21 Utterly Charming Secrets About Notting Hill
Universal Pictures; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration
Are Will Thacker and Anna Scott still together 21 years later? In the end, did their separate worlds manage to mesh for the long run?
Let’s just say yes, totally. Plus, as you remember from the end of Notting Hill, they have at least one child together. But their ultimate compatibility isn’t even the most pressing question!
It’s Will’s shop, The Travel Book Co., that we’re worried about, to be honest. Is there any way that his little store on Portobello Road has survived as independent booksellers are shuttering their doors right and left? Did he expand to online sales or remain a bricks-and-mortar traditionalist, still selling only travel books? We’d certainly like to think that, especially with Anna pulling in $15 million a picture, the TBC lives on.
In real life, it does and it doesn’t (more on that in a bit), but the matter at hand is it’s been 21 years since Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts bumbled their way into each other’s hearts as bookshop owner Will and Hollywood star Anna in the hit 1999 romantic comedy Notting Hill, directed by Roger Michell and written by Richard Curtis, who would go on to direct the other movie you watch every time it’s on, too, Love Actually.
Notting Hill was a smash, making almost $364 million at the box office worldwide and becoming the year’s top-grossing British film, as well as the biggest hit to date of Grant’s career.
“When I was lying sleepless at nights,” Curtis told E! News in 1999, explaining how he dreamed up one of the key elements of the story, “I would sometimes think what it would be like if I turned up at my friends’ house where I used to have dinner once a week with, as it were, the most famous person in the world, or who was the most famous at that time, Madonna or Princess Diana, or Kylie Minogue.
“And it sort of sprung from there. I used to think through the scenario of how my friends would react, who would try and be cool, who would fail to be cool, how you’d get through dinner, what they’d say to you afterwards and…so, that was the starting point.”
That’s also easily one of the best parts of the movie, Anna dining with Will’s “normal” but endlessly sweet and funny inner circle.
Roberts, for one, didn’t think the premise was so far-fetched.
“I think it could happen,” she told E! News at the film’s press junket, “because I believe in the idea that we are all looking for someone who brings out the best in us. And I think that the job or position they hold in life, it’s not even secondary. It’s third-dary, it’s fourth-dary, you know, and I think that so many other things come before that. And I say this also as a person who has a boyfriend that’s an actor—and he’s a very good actor, but I could name a dozen things about him that are incredibly appealing and raise the quality of my life that come before his talent.”
At the time she was dating Benjamin Bratt. They broke up in 2001, and little did Roberts know that she would eventually fall madly in love with a non-famous person, cameraman and photography director Danny Moder, now her husband of almost 18 years.
Like all the best romances, Notting Hill still holds up—both the film and the charming destination that served as its setting. So here are 21 more secrets about the film’s stars—the human ones and the enviable real estate.
Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images
Making an Entrance
The whole Notting Hill neighborhood, while already increasingly trendy when the film was shot, became, as Grant put it, “a hell of a lot trendier” once the movie came out.
The house on Westbourne Park Road that boasted the blue door that served as the front door to Will’s flat used to be owned by Richard Curtis—and of course it became a pilgrimage site for the movie’s fans.
In fact, so many people scrawled their own autograph on the door, it was eventually removed and auctioned off at Christie’s, but another blue door lives on in its place. (The new owner was nice enough to paint it blue.)
Meanwhile, the inside of Will’s flat was a studio set because the actual interior of Curtis’ home—a converted chapel—was actually quite grand, boasting a courtyard garden and a 1,000-square-foot reception room. And minus some exterior shots, most of the movie was shot on a meticulously built set about an hour away from the actual Notting Hill.
A Novel Idea
The Travel Book Co. doesn’t actually exist at 142 Portobello Road as it does in the film, but it’s there in spirit. When the film was shot, Nicholls Antique Arcade was in the spot, and it was succeeded by a furniture store called Gong. Now, Notting Hill Gift Shop is there, identifiable by its big blue awning—and a sign reading The Travel Book Shop.
Because they know that’s why you’re buying a keychain there.
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A store called The Travel Bookshop did exist for years on Blenheim Crescent around the corner, according to TripSavvy (which has mapped out a whole Notting Hill walking tour). It closed in 2011 but The Notting Hill Bookshop stands there today.
They probably do have some Dickens, or the new John Grisham.
Some of the scenes of Anna walking red carpets, flashing her famous smile at the cameras and attending award shows is real Roberts footage “from years gone by,” she shared with E! News in 1999, as well as footage shot at the 1998 BAFTA Awards, which in real life she attended with her My Best Friend’s Wedding co-star Rupert Everett.
Overall, the scenes that illustrate what a huge star her character is are a “hodgepodge” of her life and Anna’s, Roberts said.
What was not real, Roberts was thankful for, was the scene in which Anna opens the door of Will’s flat to countless paparazzi snapping away—surrounded by, in what Grant called a “Fellini moment,” dozens of actual paparazzi photographing the fake photographers.
“It’s always fun if you can exaggerate a situation, thank goodness,” Roberts said. “I’ve never opened a door and seen 500 people…so yeah, it’s certainly enjoyable.”
Richard Curtis found the opening montage largely lifted from Roberts’ actual movie-star life more startling: “We said, ‘F–k! That’s who we’re dealing with,'” he told Vanity Fair in 1999. “It’s very easy when you’re dealing with a very reasonable, lovely, relaxed, 30-year-old woman to forget that that’s also the Julia Roberts who, for 10 years beforehand, you could never have gotten within a hundred yards of. It was a freakish moment when we realized that the woman we were dealing with was actually both those things: this relaxed person and this untouchable, iconic object of which there are so many photographs.”
Not only did Hugh Grant (and Rupert Everett, for that matter) audition to play the titular Bard in Shakespeare in Love, which came out in 1998 and won the Oscar for Best Picture the following year, Julia Roberts was attached to play Violet, opposite Daniel Day-Lewis—but he ultimately didn’t sign on, so Roberts left.
All’s well that ends well, at least. Gwyneth Paltrow won an Oscar and enjoyed sizzling chemistry with Joseph Fiennes, and Roberts won her Oscar two years later, for Erin Brockovich.
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Grant recalled his Shakespeare in Love audition opposite Roberts to Vanity Fair: “I was a very, very unemployed, pathetic actor at the time. I remember being so intimidated by the fact that she was in the room that I got myself in a sort of kerfuffle and missed the chair when I sat down. I sat on the arm of the chair, then had that very awkward inner debate about whether to say, ‘Actually, I’ve missed the chair,’ or to pretend that I was really a slightly quirky sort of character who always sits on the arm.”
When it came time to make Notting Hill, Grant still used the word “fear” to characterize how he initially felt, explaining, “I think the emotion you have when you first meet someone tends to linger with you. I was all ready to be scared, and I must say, the fear never quite left me.”
Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
An American in England
Roberts didn’t go unaffected by the Hugh Grantness of it all, either, however.
“I was actually intimidated by Hugh and I think also being the only American in the movie,” she told E! News. “Everybody just sounds smarter than you. English people can say the dumbest things and make it sound so charming and fabulously interesting, and once I was able to do that and just realize I’m the only nasally sounding Yank of the bunch, then I was able to sort of relax.”
Not Starring Julia Roberts as Herself
“I’m just sort of drifting along in this quite cozy life in this curious backwater of London, and all of a sudden the most famous and beautiful film actress in the world walks into my shop… and romance ensues,” Grant told E! News in 1999.
So…it sounds as though Julia Roberts walked in.
Well, Roberts obviously saw the parallels, and it turns out she was surprised by how different she was from Anna.
“I think going into it I sort of thought, well, I’ll know how to do this sort of thing, but the situations become quite specific,” she told E! News. “And therefore, the choices that she makes are quite specific within that, and I didn’t always agree with her choices—and I think because we share a career, I just sort of assumed that we’d make all the same choices.
“But we didn’t. I had to really remove my own hubris, or judgment or whatever it is in order to play her honestly.”
Roberts clarified what, exactly, bothered her about the character to Vanity Fair: the fact that Anna had a tumultuous relationship with the media because, before she was famous, she had posed nude and the photos had gotten out.
“I didn’t agree with what she did, first of all,” Roberts told the magazine in 1999. “Didn’t agree with how she got into this mess—I would never have been in that situation. Didn’t agree with the way she was dealing with it…Didn’t agree with the way she was reacting to it. Didn’t agree with any of that stuff.”
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Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Richard Curtis, Actually
Roberts originally didn’t have any interest in playing a movie star.
“How boring,” she recalled telling her agent. “How tedious—what a stupid thing for me to do.”
It was only after she read Curtis’ script—which she only read because it was a script by Four Weddings and a Funeral, Blackadder and Spitting Image scribe Richard Curtis—that she decided, “F–k, I’m gonna do this movie.”
According to Hugh Grant, the movie is inspired by a true story!
“This is a story he won’t admit to,” the actor told E!, “but he’s told me in a drunken moment. A friend of his, an ordinary, normal guy, was in Harrods one day and met a very famous woman, and ended up taking her back to his flat in Notting Hill—and all kinds of nonsense ensued. And they used to meet up, whenever she came to London their affair would reactivate itself—and that was the genesis of his script. But he’s so scared of people finding out who this very famous person was that he won’t tell anyone that story.”
Will would have really hurt himself if he’d made it over the gate to sneak into the private Rosemead Gardens—apparently it’s quite the drop to the other side. Instead, he stumbled, leading him to charmingly exclaim, “Whoopsie-daisies!” much to Anna’s amusement.
Meanwhile, they couldn’t have even waltzed in during the daytime: that particular garden is one of several in the area owned by an estate and maintained by local residents, who are the only ones with keys.
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That’s The Newsroom‘s Emily Mortimer playing “The Perfect Girl” (as she’s credited) who goes out with Will after he Anna don’t initially work out. And aside from the awkwardness of knowing your one scene amounts to your character being rejected, the actress showed up with hives, thanks to an allergic reaction from the fabric of a suit she had picked up in a thrift shop.
“It was a nightmare,” Mortimer recalled on 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.”
But surely Hugh Grant, with all his charming ways, eased the tension?
“No, no,” Mortimer winced, “everybody was really embarrassed! It was very awkward. It was like, ‘who is this girl who’s come—she’s just got one scene and she’s making such a meal of it,’ and nobody would talk to me. It was weird. I was weird, and I was also really shy and mortified.”
“She liked to throw fruit at me during takes, or just before takes, just to put me off,” Grant revealed to E! News.
Roberts concurred. “I threw a lot of fruit at him, to the point where we became a fruitless environment.”
Roberts apparently knew not to give it 110 percent during rehearsal, so as to remain fresh for the real deal, “whereas I’d be acting my little heart out, trying to impress the crew,” Grant told E! News. So “when the cameras roll, she’s great and I’m boring.”
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Playing Will’s unwashed slacker flatmate Spike was a breakthrough turn for Rhys Ifans, most notably when the Welsh actor happily flexes and shows off his “nice, firm buttocks” to the paparazzi waiting outside the front door for Anna.
But though Spike can’t help but charm as well as amuse, Ifans apparently went quite method with the role.
Asked if it was true he didn’t bathe or brush his teeth during filming, he told Interview in 2011, “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.”
And, “I would bathe occasionally, when I remembered to.”
Not helping was the fact that the sneakers the costume department found for him had a “smell that emanated from the dark depths” that “brought a tear to one’s eye,” he told E! News in 1999. “By the end of the day, the rest of the cast insisted that these trainers were taken away and cleansed—exorcised!”
But while he’s got the air of the rogue about him, director Roger Michell (who before Notting Hill directed Ifans onstage in Under Milk Wood) described him to the Telegraph in 2006 as full of pleasant contradictions: “He’s gawky, yet graceful. He’s smelly and Welsh and yet he’s handsome and winning.” Certainly winning enough to work with Ifans again on the 2004 film Enduring Love and direct him in a 2017 West End production of Mood Music.
Ifans told the BBC in 2018 that he’d “rather throw a brick than sign a petition,” but he found a happy medium: after being turned on to the cause after playing a homeless man in the one-man play Protest Song in 2013, he volunteered to be an ambassador for the Welsh charity Shelter Cymru, which aids the homeless.
Anything for Horse & Hound
London’s posh Ritz Hotel very rarely allows filming inside its 5-star walls, but access was granted to be the setting for Anna’s press junket, featuring Will pretending to be a reporter from Horse & Hound.
Alas, there were no animals in Anna’s new movie, set in space. Or in her next one, taking place on a submarine.
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Mischa Barton played “12-year-old Actress” in what wasn’t her first movie ever, but the first of two in one year that millions of people saw.
The other? The Sixth Sense, which came out that August. Barton is Kyra, the girl under the bed who scares the hell out of Haley Joel Osment.
“12-year-old Actress,” meanwhile, was co-starring with Anna Scott in the big-budget sci-fi flick Helix—her 22nd movie, as she told Will of Horse & Hound.
Alec Baldwin has been in a trillion movies, including Notting Hill, where he showed up briefly to play Anna’s boyfriend Jeff (plot twist!), who shows up to surprise her in London but by the end of the movie, in absentia, is rumored to have quickly moved on—and “most rumors about Jeff turn out to be true.”
“By the late ’90s, I embarked on a string of leading and supporting roles that gained little attention,” Baldwin recalled in his 2017 memoir Nevertheless, “though each offered its own charms and gratifications.”
Notting Hill‘s big selling point? “Where, for just one day, on a set in London, I got to breathe the same air as the remarkable Julia Roberts.”
The two were supposed to work together again on Ryan Murphy‘s 2014 HBO movie The Normal Heart, but Baldwin left the project. He can rest assured that Roberts is still a fan, though: In 2017 she said on EW Radio that she had never hosted Saturday Night Live because she was “too scared,” but “I would do it with Alec, if we could be comedy partners just doing skits.”
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Sadly, Emma Chambers, who played Will’s quirky sister Honey (seen here with Hugh Bonneville, the future Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey, playing oblivious stockbroker Bernie), died in 2018 at the age of 53.
Hugh Grant posted a rare personal tweet, writing, “Emma Chambers was a hilarious and very warm person and of course a brilliant actress. Very sad news.”
James Dreyfus, who played the group’s happily married friend Martin, tweeted, “RIP the wonderful and talented Emma Chambers. Unique,& unspeakably funny. Too young. Thoughts with her family.”
Richard Curtis, who also wrote for Chambers’ other best-known role, Alice Tinker in the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley, told the Telegraph, “We’re obviously terribly sad. She really was a great, great comedy performer—and a very fine actress. And a tender, sweet, funny, unusual, loving human being. In my work she worked opposite Dawn French and Julia Roberts—and was more than the measure of the pair of them.”
Film producer Jonathan Sothcott tweeted, “RIP the wonderful Emma Chambers – best known for The Vicar of Dibley but also stole every scene in Notting Hill. Only 53.”
Julia Roberts’ Least Favorite Line
Don’t worry, the line that left a bad taste in the star’s mouth was not “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”
That would be tragic, wouldn’t it?
No, the one Roberts wasn’t a fan of was when, still tucked in bed, Anna tells Will, quoting Rita Hayworth in 1946’s Gilda, “‘They go to bed with Gilda, they wake up with me.'”
“I hate to say anything negative about what Richard wrote, because he’s a genius, but I hated saying that line,” she told Vanity Fair. “To me, it was nails on a chalkboard. I don’t really believe any of that.”
More to the Story?
Turns out we’re not the only ones who wondered how it all turned out for Anna and Will.
“I’m going to talk to Julia about it sometime soon,” Richard Curtis told the Mirror in April 2019 about the possibility of getting the band back together, as he did for Love, Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral mini-sequels, both for Britain’s Red Nose Day, and both of which were rapturously received.
Roger Michell sounded more skeptical about the prospect, telling Her in 2018, “I just don’t know what the story could possibly be. Are Will and Anna still living in Notting Hill with a load of grumpy teenagers running around? I just don’t know. In love stories, you have to split up and then get back together again. If you did that with a middle-aged couple living in Notting Hill, it would feel contrived.”
Roberts told ET in October 2018 that these days she would be more likely to play “the parents of the people that are rom-com-ing.”
“There came a point in my career where people thought I had turned on romantic comedies, which I love…I love to be in them, I love to watch them. But sometimes, they just don’t work at a certain point of life experience.” It’s not about age, per se, “it’s just about what people know that you know.”
Well, we know that we’re here for it.
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(Originally published May 13, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)
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