movie entail? "We'd also batted around the idea that, during the planning of the wedding, Mary found out she's pregnant... Which would lead to the third movie: Mary planning her daughter's wedding!" Ellis shared. However, their idea was that Mary and Steve split up at some point but found their way back to each other while getting ready for their kid's big day. 

"The idea of what she'd want for her daughter and what her daughter wants would come into play, and whatever her journey was in the second movie, in the third movie she'd learn a lesson and try to teach her daughter what she's learned and probably try to talk her out of the grand spectacle of it all because it doesn't mean anything," the British writer said. "What's important is the person you're going to be with, and she'd try to teach her daughter that lesson."

Ugh, we're so conflicted! While that could be a fun movie (and one that could be made right now, incidentally), is the thought of Steve and Mary divorcing something we even want to consider? Kinda defeats the purpose of the early-'00s rom-com.

Feel free to renew your vows: The Wedding Planner is currently streaming on Peacock

(E! and Peacock are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

(Originally published Jan. 26, 2021 at 4 a.m. PT)