A Hollywood Executive Suggested Julia Roberts Play Harriet Tubman

Kent Imperial, Staff Writer

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I guess Scarlett Johansson wasn’t available for the role at the time. *ba dum tiss*

In a recent Q&A with Focus Features, screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard recalls that when he first started working on “Harriet” in 1994, a Hollywood executive suggested Julia Roberts portray the legendary “conductor” of the Underground Railroad.

Yes, THAT Julia Roberts. Julia Roberts is best known for her roles in “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Erin Brockovich” and “Pretty Woman.” As talented of an actress as she is, it’s definitely for the best that a white actress doesn’t portray a black historical figure.

“I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,’” Allen explained. “When someone pointed out that Roberts couldn’t be Harriet, the executive responded, ‘It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.’”

Thankfully, Julia Roberts did not end up being cast as Harriet Tubman.

Howard did end up casting Cynthia Erivo, best known for her role in “The Color Purple” on Broadway.

“I first saw her when the other producers flew me to New York to see her in ‘The Color Purple,’” Allen said. “As soon as she opened her mouth, I thought, ‘Yes, that’s Harriet.’”

“Harriet” directed by Kasi Lemmons, also stars names like Janelle Monae, Leslie Odom Jr., and Joe Alwyn and was released on November 1, 2019.