10 Memorable Facts About The Big Chill
By Scott Beggs
If you trace back the origin of every movie of the modern era where adult friends hang out and strive to find personal profundity within stifling middle-class banalities, you’ll hit pay dirt in 1983. The Big Chill, Lawrence Kasdan’s serious comedy (funny drama?), features one of the best ensembles of the past half-century slogging through midlife crises.
Named a cultural artifact the first day it hit theaters, decades later it’s now considered both a hilarious, potent examination of a disillusioned group who grew from free love into “Greed is good” and a bougie whine of Baby Boomer privilege.
In celebration of The Big Chill’s 35th anniversary, here are 10 facts about having too much sex, friendship, and fun to handle.
1. EVERY STUDIO WANTED LAWRENCE KASDAN, BUT NOT HIS MOVIE.
After writing The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lawrence Kasdan got a chance to direct his own script with 1981's Body Heat. After its success, a lot of studios wanted to draft him onto their teams, but when he said he wanted to make a dialogue-heavy ensemble movie about complicated old relationships clashing after a mutual friend’s suicide, they weren’t super keen. In fact, no one wanted it.
2. KASDAN WROTE IT WITH HIS LAWYER’S WIFE.
Barbara Benedek had written a handful of episodes for a handful of TV shows when Kasdan—who was represented by Benedek’s husband—called her up and asked out of the blue to write a script together. "I didn’t know enough to say anything other than 'Sure!'" Benedek told Entertainment Weekly in 1998. "He wanted to collaborate with a woman, and he thought I was funny." Obviously, "Sure!" is the only correct answer when Kasdan asks that question. In 1984, they scored a joint Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
3. KEVIN COSTNER PLAYS A DEAD BODY.
The entire movie revolves around the suicide of Alex Marshall, an unseen college friend linking all the other characters together. Alex was originally in the film for one scene, but Kasdan cut it, effectively removing a young Kevin Costner from the movie except for one sequence where he lies motionless as Alex’s body is prepped for the funeral.
4. COSTNER ALMOST APPEARED IN THE FILM WITH A METAPHORICAL TURKEY.
Costner’s cut flashback scene is famously part of the movie’s lore because of how famous he became. There’s no known surviving copy of the scene, but luckily we have Jeff Goldblum to describe it for us. The scene involves the college era crew eating Thanksgiving together and Alex considering whether he can cut into a perfect, whole turkey—which Goldblum described as “poetical and metaphorical”—with a large knife. The turkey was, of course, a symbol for the untouched, unchallenged lives the young, success track kids have experienced with an added somber note echoing how we know he will end his life in the future.
5. THE CAST COOKED A MEAL TOGETHER TO PREPARE FOR FILMING.
Watching the cast of The Big Chill onscreen, it feels like they’ve all been friends forever. That’s the greatest triumph of the acting. The fictional bond was solidified by a lengthy rehearsal in which Kasdan told Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams to cook a meal together in character so they’d have a common goal with different jobs to do.
“I chose to leave at that point,” Kasdan told TCM. “And for five hours they remained in character without any authority figure, without any director to tell them if they were behaving or reacting in the correct way according to the writer’s or director’s ideas."
6. THE CHARACTERS WERE BASED ON PEOPLE KASDAN MET WHILE LIVING IN A CO-OP.
The co-writer/director drew from his experience boarding at the Eugene V. Debs Cooperative House at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to color in the characters who, for the weekend, are essentially living a co-op experience.
"I think that all these characters are conglomerations of things in [me and Benedek] and things we’ve seen in our friends,” Kasdan said.
7. IT CONTRIBUTED TO GLENN CLOSE MAKING SOME ACTING HISTORY.
Everyone’s obsessed with EGOTing, but with an Oscar nomination for The Big Chill, a Tony nomination (and win) for The Real Thing, and an Emmy nomination for Something About Amelia, Close became the first actress to score all three major acting award nominations in a single calendar year. That’s a feat even fewer people have pulled off than the EGOT. Bob Fosse did it with directing and choreography in 1973, and Jason Robards became the first actor to do it in 1978. Unfortunately, she didn’t win the Oscar—and never has, despite six nominations (so far).
8. CLOSE WAS HUMBLE ABOUT BEING SINGLED OUT OF THE ENSEMBLE FOR AN OSCAR NOD.
Despite making history, Close had a level head about her Academy Award recognition because she was part of an ensemble. "I think my crying-in-the-shower scene had something to do with it," she recently told Entertainment Weekly. "Hollywood loves to see naked. Naked or dead."
9. AN OCTOPUS ACTS AS A SUBTLE SYMBOL.
If we only saw an octopus once in the movie, it might be a happy accident, but there are at least two times that a soft-bodied cephalopod appears on a TV screen in the massive home the friends are sharing. You don’t have to dig too deeply to see the connection: eight limbs, eight friends, all interconnected and living (for the time we spend with them) as a single unit.
10. THE KASDAN FAMILY MAKES A CAMEO.
Kasdan didn’t have to look far for some of the bit roles in the movie. His adolescent sons, Jonathan and Jake, each made their acting debuts in the movie. Jonathan played Harold (Kline) and Sarah’s (Close) son, and Jake played a young fan seeking TV action star Sam’s (Tom Berenger) autograph. Both have gone on to careers as writer/directors. Kasdan’s wife Meg played a flight attendant. In 1992, she would go on to earn an Oscar nomination for co-writing Grand Canyon with her husband.