Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn were almost the stars of your favourite feminist classic

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Nicola Rachel Colyer
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They’re two of the most notable ladies to have graced the silver screen and it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else filling the roles of Thelma and Louise with the same success.

But, it turns out that Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis weren’t the original choices for the leading roles in cult film, Thelma & Louise.

As author Becky Aikman explains in her new book, Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edgethe feminist script drew the attention of many of Hollywood’s leading ladies, and it’s not hard to see why – the tale of two strong women who looked to each other for an escape from reality, didn’t let anyone stand in their way and stuck together until the bitter end was bound to be a magnet. 

Written by the then unknown 30-year-old video producer, Callie Khouri, Thelma & Louise was propelled into the big league when the script caught the attention of legendary director Ridley Scott, and with him came some of Hollywood’s biggest names.

According to Vanity Fair, the first actresses on board were Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer but as Scott delayed filming while he looked for a director, Foster and Pfeiffer signed on to other projects and fresh names started circulating. 

‘Meg Ryan would do it in June. Kim Basinger, Kathleen Turner, and Andie MacDowell would open up in August. So would Julia Roberts...’, writes Aikman.

Meanwhile, Aikman explains, Cher had her name thrown into the hat by Laddie, a studio chief for Thelma & Louise, who said ‘Cher could have been quite good… she could have played either part.’

However, Scott had other ideas and didn't think that Cher would embody the humor that he saw in the script.

Scott’s interest really piqued when Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn personally called the studio asking to be considered for the roles, Vanity Fair reported.

Aikman expands on their determination, saying that ‘they didn't have their agents make the call; they did it themselves. No one would have expected the two friends, box-office champs and Oscar winners, to campaign for parts, but they showed up prepared to kill.’

Nonetheless, it seems that there was only ever one woman destined for the role of Thelma and persistence finally paid off for Geena Davis.

After having her agent make weekly calls to Scott for a year, she eventually got the call saying that Scott had decided to direct the film himself and would like to meet her, said Vanity Fair.

After prepping herself for the role of Louise, Davis threw herself into the meeting. But Scott had other ideas, saying, ‘‘so, you wouldn't play Thelma?’

Davis’s response? ‘I realised that it actually isn't Louise I should play; it's Thelma’. 

Scott soon decided that he wanted to cast her, but would have to wait and see who the other actress would be and while waiting for news, Davis got an offer for another film. She gave Scott an ultimatum and she was told that if she was willing to play either role they could sign the contract that day. 

Meanwhile, Scott had sent the script to Susan Sarandon and when he walked into the meeting, he just knew, saying ‘“Susan had the authority, the sensibility. She was Louise.’

And the rest, as they say, was history. 


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Nicola Rachel Colyer

Nicola Colyer is a freelance writer and ex-corporate girl. A francophile and relapsing sugar-free graduate, she'll often be found seeking out the best places for brunch or struggling to choose between a green juice and a G&T.