We’re gearing up for the Oscars by looking back at Thelma and Louise! When the film was released in 1991, it was unthinkable to have two women in the leading roles – so unthinkable that the movie almost didn’t get made. Author Becky Aikman tells the story behind the story in her new book Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge. You can check out our interview here.
1. The friendship between Thelma and Louise mirrors writer Callie Khouri’s friendship with singer Pam Tillis
The two met when Callie was waitressing at a club in Nashville and the two became good friends. Both had creative dreams but felt stifled by the boys’ club culture of their industries. With Pam’s goofiness complementing Callie’s jadedness, they made a great team.
2. It was the first work that Callie Khouri published, and she won the Oscar for it
Callie was working as a production coordinator for uninspired, objectifying music videos in LA when she penned the script. As a solo female writer in Hollywood, prospects for the movie were slim. But the industry eventually lauded her efforts with the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1992. A woman screenwriter hadn’t won since 1931, when Francis Marion took home the Oscar.
3. Ridley Scott wasn’t keen on directing the film, and Callie Khouri agreed
Though he was interested in producing the script when he first read it, Ridley felt that he didn’t understand the characters. After a long search, Ridley didn’t trust another director with the film, so he decided to direct. Callie wondered whether the macho director, who was known for Blade Runner and Alien, could bring her vision to life. The two had artistic differences throughout the shoot, which Callie cryptically alluded to in her Oscar acceptance speech.
4. Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher, Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep were all seriously considered for the starring roles
But because of delays in production, scheduling didn’t work out. Ridley Scott didn’t mind – he wanted lesser stars, so that big Hollywood names wouldn’t overshadow the characters.
5. Geena Davis wanted to play Louise, not Thelma
She made her case to Ridley over drinks, listing the reasons why she should play Louise – but he saw her as Thelma, and one comment from him had her backpedaling. Though he wanted to cast her as Thelma, he needed to find the perfect match in Louise. Ridley made Geena an unconventional offer: she would play one of the leads… they just weren’t sure which one.
6. It’s one of the few movies in which the actresses cast were older than their characters
Geena Davis was thirty-four and Susan Sarandon forty-four when they landed the roles. In Callie’s mind, the women were the same age, friends from high school, and definitely not in their forties.
7. Geena Davis recommended her ex for the role of Darryl – and he got the part
Geena told Ridley Scott that her ex-boyfriend, Chris McDonald, was the funniest guy in the world, and Ridley was in stitches during his audition for Thelma’s egotistical husband, Darryl. Chris actually tripped in the early scene of him walking to his car, but he played it off with such comedic timing that Ridley kept the cameras rolling, and the moment made the final cut.
8. George Clooney auditioned 5 times for the part of JD
Since the budget was small, a bunch of little known actors were auditioning for the part of Thelma’s love interest JD, including one George Clooney. Twenty-five years later, Geena sat next to him on a plane, and he revealed that he had read with her for the part.
9. Ridley Scott wanted Thelma to take her top off
Despite its groundbreaking perspective on women and the leadership roles women had on set, Thelma & Louise wasn’t free from Hollywood’s sexual pressures. Ridley asked Geena to create a scene in which Thelma removes her shirt. Geena was uncomfortable and made an awkward exit to lunch, where she asked Susan for advice. After the two actresses found no reason for Geena’s character to do that, Susan marched over to Ridley and told him that Geena wouldn’t be taking her top off.
10. The car flying scene is only its second take
The team wanted to make the Thunderbird fly, as opposed to taking a depressing tumble to the bottom of the ravine. This turned out to be difficult, and they only had three T-birds to get it right. The crew spent two hours rigging up a system of cables and ramps, but the first car fell like a rock. When they tried again the next day, it soared, and the third car stayed firmly on the ground.
To find out more, you’ll just have to check out her book!