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Return To Me began principal photography in early May 1999 with an elegant party scene shot inside of the lavish Gold Room in the historic Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue, built in 1903. It was here that the cast and crew were put in the right mood by a swinging version of the classic Daniel DiMmnno/Carmen Lombardo title song, with the arrangement produced by Bonnie Hunt and Return To Me composer Nicholas Pike and sung on camera by the talented Joey Gian. (Classics from Frank Sinatra, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart and the like provide a deep-rooted musical backdrop throughout the entire film.)

This sequence kicked off a shoot marked by almost three months of production in Chicago, a production in which the cast and crew became part of the director's extended family.

Hunt was not only born and raised in Chicago, she also studied and worked as a nurse there before utilizing her performing gifts for the city's Second City troupe and then moving on to television and film work in Los Angeles. True to the nature of a film about love and family, the director would encircle herself with a group of fellow performers and friends from the metropolis, with Second City alumni and members of the Hunt clan sometimes appearing in small roles. Making notable appearances in the film are writer/actor Dick Cusack (of the famous Chicago clan which has also spawned John and Joan); Second City-ites Holly Wortell, Chris Barnes, Tom Virtue, David Pasquesi, Tim O'Malley and Darryl Warren; and a few Hunts popping up here and there, including the director's brothers Tom (as a construction worker) and Kevin (a medical doctor typecast as a medical doctor), nephew Patrick as a young neighbor of Bob Rueland, and sister Carol Hunt as Nurse Alice. And that's co-writer Don Lake, a familiar face in film, television and commercials, as the "hair transplant guy" at O'Reilly's.

"We first came to Chicago in the winter in pre-production," recalls Jennie Lew Tugend. "It was freezing, there was snow on the ground, but wherever we went, Bonnie's name opened every door. She's a favorite child of this city, and that made my job so much easier."

Joely Richardson notes, "Wherever we filmed, people would just pass by and say 'Hi, Bonnie,' whether they knew her or not. She's the Chicago Girl, and has included us into that big family, so it's very, very welcoming."

With her creative team — headed by greatly respected cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs (who had recently tackled Chicago in another big-screen romance, My Best Friend 's Wedding), production designer Brent Thomas and costume designer Lis Bothwell — Bonnie Hunt set out to integrate Chicago into the story rather than just exploit its visual beauties. It was also incumbent upon Thomas and his crew to amend the settings just enough to bring them in line with the fairy tale element of the story. "We sought a kind of poetic realism," explains Thomas, "and in the context of the real world there are little trill notes that make it a little more magical.. .such as twinkle lights, a certain color of petals blowing across the courtyard behind O'Reilly's or the light in Grace's paintings."

The two key locations in Return To Me are O'Reilly's Restaurant, the comfortable Italian-Irish joint where Grace works with her "family," and the Lincoln Park Zoo, where Elizabeth Rueland serves as a devoted trainer, and for which her husband Bob is designing and building an expanded gorilla habitat. The perfect location for O'Reilly's was discovered at the popular Old Town barbecue restaurant Twin Anchors, a classic neighborhood hangout. And, despite Brent Thomas' considerable (and temporary) alterations, O'Reilly's maintained the real restaurant's air of warmth and hospitality. "The most important change in the transformation of Twin Anchors into O'Reilly's was that in the script, there's a courtyard in back of the restaurant," notes Th


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