Before Roberts made Pretty Woman, she nabbed her first Oscar nomination for Steel Magnolias

By Nigel Smith
July 19, 2019 10:00 AM

Shirley MacLaine knew a star was born when she met Julia Roberts in the ’80s.

The two famously starred together in 1989’s Steel Magnolias opposite an all-star cast that included Olympia Dukakis, Dolly PartonSally Field and Daryl Hannah.

Based on the 1987 play of the same name, the film explored the relationships and sisterhood of a group of women in a small Southern community. MacLaine, 85, played Louisa “Ouiser” Boudreaux, the grouchy one of the group with a hardened heart of gold. Roberts, a relative newcomer at the time, embodied the heartbreaking part of Shelby Eatenton Latcherie.

As MacLaine tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, she was wowed by Roberts the second she met her.

Steve Granitz/WireImage

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“We were rehearsing on a sound stage, I can’t remember where, and she walks in,” MacLaine remembers. “And the way she walked into the room and sat down and said hello… I got up from the table and called my agent before we even started to rehearse. I said, ‘There’s a woman here and she’s going to be a huge star. You should handle her,’ I told him. She was amazing. The energy that she had just walking into the sound stage.”

Steel Magnolias

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As MacLaine tells it, Roberts’ rise to fame after shooting Steel Magnolias was “immediate.” “She did Pretty Woman right after this,” she recalls.

Roberts’ devastating performance landed her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. She would later go on to win the Oscar for Best Actress for Erin Brockovich in 2001.