Julia Roberts was not the first-choice for the role of Vivian, and was not wanted by Disney. Many other actresses were considered at the time. Marshall originally envisioned Karen Allen for the role. When she declined, it went to many better-known actresses of the time including Molly Ringwald, who turned it down because she felt uncomfortable with the content in the script, and did not like the idea of playing a prostitute. Winona Ryder, a popular box-office draw at the time, auditioned, but was turned down because Marshall felt she was “too young”. Jennifer Connelly was also dismissed for the same reason.
Meg Ryan, who was a top choice of Marshall’s, turned it down. According to a note written by Marshall, Mary Steenburgen was the first choice to play Vivian. Michelle Pfeiffer turned the role down as well, because she did not like the “tone” of the script. Daryl Hannah was also considered, but turned the role down because she believed it was “degrading to women”. Valeria Golino also turned it down as she did not think the movie could work with her thick Italian accent. Jennifer Jason Leigh had auditioned for the part, but later decided not to do the movie after she read the script because she felt it was sexist. When all the other actresses turned down the role, 21-year-old Julia Roberts, who was relatively unknown at the time, with the exception of her Oscar-nominated performance in the film Steel Magnolias (1989), won the role of Vivian. Roberts’ performance made her a star.