A new book about the acclaimed 1991 film Thelma & Louise offers proof that fans weren’t the only ones in awe of its trailblazing characters.
Off The Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge, by Becky Aikman, chronicles how Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer were slated for the lead roles, but had to turn them down after production was delayed. Once the news was out, Hollywood’s top actresses jockeyed for the plum roles.
“It seemed as if every agent who represented anyone with a vagina and a pulse besieged Pathé and Ridley [Scott’s] company for a shot,” writes Aikman in the book, in stores now. “Producers and studios may have shied away from it, but actresses were desperate for the meaty, flawed, fully loaded roles it provided, with character arcs that would put the players’ skills to the test.”
Here are the book’s biggest revelations about the making of the beloved classic.
Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn pitched themselves together for the roles.
According to the book, the two friends walked into the Pathé offices and campaigned for the roles. “Meryl and Goldie called me and said, ‘Can we come in and meet?’ ” studio chief Alan Ladd Jr. said in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2011. “They read the script; they loved it, thought the parts were great. Meryl thought that, at the end, one of them — Thelma or Louise — should live. Of course, we didn’t particularly agree with that.” While Hawn was “funny as hell” according to Off The Cliff, director Scott thought she was too old to play Thelma. Scott also had reservations about Streep, though he greatly admired her talents as an actress. “Not that she was posh,” Scott told Aikman, “but the character needed to be tough.”
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Huge stars including Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Kim Basinger, Kathleen Turner, Cybill Shepherd and Cher supposedly wanted a starring role. While the casting director thought Cher was talented enough to play either of the lead characters, Scott didn’t think she’d bring the right amount of humor. Eventually, he chose Geena Davis for Thelma and Susan Sarandon for Louise. Sarandon was one of the few actresses who didn’t ask for the part. Scott called her.
Susan Sarandon had a strong vision for the film’s lead characters.
Even before accepting the role as Louise, Sarandon wanted to ensure that the film wouldn’t be a “revenge” fantasy come to life — in other words, she didn’t want it to be about angry women who punish bad men. For instance, the book claims, she helped ensure that Louise’s shooting of Thelma’s would-be rapist wasn’t casually done. “It’s a huge thing to take another life,” Sarandon told Aikman. “I am not interested in doing a revenge film. I’m not interested in being Charles Bronson or Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m interested in the fact that taking a life has consequences, that she has to pay for that.”
Ridley Scott suggested Geena Davis take her top off.
For Scott, the suggestion reflected her character’s joy and feeling of liberation at that point in the film. After Davis consulted with her costar, the author writes, Sarandon told him it wasn’t happening.
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Geena Davis originally wanted a body double for her sex scene with Brad Pitt.
According to Off The Cliff, Davis was just outside the trailer as Scott looked over potential body doubles. He had already picked one woman — a “Penthouse Pet who billed herself as ‘Six Feet Tall and Worth the Climb’ ” — when Davis started to feel competitive. Scott explained the situation to Vanity Fair: “There’s this queue of Playboy bunnies coming out of my trailer for two hours and [Geena’s] finally” — he snapped his fingers — ” ‘O.K., I’ll do it.’ (Check out the full story behind the making of Pitt and Davis’ iconic sex scene.)
Debate about the controversial ending persisted through the last day of filming.
Writer Callie Khouri’s decision to have the women drive off the cliff at the end of the film scared off a number of production companies. It remained an issue after Pathé decided to take on the film. There was debate about the cliff scene through the final days of filming. But for Scott, it was “the perfect ending.”