Gregory Peck was initially reluctant to take on a part that was clearly secondary to the young female lead until he realized that his image could do with some lightening up.
Gregory Peck's role was originally written with Cary Grant in mind. Grant, however, turned the role down as he believed he was too old to play Audrey Hepburn's love interest. He did, however, play her on-screen love ten years later in Charade. The two became firm friends working on the film, and Grant considered her one of his favorite actresses to work with.
Audrey Hepburn won the 1953 Best Actress Academy Award for Roman Holiday. On March 25th, 1954, she accepted the award from the much revered Academy president Jean Hersholt. After accepting the award, Audrey kissed him smack on the mouth, instead of the cheek, in her excitement. Minutes after accepting her 1953 Oscar, Audrey realized that she'd misplaced it. Turning quickly on the steps of the Center Theater in New York, she raced back to the ladies' room, retrieved the award, and was ready to pose for photographs.
Audrey Hepburn won the role of Ann thanks to a legendary screen test. In it, she performed one of the scenes from the film, but the cameraman was instructed to keep the cameras rolling after the director said, "Cut." Several minutes of unrehearsed, spontaneous Hepburn was thus captured on film and this, combined with some candid interview footage, won her the role.
George Stevens was the next director to inherit the project after Frank Capra bailed, but Stevens declined to pursue it. The property was then offered to William Wyler, who was coming off the back of two very weighty dramatic movies - The Heiress and Detective Story - and was only too glad to tackle a light romantic comedy, his first since the mid 1930s. Wyler was also very keen to work abroad in order to exploit a tax loophole.
William Wyler at first wanted Jean Simmons to play Ann, and reportedly nearly canceled the project when Simmons proved unavailable.
A lot of the film's success was attributed to the public's then fascination with Britain's Princess Margaret who was creating a stir over her much publicized relationship with commoner Peter Townsend. (The Princess was forced to renounce her true love because he was divorced and marry more "suitably".)
After filming, Gregory Peck informed the producers that, as Audrey Hepburn was certainly going to win an Oscar (for this, her first major role), they had better put her name above the title. They did and she did.
Ann and Joe get into an argument over which poet wrote the words that Ann quotes, "Arethusa rose from her couch of snows in the Acroceraunian mountains." Joe was right; it's from the poem "Arethusa" by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
At the beginning of the movie, the elder gentleman dancing with princess Ann says to her, in Italian: "I want absolutely to die on the ship!"
At the end of production, Paramount Studios presented Audrey Hepburn with her entire wardrobe from the film, including hats, shoes, handbags, and jewelry. These gifts were intended as wedding presents; however, soon after production, Hepburn ended her engagement to James (later Lord) Hanson, a businessman.
By the time he got the script for this film, Gregory Peck was hungry to do a comedy (he had not been in a comedy on film) and jumped at this opportunity. He later said that, at the time, he felt like every romantic comedy script he had the chance to read "had the fingerprints of Cary Grant on it".
First choices for the part of the princess were Jean Simmons and Suzanne Cloutier. Elizabeth Taylor was also considered for the part. Both Taylor and Simmons had to be immediately ruled out as they were preoccupied with other projects at the time.
For the famous "Mouth of Truth" scene, Gregory Peck ad-libbed the joke where he pretends that his hand was bitten off in the mouth of the stone carving. He borrowed the gag from Red Skelton. Prior to filming the scene, Peck told director William Wyler that he was going to do the gag, but that they should not tell Audrey Hepburn. When Peck pulled his arm out of the stone carving's mouth with his hand pulled up his sleeve, Hepburn's horror and surprise was genuine. She gave what she later recalled was "a good and proper scream," and the scene was finished in one take.
June 2008 Ranked #4 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Romantic Comedy".
One of the reasons why William Wyler was anxious to film in Europe was because he wanted to put some distance between himself and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was threatening to embroil him in their investigations because of his liberal stance.
Paramount had assets frozen in Italy and was delighted to take advantage of the opportunity to film in Rome.
Paramount originally wanted to shoot this movie in Hollywood. William Wyler refused, insisting it must be shot on location. They finally agreed, but with a much lower budget. This meant the movie would now be in Black-n-White, not the expected Technicolor, and he would need to cast an unknown actress as the Princess - Audrey Hepburn.