Julia Roberts has long been considered America’s Sweetheart. With a resume that also includes the movie America’s Sweetheart, Roberts has delighted audiences for over 30 years, even being considered the romantic comedy queen of the ‘90s. But it was one movie that catapulted her career, one movie where she was first considered to be a star. This was 1990’s Pretty Woman and today, it is the fifth most-watched movie on Hulu in the USA.
Pretty Woman tells the My Fair Lady-type story of Vivian (Julia Roberts), a Hollywood prostitute who is hired by a powerful corporate raider, Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), to spend the week with him while he is in town and be his escort to the many business and social functions he has on his calendar.
Lewis makes a living buying struggling companies, then selling off their assets for profit. After he leaves a business party, he takes his lawyer’s, Phillip Stuckey played by Jason Alexander, sports car where he accidentally ends up in the red-light district on Hollywood Boulevard. He meets Julia Roberts’ character here, offering her cash to drive him back to his hotel, the ritzy Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. At first, he hires her for the night, but the next morning he ups his offer for a lot more money and a week’s worth of her time.
Vivian, reluctant at first, takes him up on his offer. But Edward needs a little more sophistication from Vivian as her edges are more than a little rough. He gives her money for a new wardrobe and when she is constantly turned down in some of the glamorous and snooty Beverly Hills stores, Vivian enlists the help of the hotel manager Barney (wonderfully played by Hector Elizondo). Her transformation is stunning.
As always though, with the good, there does come the bad. In this case, it is Edward’s lawyer Phillip. He doesn’t like how close Edward is getting to Vivian and decides to mess things up. He first figures Julia Roberts’ character to be a corporate spy until Edward explains to him how the two met. When Edward has a change of heart concerning a company dismantling and instead of wanting to help rebuild it, Phillip confronts Vivian, attempting to rape her. Edward arrives in time to stop him, punching him out, then firing him.
None of this is enough to convince Vivian to stick around with Edward. In her eyes, their lives will never mesh. Edward tries to convince her to stay one more night but Vivian refuses and leaves. Does Edward turn into Vivian’s Knight in Shining Armor? You tell us.
Pretty Woman was never intended to be a romantic comedy, not by a long shot. It was nothing like the Julia Roberts classic we know today. The original script was dark, centering more around Los Angeles prostitution of the ‘80s. Vivian, in the original, was not only a prostitute, but she was a drug addict and the deal that Edward presented her with included her staying off cocaine for a week. At the end of the original, it had Vivian and her prostitute friend (played by Laura San Giacomo) on a bus to Disneyland. Ironically, it was Jeffrey Katzenberg, who at the time was Walt Disney Studios president, that called for a re-write to turn it into a modern-day fairytale. Pretty Woman was considered to be one of the two movies (When Harry Met Sally was the other) that began the resurgence of the Hollywood rom-com.
Julia Roberts wasn’t even close to being considered for the part of Vivian as Mystic Pizza was her only claim to early fame. The list of actresses who were either considered or turned down the role to play Vivian is quite lengthy and remarkable. Disney didn’t want her and they proved that by looking at a number of different actresses. Director Garry Marshall originally had Meg Ryan as his top choice but she turned it down. He also thought Karen Allen would fit the role. She also turned down the role. Molly Ringwald, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, and Emily Lloyd were all offered the lead part. Then came Mary Steenburgen, Diane Lane, Michelle Pfeifer, Daryl Hannah, Valeria Golino, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It’s a virtual list of who’s who.
The same can be said for the role of Edward Lewis. Christopher Reeve, Denzel Washington, Kevin Kline, and Daniel Day-Lewis were all considered. Burt Reynolds and Al Pacino both turned down the role. It wasn’t until Richard Gere came in to read with Julia Roberts that a possible pairing was set. It took Roberts a bit of convincing, but Gere eventually took the part. They had nice chemistry that they would try to recapture unsuccessfully in the 1999 movie Runaway Bride.
Pretty Woman premiered number one at the box office and jump-started Julia Roberts’s career. She also got a huge boost with Steel Magnolias, a film which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. Roberts was also nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of Vivian in Pretty Woman, and for her role as Erin Brockovich in the movie with the same title, the only time Roberts won the award. Julia Roberts was nominated for a fourth Academy Award in August: Osage County.
Pretty Woman was only the start for Julia Roberts. She would take the mantle of America’s Sweetheart with roles in movies such as I Love Trouble, Something to Talk About, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Step Mom, Notting Hill, and of course America’s Sweetheart. For now, though, head on over to Hulu and check out where it all began for Julia Roberts with Pretty Woman.