Julia Roberts’ role in Pretty Woman is arguably still the actress’ most well-known role almost 30 years later. As it turns out, when Roberts took the lead for the modern-day fairy tale about a prostitute who gets swept off her feet by a wealthy businessman played by Richard Gere, she did a little research that may surprise some people.
The widow of the late Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall, Barbara Marshall, recently told Page Six that shortly after Julia Roberts was cast as Vivian Ward, she asked her if she could come by the Los Angeles clinic where Barbara was a nurse at the time, and she had a very specific goal at the time. Said Marshall,
I recruited two young women who came to the clinic regularly, and I paid them $35 each to meet with Julia… I went back to work, and about 20 minutes later, Julia yelled from the end of the hall, ‘Bye, Barbara. We’re going to take a drive. We’ll be back later.’
Julia Roberts apparently really hit it off with the pair of prostitutes and decided to go with them down to Hollywood Boulevard - maybe to observe them doing their thing, or catch lunch? While the actress had the opportunity to simply ask them a couple questions about their line of work in preparation for her role, that evidently wasn’t enough, as she wanted to hang out with them outside the clinic too.
Barbara Marshall admitted to becoming panicked at the whole situation. She called her husband, telling him where his Pretty Woman lead had gone and expressed her worry about what would happen if she didn’t come back. Julia Roberts did later turn up unharmed, and as Barbara described, she’s “one tough lady who can take care of herself on and off camera”.
It's a funny story, and perhaps Julia Roberts' time with the prostitutes really did give her a sense of what it's like to be a sex worker in Los Angeles, providing an extra edge in her iconic character. Pretty Woman was one of Julia Roberts’ first movies, and her decision to partake in a little extra credit about the real-life environment of Vivian before stepping on set shows how seriously the actress has taken her work since the very beginning.
In addition to arranging the special meeting, Barbara Marshall also recently said she feels she had a bit of an influence on the scene where Vivian Ward offers up Edward Lewis his choice of condoms in their first encounter - and she calls herself a “safety girl.” This was apparently a result of Marshall devoting some of her work to the importance of preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
It’s great to see that Pretty Woman had influences of real-life Hollywood Boulevard sex workers and a Los Angeles-based nurse, no matter how small. That being said, we would still love to know how Julia Roberts’ drive through Hollywood actually went, and what she wound up doing. Spill the tea, Julia!
Nearly 30 years after the fact, we're still learning new things about Pretty Woman, and even now getting to digest in in different mediums. Over the summer, a musical version of Pretty Woman debuted on Broadway – which Barbara Marshall has apparently seen twelve times. Julia Roberts was also once in the audience for the New York City show, though she admitted it made her emotional about the 2016 passing of Garry Marshall. And, of course, you can always see the 1990 original whenever you want, as it is widely available on digital, Blu-ray, and DVD.