A Hollywood Executive Wanted Julia Roberts To Play Harriet Tubman

When someone pointed out that wouldn’t be possible, the exec apparently said, "It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference."

A Hollywood executive apparently once suggested that Julia Roberts play the role of historic abolitionist Harriet Tubman in a biopic.

In a recent Q&A with Focus Features, screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard described the decades-long journey it took to get his screenplay for the biopic, “Harriet,” made. Howard explained that “Harriet” was his first assignment 26 years ago at Disney. Having studied Tubman’s life extensively in college, he was eager to turn her thrilling life into an action-adventure movie.

“The climate in Hollywood, however, was very different back then,” he explained, “I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let's get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman.’”

Howard also said when someone pointed out that Roberts couldn’t be Harriet, the exec said, “It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference."

Tubman was an American abolitionist who escaped slavery and helped rescue other enslaved people during the U.S. Civil War Era through a network known as The Underground Railroad.
British actress Cynthia Erivo was cast to play Tubman in Howard’s biopic, which has finally made it to the big screen.

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