The Off-screen Relationships Behind Reality Bites

It’s been 25 years since we first danced to “My Sharona” at a gas station with Lelaina Pierce and the Reality Bites cast.

The quintessential ’90s Gen X flick, Reality Bites perfectly romanticized the “slacker-almost-adulthood” mentality that dominated the decade. The movie so defined ’90s culture that no matter how much it’s been imitated, it’s never been duplicated.

But what was it that made Reality Bites so amazingly angsty? A few key elements had everything to do with the behind-the-scenes connections that brought the cast and contributors together and turned a once-rejected concept into a total ’90s phenomenon.

So how did each of the main characters get their roles in the film?

Ben Stiller

Originally Stiller wasn’t even supposed to act in the film. Initially, the team approached him to direct after seeing the pilot episode of The Ben Stiller Show. But after about ten months of working on the script with screenwriter Helen Childress and discovering that they needed a third character to round out a love triangle involving Lelaine, Troy, and a mystery third party, Stiller suggested he play the role of a late 20-something man trying to make a Japanese candy bar popular in the States. Eventually, they shifted gears and Michael Grates became the “In Your Face” TV exec in the movie.

Winona Ryder

Let’s face it, you couldn’t make a ’90s coming-of-age movie without including the quirky, doe-eyed poster girl of the decade! Not only did she make a perfectly pouty ingenue as Lelaina Pierce (which is great, since screenwriter Helen Childress wrote the part with Ryder in mind), she also basically cast the rest of the characters too …

Ethan Hawke

As the unemployed poet Troy Dyer, Hawke made us feel all the feels, even if he was a bit of a jerk. But Hawke wouldn’t have landed the job if it hadn’t been for Winona Ryder. She felt so strongly that Hawke needed to be in the movie that she made it a part of her contract!

Janeane Garofalo

The part of Vickie Miner, the original too-cool manager of the Gap, could have gone to Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey, or Anne Heche, since all three auditioned for the role. But Winona Ryder stepped in again, using her clout to back Garofalo for the role. And boy, we’re glad, because she was perfect.

Steve Zahn

We don’t think he gets enough credit for his role as the nervous, closeted Sammy Gray. His character had a lot at stake and he played the role with compassion and realism. But the part could have gone to Noah Wyle (of ER) if it weren’t for Ethan Hawke suggesting that executive producer Stacey Sher and director Ben Stiller see Zahn perform live with Hawke in a stage production called Sophistry. As soon as they did, it was a done deal.

Lisa Loeb

While Loeb wasn’t actually in Reality Bites,her hit song “Stay (I Missed You)” is the first thing anyone thinks of when they remember the flick. And we can thank Ethan Hawke for that. The two were neighbours at the time of filming, and Hawke passed on a copy of “Stay” to director Ben Stiller, who made it the showcase song of the movie. As for the song’s music video? Ethan Hawke stepped up to direct it.