Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise was controversial at the time of its release on May 24, 1991. To write that the two main characters’ weekend getaway went awry would be a massive understatement, and the actions resulting from it made some men uncomfortable. Six Academy Award nominations (and one win), plus almost a quarter-century later, it’s considered a classic, important film. Before you can say “peaches” (don’t say “peaches”), here are some facts about the film.
1. IT WAS CALLIE KHOURI’S FIRST SCREENPLAY.
Intrigued by the idea of “women outlaws,” the Kentucky-raised Khouri spent six months writing Thelma & Louise in 1988 while producing rock videos for artists like Alice Cooper. She won the movie’s only Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay. Khouri later wrote the films Something to Talk About and Divine Sisters of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and created the current ABC TV drama Nashville. It’s theorized that Thelma was based on Khouri’s friend, country singer Pam Tillis.
2. KHOURI HAD DOUBTS ABOUT RIDLEY SCOTT DIRECTING.
Scott, who was then mostly known for his sci-fi action movies like Blade Runner and Alien, allayed her concerns upon their first meeting. For one thing, the Englishman proved to understand the south of the Mason-Dixon line humor in the script. For another, Scott pointed out that he had cast a woman in a lead role that would usually go to a man in Alien.
3. GEORGE CLOONEY AUDITIONED FIVE TIMES TO PLAY J.D.
Clooney was on the short list for the role that eventually went to Brad Pitt, and became his big break. “The funniest thing is, I didn’t watch that movie for a long time,” Clooney admitted during a Q&A at the Telluride Film Festival. “I was really stuck doing a lot of bad TV at that time. And I had auditioned and auditioned, and it got right down to Brad and I, and he got it. And I just couldn’t watch that movie for a couple of years ... When I saw it, I thought actually that was the right choice. [Brad] was really good in it, and I would have f***ed it up somehow."
4. BRAD PITT WAS PAID $6,000 FOR HIS WORK IN THE FILM.
5. GEENA DAVIS HAD A HAND IN CASTING PITT.
Geena Davis admitted that she kept messing up her lines when auditioning with Pitt because he was so attractive. When Scott and the casting director were discussing who to cast, she reportedly jumped in: "The blond one. Duh!” Julie Strain was hired to play Davis’ body double in the movie, but Davis opted to shoot her sex scene with Pitt directly.
6. GEENA DAVIS WAS DARRYL’S EX-FIANCéE IN REAL LIFE.
Christopher McDonald and Geena Davis were engaged before she met Jeff Goldblum on the set of Transylvania 6-5000. McDonald, who had since married, described the experience of acting with Davis on Thelma & Louise as “cathartic.” Davis was equally game, despite not initially being informed of McDonald’s casting.
7. MCDONALD GAINED 36 POUNDS TO PLAY DARRYL.
The actor wore Darryl’s Roman numeral gold chain to the audition, as well as a polyester leisure suit. After the movie came out, two girls recognized him, one telling the other to shoot him.
8. HOLLY HUNTER, FRANCES MCDORMAND, JODIE FOSTER, MICHELLE PFEIFFER, MERYL STREEP, AND GOLDIE HAWN WERE ALL CONSIDERED FOR THELMA OR LOUISE.
In its early stages, Khouri pictured her movie as a low-budget affair, with Hunter and McDormand as the leads. (In what was probably a coincidence, Hunter and McDormand knew each other from when they were roommates at the Yale School of Drama.) With Ridley Scott as producer, Foster and Pfeiffer were attached, but eventually moved on to do other work. Streep and Hawn met with Scott, with Streep wanting either Thelma or Louise to survive the movie.
9. GEENA DAVIS WANTED TO PLAY LOUISE, NOT THELMA.
Davis’ agent called Ridley Scott every week for a year to get Davis in a room with the director so that she could convince him to let her play Louise. Then she met Susan Sarandon: "Pretty much the second Susan walked in the room, I was, Are you kidding that I could play Louise? Susan was so self-possessed, so centered and together."
10. THE ACTORS WEREN’T ALWAYS SOBER.
Upon Sarandon’s request to do some Method acting, Davis admits that for the roadhouse scene, “We asked the prop guy, ‘Do you have any real tequila? Because it’s easier to act if we taste alcohol.' So we pounded back quite a few, and we’re laughing between takes and both feeling, We’re so drunk! This is great!” Michael Madsen (Jimmy) said that he and Pitt smoked a few joints during filming.
11. HARVEY KEITEL STOLE SOME OF STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY’S LINES.
After Tobolowsky (Max) was told by Ridley Scott before a scene that Keitel (Detective Hal Slocumb) wanted to improvise, he was okay with it. Then Keitel proceeded to say some of Max’s lines. The veteran character actor made improvisation work to his advantage later on when he ad-libbed the funny “deli run” order riff to flesh out the surveillance scene.
12. THE GRAND CANYON SCENE WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN UTAH.
Most of the film was shot around Bakersfield, California. But Thelma and Louise were near Moab, Utah when they drove off the precipice, under Dead Horse Point State Park.
13. SUSAN SARANDON INSISTED THAT THE ENDING NOT CHANGE.
Thelma and Louise drive off a cliff at the end of Khouri’s original script. Sarandon told Ridley Scott that she didn't want that to change. Scott responded that while Louise would definitely die, she might shove Thelma out of the Thunderbird at the last second.
14. THERE WAS AN ALTERNATE ENDING.
On the DVD release, it was revealed that a different cut of the ending was made where you could see the Thunderbird descend to B.B. King’s “Better Not Look Down.” In the final, more upbeat version, the car and its occupants freeze in mid-air.
15. THE MOVIE INSPIRED TORI AMOS TO WRITE "ME AND A GUN."
“Me and a Gun” tells the true story of one of Amos’ fans kidnapping and assaulting her after a gig. Seven years after the incident, the singer-songwriter cried while watching Thelma & Louise in a theater, then went home and wrote the song.