“Shakespeare in Love” producer Edward Zwick opened up to readers about some big secrets about the making of the 1998 Oscar-winning film.
The romantic period starred Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But in the early days of the project, Paltrow wasn’t involved at all, but instead “Pretty Woman” star Julia Roberts, who Zwick says steered early production off the rails.
In the first chapter of his forthcoming memoir, published Saturday in Airmail, Zwick celebrated the film’s 25th anniversary with juicy details about its development. His contributions, he said, were long overlooked and rarely publicly acknowledged — even on the night he won an Academy Award and was pulled out of his acceptance speech by studio mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The producer of ‘The Last Samurai’ and ‘I Am Sam’ revealed that he was initially unable to get respected screenwriter Tom Stoppard to rewrite Marc Norman’s first draft. That version envisioned Elizabethan theater “as the Hollywood of its day, with young Will as yet another struggling writer-director who must satisfy the public’s hunger for innocent, pleasant fare, deal with treacherous producers, calm down, struggle with writer’s block. , and survive the plague.”
Life imitated art for all of them, he explained. In the early 1990s, Stoppard, a “childhood idol” of Zwick, apparently wanted a million dollars to make the film, but Universal Studios would not finance it until Roberts, then 24, showed interest in the project.
I now know she never read Marc’s design, but the mere possibility of the ‘Pretty Woman’ wearing a corset dress got the studio excited enough to cough up the dough. Ten weeks later I was back in London, where a copy of Stoppard’s first draft was waiting in my posh hotel room,” Zwick wrote. (Stoppard subsequently shared the Academy Award for Original Screenplay with Norman.)
Zwick recalled the whirlwind days of Roberts’ involvement, detailing their overnight flight from LA to London to begin screen tests and how Roberts – who had recently left her “Flatliners” co-star Kiefer Sutherland at the altar – reportedly admitted that she “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to her leading men. For “Shakespeare in Love,” Zwick said, “Of course, the new It Girl felt her co-star should be the greatest actor in the world”: Daniel Day- Lewis.
Zwick had already arranged casting meetings and auditions with “every actor in England” and knew Day-Lewis, a newly minted Oscar winner, was unavailable. Other hopefuls included Fiennes’ older brother, Ralph Fiennes; Russell Crowe; Hugh Grant; Digging Rupert; Colin Firth, Sean Bean; and Jeremy Northam – all of whom Roberts found fault with.
Roberts’ fixation on Day-Lewis even included her sending him two dozen roses with a card that read “Be My Romeo,” Zwick said. But the “My Left Foot” star was already committed to “In the Name of the Father” with boyfriend Jim Sheridan and once again turned down Zwick’s (and Roberts’) overtures. But the rejection apparently loosened Roberts.
Roberts representatives did not respond to requests for comment from Air Mail or The Times.
After a screen test with the near-perfect Ralph Fiennes, Zwick said, “Julia was barely there. …Even when Ralph did his best to generate the famous smile, Julia barely acknowledged him.
“I’m not suggesting she was deliberately sabotaging, but it was a disaster nonetheless,” he wrote, adding that she was also unable to “master the accent” required of her character, Viola De Lesseps.
Things moved on and Zwick said he had “made the tragic mistake of underestimating her insecurity.” Soon after, and after costumes were made, sets built, and $6 million spent, Roberts left the project.
The producer said he never spoke to Roberts again, but “observed from a distance as her work grew in depth and stature”.
‘I harbor no ill will to her. She was a frightened 24-year-old. I wasn’t much older and tried to play grown up as I watched the Globe Theater being torn down,” he added. “And with it my dreams of greatness.”