Pretty Woman: 21 Facts You Never Knew About The Film

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

It’s probably Pretty Woman’s most famous moment – and it almost didn’t make it into the film.

According to director Garry Marshall, the film’s necklace scene wasn’t actually scripted in the way it turned out.

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When it came to the day of shooting the scene alongside Richard Gere, Julia Roberts was feeling a little under the weather.

Gere decided to perk up Roberts by trying to make her laugh, snapping the box shut on the actress’ hand as she went to touch the necklace.

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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.

It was late in the editing stage that the director finally decided to use the scene: “We put it in… and it became like the trademark of the movie.”

20. The necklace was real, and extremely valuable

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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.

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Renting the item was no small expense, particularly given that Pretty Woman was made on a comparatively modest budget of only $14 million.

Custom made by French jeweller Fred Joaillier, the necklace was made from 23 pear-cut rubies, surrounded by diamond-encrusted hearts and set in 18k white gold.

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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 during the sex scenes

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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.

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Understandably, shooting the sex scenes proved particularly nerve-wracking for the then-23-year-old actress.

Roberts’ stage fright was so great that she actually had a physical reaction, breaking out in hives in the run-up to shooting.

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Credit: Touchstone Pictures/Everett Collection

Roberts also got so nervous about the sex scenes that a vein spontaneously popped 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

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Having already appeared in The Cotton Club with him in 1984, Diane Lane was almost set for a reunion with Richard Gere in 1990.

Back when the script was a very different one, Lane was cast as Pretty Woman’s Vivian opposite Gere.

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The film was even being designed with Lane in mind at one stage, before Roberts was given the part.

Lane was being fitted for costumes as Vivian when it emerged that her schedule was going to get in the way – and she was forced to drop out.

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Fortunately for her, it wouldn’t be the last opportunity the actress would have to star alongside Gere.

Lane and Gere would work together again in 2002’s Unfaithful, and a third time in 2008’s Nights in Rodanthe.

17. The original ending was super depressing

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According to Diane Lane, before she departed the project, Pretty Woman was set to end on a super depressing note.

After she left production, Lane says the film “got Disney-fied,” and was left nothing like the film she signed on for.

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In the version Lane had been set to make, Pretty Woman would have had no happy ending for Vivian at all.

The reason Vivian needed money in the original script was that she had her sights set on going to Disneyland.

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She would have ultimately gotten her wish – the film was to close on Vivian and a prostitute friend on the bus to Disney – but only after Vivian and Edward’s ‘relationship’ had been unceremoniously brought to an end.

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’

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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.

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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.

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The sketch finds Vivian returning for an ‘unnecessary sequel’ to Pretty Woman, called Pretty Woman 2: Back to Working Girl.

And so we have Karen Gillan, playing Julia Roberts, playing Vivian as a married woman and looking to get back in the game now the kids are grown up.

15. Al Pacino and Burt Reynolds almost played Edward

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It’s not easy to imagine Pretty Woman without Richard Gere in the lead role, but bear with us for just a moment.

Believe it or not, Gere wasn’t Garry Marshall’s first pick to play Edward. The director’s number one choice was Al Pacino.

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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.

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He wasn’t the only one: Burt Reynolds was also in the running to play Edward, but he too declined to take part.

When asked, many years later, why he elected to turn Pretty Woman down, Reynolds could only say: “Because I’m an idiot.”

14. Daniel Day-Lewis and Molly Ringwald were considered for the lead roles

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Pretty Woman was a film that had spent a long time in development in the 80s, so a lot of big names were considered.

Director Garry Marshall’s initial shortlist for his two lead roles was a who’s who of 80s stars.

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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.

Marshall also auditioned Winona Ryder and Jennifer Connelly for the role before he decided they were too young.

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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

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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.

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Black was the studio’s preferred colour, but the film’s costume designer Marilyn Vance knew it wouldn’t work.

After a lengthy process involving three different creations and multiple test shots, Vance won the battle. They settled on the now-iconic red dress.

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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 fails still can and do happen.

Pretty Woman, inevitably, has a few continuity errors of its own lurking in the edit.

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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.

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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 film was originally much darker

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The film that we know and love is a classically feel-good Hollywood romance – but Pretty Woman could have turned out very different.

The script for the movie, as written by JF Lawton, was much darker than the almost fairytale-like version released into cinemas.

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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.

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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

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Before Pretty Woman underwent a rom-com makeover, directors considered more suited to the darker material were sought.

Once he became attached to the project, Richard Gere apparently did some of the shopping around himself.

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Credit: Gorup de Besanez via Wikimedia Commons

According to Werner Herzog, German director of such dark and eccentric films as Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, he was one of the filmmakers approached.

This makes sense: Herzog moved to LA in the 90s, at which point he began making American films (as well as taking occasional acting roles), and Gere has claimed Herzog is one of his favourite directors.

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Credit: erinc salor via Wikimedia Commons

Still, it’s almost impossible to imagine Herzog taking on the film even before it transformed into a feel-good movie.

With Herzog a no, Garry Marshall, director of the comedies Overboard and Beaches, stepped in.

9. It isn’t actually Julia Roberts on the film’s poster

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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.

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And it’s not just that famously grey-haired gentleman Richard Gere’s coiffure appears darker than it really was 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, Shelley Michelle, with Roberts’ face superimposed over hers.

The reason why Roberts doesn’t flaunt her body all for the sake of a movie? Apparently, “it’s just not my thing.” Fair enough, Jules.

8. It’s Richard Gere’s ‘least favourite’ of his films

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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.

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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.

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“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, alongside Julia Roberts and director Garry Marshall. Maybe he’s finally come round.

7. The director had to tickle Julia Roberts’ feet to get natural laughter

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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.

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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.

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Credit: Touchstone Pictures

In order to get Roberts to laugh for real, Marshall would tickle the actress’ feet while remaining just out of shot.

He’s there just off-camera in the scene, though whether or not Marshall used a feather to get the desired reaction is unclear.

6. That’s really Richard Gere playing the piano

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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.

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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

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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.”

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In a more positive review, The Hollywood Reporter called the comedy “slickly delivered” while criticising its “almost preternatural disregard for women’s feelings”.

Not everyone was in agreement – legendary critic Roger Ebert called Pretty Woman the “sweetest and most openhearted love fable since The Princess Bride” – but it took years for the film to be more generally embraced as the classic it’s widely viewed as today.

4. The film is called something very different in China

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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.

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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.

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In the People’s Republic, Pretty Woman became the catchy ‘I Will Marry a Prostitute to Save Money’.

As fans will now know, and as Chinese audiences in 1990 were to find out, I Will Marry a Prostitute to Save Money doesn’t even accurately reflect the 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 virtually his.

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However, the actor wasn’t interested in the project, and Pretty Woman was temporarily left Gere-less.

Hearing that Gere was going to decline, Roberts decided to take action using some smartly utilised office stationery.

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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 change his mind, and 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’.

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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.

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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.

Still, who’s to say that 3000 wouldn’t have made $463 million worldwide as Pretty Woman did?

1. There’s a big age gap between the leads

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The romance between Pretty Woman’s Edward and Vivian is an unconventional one, and not just because there’s money changing hands.

If we’re to assume the two lead actors were playing ages similar to their own, then there’s more than class and wealth that separates Edward and Vivian.

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It’s never made reference to in the film, but there’s a huge 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.

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It 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.