How movie ‘Shakespeare in Love’ almost fell apart when original star Julia Roberts pulled out

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A retrospective on the blockbuster, Oscar-winning 1999 film Shakespeare in Love revealed that disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein threatened to kill a producer’s family if he didn’t quit.

Edward Zwick, one of the producers of the nearly $300million grossing movie that took home seven Academy Awards, also revealed that Julia Roberts was originally set in 1991 to play the role in that Gwyneth Paltrow eventually won Best Actress for.

Roberts has claimed in the past that she stepped out of the role after finding out her onscreen counterpart wasn’t going to played by Daniel Day-Lewis.  

Zwick revealed that ‘the very idea of having the Pretty Woman wearing a corseted gown’ was enough to get Universal Pictures on board.    

‘Someone, possibly her manager or agent, had gotten wind of the project and intimated to Universal that Julia might be interested in starring in a period rom-com, possibly this one,’ Zwick wrote in Air Mail Friday. 

How movie ‘Shakespeare in Love’ almost fell apart when original star Julia Roberts pulled out

A retrospective on the blockbuster, Oscar-winning 1999 film Shakespeare in Love revealed that disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein threatened to kill a producer’s family if he didn’t quit

He noted that Roberts was going through a torrid personal situation at the time, having ‘more or less’ left fiancee Kiefer Sutherland at the alter and was ‘shacking up’ with the actor’s friend Jason Patric. 

On a flight with Zwick to London, Roberts revealed that she wanted Daniel Day-Lewis to play the role of Shakespeare, that ultimately went to Joseph Fiennes. 

‘He’s brilliant—he’s handsome and intense. And so funny! Did you see his performance in A Room with a View?’ He’s done Shakespeare too. Don’t you think he’d be perfect?!’ Roberts gushed about her pick to play opposite her.

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Zwick had to inform Roberts that while he agreed, Day-Lewis had already agreed to do In the Name of the Father at the same time.

Roberts was undeterred, sending Day-Lewis two dozen roses and asking the legendary actor to ‘be my Romeo.’

After Day-Lewis couldn’t be convinced, Roberts tested with the likes of Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Colin Firth, Sean Bean, Jeremy Northam but disliked something about all of them.

The starlet eventually had to leave the movie, however, because despite dialect lessons from coach Joan Washington, she couldn’t nail the accent needed to play Viola de Lesseps.

‘[O]nce she began to say the words, something was wrong. There was no magic. The problem wasn’t the script. Or Paul McGann. It was Julia. From the moment she began to speak it was clear she hadn’t been working on the accent,’ Zwick said.

Edward Zwick, one of the producers of the nearly $300million grossing movie that took home seven Academy Awards, also revealed that Julia Roberts was originally set in 1991 to play the role that Gwyneth Paltrow won her Best Actress award for

Edward Zwick, one of the producers of the nearly $300million grossing movie that took home seven Academy Awards, also revealed that Julia Roberts was originally set in 1991 to play the role that Gwyneth Paltrow won her Best Actress award for

Paltrow arrives for the Shakespeare in Love premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City December 3, 1998

Paltrow arrives for the Shakespeare in Love premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City December 3, 1998

The film, starring Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, went on to win seven Oscars

The film, starring Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, went on to win seven Oscars

After Roberts left and with the movie hanging in the balance, Zwick was contacted by the now-disgraced Weinstein.

At first, he passed, noting that the movie had already sunk $6million before ever shooting a scene with Roberts, but it encouraged Zwick to further present the movie around Hollywood.

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Pairs like Kenneth Branagh and Winona Ryder, Stephen Dillane and Emily Watson, Jude Law, Mel Gibson and Johnny Depp were all at one time attached or read the script.

In 1996, however, Paltrow read a copy of the script while staying with Ryder and was able to convince Weinstein to buy it.  

Weinstein, however, wanted Zwick out of the film and was willing to do whatever he could to make that happen, Zwick claims.

In 1996, however, Paltrow read a copy of the script while staying with Winona Ryder and was able to convince Harvey Weinstein (pictured) to buy it

In 1996, however, Paltrow read a copy of the script while staying with Winona Ryder and was able to convince Harvey Weinstein (pictured) to buy it

Weinstein, however, wanted Zwick (pictured) out of the film and was willing to do whatever he could to make that happen, Zwick claims

Weinstein, however, wanted Zwick (pictured) out of the film and was willing to do whatever he could to make that happen, Zwick claims

‘You think you can sue me, you prick? You don’t know who you’re dealing with,’ Weinstein allegedly said. ‘I’m going to ruin you! I’m going to make sure you never work again!’

It escalated quickly: ‘F**k you. I’ll kill your whole family, you little f**k,’ Weinstein allegedly told Zwick.

‘Nice talking to you, Harvey. See you in court,’ Zwick claims he responded.

After Zwick threatened to sue, Weinstein ‘promised to include my central role as producer in all press releases and to feature me in every major interview about the genesis of the movie.’

However, Weinstein would not allow Zwick to direct Shakespeare in Love, going with British filmmaker John Madden instead.

The film went on to make $289.3million at the box office and win seven Oscars, including Paltrow, Fiennes, writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and Zwick as part of the production team for Best Picture. 

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