Peter Gallagher had been acting for awhile by the time While You Were Sleeping hit the screen in 1995, but the film qualifies as one of the actor’s first big hits after coming up in indie classics like Sex, Lies, And Videotape and Short Cuts. He’s the “you” in the film’s title as Peter, the handsome commuter that cute CTA worker Lucy (Sandra Bullock in a star-making role) saves from death on the train tracks. Peter then spends much of the movie in a coma, while Lucy integrates herself into his family and winds up falling for his brother Jack (Bill Pullman).
After a misunderstanding, Lucy lets Peters’ family believe that she’s his fiancé, as she’s so taken with the charming laidback appeal of Peter’s parents, siblings, and their relatives. By contrast, Peter doesn’t seem to fit into the family at all: All we know about the unconscious character is that he’s a possibly pretentious yuppie who lives in a sleek downtown high-rise with a fluffy cat, far removed from the family’s down-to-earth La Grange homestead. Eventually it’s revealed that he’s already engaged, to someone who’s already married.
In a new interview with Vulture about the 25-year-old role, Gallagher admits, “I remember at a table read, everybody’s around, and I said, ‘Why are you spending so much energy trying to make [Peter] such a bad guy? What’s he guilty of? He’s successful in business, and he’s not ready to get married yet. Do you know anybody like that?’ All of these guys were like… ‘He’s gotta be a piece of shit!’ And I said, ‘Why burden the audience with a character they hate, when they can cheer when he accidentally makes the right decision, which he had nothing to do with?’”
He continues, “I think when I was younger my looks got in the way a little bit...When they pick the handsome guy to be the asshole, it’s like, ‘Okay, we’re done!’ Which is pretty fair. The way I looked back then, all you had to do was take one look at me, and you’d be like, ‘Fuck you!’ [Laughs.] I know that’s how I would’ve felt if I saw myself.” This, of course, may also account for Gallagher’s early asshole-ish roles in Sex, Lies and The Player. Gallagher currently stars as less repulsive characters in Grace And Frankie and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.
Check out the full interview, in which Gallagher also takes credit for ad-libbing the film’s hyper-quotable Jell-O crack, here.