Julia Roberts was originally suggested to play Harriet Tubman in biopic

Erm, there's just one small problem here...

Julia Roberts was originally the first choice to play Harriet Tubman in a biopic of the legendary abolitionist, despite it requiring her to play blackface.

Cynthia Erivo is currently generating Oscar buzz for her role as Tubman in Kasi Lemons’ biopic Harriet – which tells the incredible story of how she escaped slavery and went on to free others using the Underground Railway network of safe houses.

But in an unlikely twist to the film’s casting, it’s been revealed that Oscar winner Julia was actually the first name considered to tackle the iconic role.


Gregory Allen, the screenwriter and producer of Harriet, revealed the preference in a new Q&A with Focus Features earlier this month.

Describing how he began work on the script in 1994, he said: “I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman’.

Things got even more complicated when someone pointed out that Roberts wasn’t exactly the ideal fit for the role.

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’.”


Speaking to NME earlier this month, Erivo also addressed the backlash she faced in the role, after US critics argued that a British actress shouldn’t play the role of Tubman.

“I’m never gonna say that anyone’s opinion is invalid,” Erivo said.

“If that’s how people feel then that’s how people feel. It is my responsibility to make sure I do my job so that if these people do end up watching it they can be pleasantly surprised.”

Harriet hits UK cinemas on November 22.