In the beloved coming-of-age movie, Now and Then, Roberta -- our favorite big-screen tomboy played by both Christina Ricci, as a teen, and Rosie O'Donnell, as an adult -- was originally supposed to be a lesbian.
To celebrate the movie’s 20th anniversary -- the teen drama first hit theaters on Oct. 20, 1995 -- we sat down with screenwriter Marlene King to get the behind-the-scenes truth on the last-minute character change.
"The script was written, and then we shot [the movie] with the intention of Roberta being gay," King said of the self-described autobiographical movie.
So what caused the switch? "When we screened it, keep in mind this is 20 years ago, we went to the suburbs of Chicago to screen it, and test the movie," King recalled. "When Roberta was Rita Wilson's character's gynecologist [during the labor scene], people freaked out."
She continued, "They were like, 'Ew, she's a lesbian and she's looking at her vagina!' And we were like, 'What? Seriously? Do you really care?'"
But, unfortunately, the test audiences did care. "The studio, New Line Cinema, just felt like it was so distracting because it tested like that over, and over, and over again," King explained. "So then they were like, 'We don’t want people to leave the theater with just those crazy thoughts,' so it was changed."
When it came time for Now and Then to be released, a line was added to the adult side of the story to clarify Roberta's sexual preference. Rita Wilson's character, Chrissy, said to the group, "Roberta, for example, has chosen to be alternative. She lives in sin with her boyfriend, but she is still normal."
"It wasn't my decision by any way, shape, or form," King said of changing Roberta from gay to straight. "I know Rosie was really upset when they changed it at the last minute, and we all were."
In fact, the Pretty Little Liars showrunner stressed that Roberta's sexual identity is the one thing she would alter in the film.
"She would totally be the lesbian doctor. Yes, that is definitely something that would be changed if you made the movie today," she revealed. "I'm sure that would be much more open, and much more of an interesting layer to her character."
King added, "And this just shows you how backwards it was, and how much times have changed."