The Secret Sauce
It was a sweet little movie about three friends coming of age in a New England fishing town, falling in and out of love, and trying to figure out what's in their boss's secret pizza sauce. But "Mystic Pizza"—which opened in October 1988—became a hit thanks to, among other things, the megastar-wattage of a young Julia Roberts. Here, to mark its anniversary, is a look back at the now-classic romantic comedy.
Mystic Pizza Is a Real Slice Joint
Screenwriter Amy Holden Jones was vacationing in the coastal town of Mystic, Connecticut, when she drove by a pizzeria with a catchy name—and voila! She imagined an entire movie based on that title.
A Pulitzer-Winning Playwright Got Involved
If you look closely among the four writers credited with working on the screenplay, you'll spot Arthur Uhry, who won the Pulitzer Prize that year for his play "Driving Miss Daisy" (later an Oscar-winning movie).
There's a Familiar Face in the Crowd
We all know the movie featured a young Julia Roberts, but it also marked the screen debut of future Oscar winner Matt Damon. Just 18 when he appeared in "Mystic Pizza," Damon played the younger brother of Julia's boyfriend. He has just one not especially memorable line, uttered during a lobster dinner: "Hey, Mom, do you want my green stuff?"
But It Could Have Been a Different Familiar Face
Damon's pal and co-Oscar winner Ben Affleck also auditioned for the role. Apparently Matt had the more convincing rich-white-boy face.
Julia Was Practically Unknown at the Time
Sure, she had already appeared in the teen-rock-band movie "Satisfaction" (credited well below a big star at that time, Justine Bateman from "Family Ties"). But in 1988 Julia Roberts was known primarily for one thing: being actor Eric Roberts' kid sister.
Julia Almost Had a Different Role
Though she is unforgettable as the brash, romantic Daisy, Julia Roberts originally auditioned for the role of Jojo, which was memorably played by Lili Taylor.
Her Paycheck Wasn't Record-Breaking—Yet
Julia was paid $50,000 for her breakout role in "Mystic Pizza." A little more than a decade later, she earned a whopping $20 million for "Erin Brockovich."
The Movie Had a Slyly Empowering Message
A big chunk of plot revolved around the fact that Taylor's Jojo was hot-and-heavy about sleeping with her hunky fisherman boyfriend Bill, but he withholds sex while pressuring her to tie the knot—something they were on the verge of doing before she passed out in the opening scene. While it all resolves in wedded bliss, it's nice to see a 1980s rom-com where the stereotypical sex roles are reversed.
Vincent D'Onofrio Was Not an Obvious Choice to Play Sexy Bill
He may be familiar face now from "Law & Order: CI," but D'Onofrio had made his screen debut just a few years before "Mystic Pizza" as a character named "Lobotomy" in a soft-core sex farce called "The First Turn-On." And in 1987 he won rave reviews—but hardly heartthrob status—as an obese, bullied and ultimately doomed soldier in the Vietnam drama "Full Metal Jacket."
And He Almost Turned Down the Role
After the heady experience of starring in a Stanley Kubrick film, D'Onofrio nearly passed on the pizza-themed summer romance, until he attended a read-through with the rest of the cast in New York. He was so impressed by the quality of the acting—especially by teenager Annabeth Gish—that he signed on.
Annabeth Gish Played Up Her Last Name
While Annabeth Gish—who played studious Kat—did have a grandmother named Lillian, she was not related to the silent-movie stars Lillian and Dorothy Gish, as was widely assumed. In a 1988 interview with Roger Ebert, she mentioned that as a child, she had written a letter to Lillian Gish, who advised her to stay out of show biz.
Kat Was Really Just a Kitten in Real Life
Gish was just 17 when she played Kat, an aspiring astronomer who was working three jobs to save up money to go to Yale. In the scene where Kat hooks up with the married man whose child she's been baby-sitting for the summer, Annabeth s mother watched protectively from behind the camera—a fact that actor William R. Moses admitted still freaked him out 25 years later.
William Moses Played More Than One Complicated Love Interest
After playing Tim, who breaks Kat's tender teenage heart by seducing her and then going back to his wife, Moses went on to appear in many other movies and TV series, including "Melrose Place," in which he played the bad-news boyfriend of Courtney Thorne-Smith.
That Pizza Lady Sure Looks Familiar
Conchata Ferrell, who played Leona, the girls' pizzeria boss and mentor, met up with Julia Roberts again 12 years later, when she was cast as coworker Brenda in "Erin Brockovich." But you may know her best from her 12 seasons on "Two and a Half Men."
Very Little Was Actually Filmed in Mystic
Though inspired by the actual pizzeria in Mystic (seen here), most of these movie's scenes were filmed in other locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Critics Knew It Was Special From the Start
In his rave review of the movie, critic Roger Ebert said, "I have a feeling that 'Mystic Pizza' may someday become known for the movie stars it showcased back before they became stars." Nailed it.
After the Movie Came Out, Julia Got Her First Taste of Fame
Roberts later told People magazine: "The first time I felt I was famous was when I went to the movies with my mom. I had gone to the loo, and someone in the bathroom said in a very loud voice, 'Girl in stall No. 1, were you in 'Mystic Pizza'?' I paused and I said, 'Yeah, that was me.'
The Movie Gave the Real Mystic Pizza a Major Boost
Though the owners of the real-life pizzeria were unwilling to shut down for the few months of filming (they were worried their customers wouldn't return!), causing the filmmakers to film in another town, customers old and new flocked to restaurant after the movie came out, and they had to expand into the next building.
You Can Still Eat There Today
Mystic Pizza is still a landmark on West Main Street in Mystic, Connecticut. Not only can you order pizzas by the slice or pie (including the fabled "Mystic Pizza"), you can also buy DVDs of the movie and T-shirts with the famous slogan "A Slice of Heaven."
We Still Don't Know What's in the Sauce
Just like the curmudgeonly food critic in the movie, we're still wondering what magical ingredient makes that sauce so addictive. As the critic said, "Mystic indeed."
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