Two decades ago, Heather Burns declared April 25th the perfect date.
"Because it's not too hot, not too cold," her adorably perky character said in the 2000 movie Miss Congeniality. "All you need is a light jacket."
And while temperatures fluctuate, fans' infatuation with the film stays the same.
"I love it. It seems to each year get a little bigger even," Burns, 46, exclusively tells E! News about the viral reaction to the unofficial holiday. "And it's such a nice day for me because people come out of the woodwork sending me memes and things. And I go around town…people give me free coffee and, you know, it's just everyone's kind of happy to see me on that day."
Director Donald Petrie once told E! News he actually changed the original date in the script to reflect his wife's birthday. And while it's hard to imagine anyone other than Burns reciting the line, there was a point when she didn't know if she'd be in the movie.
The first time Burns auditioned, she didn't even get a callback. But as fate would have it, there was a director change, with Petrie stepping in, and she got another stab at the crown. The actress submitted a tape from New York and then flew to Los Angeles to read with Sandra Bullock, whose FBI agent character Gracie Hart goes undercover at the Miss United States pageant after it's the target of a threat.
"She was incredibly warm," Burns recalls. "She always is. She's just exactly how you would imagine her to be."
Burns was cast as Miss Rhode Island's Cheryl Frasier. Although, truth be told, says the Chicago native, "I have no connection to that state except I think some of my ancestors came there in the 1600s."
Just like Bullock's Gracie, Burns underwent quite the makeover, dyeing her hair blonde because her brunette locks were deemed too similar to Bullock's. She also received a baton twirling coach from Syracuse University and attended a school in Pflugerville, Texas.
And though she was fired up about twirling those flaming batons, she also worked with "this wonderful body double" from the University of Texas at Austin. "She was getting her PhD at the time," Burns says, "and she had had a full ride just because she was an amazing baton twirler….So, she was my body double for, like, the really difficult maneuvers."
But when it came to channeling Cheryl, Burns didn't have to look far for inspiration. "Cheryl just kind of came out of me naturally," Burns says. "I don't know where she came from." Though her neuroscientist mom has an idea. "She says, 'That's your mom impression. That's always been your impression,'" Burns notes. "So, I guess I'll give her the credit."
While the perfect date response is definitely one of Burns' most memorable moments in the movie, another would have to be when Cheryl wins Miss United States. In attempt to protect her friend from the explosive device secretly attached to the crown, Gracie tries to rip it off Cheryl's head. Despite the new queen fighting her off with her bouquet, Gracie ultimately succeeds and saves the day. Filming that part, Burns remembers, was a total blast. And "hitting her with the flowers," she adds, "I think that just came out of nowhere."
Still, her favorite scene to film was the one in which Cheryl stops by Gracie's hotel room in her pajamas and curlers for some late-night hot chocolate. "It's [the] very essence of Cheryl that scene," Burns explains, "just complete earnestness."
The sense of sisterhood between the pageant participants carried off-camera, too—with Burns noting she formed a close friendship with her fellow top-five contestants. The co-stars stayed at the same hotel in Austin, she recalls, and Bullock, who lived there at the time, would take them out to dinners and concerts.
"I was never in a sorority or anything like that," Burns shares, "and it was just this period of my life where it was just a group of great girls and we were together all the time."
In fact, she still stays in touch with Melissa De Sousa (a.k.a. Miss New York) and sent Bullock a message after The Blind Side star won an Oscar at the 82nd annual Academy Awards.
Miss Congeniality and its sequel aren't the only films on Burns' impressive résumé. She's also acted in classics like You've Got Mail and Two Weeks Notice and has made a number of television appearances, most recently on The Good Fight. And while she's taken on a variety of roles over the years, Burns will always hold a special place in her heart for Cheryl.
"At the time, I was so happy playing her," she says. "Just being in her skin made me a happier person in general, but especially during that time. I mean, I have such fond memories of both of those films, just a joy to work on. The effect that just the sweetness of the film in general has had on a generation of fans is also really, really lovely for me to experience, and I'm glad that the film had an effect in that way."
You totally want to watch it now, don't you? Well, before you take that victory lap, refresh your memory with all of these secrets from the 2000 hit.