In 1999, at the height of her fame, Julia Roberts paired up with Hugh Grant for a fabulous romantic comedy, Notting Hill. Twenty years later, fans are still talking about this movie and spending rainy days watching the film again for the second, third or tenth time. The movie has fun cameos like Alec Baldwin, a young Mischa Barton and an odd Leonardo DiCaprio mention that is tied to a real-life occurrence during filming. Even the London flat, where Grant’s character lived, became a pop-culture icon and had to be disguised after years of tourist traffic to the location.
All of these fun little-known moments make Notting Hill a great movie to take a look back on as moviegoers celebrate its 20th anniversary. From hives to smelly actors, this film had a lot of quirky behind-the-scenes moments along the path to rom-com greatness.
There was no one else but Julia.
Julia Roberts really was the only one considered for the Anna Scott role. She basically played out a fictional version of herself as a movie star — even if she didn’t see it that way. It was producer Duncan Kenworthy, who revealed that Roberts was their top choice on a list of one. They didn’t have a back-up plan.
“Whenever you’re asked about casting your film,” said Kenworthy in the production notes for the film, “There’s always a fiction that whomever you cast was always your first choice, but I have to say that Julia Roberts was the one and only person we thought of for the part of Anna. I remember saying to [screenwriter] Roger [Curtis], ‘offer it to Julia’ and Roger said, ‘We will never get her.’ So when Julia’s agent said it was the best romantic comedy she had ever read, I thought that was a good sign.”
While Roberts didn’t think the storyline mimicked her life, there was one moment in Notting Hill that stood out to her. “Very few things overlapped; it was not until the end of the movie when she comes in to the bookshop, saying to him that ‘The fame thing isn’t really real, you know’, where she is closest to being a friend of mine,” Roberts said in a 1999 Birmingham Post interview.
Do you remember these celebrity cameos?
When you go back and watch the movie, you will see two very familiar faces — Mischa Barton and Alec Baldwin. Barton played the precocious 12-year-old actress in the hilarious press junket scene and she holds her own against Grant.
Yet it’s Baldwin’s role as Anna Scott’s American boyfriend, Jeff King, that’s even more curious. The actor took an uncredited role in the movie, it’s a historical fact that is seen in his IMDb filmography. If you have the opportunity to star opposite Roberts, you just do it.
Leonardo DiCaprio made his presence known.
Barton’s character briefly references Leonardo DiCaprio in her scene bragging about movie stars she’s acted with, but it was DiCaprio’s presence in London a month earlier that caused a filming location to be turned down by police. His real-life attendance at a premiere in Leicester Square caused enamored fans to go crazy. The London police didn’t want to deal with that again, even though Notting Hill was creating a fake movie premiere with Roberts playing a character. So, the producers’ request for a filming permit was declined.
At the last minute, the police changed their minds and the film was given only 24-hours’ notice to make the scene happen. The producers jumped at the opportunity and they staged the fictional premiere at the Empire Leicester Square.
Notting Hill fans flocked to visit Notting Hill.
If you’re going to visit Notting Hill to get a photo of that iconic blue facade at the flat Grant’s character lived in, it might look a bit different now. The movie was such a hit that the owner of the house got irritated with the number of tourists flocking to the location, years before Instagram became a thing. The door was painted black and some of the architecture was changed in the years that followed. By 2019, the door has been repainted blue again, thanks to a kind new owner, but the surrounding door frame is now white.
It had a peak-’90s soundtrack.
In 1999, the boy band craze hadn’t peaked yet, but the world was definitely digging the sound. Notting’s Hill‘s official soundtrack featured two boy bands, 98 Degrees and Boyzone. 98 Degrees had their song “I Do (Cherish You)” on the album and Boyzone contributed “No Matter What.”
Both songs are slow jams with music videos that are everything you expect out of 1999 — matching outfits, romantic images and gauzy shots. It makes you miss the simplicity of the world 20 years ago.
Emily Mortimer had a bad case of hives during filming.
In one of Emily Mortimer’s first major U.S. roles, she played “The Perfect Girl” in Notting Hill. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it role because she is one in a series of dates Grant’s character, Will, goes on after he and Anna break up. What’s significant about this scene is that Mortimer was experiencing a case of the hives when she shot the film. She was allergic to a thrift-store suit she had bought and her face was swollen, thanks to the steroids she was prescribed.
“It was a nightmare,” Mortimer revealed to PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing in 2018. “Every time I got nervous — which you do when you’re acting — I got hives and my face… well, one side of it you can still see is sort of chipmunk-like.”
Barry Jenkins hilariously live-tweeted a viewing of the film. From an airplane.
In other news, the woman next to me is watching NOTTING HILL. A few choice folks will get the irony of this happening on my last flight of this sojourn. Also… Julia Roberts is STUNNING in this film. And holy shit Lester Freamon is in this?!
— Barry Jenkins (@BarryJenkins) January 4, 2018
In January 2018, director Barry Jenkins gave us the live-tweet thread of Notting Hill we didn’t know we needed. He was on a plane and the woman next to him was watching the movie. He didn’t have the audio, only the visuals, to the film, so what we get is an extraordinary view from a director’s standpoint.
The two-hour thread kicks off with a camera-shot discussion and ends with a coffee break at the conclusion of the film. It’s honestly one of the best threads you will read on the internet.
There was a smell issue with one of the actors.
Rhys Ifans had a star-making turn in Notting Hill as Will’s messy, and often naked, roommate, Spike. He decided to really take that role to heart by not bathing much during the filming, much to the chagrin of his co-stars.
“We were filming in Shepardston Studios, and I couldn’t bear the journey all the way from London every day, so I got a tent and I camped in a campsite nearby. Every morning this big limo would come and pick me up at the campsite, to the utter bafflement of the campsite owner. He thought I was some kind of eccentric millionaire,” he shared with Interview magazine in 2011. “I would bathe occasionally, when I remembered to.”
They recently lost a cast member.
Emma Chambers was a hilarious and very warm person and of course a brilliant actress. Very sad news.
RIP the wonderful and talented Emma Chambers. Unique,& unspeakably funny. Too young. Thoughts with her family. X
— James Dreyfus (@DreyfusJames) February 24, 2018
Emma Chambers, who played Grant’s quirky sister in Notting Hill, passed away in February 2018 from a heart attack. She was only 53 years old. The cast posted tributes to her life and work on social media after learning of the loss of their former co-star.
Grant tweeted, “Emma Chambers was a hilarious and very warm person and of course a brilliant actress. Very sad news.”