When Mike Nichols’ Working Girl hit cinema screens in 1988, it was a huge success. Reviewers called it a modern-day Cinderella story and helped it gross $103 million worldwide. And, of course, it made a star out of its leading lady Melanie Griffith. However, things could have been very different. The movie was a hard one to get off the ground, and it was a challenge to find a lead actress with the right stuff. Plus, plenty of things went on behind the scenes…
40. Melanie Griffith tried to romance Alec Baldwin
Griffith was very taken with her attractive young co-star Baldwin, who played her cheating boyfriend Mick. So she decided to give it a shot. “I just had such a crush on him,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. “But he wouldn’t go there with me. I was like, ‘Oh come on, have a romance with me!’ But no, Alec said, ‘I can’t do this with people I work with.’” The two did stay friends, however.
39. Harrison Ford explains away his scar
Harrison Ford’s chin scar has been a font of creativity for filmmakers. In the Indiana Jones series, he got it from a whip. And in Working Girl, his character explains he got it after passing out and hitting himself on a toilet in an ear-piercing session gone awry. But in actual fact, Ford’s scar came from a car accident.
38. A lot of people passed on the film
No one seemed to think Working Girl would be a hit. When screenwriter Kevin Wade showed his agent the first draft of the script, he was told the film would never be made. Directors he approached said it could only be a TV movie. Yet Wade, along with producer Doug Wick, persisted. Eventually 20th Century Fox bought it – and the former had fired his naysaying agent by then.
37. There are two Scorsese references in the film
The cinematographer for Working Girl, Michael Ballhaus, frequently collaborated with Martin Scorsese. Therefore, two tributes to Scorsese films were snuck in there. In Katharine’s apartment part of a pool table can be seen in a mirror, a reference to The Color of Money. And a company called Raging Bull Catering is mentioned in the film – Raging Bull being another famous Scorsese film.
36. In the first draft, Katharine was a man
Lots about a movie can change between the initial draft and the finished product. Indeed, In Working Girl, Sigourney Weaver’s character was originally intended to be male. “In the first draft, the Katharine Parker character was a man. I got a call from Kevin [Wade], and he said, ‘I’ve got a great idea.’” Doug Wick told The Hollywood Reporter. “He says, [Tess] should be working for a woman.”
35. Amy Aquino wasn’t used to movies
Amy Aquino was a stage actress primarily when she was cast in Working Girl as Tess’ secretary and didn’t even know where the mic was. “My instinct was to project like crazy, thinking that because the camera was back there, they’d never hear me,” she said. But even though that was wrong, Nichols was nice to her. “He could have made fun of me, but he didn’t at all.”
34. The Carly Simon opening almost didn’t happen
The opening scene of the movie features the song “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon. She had been partly inspired to write it after reading Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, and she thought it was guaranteed to appear in the movie. But she had to compete with Nichols’ other choice, the Eagles’ “Witchy Woman.” She cried when she heard that was the case – but her song got featured after all.
33. Many actresses wanted the role of Tess
A number of female stars were considered to play the lead in Working Girl. Indeed, Brooke Shields and Lorraine Bracco both reportedly wanted the role very much. Nichols also considered both Madonna and especially Michelle Pfeiffer. “But we observed that if you cast someone like that, there would’ve been a line of guys at her desk trying to marry her,” Wick told The Hollywood Reporter.
32. Photos were taken of real “working girls”
Mike Nicholls wanted his movie to be as true to life as possible. So he asked the film’s makeup and hair artist, J.Roy Helland, to go onto the Staten Island Ferry, just like the characters in the film did, and take pictures there. “[He] took hundreds of pictures of those girls: the clothes, the hair, the makeup,” Nichols told Entertainment Weekly in 2012. “It looked like kabuki to me, it was so extreme.”
31. The first cut of the movie was longer
Things don’t always go according to plan, even when you have a great director on board. “The work had gone very well but the first cut we saw of the movie was 30 minutes longer, and it was problematic,” Doug Wick told The Hollywood Reporter. “It gave you too much time to think. You don’t want to spend too much time thinking about the contrivances of a fairy tale.”
30. Griffith had to fight to play Tess
“They didn’t even want to see me for the movie. My agent told me, ‘Listen, I’m having a hard time getting you in,’” Griffith told The Hollywood Reporter. “The studio wanted a bigger name. I mean, I wasn’t very [famous], but I loved this role, and I knew I could do it.” And luckily, as soon as Nichols saw her act, he adored her.
29. Lots of stuffed animals appear in the movie
When Tess meets her new boss, Katharine fake-compliments the stuffed bunny she has with her. The bunny was actually made by artist Gae Sharp, and Nichols bought five of them for the film. And later on in the movie, Katharine is seen carrying a giant stuffed gorilla – a reference to Sigourney Weaver’s role in Gorillas in the Mist.
28. Empty offices were used as dressing rooms
The Black Monday stock market crash in 1987 ensured that lots of offices stood empty in New York, and the Working Girl team repurposed them. “We shot in World Trade Center Building 7,” actress Nora Dunn, who played Ginny, told The Hollywood Reporter. “At the time it was right after the crash, so there were many floors that were empty. Our dressing rooms used to be offices.”
27. An important book can be spotted in the film
During the scene where Cyn does Tess’ hair, a book can be seen in the corner of the shot. That book is Special Features: Techniques for One-Of-A-Kind Beauty, and it was written by the movie’s makeup artist J Roy. Helland. Indeed, the book is endorsed by big names such as Meryl Streep and Linda Ronstadt.
26. The cast watched Pygmalion for inspiration
Nicholls thought of Working Girl as a Cinderella story, but he wanted to seek inspiration elsewhere too, especially when it came to Tess’ transformation. “Mike had us all watch Pygmalion, the movie, not the musical,” Sigourney Weaver told The Hollywood Reporter. Griffith at the time had no idea what Pygmalion even was.
24. Nora Dunn flirted with Harrison Ford
Actress Nora Dunn made no bones about how attractive she found her co-star Harrison Ford. “He was in such great shape and such an absolutely perfect movie star. The whole package,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I disowned everything about myself, I even had my hand in my pocket wrenching off my wedding ring. I turned into a complete ignoramus.”
23. Griffith arrived late to her audition
When Griffith arrived in New York City to audition for Tess, it was 80 degrees out. She was hot, sweaty, wrapped up in a business suit, and late. And yet all that was perfect for her character. “It was almost a visceral reaction. She was adorable, funny, vulnerable, sexy – everything. And real,” casting director Juliet Taylor told The Hollywood Reporter.
22. Joan Cusack loved her make-up
When asked by Today in 1988 what she liked about her performance in Working Girl, Joan Cusack quickly answered, “I really liked the makeup and the hair.” Of course it looks rather dated now, but it’s still spectacular. “Did you ever wear it out on the street?” the interviewer asked. “I did! I’d have to come home from work that way,” Cusack replied.
21. Griffith met a boyfriend on the set
During the filming of the movie, Nichols brought a consultant on set, businessman Liam Dalton. Griffith expected him to be “some dork from Wall Street” but ended up falling for him. “We had an incredible romance. He was my love for a long time after that too. We’re still friends,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “He actually managed some money for me for a while.”
20. The first shot of the movie was made “illegally”
“Our first day of filming was actually for the first shot in the film on the ferry, and we shot it illegally,” Griffith continued. “There we were – with Joan Cusack – with the big hair and the tennis shoes with all just regular people on the Staten Island Ferry. We shot it without anybody knowing.”
19. Griffith didn’t get first billing
Eagle-eyed viewers of the movie will note that although Griffith plays the main character of Working Girl, she’s billed third in the credits, behind Ford and Weaver. “They didn’t want to give first billing to me, the studio didn’t,” Griffith told Rolling Stone in 1989.” I’m not a big star, you know? But I don’t care.”
18. At the premiere party, Wick’s wife threw up
Producer Doug Wick’s wife is Lucy Fisher, and at the time of Working Girl she was a Warner Bros. executive. She accompanied Wick to the premiere party and surprised everyone when she threw up out of a window. “Everyone looked over, thinking she had had too much to drink,” Wick recalled to The Hollywood Reporter. “But really, she was pregnant with our second child.”
17. David Duchovny appears in the movie
The X-Files star David Duchovny made his film debut in Working Girl, although it was a fleeting appearance. He appears in Tess’ birthday party scene as one of the guests in the bathroom, and later at the engagement party. Interestingly, a ship called “Working Girl” can be seen in an episode of The X-Files.
16. Griffith found the dance scene difficult
At one point in the film, Tess crashes a wedding party and dances with the father of the bride, who happens to be an important businessman. “The most difficult scene was the one where I’m dancing with [actor Philip Bosco] at his daughter’s wedding,” Griffith told The Hollywood Reporter. “That was difficult. I had a lot to say in a short period of time with innuendos. It took a lot of guts and it was all choreographed.”
15. The actors observed real working women
At the time Working Girl was filmed, characters resembling Tess and Katharine could be found on Wall Street in New York. Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver wanted their characters to be as true-to-life as possible, so they followed them about their days and even sat in on meetings.
14. Alec Baldwin was originally the male lead
Alec Baldwin was originally supposed to play Jack Trainer, the main male character, because he was affordable at the time. Then the studio said that they would pay extra to get Harrison Ford on board, and so Baldwin was asked to play Mick instead. According to the producers, though, he understood what had happened and was gracious about it.
13. Nichols was dating Diane Sawyer while directing the film
Nichols married news anchor Diane Sawyer the same year Working Girl came out, and as the film was being shot he was romancing her. “[Nichols] was courting Sawyer while we were shooting, so it was lovely to see him getting serious about her while we were filming this romantic movie,” Doug Wick told The Hollywood Reporter.
12. The cast had lots of fun on the set
Filming Working Girl was a pretty entertaining experience for its cast. “It was more like a party than a movie. I always loved shooting in New York, especially with [Nichols], because we never failed to have a nice lunch,” Ford told The Hollywood Reporter.
11. Sigourney Weaver was playing younger
An early scene in the movie reveals that both Tess and Katharine are both pushing 30. This is important because Katharine, as the boss, seems much older than her subordinate. But although Griffith actually was Tess’ age, Weaver was 38 at the time. So it’s not surprising Katharine acts like a person years older than 30.
10. Oliver Platt had a later revelation about his character
Oliver Platt played Lutz, who was Tess’ first boss and not a nice person at all. And he described his fleeting role to The Hollywood Reporter. “Here’s the sad thing: those pigs were a dime a dozen on Wall Street,” he said. “I thought I was playing a rare pig, but what we’ve discovered is that there was nothing unusual about that guy at all.”
9. Kevin Spacey nearly wasn’t in the film
Kevin Spacey was rushed in last minute to play the role of Bob Speck, as a replacement for another actor. On the day he was meant to be on set he got stuck in traffic, and Nichols very nearly made Kevin Wade act out the scene with Griffith instead. However, Spacey did turn up eventually.
8. Griffith wanted to vacuum with no shirt on
One notable scene in the movie features Tess vacuuming minus, well, any clothes at all apart from underwear. That whole thing was Griffith’s idea, with her suggesting it to Mike Nichols. “Originally it was a full bra and a slip and panties, and that’s not how it would be if you’re in a rush,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s how I lived – I wouldn’t get dressed to vacuum.”
7. Nichols had a strange idea about the movie
It was reported by AMC in 2007 that Nichols thought of Working Girl as being a sort of slavery movie. “The slaves, as usual, are imported from somewhere else – because nobody can afford to live in Manhattan,” he apparently said. “And then there’s the idea of the underground railroad, when Tess’ friend at the end leaps up in joy, because ‘one of us’ made it out.”
6. Life imitated art at one point
At the end of the movie, Tess is introduced to a woman who’s in the same position she was once: a lowly secretary. However, unlike her own boss, Tess treats her with respect. And on set, Griffith treated actress Amy Aquino the same way, approaching her before their scene and telling her how glad she was to be working with her.
5. Katharine’s sparkly dress wouldn’t really have fit her
Tess raids Katharine’s closet at one point and finds a gorgeous black sparkling dress. But although it fit her, it shouldn’t have fit Katharine. “I asked Sigourney to let me see it on her, and it was ridiculously short,” costume designer Ann Roth told The Hollywood Reporter. “We rationalized it by saying that [Weaver] had probably just had it in the closet for years.”
4. Weaver still owns one of the props
Katharine’s apartment in the movie is both luxurious and hilariously tacky. It features a Warhol-style artwork of her own face, for a start. “[Nichols] gave those to me and I still have them. I think they’re in storage,” Weaver told The Hollywood Reporter. “I always thought it was very funny, the colors they used, you know, like Calamine lotion pink and that sort of sickly green.”
3. Griffith thinks she knows where Tess would be today
Working Girl was made in the 1980s, and things have changed a lot since then. But Griffith thinks Tess would have changed with the times as well. “If Tess were around today, she would be running Google,” she informed The Hollywood Reporter. “She’d have a lot of kids and maybe still be married to Jack.”
2. Melanie Griffith battled addiction on the set
Griffith has never made a secret out of her substance abuse issues. Indeed, she had them on the set of Working Girl too. Allegedly, she was unable to shoot some of the wedding scenes because of that problem, and money was taken out of her salary for reshoots. She ended up going to rehab not long after that.
1. There’s debate as to whether the film’s ending is happy
At the end of Working Girl, Tess finally has everything she wants. Then the camera pans out from her office to reveal there are hundreds of offices just like hers, presumably with hundreds of people just like her in them. Is it a sign that she’s now just another cog in the machine, instead of an independent woman? Who knows – but it’s food for thought.