Julia Roberts Allegedly Cost Universal Studios $6 Million After “Disaster” Chemistry Reads for ‘Shakespeare in Love’

Edward Zwick, who played a key role in bringing the Oscar-winning rom-com Shakespeare in Love to life, recently shared a rather telling story about Julia Roberts.

In an excerpt from Zwick’s upcoming memoir published by Graydon Carter’s Air Mail, the director revealed the arduous process of getting the 1998 movie off the ground. He claims that Roberts was steadfast in getting Daniel Day-Lewis to star in the film. When that failed, and when she struggled in rehearsals and chemistry readings, the actress stepped away from the film, costing the studio a whopping $6 million in production costs.

According to him, Roberts was attached to the movie early in its development, which persuaded Universal Studio to finance the film. “The mere possibility of having the “Pretty Woman” wearing a corseted gown got the studio excited enough to cough up the dough,” he wrote. But the rest of the filmmaking process did not go as smoothly. 

The director claims Roberts told him the first time they met that she already “decided who should play Shakespeare.” Per his account, the actress became transfixed with getting Day-Lewis to star opposite her in the film. Zwick, who already had his own list of actors in mind for the role, already knew that Lewis was not available, but Roberts was sure she could convince him. She reportedly asked for two dozen roses to be sent to Lewis, along with a card that read, “Be my Romeo.”

Zwick explained that it didn’t end there. He organized a series of chemistry readings for Roberts with a “wonderful crop of actors” he met in London that included Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, and more. But she told him to cancel that day of casting because Lewis was going to do the movie. 

The only chemistry readings Roberts did participate in were with Ralph Fiennes, which Zwick described as “awkward,” and Paul McGann.

“There was no magic. The problem wasn’t the script. Or Paul McGann. It was Julia,” he said. “From the moment she began to speak it was clear she hadn’t been working on the accent.” Roberts reportedly flew back to the U.S. very soon after, as Zwick was unable to get a hold of her the next day.

The studio had already sunk $6 million in building sets, securing locations, and making costumes. But with Roberts off the production, Shakespeare in Love was dead in the water. 

That is, until Gwyneth Paltrow expressed interest in taking the lead role, rekindling Miramax and Harvey Weinstein’s interest in the movie. Paltrow went on to win an Oscar for her performance as Viola de Lesseps. 

Regarding Roberts and her controversial decision to leave the movie, Zwick acknowledges that this was a particularly sensitive time for the actress since she was fresh off her success in Pretty Woman

But, he writes, “I bear her no ill will. She was a frightened 24-year-old.”