With a box-office take of nearly $300 million, “My Best Friend’s Wedding” is one of Julia Roberts’ biggest hits, yet that may not have been the case had the director kept the film’s original ending — because test audiences hated it with a passion.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, P.J. Hogan — who directed the 1997 rom-com — opens up about the film in honour of its 20th anniversary, and reveals the first test screening was a disaster.
“How are you going to save this movie?” a studio exec asked Hogan after the screening, she recalls, admitting that audiences hated Julia Roberts’ character for attempting to sabotage the wedding of her best friend (with whom she is secretly in love) Michael (Dermot Mulroney) to fiancee Kimmy (Cameron Diaz).
Those who watched the movie will recall that Roberts’ character fails to stop the wedding and winds up paying the price for her meddling. In the earlier version, however, the character meets a new man in the final scene, played by John Corbett (“Sex and the City”), hinting at a happy ending – which is the last thing audiences wanted to see.
“The wanted her dead,” says Hogan of Roberts’ character, Julianne. “They just couldn’t understand her motives.”
However, the idea that Julia Roberts would not have a happy ending at the conclusion of the film was a terrifying proposition for the movie studio. “They were very nervous because we were making a Julia Roberts film and they couldn’t have her end up alone and unhappy,” remarks Hogan. “So we had to come up with something that pleased the studio, but that was acceptable to the audience.”
The solution, Hogan explains, was Rupert Everett, who played as Julianne’s gay bestie George. “We expanded his character,” Hogan reveals. “Every time Julianne talked to him, she’d explain why she was doing these terrible things; he’s her conscience throughout.”
This meant reshoots, filming new scenes with Roberts and Everett. “Whenever she was being particularly devious I’d have her phone Rupert’s character and he would call her out on it.”
Eight months after shooting wrapped, the cast re-assembled to shoot a new ending, in which George arrives at the wedding just in time to console Julianne and dance with her at the wedding reception.
“It would have been such a downer of an ending if George hadn’t shown up,” says Hogan, adding: “That one scene somehow gave the audience permission to forgive Julianne. Those last five minutes really made the whole movie work.”