'Thelma & Louise' Reunion: Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon on Brad Pitt's Audition and That Shocking Ending (Q&A)
The fact that the selfie they took at THR's reunion shoot on Thursday, June 19, became a globally trending news item only speaks to the enduring (and rabid) fan base of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis' game-changing film, Thelma & Louise.
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The Ridley Scott-directed drama about two Southern women on the run after murdering a rapist shocked audiences — and the business — when it was released in May 1991. The film quickly entered the cultural zeitgeist for its bold and tragic finale, its unapologetic depiction of female subjugation in modern America and -— some may say most importantly — the major-film debut of Brad Pitt, who drawled his way into stardom as J.D., the hustler who steals more than Thelma's heart.
Here, Sarandon, 67, and Davis, 58, candidly reflect on how they felt about a man helming what many saw as the ultimate girl-power movie (written by Oscar winner Callie Khouri), what they really thought of Pitt's performance (and audition, for that matter) and how the film's tragic ending — the two women driving off a cliff into the Grand Canyon — almost didn't happen.
How did you first get the script for Thelma and Louise?
SUSAN SARANDON I got it from my agent, then had a meeting with Ridley Scott.
GEENA DAVIS I was slipped the script after it had already been cast. I read it and I told my agent, "Oh my God." Then the [casting] fell apart and it took a year between when I read it until I finally got to meet Ridley, who was only going to produce it at first — there were a few different directors attached. But I finally convinced him.
How shocked were you to see that on the final page, the two protagonists drove off a cliff?
SARANDON Actually, I said to Ridley, "I hope we're not gonna shoot this and then you test it and then we end in Club Med. If I'm gonna play that part, I want to make sure that I know where it's going." And he said, "I can tell you that you will definitely die. But I'm not sure about Thelma. You may push her out of the car at the last minute."
DAVIS But I earned the right to die!
SARANDON You earned to go down with me, baby! Laddie [producer Alan Ladd Jr.] was another big reason Ridley had so much power — because he really gave him final cut. I mean, that was unusual even in that time. So he is very much responsible for the film being exactly what they wanted.
Were you hesitant at all that the director of Alien and Blade Runner would be directing this epic female saga?
SARANDON Well, I don't think it could have been done as a small movie. What was fabulous in the collaboration was that Ridley put us in this heroic kind of setting that made the film more iconic. We knew he was taking care of the bigger picture. And the crew loved Ridley. They were all bare-chested with their T-shirts around their head every day!
The shoot was no doubt very physically demanding. Which scene was the toughest?
SARANDON I think that love scene you had with Brad [Pitt] was really hard.
DAVIS It was very challenging! (Laughs.) I just didn't know how to get into it.
This was Brad's first big film. What were your first impressions of him?
DAVIS I actually read with him first — there were five candidates for the role. And then he came in — this is so embarrassing — but I got a little distracted during the scene, you know? I was forgetting my lines. I was like, "I'm totally screwing up this kid's audition." (Laughs.)
SARANDON He's told stories about how professional I was and how I made him a professional — I don't remember any of that! It seemed like it was absolutely, absolutely easy for him. When I saw the movie and I saw him in the scene in the police station, that's when I knew that he really was something special. There was really something there. He's a very smart guy.
DAVIS Ridley's also very much into the look of things. He was personally spraying the Evian on Brad's stomach for the shots where you see his abs and I'm like, "Hello!"
SARANDON What about you?
DAVIS "I guess I look fine?" (Laughs.)
What does the film's legacy mean to you now, 23 years after it opened?
DAVIS What's struck me is that there were two fantastic equal parts for women. Also, I don't think any of us knew it would strike a nerve the way it did.
SARANDON I've always thought of it as a cowboy movie with women instead of guys on horses. But it was pretty shocking that people were so threatened by it. I didn't see that coming at all. Like somehow we had backed into the territory long held only by white heterosexual men of a certain age.
Do fans still engage you regularly about the film?
SARANDON Oh my God, I was in the Grand Canyon with my son a number of years ago, in a souvenir shop. And these two women were, "Oh my God!" A lot of people still say, "I'm like Thelma, I'm like Louise. And we go on trips together." And I think, "That's nice. It's OK to take off and be by yourself with your girlfriends." That happens a lot.
DAVIS I've had a lot of people say, "My friend and I have acted out your trip." And I'm like, "Uh, really?"
SARANDON Stop at the line dancing part! (Laughs.) But we definitely don't see each other enough now. I'm on one coast and she's on the other. But we manage to find each other.
DAVIS We have a certain level of how much people recognize us when we're on our own. But when they see us both walking down the street in New York, traffic will stop.
SARANDON They did talk about a sequel at one point. I remember saying to someone, "I don't understand what we would be doing." And he said, "You'd be getting a big check." But thank God we didn't do that. Sanity reigned.
Sarandon and Davis were photographed by David Needleman on June 19 at Studio 1342 in Los Angeles.