As the film continues to notch solid numbers at the box-office, some outlandish stories from the development of biopic “Harriet” are making waves. In particular, producer and screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard shared a doozy of a casting suggestion for slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman he received when work began on the film decades ago.

“I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,’” Allen shared from one of the earliest meetings about the film. “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.’”

Tubman was a black woman. Roberts is white.

Allen shared this bizarre exchange during a Q&A about the film for distributor Focus Features. He explained that the approaches to such things as race and casting were “very different” in Hollywood at the time.

Further along in the timeline of the film’s development, Allen said that the box office success of two films – “12 Years a Slave” in 2013 and “Black Panther” in 2018 – went a long way towards convincing Hollywood that a film like “Harriet” could make money.

“When 12 Years a Slave became a hit and did a couple hundred million dollars worldwide, I told my agent, ‘You can’t say this kind of story won’t make money now.’ Then Black Panther really blew the doors open,” Allen explained.

“Harriet” hit theaters on Nov. 1 to solid reviews and has made $32 million at the box office in North America. It stars African British actress and singer Cynthia Erivo as Tubman.

Harriet Tubman
Anti-slavery crusader Harriet Tubman is seen in a picture from the Library of Congress taken by photographer H.B. Lindsley between 1860 and 1870. REUTERS/Library of Congress/Handout