20 Surprising Secrets About Erin Brockovich Revealed

From Julia Roberts' record-setting payday to that push-up bra, here are 20 fun facts about 2000's Erin Brockovich

By Tierney Bricker Mar 17, 2020 5:00 PMTags
Watch: Julia Roberts Jokes "E! Exclusive: I'm Done With Film!"

"I gave the whole town a blowjob."

20 years ago, movie-goers were stunned when their favorite rom-com leading lady Julia Roberts stormed onto the screen wearing a short skirt, six-inch heels and the world's most famous bra, as well as an arsenal of F-bombs in Erin Brockovich. But like the real-life woman she was playing, she proved irresistible, with the superstar landing her first Oscar.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh and co-starring Albert Finney as real-life attorney Ed Masry, Erin Brockovich follows Brockovich and Masry's fight against Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993 when she discovers they had contaminated the water supple in the town of Hinkley while working as his law clerk. 

20 Surprising Secrets About Erin Brockovich Revealed

Though her wit and determination (along with people constantly underestimating the single mother of three because of her looks and lack of formal education), Brockovich helps the townspeople of Hinkley win a then groundbreaking case, with PG&E ordered to pay a settlement amount of $333 million (the largest sum ever at the time).

And when Brockovich's story was brought to the big screen, another record was broken, as Roberts landed the largest payday for any actress in film history when she took on the role. 

Here are 20 secrets you might not know about Erin Brockovich...

 1. The screenwriter Susannah Grant spent a year following the real Brockovich and her kids around while writing the screenplay, and the heroine had no idea the movie was going to be named after her until Soderbergh told her at the wrap party. "That's when I really went, 'Oh shit,'" she told The Gentlewoman

2. At the time, Roberts became the highest paid actress in Hollywood, netting a groundbreaking $20 million to take in the titular role, sparking an ahead-of-its-time conversation about gender equality in the industry. 

3. Before Roberts was attached, three big name directors had turned down the project.

4. In real-life, Brockovich actually got sick from the toxins, but a scene depicting that was ultimately cut from the final version. 

"I didn't want people to think that this was going to turn into one of those movies where the protagonist gets terminally ill," Soderbergh said on the DVD commentary. "It was a tough call, because Erin really did get sick and was hospitalized for a while."

5. While Brockovich was involved after selling the rights to her story in 1997, she didn't meet her on-screen counterpart prior to production, per Soderbergh's request. The first time the pair met was on set when Brockovich filmed her cameo as a waitress named Julia, with the two women briefly shaking hands in the makeup room, according to Newsweek

6. At the time of the film's release, much of the press was about Roberts' skimpy wardrobe in the film, which was true to real-life. "When Erin saw the movie," Soderbergh told EW, "she said, 'The only thing that was inaccurate is that the skirts weren't short enough."

7. But it was Roberts' breasts, courtesy of a push-up bra, that really drew the attention, even of her then-boyfriend. "I'd gone 30 years without cleavage and suddenly, pow!" she told the Orlando Sentinel at the time, adding that when she sent beau Benjamin Bratt a photo in full wardrobe, he replied, "You can't go out like that."

8. Moviegoers also took notice, with Newsweek quoting one test screening audience member saying, "The 100th time I saw Julia Roberts' breasts was too much. The first 99 were OK."

9. Like Brockovich, the real Masry also made a quick cameo in the movie, briefly being seen in the restaurant where Brockovich is eating with her children. 

10. While the film tested well with advanced screenings, executives were considered that Brockovich's colorful language and penchant for the "F-word," a trait she had in real life, would turn some audience-goers off. 

11. Unlike Roberts, Finney met his real-life counterpart Masry before filming began. "Ed isn't a world figure, so it wasn't a matter of getting his walk down" Finney, who passed away in 2019, told The Los Angeles Times. "I'm resistant to that, anyway. You end up not playing a role but doing an impersonation.

12. Carla Santos Shamberg, one of the film's executive producers, is actually the person who came across Brockovich's story after their mutual chiropractor mentioned her story could make a good movie.

13.  In 2008, the real-life Brokovich insisted to CNBC that the film was almost entirely accurate. "People ask me all the time, is the movie true and accurate?" she wrote. "YES, the movie was true and probably 98% accurate. They took very few creative licenses."

14. Brockovich had initially hoped Goldie Hawn might play her, with Masry once joking it should be Roseanne Barr, with Brockovich telling The Guardian he once told her, "I don't care who it is as long as it's not Julia Roberts. She has no tits and no foul mouth, so it wouldn't work."

15. LeRoy A. Simmons, the real-life judge from the case, was cast to play the judge in the movie, coming out of retirement to film.

16. One change from the real story? One of the film's most iconic scenes, with Brockovich giving the PG&E team some of the contaminated water to drink during a meeting, was actually even more dramatic. "That actually happened at a trial," producer Michael Shamberg explained to the Los Angeles Times, "which is even a better story, but we didn't show any trial stuff."

17. With her turn as Brockovich, Roberts became the first actress to win an Academy Award, BAFTA, Critics' Choice Movie Award, Golden Globe Award, National Board of Review, and Screen Actors Guild Award for a single performance.

18. Roberts wasn't the film's only Oscar winner; Soderbergh was a double nominee in the Best Director category for Erin Brockovich and Traffic, ultimately winning the award for the latter.

19. Brockovich continued working at the law firm for 12 years, and when Masry died in 2005, she was holding his hand as he passed. 

20. In late 2019, it was reported that a TV adaptation of Brokovich's story was in the works at ABC, with Grey's Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff at the helm and Brokovich attached as an executive producer. It would be inspired by her life 20 years after the film's release, with Rebel following the main character Annie, played by Katey Sagal, as she continues to work at a legal firm without a law degree.