The production of the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love was apparently quite tumultuous, according to a recent essay by producer Edward Zwick. Julia Roberts was originally cast as the lead, Viola de Lesseps, but eventually dropped out of the project, which went on to earn Gwyneth Paltrow an Oscar for her performance.
Zwick recounted that the studio was excited about Roberts being cast, with the prospect of seeing “the Pretty Woman wearing a corseted gown” being enough to justify the cost. However, Roberts was reportedly fixated on the idea of Daniel Day-Lewis playing Shakespeare and even sent him two dozen roses with a card that read, “Be my Romeo.”
When Day-Lewis was unable to commit to the project, Roberts did a chemistry read with Ralph Fiennes, who was eventually cast as Shakespeare. Zwick remembered that Roberts barely acknowledged Fiennes during the read and later said, “He isn’t funny.”
Roberts then did chemistry tests with several other actors, including Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, and Sean Bean, before doing a reading with Paul McGann. Despite looking “radiant in full period costume,” something was wrong from the start of the reading. Zwick tried to be “encouraging,” but Roberts quit the project the next morning.
Zwick has not spoken to Roberts since and harbors no ill will toward her. He chalks up the difficulties to both of them being young and inexperienced at the time.