Witchy Facts About The Movie Practical Magic

In 1995, Alice Hoffman published her book, Practical Magic, about two witch sisters struggling with a family curse. The novel was a bestseller and received a movie adaptation in October 1998. Over 20 years later, Practical Magic is still incredibly popular.

While the movie appears seamless, the production went through several struggles, including a last-minute soundtrack change and the producer working on two movies at once. Learn the behind-the-scenes facts that add to the magic of this film.

The Movie Got Cursed By A Real Witch

Publicity still of Stockard Channing & Camilla Belle on Practical Magic
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

To make the movie seem more realistic, director Griffin Dunne hired a real witch as a consultant. She was paid and put up in a nice hotel. In an interview with Vulture, Dunne recounted that the witch called him and inexplicably demanded $250,000 of the film’s profit.

The producers denied her demands. In response, the witch threatened “a land of curses” on the set and attempted to sue Warner Bros. Eventually, the studio paid her to give it up.

The Director Had An Exorcism

Actor Griffin Dunne attends the premiere of A Perfect Murder in 1998
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

The witch’s alleged curse freaked out director Griffin Dunne. She didn’t curse the production; she allegedly cursed him personally. To prevent any onset of a hex, Dunne decided to receive an exorcism.

Dunne paid $100 for some peace of mind. He described the exorcism as “a very simple, New Agey ceremony” with “mostly chants and smoke and [stuff] like that.” When Vulture asked him about it, Dunne said, “If you’re a person with any kind of spiritual sensibility…you’re open to beliefs in many things. But with that open-mindedness comes risk.

Practical Magic Is Receiving A Prequel HBO Show

Publicity still of Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Stockard Channing & Dianne Wiest
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Over 20 years after the movie’s release, HBO Max announced a prequel show to Practical Magic. The show, The Rules of Magic, is based on the book’s prequel by Alice Hoffman. Practical Magic was based on a book by the same author.

It’s unlikely that the original actors will star on the show. However, the series will revolve around the three Owens siblings growing up in 1960s New York City. The Rules of Magic is scheduled to release in 2020.

All The Previous Spin-Offs Failed

Sandra Bullock lighting a candle in the film Practical Magic
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Considering the movie’s rising popularity, you might be wondering why a TV spin-off hasn’t happened before. It almost did in 2003. Back then, CBS began developing a TV drama show with Sandra Bullock and Denise Di Novi as producers.

Despite the initial support, the show never advanced beyond the brainstorming stage. In 2010, ABC tried to create a similar spin-off, but that also fell through the cracks. Hopefully, HBO Max will finally create the long-awaited TV spin-off.

Sandra Bullock Joined Because Her Previous Role Bombed

In Practical Magic, Sally (Sandra Bullock) stacks oils in her shop
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Before Sandra Bullock joined Practical Magic, she starred in Speed 2: Cruise Control. Although the first movie earned $121 million, the sequel tanked and earned less than half of that.

During a press junket, Bullock said that Speed 2‘s failure inspired her to stop aiming for blockbusters and lean toward small, more interesting projects. With this new philosophy, she acted in Hope Floats and later, Practical Magic.

The Movie’s Music Was Thrown Together Last-Minute

Scene of Gillian (Nicole Kidman) in Practical Magic
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

When director Griffin Dunne started the movie, he hired the acclaimed composer Michael Nyman. Dunne admired the three-time Golden Globe nominee, claiming that he made “the best score I think I’ve ever written for a film that engaged me not at all.”

After Dunne cut his ties with Warmer Bros. Pictures, this contract fell apart. The executives ordered Dunne to dump Nyman last-minute. They recruited another well-known composer, Alan Silvestri, to quickly compose a new soundtrack.

Stevie Nick’s “Witchy” Songs

Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. during Stevie Nicks Performs at the Gorge, 1998
Dana Nalbandian/WireImage
Dana Nalbandian/WireImage

The producers of Practical Magic wanted new songs to accompany the film’s composition. They approached the former lead singer of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks. She contributed “If You Ever Did Believe,” the movie’s official theme, and “Crystal.”

There’s a humorous reason behind choosing Stevie Nicks. In the 1980s, rumors spread that the singer was a witch due to her wardrobe and ethereal lyrics. Nicks has always denied these allegations, but clearly, she has a sense of humor about them.

Barbra Streisand Wanted To Buy The Movie Set

Actress/Singer Barbra Streisand attends the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Ceremony Salute to James Brolin in 2018
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Anyone who has seen Practical Magic knows how gorgeous the Owens mansion appears. It’s a beautiful home that anyone would want to live in, including Barbra Streisand. Yes, the singer and actress called the home’s designers to buy it.

The problem is that the mansion wasn’t real. The designers said that the mansion was only an “architectural shell.” The home’s interior was constructed in a Hollywood studio, and the studio tore the home down after filming. There was nothing left for Streisand to purchase.

The Producer Worked On Two Films At Once

1998 Sandra Bullock and Nichole Kidman stars in the new movie
Warner Bros./Getty Images
Warner Bros./Getty Images

Denise Di Novi is a popular producer in Hollywood. Before she worked on Practical Magic, she worked on Heathers, James and the Giant Peach, and Edward Scissorhands. So it’s no surprise that she ended up working on two movies at once.

During the first week of Practical Magic‘s production, Di Novi also worked on the drama Message in a Bottle. She flew back and forth from Los Angeles to Washington for both sets. “I napped on the planes,” she said.

It Wasn’t Easy To Build The Mansion

Exterior of the Owens mansion built for the movie Practical Magic
Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Practical Magic’s main film location, San Juan Island, didn’t have a beautiful mansion for the Owens to live in. The production crew had to build one on a piece of bare land. However, the plot they chose had a rich Native American history.

Local authorities would not allow the production team to dig into the soil. To use the land, the crew built the house’s shell on top of a platform. Once they were done with the land, they immediately tore it down.

“Midnight Margaritas” Night Was Slightly Real

Aunt Jet and Aunt Frances making midnight margaritas in Practical Magic
Practical Magic/Warner Bros. Pictures
Practical Magic/Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the most famous scenes in Practical Magic features “midnight margaritas,” when the sisters and aunts danced around their kitchen singing along to Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut.” You might not be surprised to learn that the actresses were tipsy.

According to Dunne, “we all drank tequila and shot that scene–thank God the director of photography didn’t have any–but we shot it and they all went nuts.” If the scene appears charmingly genuine, that’s because it is.

Real Witches Approve

Publicity still of Nicole Kidman as Gillian in Practical Magic
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Film critics weren’t impressed by Practical Magic, and the movie has a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. But apparently, the movie’s witch counsel worked because several witches have applauded the movie.

According to Vulture, a coven of women lauded the strong women in the film. Entertainment Weekly interviewed a Wiccan who said that movie captured “the real flavor of a love spell,” but added that most real witches don’t slaughter doves nowadays.

Nicole Kidman Hurt Herself For Her Role

End of the exorcism scene in Practical Magic
Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Like all great actors, Nicole Kidman is willing to hurt herself for a convincing scene. While her character received “wounds” several times during the movie, the actress didn’t hurt herself until the exorcism scene near the end.

In an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, Griffin Dunne reflected that Kidman was willing to bang her head on the floor violently. “We weren’t sure where she was going to land,” Dunne said, “so rubber panels, rubberwood strips were laid out…she looked totally possessed.”

Some Locals Weren’t Thrilled About The Production

Publicity still of Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock & Aidan Quinn
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

While some scenes in Practical Magic were shot in a studio set, most were filmed in Washington state. Many residents were thrilled to see Hollywood actors show off their town. However, others were negatively impacted by the production.

The film crew had to park near Friday Harbor, which stole parking spots from locals and delayed a project to improve storm drains. This led to a battle between the town’s council and Warner Bros. On top of that, filming closed down streets which hurt local businesses.

Aidan Quinn Gained The Role For “Radiating Goodness”

Aidan Quinn plays Gary Hallet in Practical Magic
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Aidan Quinn, who plays the detective Gary Hallet in Practical Magic, was chosen for a reason. The film’s producer, Denise Di Novi, told the Chicago Tribune that Quinn had the qualities of another Hollywood legend.

“We wanted a Gary Cooper kind of guy–quiet, taciturn,” Di Novi said. “He radiates goodness, but he’s manly too.” Before Practical Magic, Quinn acted in Desperately Seeking Susan, Benny & Joon, and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.

Aunt Frances Almost Looked Different

practical-magic_F5HzVy
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Plenty of movies have changed their cast over time, and Practical Magic is no exception. Most notably, Stockard Channing wasn’t the studio’s first choice for Aunt Frances. According to a 1998 publication of Variety, Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave was originally cast to play Frances.

While Dianne West was always scheduled to play Jet, Redgrave never officially signed on the project. Channing took the role instead. Had she not, the movie may have turned out differently.

The Movie And The Book Are Very Different

Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Those who have read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman know how different it is from the movie. The film played up the aunts and downplayed Sally’s children, who are both more central in the book. Gillian’s abusive boyfriend, Jimmy, was a more developed character in the novel.

With so many core differences, it’s no surprise that Practical Magic fans argue over which version of the story is better. In the film’s defense, they did invent the “midnight margarita” scene.

The Actors Recently Reunited On The Red Carpet

Actress Sandra Bullock (C), actress Nicole Kidman and musician Keith Urban at the TNT/TBS broadcast of the 16th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards
Getty Images
Getty Images

Practical Magic fans received a surprise in the winter of 2018. Sandra Bullock was giving an interview for the Academy Award’s pre-show coverage when Nicole Kidman wandered in and joined her.

The two stars joked around, and Bullock said that Kidman “always butts into my stuff.” During the reunion, they reminisced about the movie. Kidman showed Practical Magic to her children and told her children that Bullock “is a woman I love.”

The Movie Flopped At First

Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) outside of their house in the movie Practical Magic
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Practical Magic aged like a fine wine, growing more popular throughout the decades. There’s a misconception that it was a box office hit since it opened at #1 in October 1989. However, October is not a busy month for the cinemas.

In reality, the movie only pulled in $46.6 million domestically. That’s disappointing when you compare it to the film’s $75 million budget. The movie finally found its ideal audience when it hit home video.

The Film’s Popularity Grew With Age

Promo shot of Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock & Griffin Dunne
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.
MovieStillsDB/Practical Magic/Warner Bros.

Although Practical Magic flopped in 1998, the movie has gained a wider audience throughout the decades. This is something that director Griffin Dunne learned through his children.

According to Vulture, Dunne’s daughter discovered the movie in her late teens. He would often hear her quoting dialogue, and her friends “freak[ed] out when they found out that her father directed that movie.” Dunne added that the movie’s growing popularity has “been very touching and unexpected.”