Before fame propelled Brad Pitt above the heights of the Hollywood sign, he was an overly polite, amateur actor who was almost passed over for the role of the seducer-meets-robber J.D. in the 1991 film Thelma and Louise. Now, a new book reveals inside details of his sex scene with Thelma (played by Geena Davis) — a scene so “racy” that it kick-started his reputation as a sex symbol and, if left uncut, would have shot the movie’s rating “past [rated] R.”
The young Pitt wasn’t director Ridley Scott’s first (or even second) choice, Becky Aikman reveals in her book, Off The Cliff: How the Making of ‘Thelma and Louise’ Drove Hollywood to the Edge, which hits stores today.
“Pitt’s [first] reading [of J.D.] veered into James Dean territory, with a nicely authentic accent and a certain slinky charm,” writes Aikman. “But Ridley [Scott] thought he seemed too young. They moved on.”
The book highlights the film’s cultural importance because of its female-centric focus — it was written by waitress-turned-screenwriter Callie Khouri and features two strong female characters who shoot, drink, curse, drive fast and have one-night stands before ending their journey in a blaze of liberation.
In Aikman’s opinion, the casting of J.D. was an important one. He eventually robs the two women, but he also arouses Thelma’s long-stifled sexuality. In an industry in which male desire dominated (and continues to), Thelma and Louise was unique because “J.D. filled the customary girl part, the nubile sex object who beds the star and then disappears.”
The role would require an actor with a special mix of talent and laid-back sexiness.
“Looking back, the applicants, most with few credits at the time, formed a who’s who of future stars,” Aikman writes.
According to Off The Cliff, Mark Ruffalo, James Le Gros, Dermot Mulroney and Dylan McDermott all auditioned for the role. Famously, George Clooney also auditioned … and is still resentful he didn’t secure the part.
According to Aikman, throughout the auditions there was one actor Scott couldn’t stop talking about: Billy Baldwin. He secured the role, only to drop out.
As a result, Pitt got the chance to audition (again).
“I did fine with the first few guys,” Davis told Vanity Fair in 2011, “but the last one [Pitt] was so cute I kept messing up my lines. I’m dying because I’m thinking, ‘He’s great, and I’m ruining his audition.’ I kept saying, ‘I’m so sorry!’ But he’s so chill: ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s all good.’ ”
“The read was a delight,” Pitt told Vanity Fair. “Geena was incredibly disarming and playful as an actor. Rid was kind and to the point.”
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“[Pitt] had what we needed,” said casting director Louis DiGiamio in an interview with The New York Times in 1991. “Here was this kid who’d set her sparks off.”
Davis may have “sparked” with Pitt, but that didn’t mean the film crew was confident about this relatively unknown actor who was overly polite.
” ‘Nobody knew him from the bellman … I just thought he was a good-looking kid,’ ” castmate Michael Madsen told Aikman. ” ‘I don’t see what the big deal was about. I still don’t get it.’ ”
Madsen may not have gotten it, but Davis and female viewers did.
“Callie [Khouri’s] dialogue stoked a seduction where the characters actually talked to each other, with humor, affection and interest. Geena and Brad, for their part, devised foreplay that was literally play,” Aikman writes and adds that Scott helped make Pitt the hyper-sexualized one in the scene by “personally spritzing Evian on his abs, the better to make them glisten.” Unfortunately for fans, editors had to drastically pare down the sexy lamp-flying scene. It was originally 15 minutes long.
“I’m sweating, oh I’m sweating, and she’s actually sitting in my lap,” Pitt said in the documentary The Last Journey (which Aikman also cites).
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“We’re basically naked, which is a really odd experience with everybody standing around doing their job like it’s another Monday. I just remember [Davis] talking to one of the guys about the shot and where they needed her to be. And all of a sudden she just looks at me and goes’ — he demonstrates a smile. “She was just really cool about it.”
During the filming of this long and seductive sequence, Davis remembers receiving less attention than her costar (“Ridley, hello! Geena wanted to say. I thought I was the girl in this scene!“). When Aikman interviewed Scott, he denied “paying less attention” to Davis — despite his use of the spray bottle.
” ‘She looked pretty damn good.’ ” Scott told Aikman. ” ‘All I had to do with Brad was, well, he put on his hat, and of course he had that six-pack. You can’t miss his six-pack. The rest was all on her.’ ”
Aikman agrees and emphasizes the importance of Davis’ role in the scene.
“[Davis] ogled [Pitt’s] body with such libidinous, googly-eyed wonder that her gaze of clear delight made him a sex symbol as much as those Evian abs and easy charm,” she writes. “The audience saw him through her eyes. Together, Geena, Brad, Ridley and Callie had invented a new language: they had created a movie sex scene from the woman’s point of view.”
Off The Cliff is in stores now.