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'Pretty Woman' turns 25: Jennifer Jason Leigh talks auditioning for Vivian

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Everett Collection; Russell Einhorn/Liaison

25 years ago, Pretty Woman hit theaters and made Julia Roberts one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Director Garry Marshall and the cast—Roberts, Richard Gere, Hector Elizondo, and Laura San Giacomo—reunited for the first time since 1990 on Tuesday’s Today.

Among the segment’s more interesting tidbits was the discussion about how dark the film’s original screenplay was. At first, the movie was called called 3,000 (a reference to the amount of money Roberts’ character, Vivian, earns for her services)— and it was hardly a rosy Cinderella story about a hooker with a heart of gold.

For one thing, Vivian was a drug addict. For another, there was no Prince Charming. “At the end of the original script,” Roberts said, “Richard’s character threw my character out of the car, threw the money on top of her and drove away. And the credits rolled.”

Roberts explained to Matt Lauer that she was cast in 3,000—and she ultimately held onto the part once the project morphed into Pretty Woman at Disney, under Garry Marshall’s direction. 

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It’s tantalizing to imagine what 3,000 might have been: a gritty look at L.A.’s underworld, in which a prostitute is not a happy-go-lucky ingenue with a beguiling smile and an infectious laugh, but a drug addict circling the drain. It’s another one of those parallel-universe what-might-have-beens—especially considering that Jennifer Jason Leigh also auditioned for Vivian. 

The actress talked to EW about her brush with 3,000 in 2007, for a profile we ran timed to the release of Margot at the Wedding. Leigh liked the script for 3,000—understandable, considering that she has spent much of her career exploring the darkest corners of the human soul. (A film from that era, Last Exit to Brooklyn is proof enough of her tastes.) But by the time she read for Marshall, the movie had changed completely. And according to Leigh, the director had a unique explanation for the happy-hooker makeover. 

“There’s that hilarious comment that he made, which was: ‘She’s only been doing this for a few weeks. It’s still fun for her,'” Leigh remembered. “And I was like, have you ever gotten in a car off of Hollywood Blvd. with some, like, 65 year old fat man who smells and given him a blow job? How fun is it?'”

Leigh clarified that she didn’t actually say that to Marshall. “I was like, Eh…ha ha ha,” she said, imitating nervous laughter. “I thought it. And then we did one scene and he was like, ‘Can you put a little more twinkle in it?’ It didn’t go so well. Then later when you see the movie, you understand why. It’s hugely successful. It’s a recruitment film, ultimately. Who wouldn’t want to become a prostitute on Hollywood Blvd. after that, you know? Oh, yeah—it’s really fun for the first few weeks!”

It’s almost impossible to imagine Leigh as the buoyant, Prince-singing Vivian that Roberts played. But Leigh as a desperate dweller of L.A.’s skid row? Yeah, we can picture that.