In the small fishing town of Mystic, the Araújo sisters, Kat and Daisy, along with their friend Jojo Barbosa, spend the summer working at a local pizzeria while contemplating what the future holds in store for them.
While this might not sound like the most fascinating storyline, Mystic Pizza is far from your ordinary coming-of-age tale. It’s a heartwarming wonder that has become a cult classic due to its witty dialogue and relatable characters. You can’t help but want to be part of their world. You want to stargaze with Kat, dance with Jojo, and wreak havoc with Daisy.
This lovable ‘80s film also introduced us to young newcomers who were a few short years from becoming major names in the business – Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, and Lili Taylor.
Let’s take a look at what this star-studded cast did behind the scenes and whether they were able to get a hold of Leona’s secret pizza sauce.
Amy Wrote Mystic Pizza but Wasn’t Allowed to Direct It
In the mid-‘80s, a small pizza joint in Mystic, Connecticut, caught the attention of video editor Amy Holden Jones. Upon spotting the humble shack, she sat down and wrote the screenplay for what was to become one of the most iconic coming-of-age tales of the decade – Mystic Pizza.
Film producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. bought the rights for a mere $5,000, but he decided to go with a male director instead of Amy because, “women were not allowed to direct in those days.”
But Amy’s talent didn’t go unnoticed. People praised the film for its spectacular dialogue, and she began receiving a flood of writing offers.
Julia Roberts Struggled to Make a Good Impression
19-year-old Julia Roberts worked as a salesclerk in New York City when she decided to step out from behind the counter and audition for the part. Her audition was fairly rocky, because Roberts had already failed the film’s casting director, Janet Hirshenson, once before. Hirshenson scheduled to see her that same year for the film Willow, but Roberts never showed up. Her car broke down on the way.
Skeptic and wary, Hirshenson ultimately agreed to see Roberts again but told her manager, “only if you can promise she won’t have car problems.” When Roberts arrived, she came completely unprepared. She wore baggy jeans, an oversized T-shirt and had only read the script the night before.
How did she end up getting the part, you ask? According to Hirshenson, “Beneath the sloppy clothes and the uncertain attitude, I could sense an exuberance, a warmth, an unselfconscious sexuality that would make Daisy’s uncomfortable forays into romance touching and even a bit humorous.”
Julia Robert’s Mystic Salary
Julia Roberts was sent home after her first audition with instructions: Read the entire script and get back to us well prepared and in tidier clothes. The following day, she arrived in Daisy-like fashion wearing a miniskirt and a tank.
“When the now prepared actress read the audition scene,” Hirshenson recalled, “she simply knocked it out of the ballpark.” The crew was relieved to have finally found their Daisy and paid Roberts $50,000 for the part. For a Hollywood newcomer, Roberts felt the salary wasn’t half bad.
Adam Storke Had to Dye His Hair
Before Adam Storke became Julia Robert’s rich boyfriend in Mystic Pizza, he was busy reading out dramatic lines for the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. Luckily for him, he managed to make the leap to the silver screen. And to this day, Charlie remains his most memorable role.
According to Storke, the whole cast was forced to tease their hair in one way or another. “I had to dye my hair white and then put a rinse in it every day. Julia’s hair was big one day and small the next. I think [the filmmakers] had a hard time focusing on exactly what they wanted,” he told Entertainment Weekly.
So Did Julia Roberts…
When Julia Roberts came in for a reading, the casting director looked at her hair and said, “You can’t be blonde when you see the director.” Shortly after the meeting, she ran to a five-and-dime store and purchased jet black mousse.
“Do you know how much mousse it takes to cover your whole head? And my hair was massive,” she told Entertainment Weekly. With stiff and curly hair, Roberts walked back into the audition room to read some lines with Adam Storke. In an embarrassing turn of events, Storke reached out to touch her hair, and his fingers turned completely black.
Vincent D’Onofrio Was Flirting With Everyone
Jojo’s enamored fiancé, Vincent D’Onofrio (Bill), was the most famous actor out of the relatively unknown cast. He’d already starred in several feature films before, including Full Metal Jacket and Adventures in Babysitting. In truth, he wasn’t that interested in doing Mystic Pizza in the first place. It was only after he read the script from beginning to end that he decided he couldn’t turn it down.
But with all due respect to the interesting storyline, there was something else that caught D’Onofrio’s eye. He was infatuated with the three leading ladies. He told Entertainment Weekly, “I was flirting with everyone. They were all just so beautiful. To me, they were just these angels. I adored being around them. I was smitten.”
The Cutest, Rightest Kid for the Part
Thanks to Mystic Pizza, we got to see a baby-faced Matt Damon sit at a lobster dinner and say, “Hey mom, do you want my green stuff?” While his role as Adam Storke’s younger brother was minor, he made it memorable. All he needed to do was flash that smile along with his mischievous glance and the audience was done for.
“As soon as we saw Matt’s headshot, we thought he looked like Adam’s brother,” casting director Jane Jenkins shared. Years later, when Damon snatched his first Oscar, Jenkins was asked whether she knew he would become such a superstar. She told one reporter, “’Look, I’m not psychic. He was the cutest, rightest kid for the part — that’s all I knew at the time.'”
Annebeth Had to Kiss a Much Older Man
The youngest of the bunch, Annabeth Gish, was only 16 when she was cast to play Kat Arujo, the hopeful teenager who falls in love with her boss. The role called for her to make out with a 30-year-old married dad, and on the day their steamy scene was shot, Gish’s mom came on set and gave actor William Moses a passive-aggressive glare.
About the love scene, Annabeth told interviewers: “I’m kind of proud of the way that [scene] was handled. It was tactful. It has handled very real and very honestly.” As for William Moses, he says that the look Gish’s mom gave him haunts him to this day.
Julia Roberts’ Favorite Scene
The actress said that her all-time favorite scene in the film was dumping buckets of slimy fish onto Charlie’s car. She urged everyone on set to come and watch her act, telling them, “You should come watch tonight. I’m really good in this scene!”
Apart from having to put on her best crazy façade, Roberts also had to push a massive barrel filled with water. “My legs were really sore [by the end of it],” she revealed. She wrapped up that long day’s work exhausted yet oddly satisfied.
The Young Cast Stayed at the Mystic Hilton
The set of Mystic Pizza was like one happy camp. You had three beautiful young women—Julia Roberts, Annabeth Gish, and Lili Taylor—staying at the same hotel as three handsome young men—Vincent D’Onofrio, William Moses, and Adam Storke.
Apart from Annabeth Gish, who was a minor and had to have her mom tag along with her, the rest of actors were, as the saying goes—young, wild, and free. The restless teens were told they couldn’t drink, yet they still managed to get their hands on some booze somehow.
Whatever Happened to the Little Black Dress?
Ah, the little black cocktail dress with the white bow. Daisy surely went over the top with that purchase, and she knew it. She told her sister Kat that she’d return it to the store right after she was done wearing it for that one night. But then she didn’t. And we’re left wondering what in the world happened to that pricey velvet dress.
According to the site Fast & Rewind, it was written in the script that Charlie spilled a drink on her strapless gown, which upset Daisy. The original script also featured a scene where Charlie shows up at the pizza parlor with a brand-new, identical dress in hand.
D’Onofrio Gave the Girls Some Dating Tips
The one thing Annabeth Gish really liked about the film was that it didn’t expose the girls’ breasts and bosoms as much as other teen sex comedies of the time. “The body is a beautiful thing, but because it is beautiful, it should not be cheapened with public display,” 17-year-old Gish told film critic Roger Ebert, shortly after the film’s release.
In that same interview, she shared that D’Onofrio had given her some tips about dating in Hollywood. He warned her about the hazards of falling in love with another person from the industry and how tabloids will rush to ruin every good thing she might develop.
From the “Today” Show to Her High School Prom
During the film’s publicity tour, Annabeth Gish had some unfinished business back at her high school in Iowa. The young actress felt like she was living a double life, having to go from interviews and flashing cameras to getting ready for her senior prom with the rest of her classmates.
“I remember, for the publicity tour, they had to fly me on a private plane to New York so that Julia, Lili, and I could do the Today show, and then I had to fly right back because it was my prom that same night,” she recalled.
Julia Robert’s Thoughts on Daisy
On that same Today show interview, Julia Roberts spoke about the differences and similarities between her and Daisy. “I think if people were to describe Daisy in a word, they’d say ‘she’s hot.’ And if people were to describe me in a word, they’d say ‘she’s nice,’” she told Bryant Gumbel.
Roberts described Daisy as being “full of fire and full of spice,” and a girl that “throws caution to the wind!” The actress revealed she had a blast playing a character that was so unhinged and carefree. Truth be told, we all have something to learn from Daisy’s spunky character.
Where Was Mystic Pizza Filmed?
While the storyline was fictional, the pizza place wasn’t. The restaurant that inspired the film is located in Mystic, Connecticut, and apart from being famous for its role in the movie, Mystic Pizza has also gained attention following a scandal of its own.
As it turns out, waiters and other employees were being paid less than minimum wage for all their hard work. Needless to say, they weren’t being paid for working overtime. Looks like the Araújo sisters were the most well-paid waitresses ever to step foot in the parlor.
Did the Crew Stuff Their Faces With Pizza All Day?
You would think that working on the set of a film called Mystic Pizza would mean that there would be pizza served all day, every day. But actually, it was lobster that was on the menu most days. Director Donald Petrie said that because mama Araújo worked at a lobster factory, they had to bring in a lot of those red sea creatures.
“We had to buy all these lobsters!” he told interviewers. “We immediately took them to the caterers. So, we were eating lobster a lot.” Even so, if someone from the cast was in the mood for a cheesy slice, they would normally get it.
You Win Some, You Lose Some
Film critic Roger Ebert praised the film and its leading cast. “All of the young actors in this movie have genuine gifts,” he wrote. He called Roberts a “major beauty with a fierce energy,” Gish a “young Katherine Hepburn,” and Taylor, a star who managed to “find human comedy in her comedic role.”
On the other hand, The Washington Post’s Hal Hinson described the film as an “old-fashioned woman’s picture updated for ‘80s women.” He noted that the only revelation he found was that Mystic Pizza’s dialogues were filled with women talking bluntly about men.
Taylor Didn’t Believe the Film Would Make a Mark
Lili Taylor (JoJo) told Entertainment Weekly that she genuinely didn’t believe the movie would leave that much of a mark. At the time, she shared, none of the cast members were really thinking of anything other than having fun: “We were all sort of innocent. Open. Willing. Maybe that spirit came through,” she said.
Julia Roberts added to Taylor’s words, saying, “We were just… happy. Happy to have jobs, happy to be working hard, and enjoying each other’s company.” No doubt, there was something pure and refreshing about the making of Mystic Pizza. A youthful spark that hooked the viewers from the very first scene.
Everyone Wanted a Slice of Heaven
The real Mystic Pizza parlor was already pretty popular in Mystic, but it became the ultimate tourist attraction when the film came out. People were standing in lines that began from around the corner, all so they could get “a slice of heaven.”
What interested people the most was, of course, the mysterious ingredients in those spectacular pizza pies. And also, how the place really looked like from the inside. The place has changed tremendously from 1988 until today, but still, visitors claim that it exuberates the same kind of homey feel it did back when the film was released.
Julia Roberts Was a Ticking Bomb Waiting
Undoubtedly the star to come out of the film was Julia Roberts. Mystic Pizza thrust her into Hollywood’s glamorous arms, and she’s never looked back since. Vincent D’Onofrio admitted that when he met her, he knew she was going to make it big. “There was no doubt in our minds,” he revealed, “She was like a bomb waiting to go off when you met her… a big bomb!”
Back in 1999, Julia Roberts reflected on the first time she felt famous. She told People magazine: “[It was] 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.'”
Mystic Pizza: The Musical
News of a musical based on the film was first announced in 2019 but has undergone through some changes since then. As of now, the musical score will be directed by Casey Hushion and will feature orchestrations by composer Carmel Dean.
The show will include renditions of the biggest hits from the late 1980s and early 1990s from musicians like Debbie Gibson, Van Morrison, Phil Collins, and Bryan Adams. The exact show dates haven’t been announced yet. All we have to do is sit tight and wait for further updates.
Rumors of a Sequel
Mystic Pizza was such a success that viewers kept nudging for a sequel. And in the mid ‘90s, a follow-up film titled Return to Mystic Pizza was in development. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), it never saw the light of day. In 2018, director Donald Petrie got everyone’s hopes up once again when he released the trailer of his new film called Little Italy.
The romantic comedy starred Julia Roberts’s niece, Emma Roberts, and had her wearing a “Slice of Heaven” T-shirt during its promotion. Fans took the shirt as proof that Little Italy would be somewhat of a continuation of Mystic Pizza’s story. But as it turns out, the tee was nothing but a fun reference to the movie. Nothing more than that.
The Movie Dealt With Serious Issues
Some of the dialogue in Mystic Pizza centered around touchy issues like racism and pre-marital sex. One major scene discussing race was the unforgettable lobster dinner at Charlie’s house. Daisy is invited to have dinner with him and his wealthy family and suffers from some uncomfortable remarks about her ethnicity.
Charlie flips out on his family, and Daisy later accuses him of overreacting. The scene definitely hit a note with viewers from different minorities who are used to hearing racist comments disguised as jokes or quips, not only in America but all over the world.
Full of Ups and Downs, Just Like Real Life
What made Mystic Pizza such a groundbreaking movie is that it never tried to steer clear of uncomfortable topics. Apart from racism, the movie dealt with the everyday pressures of adolescence, including one’s first time in bed.
In the movie, Jojo is dying to get intimate with her boyfriend, Bill, who prefers to wait for sex until after they marry. He eventually breaks up with her, leaving her torn and confused. The movie is filled with ups and downs and all arounds – just like real life.
Then & Now
There is nothing like some good old then and now picture to see what this talented cast has been up to since the fab ‘80s.
Starting with none other than Julia Roberts.
There’s no need for an introduction, it seems, because Roberts went on to become one of the most beloved and successful actors in all of Hollywood.
After her stint as Daisy, she landed another big part in 1990’s Pretty Woman as Vivian Ward, a role which many consider to be her true breakout into the business. And after a fruitful decade, she snatched her first Oscar in 2000 and became the first woman in the business to earn a $20 million paycheck for her part as single mother, Erin Brockovich.
Lili Taylor Now
Spunky, wild Jojo was Lili Taylor’s first lead in a feature film. Prior to Mystic Pizza, she had only one minor role on her resume–“Girl at Medical Lab” in the romantic 1988 flick, She’s Having a Baby. So, she was stunned to have landed such a central part in Mystic Pizza.
Taylor went on to appear in films like Say Anything (1989), the creepy thriller The Haunting (1999), and The Conjuring (2013). The actress is well respected in the industry, having earned three nominations for her performances on TV shows like Six Feet Under and Perry Mason.
Annabeth Gish Now
Annabeth was just as young and naive as Kat when she starred in Mystic Pizza. A newcomer to the business, and the only underage kiddo in the cast, she was often left out when the rest of them went out for all-nighters in the city.
After the movie, the actress landed several roles in films like Beautiful Girls (1996) and Shag (1989). In 2001, she snatched a recurring role on The X-Files and has dedicated herself to TV ever since, appearing on other shows such Pretty Little Liars and Sons of Anarchy.
Vincent D’Onofrio Now
After D’Onofrio’s memorable part as Bill, Jojo’s enamored fisherman fiancé who believed that all she ever wanted from him were his private parts, the star went on to star in Men in Black (1997) and later on as Deputy Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
In 1997, the actor tied the knot with Dutch model Carin van der Donk. The lovebirds are tighter than ever, and have two sons, Elias and Luka. D’Onofrio also has a daughter named Leila George from his previous relationship with Greta Scacchi.
William R. Moses
Moses was fairly well known in Hollywood when he played Kat’s married love interest, thanks to his recurring role on the popular soap opera Falcon Crest. After Mystic Pizza, he went on land more stable roles in TV hits such as Melrose Place and Touched by an Angel.
As for his personal life, Moses was married for ten years to actress Tracy Nelson, from ‘87 until ‘97. They have a daughter named Remington. Three years later, in 2000, he married once again, this time to Sarah Moses.
If you’re wondering what he’s up today, one of his most recent works is a role in the drama How to Get Away With Murder.
Adam Storke Now
After starring as Daisy’s rich boyfriend Charlie, Adam Storke went on to play in Stephen King’s miniseries The Stand (1994). He’s also appeared in Death Becomes Her and Tales From the Crypt. Additional TV stints include Our Generation, Crossing Jordan, and New Amsterdam.
Adam’s role in Mystic Pizza was pretty major, so many assumed he would blow up like his co-star, Julia Roberts. Even though his career never skyrocketed like hers, he has still managed to find stable work over the years.
Matt Damon Now
Matt Damon has come a long, long way since his brief appearance in the uncomfortable dinner scene in Mystic Pizza. He’s starred in major films like Good Will Hunting, which he co-wrote with his Hollywood bestie, Ben Affleck. The movie won them an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Damon tied the knot in 2005 after meeting his wife, Luciana Barroso, at a bar. She was a bartender, and he was a Hollywood actor shooting a movie there. Apparently, Damon was bombarded with frantic fans, so he ran behind the bar to hide. That’s when he noticed Luciana. The couple has been together ever since and has welcomed three daughters, Isabella, Gia, and Stella. Damon also adopted Luciana’s first child, Alexia, from her previous marriage.
After playing Mystic Pizza’s strict owner Leona, Ferrell went on to land the role of her life as Berta in the hit series Two and a Half Men. Her spectacular performance and no-nonsense attitude made her one of the most loved characters on the show. Some would even argue that with no Berta, there would be no Men.
Sadly, Conchata Ferrell, aged 77, passed away last year on October 12, 2020, due to complications after going into cardiac arrest. The unforgettable actress passed away at an L.A. hospital and was surrounded by her loved ones in her final moments.
How Long Did It Take to Bring Mystic Pizza to Life?
Filming began on October 12, 1987, and director Donald Petrie was given only six weeks to finish the job. Due to the tight schedule, the crew decided to shoot several scenes in places near Mystic, Connecticut, to save time and travel costs.
They couldn’t film in Mystic whenever they pleased because of its fairly busy environment. So, they had to look for key spots nearby. Shooting it all in six weeks was a challenge, but it pushed Petrie and the rest of the crew to give it their all.
Several Cast Members Reteamed
Interestingly, a lot of the cast has reteamed over the years. Julia Roberts and Matt Damon have worked together on three additional films—Ocean’s 11, Oceans 12, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Damon also starred with John Cunningham in School Ties where they starred as, yet again, father and son.
Julia Roberts worked once again with her boss, Conchata Ferrell, in Erin Brockovich. And Lili Taylor joined forces once more with Vincent D’Onofrio for 1993’s Household Saints and years later in 2009’s Brooklyn’s Finest. Looks like the beloved pizza parlor was home to many genuine bonds!