Pretty Woman Screenwriter J.F. Lawton Reveals the Iconic Rom-Com Was First “Dark and Gritty”

Julia Roberts
Pretty Woman screenwriter J.F. Lawton reveals how the story evolved into an iconic rom-com. Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

Big mistake. Big. Huge! 25 years ago romantic comedy Pretty Woman hit theaters and changed the fairy tale game for good — but according to the iconic film’s screenwriter J.F. Lawton, the Julia Roberts’ flick was originally written as “dark and gritty.”

“I was a screenwriter who was trying to get a job, I was unemployed and I was working in post-production and I was trying to sell scripts, and I had been writing all of these ninja scripts and comedies, and I just couldn’t get any attention. I suddenly said, ‘Well, maybe I need to do something more serious and dramatic,’” Lawton told Vanity Fair in a interview pegged to the film’s 25th anniversary, explaining that Pretty Woman was initially a script titled 3,000, about a financially destroyed America and a story of a “girl who wanted to change her life, and did.”

Wall Street had either come out or was coming out, I had heard about it and the whole issue about the financiers who were destroying companies. I kind of thought about the idea that one of these people would meet somebody who was affected by what they were doing,” Lawton recalls of how his script turned into the beloved rom-com, adding that his “dark and gritty” 3,000 ended on a completely different note with Roberts’ famous character Vivian and Richard Gere’s Edward not ending up together.

Pretty Woman
Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

After Disney took on the “darker” screenplay in a move to keep director Gary Marshall from moving to another studio, Lawton explains he did a standard rewrite but made it too sappy.

“I was told by the executives that I had lightened it too much. I think they probably would have replaced me anyway, but the reason they claimed to fire me is that I lightened it too much and they were concerned,” Lawton remembers. “During this whole thing, there was all this whole debate about ‘How do we end it, how do we save her?’ without it feeling like a cop-out.” 

Lawton said the script was then rewritten by numerous others to fit what director Marshall wanted — “a combination of fairy tales. Julia [Roberts] was Rapunzel, Richard [Gere] was Prince Charming, and Hector [Elizondo] was the fairy godmother” — but he didn’t mind.

“I was thrilled! That’s the other side of it, is that I’m supposed to be the wounded artist in all of this who painted the da Vinci or whatever and then they slashed it,” Lawton admitted. “I was a guy who was writing ninja movies and trying to get a job. If you’re an architect and you design a cabin for the woods, and somebody says, ‘We want to make it into a skyscraper’…the fact that Disney came in and wanted to do it as a big-budget movie with a major director was a great thing.” 

And stars Roberts and Gere only contributed to the changes, he added.

“They had auditioned Al Pacino, they had auditioned Michelle Pfeiffer, and it would definitely have been a different movie if had it been Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer,” he said. “It might have been closer to the original script and maybe not have had a happy ending. But the chemistry between Julia and Gere, it is palpable on the screen, it was palpable in auditions. You can’t really see how it could end any other way, because they just light up with each other.”

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