Julia Roberts is, without a doubt, the queen of romantic comedies. While she's only starred in 13 rom-coms throughout her career, she's appeared in some of the most iconic romantic movies of all time, such as Nothing Hill, Mystic Pizza, My Best Friend's Wedding, and Pretty Woman.
Nowadays, Roberts is recognized for her work in a wide variety of genres. Her outstanding work has earned her multiple awards, including an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, and three Golden Globe Awards. Plus, her films have collectively grossed billions across the world, turning her into one of Hollywood's most bankable actors!
But Julia Roberts' career could have gone a lot differently if it weren't for her role in Pretty Woman. The star knew that this role could make or break her career, so she took matters into her own hands and convinced Richard Gere to star in this romantic comedy in a rather cute way.
Pretty Woman is one of the most iconic romantic comedies of all time but it almost was a completely different movie. This rom-com was initially conceived as a dark drama. It was thanks to the then-president of Walt Disney Studios, Jeffrey Katzenberg, that the film was re-written as a modern-day fairy tale and love story.
Finding the right actress to play Vivian took months. Many actresses were considered for the role before Julia Roberts. For instance, Director Garry Marshall had originally envisioned Animal House star Karen Allen in the role but she declined. Many well-known actresses auditioned for the role after this, including Drew Barrymore, Brooke Shields, Meg Ryan, Uma Thurman, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder, who was turned down because she looked "too young" to play Vivian.
After so many actresses turned down the role, 21-year-old Julia Roberts got to audition for the part. Before this movie, Roberts had only starred in the sleeper hit Mystic Pizza (1988) and the yet-to-be-released film Steel Magnolias (1989). Executives at Disney didn't really want Roberts in the lead role and the director was hesitant to cast her because of her lack of experience.
What ultimately changed their minds was Roberts' great performance during the first screen test. "She popped off the screen. Not so much in person. She seemed like a nice, smart, pretty girl. Once she got a camera on her, boy did she pop off," Marshall told She Knows in 2009.
Casting the male lead role in Pretty Woman was just as hard as finding the right actress to play Vivian. Director Garry Marshall initially considered Christopher Reeve, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kevin Kline, and Denzel Washington for the role of Edward, but none of them were interested in the movie. He then approached other well-known actors such as Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, and Al Pacino.
The Godfather star shortly considered starring in this romantic comedy. In fact, this award-winning actor went as far as shooting a screen test with Julia Roberts before turning down the role. In a 2007 interview on Larry King Live, Pacino revealed that he turned Pretty Woman down because "sometimes it's just not the right role" and he didn't feel like he belonged there. This makes sense. After all, it's hard to imagine the actor in this role.
Richard Gere was approached by director Garry Marshall to play the lead role in Pretty Woman early on in the casting process but the actor turned him down! During an interview for the 25th anniversary of the movie, Gere revealed that he first declined the role of Edward because "there wasn't a part." The actor then explained, "There was just nothing. The joke was [it was just] a suit. You could put a suit on a goat and put it out there, and it would work."
Luckily, everything changed when Julia Roberts joined the cast. The actress and director Gary Marshall were set on having Gere in the movie, so the pair flew to New York to meet with the actor. During their meeting, Roberts pretty much begged Gere to take the role. "I just said, 'You have to do this movie ... And I kind of pleaded with him in a very real way," the actress admitted. Ultimately, Roberts' charisma won him over and Gere accepted to play the role of Edward, completely changing his and Roberts' career for the best.
Pretty Woman (1990) grossed more than $463 million across the globe and won Roberts a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She and Gere went on to become one of the biggest on-screen power couples in Hollywood, reuniting a couple of years later to play romantic interests once again in the rom-com Runaway Bride. And, to this day, the two actors remain good friends!