It made almost half a billion dollars at the box office, picked up multiple Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, and was almost singlehandedly responsible for the 1990s rom-com boom. Basically, Pretty Woman was kind of a big deal, and all these years later it’s still well-loved by millions. But did you know the following fascinating facts about director Garry Marshall’s 1990 hit, which revived Richard Gere‘s career and made Julia Roberts a star?
21. The necklace scene was improvised
According to director Garry Marshall, Pretty Woman’s famous necklace scene – in which Vivian (Julia Roberts) breaks into hysterical laughter when Edward (Richard Gere) snaps the box shut on her fingertips – wasn’t actually scripted the way it turned out. When it came to the day of shooting the scene alongside Gere, Roberts was feeling a little under the weather.
After discussing the matter with director Garry Marshall, Gere decided to shut the box to take Roberts by surprise in the hopes of making her laugh, and they got that exact reaction on film. Neither Gere nor Roberts were in character in that moment, but Marshall liked the spontaneity of it so much that he decided to keep it in the film. The late director remarked that this moment became “the trademark of the movie.”
20. The necklace was real and extremely valuable
Richard Gere might not have treated the necklace with such irreverence if he’d known just how much the ‘prop’ had cost. The piece of jewellery that Vivian wears to the opera wasn’t a prop at all, but a very real store-rented item worth a whopping $250,000. Renting the item was no small expense, particularly given that Pretty Woman was made on a comparatively modest budget of only $14 million.
So valuable was the item, a gun-toting security guard from Fred’s – the store that rented out the piece – stood behind the director throughout the filming of the scene. The filmmakers were so thankful for the store’s generosity that they gave it a little cameo in the film – you can see the sign for ‘Fred’s’ in the screenshot above.
19. Roberts was so nervous she was physically ill shooting the sex scenes
Julia Roberts didn’t just need putting at ease in scenes that required genuine-seeming laughter. What with this being her first ever film as a leading woman, Roberts was often nervous making Pretty Woman. Understandably, shooting the sex scenes proved particularly nerve-wracking for the then-23-year-old actress, who became so camera shy that she actually had a physical reaction.
Roberts broke out in hives in the run-up to shooting her sex scenes, as well as finding a vein spontaneously popping out on her forehead. The solution was to administer calamine lotion to Roberts’ hives, and for Gere and director Garry Marshall (above) to personally massage the vein on her forehead away.
18. Diane Lane was cast as Vivian but dropped out
Having already appeared in The Cotton Club with him in 1984, Diane Lane was almost set for a reunion with Richard Gere in 1990, as she was initially cast as Vivian Ward. After appearing in cult movie Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains as well as Brat Pack-era classic The Outsiders, Lane seemed poised to be one of the biggest actresses of her generation.
Lane was being fitted for her Pretty Woman when it emerged that she had a prior work commitment which clashed with production on the film, and she was forced to drop out. It would be another twelve years before Lane worked with Gere again on 2002’s Unfaithful, and the actors would collaborate a third time with 2008’s Nights in Rodanthe.
17. The original ending was super depressing
Diane Lane seems to have no regrets about missing out on Pretty Woman, as she says the film “got Disney-fied” after she left and wound up nothing like the film she signed on for. In the version Lane had been set to make, Pretty Woman would have been a considerably more downbeat tale with no hint of a happy-ever-after ending.
In the original script, Vivian and Edward’s ‘relationship’ was unceremoniously brought to an end with him literally throwing her out on the kerb. In Lane’s words, “this crazy b***h was kicked out of a rolling limo at the end because she thought that this guy was really in love with her. She was only hired for the weekend.”
16. Karen Gillan played the Julia Roberts role in a ‘sequel’
Did you know that Jumanji and Guardians of the Galaxy star Karen Gillan also played Vivian Ward? Well, not exactly. The actress played a parody version of the role in a comedy sketch before she was famous. Before making a name for herself in Doctor Who as Amy Pond, Gillan was a repertory player in The Kevin Bishop Show.
A sketch show featuring comedian Bishop’s skewed take on various films and TV shows, one particular sketch saw Gillan reprise Julia Roberts’ most famous role. The sketch finds Vivian returning for an ‘unnecessary sequel’ to Pretty Woman, called Pretty Woman 2: Back to Working Girl.
15. Al Pacino and Burt Reynolds almost played Edward
It’s not easy to imagine Pretty Woman without Richard Gere in the lead role, Gere wasn’t Garry Marshall’s first pick to play Edward. Believe it or not, the director’s number one choice was Al Pacino. In what would have been a major departure for the actor, the Scarface and The Godfather actor seriously considered making Pretty Woman before turning it down.
Pacino got as far as doing a reading with the cast, at a time when Julia Roberts already on-board. Following the reading, with an offer to make a third Godfather film on the table, Pacino pulled out. He wasn’t the only one: Burt Reynolds was also in the running to play Edward, but he too declined to take part, later calling himself “an idiot” for doing so.
14. Daniel Day-Lewis and Molly Ringwald were considered for the lead roles
Pretty Woman was a film that had spent a long time in development in the 80s, so a lot of big names were considered. Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink star Molly Ringwald was offered Vivian, but she turned the film down because she didn’t want to play a prostitute. Winona Ryder and Jennifer Connelly both auditioned for the role before they were deemed too young.
To play Edward, Marshall considered none other than the British king of method acting, Daniel Day-Lewis. The director also considered Denzel Washington and Superman himself, Christopher Reeve.
13. The red dress wasn’t supposed to be red
A couple of last-minute costume changes helped to make Pretty Woman the film we know and love today. The famous red dress that Vivian wears to the opera, for one thing, was almost black. After a lengthy process involving three different creations and multiple test shots, Vance won the battle. They settled on the now-iconic red dress.
There was also another scene involving a piece of Vivian’s clothing that benefited from an 11th hour change. The red coat that Vivian wears throughout the film came from a movie theatre usher who Garry Marshall met just prior to shooting the film. She had paid $30 for it.
12. Vivian’s breakfast changes from one shot to the next
No matter how tightly run a film production is, continuity errors still can and do happen. Pretty Woman, inevitably, has a few slip-ups of its own lurking in the edit. Have you ever paid close attention, for example, to the scene where Vivian is eating a hotel breakfast in her dressing gown? “So, what do you do?” Vivian asks Edward, and as they discuss his line of work, she’s seen working her way through a croissant.
Vivian then asks “How far did you go in school?”, and as he replies – “I went all the way” – the camera cuts back to her. The croissant has turned into a pancake, cleverly bitten into a half-moon shape to resemble the French pastry it just replaced.
11. The original script was much darker than the final film
Pretty Woman could have turned out very different. JF Lawton’s original screenplay was considerably darker than the almost fairytale-like version released into cinemas. In the original story, Vivian was a cocaine addict, and Edward only hired her under the proviso she remain teetotal during their time together. Though some of Vivian’s more troubling traits were incorporated into the character of Kit instead, some less wholesome scenes involving Vivian were still shot.
Deleted scenes include Vivian offering Edward a no-nonsense sexual transaction in a very matter-of-fact way. Another scene shot but not included in the film was the one in which Vivian was confronted by drug dealers outside of The Blue Banana, but this too was deemed too intense for a rom-com audience.
10. Werner Herzog was asked to direct the film
Before Pretty Woman underwent a rom-com makeover, directors considered more suited to the darker material were sought. When Richard Gere signed on, he set about finding a suitably intense director, and one of those he approached was Werner Herzog, German director of such dark and eccentric films as Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God.
Unsurprisingly, Herzog had no interest in directing the film even before it was transformed into a feel-good movie. This cleared the way for Garry Marshall, director of the comedies Overboard and Beaches (and creator of TV’s Happy Days), who developed the project into the upbeat rom-com audiences know and love today.
9. It isn’t actually Julia Roberts on the film’s poster
Photoshopping has become so ubiquitous these days, it’s hard to trust any image at face value. Back when Pretty Woman first went on release in 1990, however, people were more willing to suspend disbelief – so nobody questioned it when the Pretty Woman release poster arrived, looking a little off. And it’s not just that famously grey-haired gentleman Richard Gere’s coiffure appears darker than it really was even 28 years ago.
There’s also the small issue of the woman stood next to him on the poster not actually being Julia Roberts. In reality, this was Roberts’ body double, actress and model Shelley Michelle, with Roberts’ face superimposed over hers. Michelle also stood in for Roberts in the film itself, for some of the raunchier shots that emphasise Vivian’s body.
8. It’s Richard Gere’s ‘least favourite’ of his films
Pretty Woman didn’t make Richard Gere a star (he was already a household name thanks to the likes of American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman), but it might be the film that he’s best known for today. That doesn’t mean, however, that Gere himself thinks of the film any more fondly than the others he’s made. In fact, Gere has confessed to actively disliking Pretty Woman more than any of his own movies.
In 2012, while doing press for the Wall Street drama Arbitrage, Gere revealed that Pretty Woman was “my least favourite thing” in his 40-year career. “People ask me about that movie, but I’ve forgotten it”, he continued. For Gere, Pretty Woman was simply “a silly romantic comedy.” That didn’t stop Gere from doing press for the film’s 25th anniversary in 2015, however.
7. The director had to tickle Julia Roberts’ feet to get natural laughter
The necklace scene isn’t the only one that contains some real-life laughter from Roberts. As with that necklace scene, director Garry Marshall decided he wanted a bit more spontaneity from one early scene between Vivian and Edward. As Vivian lays on the floor of Edward’s penthouse watching I Love Lucy on the TV, she begins laughing hysterically.
This wasn’t fake laughter from Roberts, however – director Garry Marshall gave her some assistance in that department. In order to get Roberts to laugh for real, Marshall would tickle the actress’ feet while remaining just out of shot.
6. That’s really Richard Gere playing the piano
He may be an award-winning movie star, but Richard Gere’s artistic gifts aren’t just limited to acting. As it turns out, ‘talented musician and composer’ is another string Gere has to his creative bow. During the scene in Pretty Woman where Edward plays piano, that’s really Gere tinkling the ivories. Not only that, but the piece of music that Gere plays is an original, the actor having composed it himself.
It’s not the only time Gere has shown off his musical talents on-screen; in 1993’s Mr Jones, Gere played the piano for film again. Gere also played a guitar solo in 1999’s Runaway Bride, did song-and-dance numbers for 2002’s Chicago and played an ageing Bob Dylan in 2007’s I’m Not There.
5. Critics hated the film
It’s long since been embraced as a classic, but at first the critics really didn’t ‘get’ Pretty Woman. When it opened in March 1990, reviews for Garry Marshall’s film were mixed, while some critics downright hated it. Time’s Richard Corliss, in a one-star review, called Pretty Woman “Old-fashioned, assembly-line moviemaking without the old panache.”
Entertainment Weekly were similarly unimpressed with the film, dismissing it as “slow, earnest and rhythmless,” whilst The Hollywood Reporter criticised its “almost preternatural disregard for women’s feelings.” Still, legendary critic Roger Ebert was impressed, calling Pretty Woman the “sweetest and most openhearted love fable since The Princess Bride.”
4. The film is called something very different in China
It’s not always a smooth journey for Hollywood movie titles as they go through the process of translation for foreign markets. Nonetheless, for the most part, the title Pretty Woman survived the translation process as it made its way abroad. Where Spanish-speaking markets got Mujer Bonita, French speakers got the delightfully-named Une Jolie Femme.
When Pretty Woman made its way over to China, however, something got seriously lost in translation. In the People’s Republic, Pretty Woman became the catchy ‘I Will Marry a Prostitute to Save Money’ – not the most accurate summary of the film’s plot.
3. Julia Roberts convinced Richard Gere to do the film with a post-it note
It’s probably his most famous ever role, but Richard Gere almost didn’t want the part of Edward at all. After Gere auditioned opposite Julia Roberts, the two had such obvious chemistry that the role was his for the taking. However, the actor wasn’t convinced about taking on the project. Hearing that Gere was going to decline, Roberts decided to take action using some smartly utilised office stationery.
It’s been said that Gere was on the phone, ready to turn the role down, when Roberts gave Gere a career-changing post-it note. Roberts’ note read, simply, ‘Please say yes’. Gere must be pretty easily swayed, because the note prompted him to immediately accept the role there and then.
2. The film’s original title was changed because it sounded ‘like science fiction’
It’s an iconic title for an iconic film – but Pretty Woman was almost released under a different name altogether. Originally, the film’s title was the much vaguer and not-exactly-audience-friendly ‘3000’. Taken from the amount of dollars that Edward and Vivian agree upon for a week of her company, this original title reflected the film’s darker origins, as a movie focusing on the nature of sex work.
The title only changed because studio execs thought 3000 suggested science fiction rather than a romantic comedy. Ultimately, as the Roy Orbison tune on the soundtrack emerged as a standout, the filmmakers landed on the much more rom-com-esque Pretty Woman.
1. There’s a big age gap between the leads
The romance between Pretty Woman’s Edward and Vivian is an unconventional one, and not just because there’s money changing hands. It’s never discussed in the film, but there’s a large age gap between the two characters. Then only just starting out in the industry, Julia Roberts was 23 at the time of filming Pretty Woman.
In contrast, Richard Gere had been acting since the early 70s. He was already 41 when he shot the film. Though it did nothing to stunt their chemistry, this made for an age gap of 18 years between the two leads. This probably wasn’t much of an issue for Gere, though. In 2018, at the age of 68, the actor was married (for the third time) to the 35-year-old Alejandra Silva.