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What it feels like to be one of the most iconic mean girls in rom-com history

The “snobby saleswoman” in “Pretty Woman” became one of the most known archetypes of the mean girl. In tandem with our rom com bracket, TODAY interviewed the actor who played her.
/ Source: TODAY

There are scenes from the cinematic universe that are utterly unforgettable.

When Darth Vader reveals he’s Luke’s father in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” to when Marion Crane is sneaked up on in the shower in “Psycho,” these iconic movie moments have left an indelible mark on the silver screens and our minds. In “Pretty Woman,” the Garry Marshall-directed romantic comedy starring Richard Gere and then-Hollywood newcomer Julia Roberts, one scene continues to resonate to this day, featuring four legendary words: “Big mistake. Big. Huge!”

Dey Young is the actor who unleashed her judgmental fury to Julia Roberts in that memorable moment.Touchstone Pictures

The 1990 film, loosely based on “Pygmalion,” follows a street-smart sex worker who gets hired by an invulnerable businessman. The seemingly unlikely duo provide for one of the best couples ever to fall in love on a fire escape. Throughout the film, Roberts' character, Vivian Ward, has to overcome various obstacles placed by the barriers of elitism in 1980s Beverly Hills, when unpalatable materialism was at its height.

Looking for an outfit to wear to a swanky dinner that evening, she innocently walks into a Beverly Hills boutique, pockets stuffed with cash to spend, perusing the racks of high-fashion couture. A striking saleswoman quickly stops her, telling her the price of an outfit when asked what the size is. The saleswoman fiercely cuts, “I don’t think we have anything for you. You’re obviously in the wrong place.” (Of course, she comes back later and gets her revenge, reminding the sales staff they work on commission and she just spent a pretty penny somewhere else.)

Dey Young is the actor who unleashed her judgmental fury to Roberts in that memorable moment. In honor of our rom-com bracket, where “Pretty Woman” placed second right behind “You’ve Got Mail,” TODAY checked in with Young to reflect on the legacy of that scene that still stands out to this day.

“I never knew that this movie would be as big as it was, or that this scene would be so iconic,” Young, 61, told TODAY. “I really think the reason is that it’s a moment a lot of people can relate to it.”

Young had appeared in various films before “Pretty Woman” including “Rock 'n' Roll High School” and "Strange Behavior." She wasn’t planning to audition for it, until a chance encounter with Marshall recruited her.

“Alan Thicke and I were friends and he invited me to a tennis party,” she said. “I got paired with up Garry Marshall. We ended up winning our match, and that was a really fun thing. At the end of it, Alan told him I was an actress and (Marshall)was like, ‘Oh, really? Well, you know, I think I might have something for you.’”

From there, Young said she went in for an audition. Young was unaware what the film — originally called “3,000,” the amount negotiated for Roberts' character's rate — was really about, only that she was reading scenes involving a shopkeeper judging a girl.

“I think (Julia) knew this would be the part that launched her career, which it did.” Courtesy Dey Young

“He always encouraged me to be meaner and bitchier, even on the set when I was working with Julia,” Young said.

She ended up snagging the role, and was on set a month later to film. She met Gere in the makeup trailer, and that is when she knew she was working on something special. “I never really got a whole script,” she said. “For smaller roles, everything is so secretive. Even today, I still don't get the full script. You just kind of show up. You're lucky if you even get sides because they like to keep everything very, very top secret.”

"I think that it's relatable because people have had that experience with a shopkeeper hovering around them, making them feel uncomfortable and question if they belong there.”

DEY YOUNG

Both scenes were shot the same day at the boutique Boulmiche on Rodeo Drive. “Everyone in the late '80s / early '90s would dress the part,” Boulmiche owner Tisa Bana told TODAY back in 2015. “What you wore would constitute who you were, including wealth and sophistication. Nowadays, nobody dresses up just to walk down Rodeo. Back then, it was all suits and matching bags. We called it the 'Dynasty' days, but now you can wear a sundress.”

On set that day, Young says that Roberts was a joy to work with. “I think she knew this would be the part that launched her career, which it did,” she said. “Julia had a great rapport with Garry. She was just wonderful and very gracious and fun. It was a blast.”

“They say, ‘Oh, go get snobby saleswoman because she really knows how to do that.’ So that stereotype becomes a little bit limiting in opening up casting for other possibilities.”Courtesy Dey Young

A year later, Young bumped into Roberts at another film’s premiere, when Roberts humbly approached her, asking if she remembered her. Young recalled, “I was standing in line to get food, and she was right behind me and I didn't realize it was her and she said, ‘Hi. I don't know if you remember me but I'm Julia from ‘Pretty Woman’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I remember you! Thanks for remembering me! You know, it was very sweet.”

Young says that after “Pretty Woman,”she would from time to time be approached by fans who recognized her, but that because she was so gussied up for the film, rarely did that happen. Her upscale transformation also caused her to get typecast, something that was slightly limiting, but also something she doesn’t regret.

“That’s what happens when something becomes so iconic, they always want to pigeonhole you to that,” she said. “They say, ‘Oh, go get snobby saleswoman because she really knows how to do that.’ So that stereotype becomes a little bit limiting in opening up casting for other possibilities.”

Regardless, she said she “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Dey Young today.Courtesy Dey Young.

On why she thinks the scene stands the test of time and is still talked about today, re-created in other juggernauts of pop culture from “The Office” to “Broad City,” Young thinks it's the relatability of the moment.

“Who hasn’t gone into an exclusive shop where they immediately feel judged or shunned?” she asked. “They feel like they don't belong there, so I think that it's relatable because people have had that experience with a shopkeeper hovering around them, making them feel uncomfortable and question if they belong there.”

"Not the diamond rings, it is more than just that."

“Those two scenes really encompass the underdog getting shut down, but then in the end she is able to come back and win,” she added. “It exemplifies that whole kind of phenomenon that you can't judge a book by its cover. You've really got to look deeper into what's going on. So I think there's a little lesson in it as well."

Young, who still acts today while working as a professional sculptor as well, thinks that the entire moral arch of the film can be communicated in those scenes. While her role small, she is honored to have it on her resume.

“What he falls in love with is her spirit, her chutzpah and who she really is inside, and her sense of self," she said. "Not the diamond rings, it is more than just that. And the fact that I was a small part of that message, and people remember it so much, it really is an honor.”